SpaceX, his rocket company, had blown up numerous launch attempts. His other company, Tesla, was running dangerously low on cash.
Jason Calacanis, a friend of Musk’s from his days running a popular Internet magazine called Silicon Alley Reporter, grabbed a steak dinner with the dejected founder in Hollywood.
He asked him how his businesses were going.
The answer: Not good at all.
Calacanis recalled the dinner conversation with Musk that night during an interview for Business Insider’s podcast, “Success! How I Did It.”
I said, “What’s going on with SpaceX?'”
He said, “Oh, I just blew up the third rocket.”
I said, “Whoa, that sucks. What happens if you blow up a fourth?”
He’s like, “Game over, you know, it’s not going to continue.”
I said, “What’s going on with Tesla? Is it true you only have four weeks of capital left?’
He says, “Not true.”
I said, “Oh great.”
He said, “We have three.”
I said, “Oh sh–. What are you going to do?”
A billionaire friend, who Calacanis declined to name, wound up bailing out Musk and Tesla with a loan to cover Musk’s expenses. Part of the reason the friend was giving the loan was because of a cool new car Musk’s team was hard at work on, the Tesla Model S.
Musk took out a photo of a large, clay model of the Tesla, with people standing around it. He predicted he could get the car’s cost down to about $50,000. Calacanis thought the car was “gorgeous.”
After the dinner, Calacanis says he went home and drafted a hand-written letter to Musk:
Elon, looks like an incredible car … I’ll take two!
A few years later, Calacanis received a note of his own.
“Congratulations,” the note read. “Your serial number is 00001.”
And another: “Congratulations, your serial number is 00073.”
Musk has since said that he owns the first model of the Tesla Roadster and the first model of the X. But not the Model S.
That belongs to Calacanis. But Calacanis says he’ll happily give Musk back the car if he asks.
“If he wants it, he can have it and he can have it for free, of course,” Calacanis said. “He’s my friend.”
The newest Tesla Model 3 was unveiled last month after hundreds of thousands of pre-orders..
Listen to Calacanis tell the story of his steak dinner with Elon Musk that landed him the first Tesla Model S, below. Or keep scrolling for a transcript detailing how he bought his Teslas.
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Here’s the part of the interview where Calacanis describes how he was able to buy the first Tesla Model S:
Shontell: I understand that you bought the first Tesla, serial number 00001?
Calacanis: Well, I have No. 16 of the Roadster and then I have No. 1 of the Signature Series of the Model S.
Shontell: How did you get the first-ever Tesla?
Calacanis: I was out at dinner with Elon and Tesla was going out of business; they had three weeks of capital left, it was the financial crisis, and SpaceX had just blown up the second or third rocket.
We were eating a steak together in Hollywood And I said, “What’s going on with SpaceX?” He said, “Oh I just blew up the third rocket.” I said, “Whoa, that sucks.” I said, “What happens if you blow up a fourth?” He’s like, “Game over, you know, it’s not going to continue.” He got that fourth rocket up.
I said, “What’s going on with Tesla? Is it true you only have four weeks of capital left?” He says, “Not true.” I said, “Oh great.” He said, “We have three.” I said, “Oh sh–.” Like, that was bad. I said, “What are you going to do?” And he said, “Well, a friend of ours is giving me a loan to cover my personal expenses.”
He was negative a billion, and a friend of ours basically gave him a loan. I said, “Elon, there’s got to be some good news.” He said, “Yeah, don’t tell anybody but let me show you this.” He takes out his BlackBerry and starts showing me the clay version of the Model 3. It was a full-size clay model, like people standing around it. I said, “That’s gorgeous — how much can you make it for?” He’s like, “Well, it’s going to go 200 miles — I think we can make it for $50,000 or $60,000,” and I was like, “Nice.”
I went home, I wrote two full checks for $50,000, and I wrote him a handwritten note. “Elon, looks like an incredible car … I’ll take two! Best, Jason.” Two or three years later, I get “Congratulations, your serial number is 00001,” “Congratulations, your serial number is 00073.” I have No. 1, but I just saw Elon tweeting about the fact that he has No. 1 of the Roadster and No. 1 of the X, but he doesn’t have No. 1 of the Model S, so I told him he could have it back.
Shontell: You’re going to give it back to Elon?
Calacanis: Of course I’ll give it back to Elon.
Shontell: Has he asked for it back yet?
Calacanis: I’m going to see him next week.
Shontell: Tell him we say hi.
Calacanis: I will, and if he wants it, he can have it and he can have it for free, of course. He’s my friend.