I was about halfway through Lex Fridman’s interview with Jeff Bezos, which was longer than Citizen Kane, when I realised what Bezos was up to: this is a warning shot over the bow of SpaceX. “Blue Origin needs to be much faster,” stated Bezos. “It’s one of the reasons I stepped down as CEO of Amazon a few years ago.” I wanted to come in since Blue Origin requires my services right now.” The purpose, he explained, was to demonstrate that Blue Origin, his rocket firm, needed to move faster.
Bezos also proved his understanding of how shadow works: ‘When I was the CEO of Amazon, my take of view on this is, ‘If I’m the CEO of a publicly listed firm, it’s going to receive my full attention.” He didn’t have to mention “Tesla” because he didn’t have to. Anyone who watches Fridman will recognise the millionaire he’s referring about.
“We need to move much faster and we’re going to.”
I enjoy making tiny jabs at Bezos, but I take him extremely seriously. He is driven and concentrated; he accomplishes very nothing without a cause. So when he and his gun show come on a podcast, I think he’s there for a reason and pay attention. Fridman’s podcast is great since it has a strong following among the tech elite and Fridman is a softball interviewer. (He couldn’t even persuade Bezos to reveal how much he curls!) However, it is not the only advantage it has. Fridman has a tight relationship with Elon Musk; he rose to prominence following a contentious study of Tesla, which was followed by an interview with Musk himself.
So, in my opinion, Bezos appearing on the Musk fanboy podcast to discuss Blue Origin’s objectives is akin to Lyndon B. Johnson unzipping his trousers.
Jeff has been quite busy! Aside from posing for some very stunning images with his fianceé, he’s also restructured Blue Origin’s leadership: the CEO, R&D head, and SVP of operations have all left. Dave Limp, the new CEO, comes almost directly from Amazon, where he managed Alexa development. The suborbital rocket New Shepard is set to fly on December 18th; it will be the rocket’s first flight since an engine failure last year.
Blue Origin expects their much-delayed New Glenn rocket, which will be used to carry garbage into space, will launch next year with a NASA smallsat mission. Everything happens slower in space, so I wouldn’t be shocked if the launch date is pushed back to 2025, but this is presumably why Bezos is out here saying things like, “We need to move much faster, and we’re going to.”
Space is big, but US government contracts are a competition
New Glenn is the rocket that genuinely challenges SpaceX, whereas New Shepard is mostly for space tourism. Blue Origin has primarily been an afterthought in comparison to SpaceX. It’s been around for almost 20 years and has failed to leave Earth orbit. Sure, there’s been a lot of big talk about a space station and a contract for a lunar lander, but it’s all vaporware until it ships, sweetheart. And some of Amazon’s Kuiper satellites, which are designed to compete with SpaceX’s Starlink by providing internet from orbit, will rely on New Glenn as well as some other untested rockets. Half of the satellites must be launched by 2026. The heat is turned on.
Bezos was cautious to remark on the Fridman programme that there was enough place for both him and Musk: “There’s room for a bunch of winners, and it’s going to happen at all scale levels.” As a result, SpaceX will undoubtedly be successful. I want Blue Origin to succeed, and I hope that additional five firms will follow suit.” This is a stunning public relations response, and I hope Bezos rewards whomever guided him into it. Space is vast, but as he is well aware, US government contracts are competitive. After all, Blue Origin filed a lawsuit against the US government over a contract NASA gave to SpaceX. It was defeated.
Coming in second to SpaceX must irritate Bezos, who has wanted to travel to space since high school, according to Brad Stone’s The Everything Store. Bezos’ high school sweetheart tells Stone in the book that the only reason he made so much money with Amazon was to fund his space dreams. That’s right: Amazon wasn’t even the purpose of Amazon.
I couldn’t help but notice how much of the interview that focused on Bezos’ leadership style provided an implicit contrast to Musk
So, why is Bezos hitting his chest right now? So, two things. First and foremost, he wants to publicise the changes at Blue Origin – the corporation will move quickly now that Bezos is in town. Second, after taking Twitter private in 2022, the CEO of SpaceX spent 2023 undergoing a very public meltdown, a process that resembled nothing so much as a temper tantrum.
Musk’s continued participation with his social networking platform has proven to be a high-profile distraction for a guy who is already operating a vehicle company as well as a rocket firm, not to mention his involvement with The Boring Company and Neuralink. So, in addition to what Bezos said, part of the significance of the podcast was how he said it. He wasn’t jittery, confused about the identity of his interviewer, or preoccupied.
He was calm and comfortable, extolling the virtues of having a lengthy attention span. Oh, and did he mention he’s flown on his own rocket before? (In contrast to several other billionaires.) That’s how strongly he believes Blue Origin – there was never a doubt in his mind that he and his brother will return.
I also have a very lengthy attention span. And I couldn’t help but note how much of the conversation centred on Bezos’ leadership style served as an implied comparison to Musk. According to Walter Isaacson’s new biography of Musk, his leadership style is “my way or the highway.” Bezos, on the other hand, told Fridman, “you want to set up your culture so that the most junior person can overrule the most senior person if they have data.” He emphasised that he has frequently taken judgements with which he disagreed because his subordinate who pushed for the decision was “closer to the ground truth than I am.”
This is a great variation!
Bezos is well-known for being a breathtakingly brash boss. And, while Bezos told Fridman that he frequently spoke last in meetings to avoid influencing his subordinates’ judgements, he didn’t reveal that he occasionally said things like, “If I hear that idea again, I’m gonna have to kill myself” or “Are you lazy or just incompetent?” Because we have long memories, those with extended attention spans are frequently disagreeable.
Still, if you’re an American government bureaucrat who’s getting antsy about Musk doing things like, I dunno, replatforming Alex Jones, retweeting antisemitic conspiracy theories, or scaring away the advertisers who account for 90% of Twitter’s revenue, Blue Origin becomes more appealing. Bezos is at least behaving like a grownup in public, albeit, as he politely points out regarding Musk, “you can’t know anyone by their public persona.” However, in this scenario, public perception is important. If Musk is radioactive to large segments of the public and government — which is not impossible! — this advantages Bezos. Sure, SpaceX is Gwynne Shotwell’s show, but as long as Musk is the company’s public face, he may harm it.
So, if Bezos can get Blue Origin moving quickly, the business will have a greater chance than it has in years to eat SpaceX’s lunch. A lot of things have to go right for it to happen, beginning with the New Glenn launch, but it’s not impossible. What made Jeff Bezos appear on Lex Fridman’s podcast? To let the world know that daddy has returned home.