At the Code Conference last week, Elon Musk responded to a lawsuit filed by fellow billionaire Jeff Bezos's Blue Origin, telling Kara Swisher that "you cannot sue your way to the moon." It's the latest in an escalating battle between the world's two richest men over their efforts to send people into space.
As you might expect, Bezos had a few words in response to Musk's comment. Interestingly, however, it wasn't Blue Origin that responded. It was Amazon, which is weird because I wasn't aware that the company was planning to start shipping packages to the moon.
"SpaceX has a long track record of suing the U.S. government on procurement matters and protesting various governmental decisions," an Amazon spokesperson wrote in a statement to CNBC. "It is difficult to reconcile that historical record with their recent position on others filing similar actions."
It's true that Amazon is trying to launch a rival to SpaceX's StarLink Satellite broadband service, called Project Kuiper. Still, you'd think that the company would want to stay out of an unrelated fight between two other companies.
Except, of course, both Amazon and Blue Origin are basically controlled by Bezos--despite the fact that he stepped down as CEO of the former earlier this year. Bezos remains executive chairman at Amazon and is the company's largest shareholder.
Musk later replied, on Twitter, of course:
Musk and Bezos have been in a fight over space for some time now. Most recently, Musk commented that suing SpaceX was Bezos's full-time gig now that he retired from Amazon. Blue Origin is suing NASA over a contract awarded to SpaceX to transport and land astronauts on the moon. That comes after Amazon filed complaints with the FCC over StarLink earlier this year.
Musk told Swisher that he believes Bezos should "put more of his energy into getting to orbit, rather than lawsuits." That's a fair criticism considering that despite the high-profile trip to space this summer that included Bezos, his brother, and two other civilians, Blue Origin has not yet proven it can successfully send its vehicles into orbit. That's an important step before sending anything to the moon.
It's easy to dismiss all of this as just two billionaires fighting over a trip to the moon. Except there's a bigger point that every business could benefit from: Sore losers never win.
Honestly, I don't mean that as just a dig at Bezos. He has certainly been very successful in a lot of areas of his life. Blue Origin, however, has only ever been a side project. Until Bezos went into space in July, most people probably had no idea he even owned a rocket company.
Instead of complaining about the loss, maybe Bezos should devote the resources necessary to actually win. He clearly has no shortage of resources, and if sending people to the moon is important, there's no reason not to dedicate more of those resources to the challenge.
The thing is, in the race for space, Bezos and Blue Origin are way behind SpaceX. The usual playbook of pressuring your competitors through lawsuits or bullying tactics aren't going to work against someone who has this much of a lead and the kind of resources Musk has.
Musk, however, has some advice for Bezos. He encouraged Bezos to dedicate more of his time and energy to Blue Origin if it's really something he cares about. CNBC recently reported that Bezos had doubled the amount of time he spends at the rocket company, though that's still limited to two afternoons a week.
Musk is right. You can't sue your way to the moon. You have to actually build a vehicle capable of getting there. That's not something you can do by just showing up two days a week. It's hard work that takes vision, leadership, and resources.
Look, I get that Bezos is probably a pretty busy guy. He has a lot of priorities, for sure. Spending almost $200 billion (Bezos's net worth is $192 billion as I write this) takes a lot of his attention, I'm sure.
But Musk has a point. If space is more than a hobby for Bezos, he should stop complaining about losing, and start focusing on doing what is necessary to win.