The Bill Gates — Elon Musk Feud

Elad Simchayoff
Dec 8, 2020 · 5 min read

The Microsoft founder has become the latest in Musk’s growing list of billionaire foes. Why is SpaceX & Tesla’s chief picking fights?

Gates and Musk in a rare sight of mutual respect. Photo: © Imaginechina/REX/Shutterstock

While they have international, even Interplanetary, businesses to run, or world-saving foundations to oversee; Billionaires, so it seems, also have plenty of time to fight.

In recent months, the multi-billionaire’s club has been rocked by an ongoing feud between two of its senior members. The battle between Elon Musk and Bill Gates has been public, brutal, and unapologetic. It has been fought on social media, interviews, and blogs. It’s a battle that stretches from electric cars, the coronavirus pandemic, and to plain name-calling. similar to the personas of the two tech-nerdy moguls, the fight is captivating and awkward. You can’t take your eyes off of it.

The dispute dates back to February 2020. In an interview with tech Youtuber Marques Brownlee, Gates was asked about electric cars, and while acknowledging Tesla’s major part in moving passenger’s cars towards the electric age, Gates revealed that he personally had recently bought a Porsche Taycan. “It’s very very cool. That’s my first electric car and I’m enjoying it a lot”, Gates said.

Musk didn’t take kindly to hearing his fellow billionaire’s remarks. 4 days after the Gates interview, Twitter user ‘Tesletter’ twitted about his own disappointment from Gates. Musk then replied and took the feud a step further.

The rivalry became even more fierce a few months later, at the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic. Musk had several highly controversial statements: In March, he tweeted that “the panic will cause more harm than the virus”. In April, he criticized lockdown measures calling them “fascist” and describing it as “forcibly imprisoning people in their home.” He advocated for the use of Hydroxychloroquine. He said that there will be “close to zero new cases in the US by end of April [2020]”. These are just a few examples. Musk wasn’t shy about his thoughts of the pandemic.

This time, it was Gates's turn to go on the offense. In an interview for CNBC, the Microsoft founder said: “Elon’s positioning is to maintain a high level of outrageous comments. He’s not much involved in vaccines. He makes a great electric car. And his rockets work well. So he’s allowed to say these things. I hope that he doesn’t confuse areas he’s not involved in too much.”

The comeback soon followed. First, on Twitter. A user tweeted the Gates interview quote and tagged Musk. Musk replied:

It didn’t end there. In an interview for the New York Times podcast “Sway”, Musk was asked about his reaction to the pandemic and said: “Tesla makes the vaccine machines for CureVac. Gates said something about me not knowing what I was doing. It’s like, hey, knucklehead, we actually make the vaccine machines for CureVac that company you’re invested in.”

Yep, he called Bill Gates a knucklehead.

The feud kept growing. In August, Gates wrote a blog post questioning whether an electric future is viable for all kinds of transportation: “Even with big breakthroughs in battery technology, electric vehicles will probably never be a practical solution for things like 18-wheelers, cargo ships, and passenger jets.”

Musk’s reaction was very short.

Following the long line of mutual verbal stingers, one might see Gates’s remarks about the difference between Musk and Steve Jobs as another swing at the Tesla and SpaceX billionaire. “You wouldn’t walk into a room and confuse them with each other,” answered Gates when asked whether the two were alike.

It is also wouldn’t be a stretch to assume that Gates didn’t very much like the fact that Musk had, a few days ago, overtook him as the second richest man in the world. Musk must have been over the moon.

A quick Google search would bring you some curious outcomes. Elon Musk fights with fellow billionaires A LOT. “Musk vs. Bezos”, “Musk vs. Buffet”, “Musk vs. Branson”, and “Musk vs. Zuckerberg” are all recent headlines. The media loves it, as it loves covering rivalries between the rich and famous. The public loves it, there’s even an “Epic Rap Battle” between Musk and Zuckerberg on Youtube with almost 30 million views.

However, the Musk vs. Gates affair, while is probably being enhanced by the media and public, is certainly real. The two men are active participants in it, fueling the feud further and further even when not asked directly about each other. I kept thinking, why?

While it’s easy to brush off Musk’s fights as him being the ‘bad boy’ of the billionaires club, having a natural tendency to stir up controversy, or having a big ego. And while the arguments themselves are not mainly superficial, and do revolve around substance and different views on significant matters. I think that there’s more to it than that.

It’s one thing to become a legend on your own, but Musk knows that the path to a completely different level of legendary-status goes through having an archrival. Rockefeller and Carnegie, Edison and Tesla, Michelangelo and Raphael, are only a few examples of creative and business geniuses who fought all the way to mutual greatness.

Musk is picking fights, hoping something would stick. He’s looking, I would claim, to find the worthy archrival that would get him into the very exclusive ‘hall of fame of grand rivalries’ for generations to come.

There could be additional reasoning to Musk’s fight-picking; His creative process. A study by New York University found that “competing head to head against a rival boosts motivation and performance”. Another study found that runners actually run faster in races featuring their rivals. A healthy rivalry could help drive a person, increase creativity, and keep one on one’s toes. Musk could be looking to pick fights in order to motivate himself to win them, thus become more successful. Some people are just like that, they need a rival to make themselves better.

Is it possible that in Bill Gates Musk finally found a true nemesis? Gates himself has something to gain from this rivalry too. Although being ‘out of the business game’, Gates could find flattery in knowing he was considered an ‘archrival material’ for a new generation of entrepreneurs. Like Michael Jordan facing Isiah Thomas and years later facing Kobe for a much-discussed 1 on 1, so could Gates feel satisfied for being the archrival of Steve Jobs, and years later, feuding with the man many claim is his successor.

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Elad Simchayoff

Written by

I love writing about what I love. Journalist. Always curious. Israeli born, London based. Father, Husband, and a dog person.

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +789K followers.

Elad Simchayoff

Written by

I love writing about what I love. Journalist. Always curious. Israeli born, London based. Father, Husband, and a dog person.

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +789K followers.

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