If Jeff Bezos is spending a billion a year on his space venture, he just started

Bezos and his team celebrate the first successful landing of the New Shepard rocket booster.
Bezos and his team celebrate the first successful landing of the New Shepard rocket booster.
Image: Blue Origin
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“My business model right now … for Blue Origin is I sell about $1 billion of Amazon stock a year and I use it to invest in Blue Origin,” Jeff Bezos, the billionaire founder of Amazon and patron of Blue Origin, a promising new space enterprise, said last week.

But is that really the business model? Bezos, like any insider at a publicly traded company, needs to report major stock sales to the US Securities and Exchange Commission, a disclosure put in place after the Enron scandal at the beginning of this century. When Blue Origin declined to provide further details on Bezos’ claimed investment, Quartz pulled Bezos’ stock disclosures going back to 2004 to see how often he has really sold his stock. Answer: Not so often as implied.

Since 2004, when these reports became available online, Bezos has sold $4.94 billion worth of Amazon stock, adjusted for inflation and before tax. (That figure doesn’t include charitable gifts Bezos has made of his Amazon stock.) Last year was the first year he ever sold more than a billion dollars in a 12-month period. Today, Bloomberg estimates Bezos to be the world’s second-richest human, with a net worth of $77 billion. At today’s prices, Bezos’ controlling stake in Amazon is worth approximately $73 billion.

These disclosures don’t tell us what Bezos spent the money on, but it seems unlikely it all went to Blue Origin. Like any savvy investor, Bezos has likely invested some of his earnings outside Amazon to diversify his portfolio. In 2013, he bought the Washington Post for $250 million.

Indeed, if Bezos had been investing all the proceeds from his Amazon sales in Blue Origin annually, it would likely be much further ahead today. While Blue Origin was founded in 2000, two years before SpaceX, Elon Musk’s rocket company, it is several years behind in terms of rocket production. SpaceX has raised about $1.2 billion in investment capital, funding the rest of its work through operating revenue.

At the risk of reading too much into limited data—it’s possible that some major, pre-’04 stock sales went to fund the company— you can map Bezos’ sales to the progress of his space venture. Bezos first documented sale of stock over $500 million occurred in 2010. Blue Origin began testing its New Shepard suborbital rocket in 2011, ramping up the program to a first successful reusable flight in 2015, with five reuses of a second New Shepard rocket in 2015. Now, the company is building a factory for its first orbital rocket and working to fly humans for the first time, with commercial service expected to begin next year—if they can figure out the rules.