Skip to main content

Sergey Brin and Elon Musk are Silicon Valley frenemies

Sergey Brin and Elon Musk are Silicon Valley frenemies


Some divorced man melodrama

Share this story

If you buy something from a Verge link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

Kristen Radtke / The Verge; Getty Images

I’m sorry for what I’m about to do here, but let’s talk about some divorced men. I think Sergey Brin is attempting to smear his ex-wife, and I think he’s using his history with Elon Musk to do it.

Musk allegedly had an affair with Brin’s wife, leading to their divorce. (ALLEGEDLY.) Then, at a party, Musk fell to his knees, begging for Brin’s forgiveness, “according to people with knowledge of the incident,” The Wall Street Journal writes. What a story!

I notice that Brin’s still duking it out with his soon-to-be ex-wife

Except: I find this sourcing weird. How many people? Two sources are different from 10 sources on this, or 30, you know? And what kind of knowledge? Were they there? I understand wanting to protect one’s sources, certainly, but I need more context on this to understand how seriously to take it. Can I be certain that Musk, who is often late to trends, was not simply attempting to Ice Brin?

I’m asking these pointed questions because I notice that Brin’s still duking it out with his soon-to-be ex-wife Nicole Shanahan in court. Brin’s lawyers contend she is asking for too much — a rumored $1 billion, according to the WSJ. I don’t know how the WSJ sourced this story, but I do think it’s more likely to benefit him than her. If he demonstrates she’s unfaithful, he gets to keep more of his money. And if she’s afraid of further news about their marriage making it into the papers, she might be more likely to settle quickly.

Shanahan has denied an affair with Musk, and an anonymous source close to her has told the New York Post that she’s a “pawn” in “billionaire playboy games.” I am a little skeptical of single-source anonymous reporting, but NYP rarely misses in celebrity coverage, possibly because of its extremely strong relationships with publicists. (Page Six isn’t what it was, but it’s still formidable.)

If Brin’s people are indeed behind the leak, that makes Musk’s reaction funnier. Musk says he’s seen Shanahan twice in the last three years — and never alone. “Haven’t even had sex in ages (sigh),” he adds. After all, he may have been denied entry to a Berlin sex club just last April.

It’s a little weird to deny that a photograph is evidence of a friendship, then post a photograph as evidence of a friendship

To prove that things are copacetic between himself and Brin, Musk posted a photo of them at the same party in reply to a Wall Street Journal editor who’d tweeted the story. An odd choice. I remember an earlier picture Musk had been asked about: one of him with Ghislaine Maxwell, the right-hand woman to Jeffrey Epstein who received a 20-year sentence for sex trafficking. Musk says she “photobombed” him.

It’s a little weird to deny that a photograph is evidence of a friendship, then post a photograph as evidence of a friendship. Musk had it right with the Maxwell photo denial: a photo of two people at the same party doesn’t mean much.

Look at the photo with Brin: Musk in the foreground; Brin in the background, not making eye contact with the camera, possibly not even aware he was being photographed. The two are under a tent, and Brin is holding a plastic cup — a party of some sort. There are two other people in the photo who appear to be either children or very short adults. One is wearing Overwatch cosplay. I have spent too much time trying to identify the trees in the background to figure out a location. (Yes, I emailed experts. They said the trees were too low-res to identify.)

It is certainly proof Musk and Brin were at the same party, which Musk says was on the afternoon of Sunday, July 24th. Whether it is proof of friendship is harder to say.

As for the date and location: according to the Twitter account that tracks its movements, Musk’s jet flew into San Jose’s airport on July 23rd and left on the evening of July 24th. In response to Musk’s tweet, a chef named Andrew Gruel (cool aptonym, very Dickens!) says that he could attest to Musk and Brin’s attendance at the party together, where they were served lobster deviled eggs. Gruel is based in Huntington Beach, California, where he left the patio at one of his restaurants open during Governor Gavin Newsom’s stay-at-home order, perhaps a point of commonality with Musk.

“Nicole and Sergey’s divorce has absolutely nothing to do with me,” Musk emailed the New York Post. (This is also, for what it’s worth, the second celebrity divorce in which Musk has been accused of homewrecking; Johnny Depp claimed that Musk began a relationship with his now-ex-wife, Amber Heard, a month after Depp and Heard were married.)

Brin might still party with Musk, but it sure seems like his lawyers hung Musk out to dry

Brin invested at least $500,000 in Tesla, according to Tim Higgins’ book Power Play. Brin may have invested an unknown amount in 2006, according to Insider. According to the recent WSJ story, Brin “has ordered his financial advisers to sell his personal investments in Mr. Musk’s companies,” though the story did not determine the size of the investments or if any sales had occurred. 

I think I know why! Because all of those investments, if sold, would then be part of the negotiations that Brin and Shanahan are engaging in around their divorce. The point of the WSJ story is to smear Shanahan, not tell her where all the money is! Brin might still party with Musk, but it sure seems like his lawyers hung Musk out to dry just to get to Shanahan. 

Why that aggression toward Musk? They have history. There’s the possibility Musk nicked the name “Autopilot” from Google, first of all. Apparently, Larry Page and Brin were thinking of buying Tesla while letting Musk stay in charge, according to Ashlee Vance’s biography of Musk. This didn’t come to pass, largely because of Musk’s P.T. Barnum-like self-promotional abilities. “With the benefit of hindsight, it’s clear that Musk was⁠—at a minimum⁠—either inspired or scared” into self-driving cars, wrote Edward Niedermeyer, another Musk biographer.

By 2018, before Brin left Google, it was clear that rivalry was brewing between Tesla and Google’s self-driving car division, Waymo. In January 2021, Waymo’s CEO John Krafcik said, “For us, Tesla is not a competitor at all.” Waymo even ditched the term “self-driving” to refer to its autonomous vehicles in 2021, saying, “It may seem like a small change, but it’s an important one, because precision in language matters and could save lives.” This does seem like a dig at Tesla, which calls its driver-assistance program “full self-driving.”

Tech-bro frenemies are a staple of Silicon Valley

Now, to be clear, the majority of the Waymo / Tesla beef started after Brin left Google. And Brin and Musk definitely do seem to be at the same party. But I gotta say — unless Brin and Musk agreed on leaking the WSJ story together to screw Shanahan as part of a tech-bro conspiracy — they seem a lot more like frenemies, particularly since Brin hasn’t said anything publicly to clear this up.

Tech-bro frenemies are a staple of Silicon Valley. Musk’s long relationship with Peter Thiel, who manufactured the coup at PayPal that shoved Musk out is a prime example. All of these guys need each other and maybe also kind of low-key hate each other. Seems stressful! But it kind of looks like everyone will get what they need here except possibly Shanahan, which is also very Silicon Valley. 

As for Musk’s woe-is-me tweets about attention: lol, lmao. His entire game with retail shareholders is about capturing attention. My guy loves it! Remember the McLaren? Remember the song, “Don’t Doubt ur Vibe?” The fake robot? Musk seems like an obvious student of NASA scientist (and Nazi) Wernher von Braun, and Twitter is where he does his version of “Man Will Conquer Space Soon.” He needs attention. After all, isn’t that what he’s buying Twitter for?

Which may mean Brin and Musk are still friends after all. I am fairly sure at this point that Musk can’t tell the difference between good attention and bad attention. As long as he’s the center of attention, he’s happy — because attention sells Teslas.

Today’s Storystream

Feed refreshed Sep 25 Not just you

Emma RothSep 25
Rihanna’s headlining the Super Bowl Halftime Show.

Apple Music’s set to sponsor the Halftime Show next February, and it’s starting out strong with a performance from Rihanna. I honestly can’t remember which company sponsored the Halftime Show before Pepsi, so it’ll be nice to see how Apple handles the show for Super Bowl LVII.

Emma RothSep 25
Starlink is growing.

The Elon Musk-owned satellite internet service, which covers all seven continents including Antarctica, has now made over 1 million user terminals. Musk has big plans for the service, which he hopes to expand to cruise ships, planes, and even school buses.

Musk recently said he’ll sidestep sanctions to activate the service in Iran, where the government put restrictions on communications due to mass protests. He followed through on his promise to bring Starlink to Ukraine at the start of Russia’s invasion, so we’ll have to wait and see if he manages to bring the service to Iran as well.

External Link
Emma RothSep 25
We might not get another Apple event this year.

While Apple was initially expected to hold an event to launch its rumored M2-equipped Macs and iPads in October, Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman predicts Apple will announce its new devices in a series of press releases, website updates, and media briefings instead.

I know that it probably takes a lot of work to put these polished events together, but if Apple does pass on it this year, I will kind of miss vibing to the livestream’s music and seeing all the new products get presented.

External Link
Emma RothSep 24
California Governor Gavin Newsom vetoes the state’s “BitLicense” law.

The bill, called the Digital Financial Assets Law, would establish a regulatory framework for companies that transact with cryptocurrency in the state, similar to New York’s BitLicense system. In a statement, Newsom says it’s “premature to lock a licensing structure” and that implementing such a program is a “costly undertaking:”

A more flexible approach is needed to ensure regulatory oversight can keep up with rapidly evolving technology and use cases, and is tailored with the proper tools to address trends and mitigate consumer harm.

Welcome to the new Verge

Revolutionizing the media with blog posts

Nilay PatelSep 13
Andrew WebsterSep 24
Look at this Thing.

At its Tudum event today, Netflix showed off a new clip from the Tim Burton series Wednesday, which focused on a very important character: the sentient hand known as Thing. The full series starts streaming on November 23rd.

The Verge
Andrew WebsterSep 24
Get ready for some Netflix news.

At 1PM ET today Netflix is streaming its second annual Tudum event, where you can expect to hear news about and see trailers from its biggest franchises, including The Witcher and Bridgerton. I’ll be covering the event live alongside my colleague Charles Pulliam-Moore, and you can also watch along at the link below. There will be lots of expected names during the stream, but I have my fingers crossed for a new season of Hemlock Grove.

Tom WarrenSep 23
Has the Windows 11 2022 Update made your gaming PC stutter?

Nvidia GPU owners have been complaining of stuttering and poor frame rates with the latest Windows 11 update, but thankfully there’s a fix. Nvidia has identified an issue with its GeForce Experience overlay and the Windows 11 2022 Update (22H2). A fix is available in beta from Nvidia’s website.