Bill Gates is a man that needs no introduction. You have probably read or heard about him so many times that you are wondering what the essence of this post could be. Without delving too much into history, there are some interesting points about him worth noting – he co-founded the world’s largest PC software company known as Microsoft Corporation with Paul Allen, and he currently tops the list of world billionaires according to Forbes magazine, a position he has held for 16 of the last 21years. He also has a big heart with a pledge to give away half of his fortune alongside other world billionaires to tackle major global causes. Most interesting of all, he is this blog’s entrepreneur of the month! That is why I have decided to write about him, picking out vital lessons necessary for today’s startup success, from his journey to entrepreneurial wealth. With cues taken from the steps he took, when he was not as rich or famous until when he made a major breakthrough with his computer operating system and aggressive business deals, these lessons, put in the form of questions, paints the picture of what it takes to be very successful as a startup entrepreneur, amid unfavorable conditions:
Bill Gates was attracted to computers since age 13 and has continued to until today. He spent days and night on the first computer gifted to his high school, working on programs. He, alongside his friend Paul, built their first program enabling users to play against the computer and also wrote the codes that monitored traffic patterns in Seattle when Bill was 15 years old, which netted him his first huge paycheck. His passion saw him spending more time in the computer lab than in his pre-law class during his time at Harvard University. He dropped out of school after the success of his first product, the Altair Basic, to start Microsoft with his friend. The company exploded into a billion-dollar company under his watch and made him the youngest billionaire at the age of 31. He later stepped down as the company’s CEO but still maintains the position of Chief Software architect, and now a technical advisor, while pursuing his philanthropic goals. This he did “so he could concentrate on what was for him the more passionate side of the business”, as stated by biography.com.
Question 1: What are you willing to spend days and nights doing without feeling stressed, distracted or discouraged?
Bill Gates is a natural risk taker. Most of what led to his early success is attributable to the amount of risk he was willing to take. He was never afraid of failure and never even gave it a thought. Before the success of his first product, Bill Gates made a phone call to a company, set to manufacture some microcomputers to announce he already has a BASIC software program that will run on their computer, when he had none. It was merely a bluff that soon led him to meeting up with this manufacturer to present the program, which he started building just after securing the company’s interest. With no microcomputer to test the program, no codes to run it, and with barely two weeks to the meeting, he scrambled to write the program with his friend Paul which, when tested on the new microcomputers at the meeting, worked just fine. If the program had failed, he might not have secured that first deal that led to the establishment of the Microsoft we know today. He made the announcement of Windows, which will be Microsoft’s first operating system with a graphical user interface, when he hasn’t designed anything of such. He is a man that takes the risks of making such bold statements publicly without thinking of what can stop it or why it might not be possible. With the several challenges the company faced in its early years, Gates continued taking the risk and as stated on encyclopeadia.com, “Industry analysts credited much of Microsoft’s success to Gates’ ability to capitalize early and effectively on industry trends and his willingness to take risks on such fledgling technologies as Microsoft’s CD-ROM-based software packages, which became industry standards.” This has been one of his major success secrets.
Question 2: What do you have a burning desire to do but unable to because you feel you don’t have what it takes?
Reading about Bill Gates made me appreciate the recent step I took to get a business education at the Salford Business School. I was more into computer internetworking and willing to face any test or challenge in that area. I realized the importance of understanding the role IT plays in an organization and the need to know how other functions of business are integrated to achieve the overall organizational strategy, which was why I went for the MBA program. Although, Bill Gates might not have completed his law degree, he was excellent in doing business. Aside being a genius in programming, he is well inclined commercially to spot the business opportunities technology presents. He knew the market potential of a software with a graphical user interface that Apple, a rival company at the time, was developing when compared to Microsoft’s own keyboard-driven products. He leveraged on the power of marketing to initially reduce the threats before releasing “Windows”. Aside his commercial awareness and marketing skills, he is a strategist and a good negotiator. He took ownership, adapted and licensed software made by other developers, to PC manufacturers for a fee on every computer that carries or uses it. He understands investments and the stock market and used it to shoot himself to billionaire status at a very young age. He demonstrated the value behind relying less on technologies and more on its commercialization because if an innovative product is not generating any revenue for a business, chances of it fizzling out is high.
Question 3: How business-savvy are you and your founding member(s)?
Bill Gates read a lot since he was a child. As stated by biography.com, “Bill was a voracious reader as a child, spending many hours pouring over reference books such as the encyclopedia.” His parents started having concerns about his behavior, which seemed like he is withdrawn and bored. Since his love for computers grew, he is always interested in any information related to that industry. He was known as the child that spends tons of hours in the computer lab with his friend going through source codes and manipulating them to see the outcome. Biography.com further stated, “Bill Gates’s intelligence allowed him to be able to see all sides of the software industry—product development and corporate strategy”. Paul Allen showed him the magazine that carried the news on the microcomputers to be built by Micro Instrumentation and Telemetry Systems Company (MITS), which he read and that led to the pair striking their first deal. He is always on the look out for what the competition is doing and assessing its threats against his products or company and how to stay ahead, while critics said he was been insecure and also accused him of engaging in unfair marketing practices. Being informed on what his competitors, such as IBM, Intel and Apple, are up to helped him position his company in a way that either kills competition or doesn’t affect his company’s products.
Question 4: What are the major factors influencing your industry now and what impacts are they likely to have on your business in the long run?
Bill Gates’ success can be largely attributed to his hard work and strong determination to succeed. Apart from the fact that his company faced several criticisms capable of slowing down growth, Gates had a clear picture of Microsoft’s future and he was willing to put in the work necessary to get there, without letting the pressures get to him. He knew what it takes to get to the top and remain there and he was determined to weather any storm to reach his destination. He was actively involved in every aspect of the business even as his staff strength grew. Biography.com stated that he “personally reviewed every line of code the company shipped, often rewriting code when he saw it necessary.” He was involved as the company’s spokesperson, marketer, strategist, product developer and people manager. Although he constantly engages his staffs to work harder and smarter, he still personally put in 16-hour per day and took only two three-day vacations in the first five years after establishing the corporation. There were also times he slept under the office desk due to working long hours. As quoted by encyclopaedia.com, “Gates was demanding and strong-willed about implementing his vision.”
Question 5: What are you willing to give up to achieve your startup goals?
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