Bill Gates is an American business magnate who founded Microsoft Corporation, together with Paul Allen his late childhood friend. Bill is also a software developer, author, philanthropist, and investor. During his Microsoft career, Bill held the positions of president, CEO, chairman, and head software architect. He was the company’s biggest shareholder up to May.
I personally Bill Gate's characteristics deeply influence my early business adventures. Bill is probably one of the best-known entrepreneurs that started his business in the 1970s and 1980s during the microcomputer revolution.
When asked about why he thinks he was so successful, Bill has shared the 10 rules that he has lived by and that he feels every entrepreneur should apply when they want to start their own company.
Overcome Your Fear of Risk
When Bill Gates started Microsoft, he didn’t think that it was risky. Although he could have gone bankrupt, he was so excited about what they were doing and also knew that he had a skill set that made him highly employable. The other safety net that he had at the time was that his parents were willing to allow him to go back to Harvard and complete his studies if he wanted to do that.
Although he wasn’t scared to quit Harvard and start the company, things did get scary for him when he started hiring his friends and became responsible for paying them. What also scared him was when some of the customers that he counted on to come through for him went bankrupt.
This fear of risk resulted in Bill cultivating a very conservative approach where he wanted enough money to cover the payroll for a year without any payments coming in during that time. This level of risk-averse attitude is however not sustainable in you start your own company.
Bill’s advice is that if you plan on starting your own company, it is better to overcome your fear of risk as it takes too much energy. When you’re young, it’s very difficult to lease premises. They made it very difficult for Bill. At the time Bill started Microsoft, he couldn’t rent a car as he was under 25, so he always had to take taxis when he wanted to go see customers. People would also often say that they were going to go and have a discussion in a bar, but Bill couldn’t go into a bar because he was too young.
All of this was however part of the fun. Bill loved the scenarios where people were at first skeptical because they thought that this kid doesn’t know anything. When he then showed them that he does really have a good product and that he knows something, they often tended to go overboard and thought, ‘Whoa, he knows a lot! We can do an amazing amount with these people.’ These types of problems are however very common when you start a company. It is way better to think of these challenges as part of the pleasure, part of the excitement.
Always Be a Student
Bill describes himself as a ‘weird college dropout’ because he takes courses all the time. He loves being a student and loves learning new things.
Although he feels that it was unfortunate that he didn’t get to stay at Harvard, he doesn’t think he missed any knowledge that he needed. Whatever he needed to learn after dropping out, he managed to learn through other courses because he was still in a learning mode.
When Bill was still with Microsoft, he was in meetings a lot and his calendar got very full. At night, once the kids were in bed, he was on email a great deal of the time. This was the time he had to give long responses to all the messages he received during the day.
Bill also sent a lot of emails over the weekends. He did however take two weeks per year to simply go off and think and read, where he’s not interrupted by anything, including work.
He used this time to try to think about the future solidly. As part of that so-called think week, people would send him suggestions of what he could read. This makes for a nice mix of things.
Bill traveled extensively to Europe and Asia to meet with customers and that took up about 25% of his time. He also used this time to think about things like if they have the right priorities, what would people like to see the company do better, and what people respond well to.
Learn to Say No
Bill tells the story of when he first met Warren Buffett. They were talking about planning another get-together and to do something. Warren pulled out his calendar and bill immediately noticed that the pages were mainly blank.
Bill commented on this and told Warren that he [Warren] seemed to have managed not to get tied into a lot of meaningless activities.
Warren responded by saying that he had learned to be good at saying no to lots of things and only pick the things that can really make a difference.
Bill says that of the many things he’s learned from Warren, this is one of my favorites as he can blame it on Warren whenever he turns anything down.
Learning to say no can be a very powerful tool in your skillset. Many entrepreneurs love to help people and although this is great, saying yes to every opportunity and request that comes your way is a quick way to get so overwhelmed that you’ll soon find yourself in a situation that you have no time left for the important stuff.
Enjoy What You Do
Bill says that it’s crucial to enjoy what you do every single day. For Bill, that enjoyment comes from working with very smart people and working on new problems as a team.
Every time they achieved some measure of success however, they were careful not to think about it too much as the success always raises the bar a bit higher, making the next challenge even harder.
Successful people tend to be pretty fanatical about the thing they’re trying to do, but not always.
Bill recalls attending an industry panel in which about seven people participated. They debated the issue of whether a computer interface would be a character-mode thing or if it would be a graphical user interface.
At the time, it was Windows 1.0, the graphic user interface stuff was extremely slow and writing software for it was extremely difficult.
The people on the panel agreed that the graphic user interface would not work and that it was stupid.
Bill disagreed and tried to convince the panel that the user interface would be great. One of the participants on the panel said that although he thought Bill was wrong, he also knew that Bill worked harder than the rest of them. This guy then added that although he thought it was the wrong solution, Bill was likely to succeed because he worked so hard.
For Bill, this was the best compliment he had ever received.
Bill says he could send the industry in a specific direction just by working day and night. He was totally fanatical during that period and didn’t believe in weekends or vacations.
It turned out that this worked for him as they managed to get the company going at a rate that resulted in them making mistakes much faster than what other companies were doing, and then fix those mistakes.
Ask for Advice
Bill has a number of people in his life that he can ask for advice, including his dad, Warren Buffett, and his wife Melinda.
He has a number of others around him that know him very well, and know when he forgets to think about something, when he might get over-excited about something, or when his judgment isn’t its strongest.
Those people were very good at correcting Bill’s blind spots. Bill believes that it’s a good idea to give your advisors and friends the license to fix your blind spots and to encourage them to do so.
One minor example of Bill’s blind spots is that he can go to a party and then forget to greet various people or something.
It is a great asset to have a small number of people that you can depend on to help with certain key issues.
Pick Good People
Bill says that his best business decisions had to do with selecting people. At the top of the list is when he decided to go into partnership with Paul Allen. This was followed shortly after by hiring Steve Balmer, a friend of his.
You need to have somebody who you trust totally, and who shares your vision, who is totally committed, and yet has a different set of skills, but can also act as a check on you.
When you come up with new ideas, you run these by them, because you know they’re going to find things you haven’t thought about and haven’t considered.
The simple benefit of sparking off with someone who has that type of brilliance has not only made the journey fun, but has also led to a lot of success.
Picking the right partner is critical.
While he was at college, Bill developed one habit that was actually very bad. He liked to show people that he didn’t care, he didn’t go to classes, and he didn’t do any work. At the very last moment, like a few days before the test, he would get serious and start studying. People around him thought this was very funny. That was his claim to fame – the guy that didn’t do anything until the last minute.
When he later went into business this was however a really bad habit, and it took Bill a number of years to get that habit changed. When you’re in business, nobody will praise you because you do things at the last minute. Bill says that he’s still working on the problem, but procrastination is definitely not a good habit.
In the early days, Bill made a statement that is now famous: “A computer on every desk in every home”. He would then play with the numbers in his head and try to figure out how many homes and how many desks there were in the world. He would then take it further and try to calculate how much he would make if he got $20 for every home or every desk.
Although this would add up to really big numbers, part of the beauty of the business was that they always kept their focus on the here and now, answering questions like if we don’t get paid by our customers, will we have enough cash to meet the payroll, and is this the right time to hire another person?
The team was very practical about the next thing they were working on and so immersed in the engineering that they didn’t get time to get ahead of themselves. They didn’t really worry about how big they may become. Bill remembers that when a list of wealthy people came out, one of Intel’s founders was on it, and the guy that owned Wang Computer Factory was doing well. Although they realized that as the software business was doing well, Microsoft’s value could be similar to that, it wasn’t really a focus.
The everyday activities of creating great software drew them in. There were some long-term decisions such as how we thought about software, the vision, and the quality of the people. In general however, they simply came to work every day, wrote more code, and hired more people.
It wasn’t until the IBM PC was a success and maybe even after Windows succeeded that there was a wider awareness that Microsoft was a very unique software company and that the other companies had been one-product companies.