Microsoft: An Empire Built From Scrap In Half A Century
Who would have thought that billions of years after the Big Bang, life on planet Earth would evolve to a point where one beautiful mind would be able to contribute so much to making the world a better place. One of these minds belongs to Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, a man who gave so much to society, he's considered a living legend.
Born in 1955 in Seattle, Bill grew up in a healthy environment. His father was a successful lawyer and the sole provider of his family, so his mother could focus her time on the children, as well as helping out with charities and civic affairs.
A family house full of love, kindness, and understanding made young Bill sympathetic towards society as a system, so he often joined his mother in volunteering at community organizations and local schools. Seeing that not everyone in the world was lucky to grow in a stable home and with the same opportunities affected Bill.
In fact, it affected him so deeply, that it shaped his life, and his work.
Bill's life took a hard left when a Seattle computer company offered to provide computer time for interested students in his high school. There, at age 14, Bill saw a computer for the first time - something which turned out to be love at first sight, a moment that would define his future.
No wonder he learned how to code fast!
In his first year using the BASIC computer language, he programmed the computer to be able to play tic-tac-toe against a person. In his second year, while helping the school to make a software for scheduling student classes, the then-teenaged Bill tweaked the system so all the pretty girls were in his class.
Sneaky? Sure. Wunderkind? Definitely!
As computer technology progressed, Bill and his friends got access to newer computers by volunteering in tech companies. Together with Paul Allen and Ric Weiland, both of whom also went on to become tech industry pioneers, Bill exploited a weakness in the Center for Computers Corporation software that allowed them to get free computer time. Although this got them banned from the computers, the restriction didn't last long. The CCC decided to use their talents, allowing them to use the equipment in exchange for finding and fixing bugs.
Of course, a good reputation travels quickly, so word got around of their capabilities.
The following year, another company hired them to code a payroll program for them.
Now, they were on a roll!
When Bill and Allen were 15, they made their first $25,000 in profit by selling software that monitored traffic patterns in Seattle. Instantly enamored with the taste of success, they went on to start their own company. However, Bill's parents had other plans - they wanted him to finish his studies, graduate, and continue with law school.
The College Dropout
Bill couldn't disobey his parents so vehemently in the early 70s, so in the interest of pleasing them, he enrolled in Harvard in 1973. But it just wasn't meant to be - instead of focusing on the law, he was spending most of his time in the computer lab, getting by with a few hours of sleep, bad food, and still passing with reasonable grades.
Although his best friend went to a different university, both of them stayed in touch. In 1975, Allan showed Bill a Popular Electronics magazine article on the Altair 8800 mini-computer kit - a computer with capabilities that captured their imagination!
The two friends quickly contacted the company that made the computer, lying that they were working on a BASIC program that would run on their machine.
In reality, they didn't even have an Altair to work and code on, let alone an idea for a program!
When the company, Micro Instrumentation and Telemetry Systems (MITS) asked them for a demonstration, the boys used a Harvard computer for two months and managed to scramble together some code. Allan immediately traveled to MITS' headquarters in Albuquerque, New Mexico to test run the program that was never tried on Altair.
The software worked perfectly and Allan was hired! Afterward, Bill dropped out of college to join his best friend and they both formed Micro-Soft, a combination of the words 'microcomputer' and 'software'.
The company's first product? The software that allowed for BASIC programming on the Altair computer!
The Rise of Microsoft
When the president of MITS sold the company, Bill and Allan were left on their own, as they lost the one client they had. They immediately began developing programs for various computer companies, which led to Bill moving the company to Bellevue, Washington in 1979, wanting to be closer to home.
In the beginning, most of the funding came from their own pocket.
All 25 of their employees had a wide range of responsibilities, from marketing to coding, and Bill personally checked every line of code his employees wrote.
In November 1980, Bill's mom introduced him to IBM's CEO, who was looking for someone to make the software for their new personal computer (PC). Although young, he impressed IBM's CEO with his technical knowledge, and Microsoft got the contract!
Now 25 years old, Bill wanted to get a head start, so he bought half-ready operating systems and began working on them. After upgrading them, he sold the operating system to IBM for a one-time fee of $50,000 - a great deal at that time!
This decision could count as one of the best Bill has ever made, as all other companies that copied IBM's hardware began buying the software which Microsoft named MS-DOS. At the same time, this move allowed the company to grow from 25 to 125 employees in a single year while also boosting revenues from $2.5 million to $16 million.
By 1983, 30 percent of the world's computers used Microsoft's software, leading to the company opening offices in Great Britain and Japan.
But even with this major upturn, the tech empire was still in its infancy.
Becoming a Global Tech Giant
Bill had a close relationship with his fellow iconic tech entrepreneur Steve Jobs. Although he was critical of Apple's revolutionary Graphical User Interface, Bill quickly saw its potential and in 1985, Microsoft released its own GUI operating system - Windows. This quickly destroyed the relationship between the two geniuses, prompting Jobs to publicly attack Bill and Microsoft a number of times.
However, GUI systems were in demand at the time - if not Jobs or Bill, someone else would have made them. This is where Bill's business talent and intuition shook the OS sector down to its core. With more than 30 percent of world computers using MS-DOS, Microsoft made Windows compatible with it. Users just needed to upgrade rather than buy a new machine, allowing Microsoft to immediately conquer an enormous share of the global market.
During this time, Bill spent all his time analyzing the industry, seeing it from different perspectives, resulting in every strategy he deployed to be bulletproof. His confrontational management style infused with his dedication and attention to detail rubbed off on all the employees at Microsoft. It's what got the company to the top, and soon after, other entrepreneurs started deploying the same method.
This included a constant challenge of employees' ideas to keep the creative process going. The constant focus on work and creativity allowed Microsoft to expand in different sectors of the software industry. The expansion resulted in lawsuits for monopoly, especially after creating Word and Excel, which were intentionally made to work only on Windows.
During the 90s, he found inventive ways to downplay the pressure and accusations, using lighthearted commercials and regular talks at computer trade shows, posing as Star Trek's Mr. Spock. At the turn of the millenium, Bill decided to step down as CEO in order to focus on his passion - creating new, groundbreaking software.
In the 6 years he worked as a chief software architect, he continued to innovate and to grow Microsoft, becoming the richest man in the world and acquiring $50 billion in wealth.
Giving Back to the World
On June 27, 2008, Bill left his full-time position at Microsoft but retained his Chairman position, so he and his wife Melinda could focus on their charity efforts. But Bill didn't see the point of having all the money in the world without using it to help people, so in February 2014, he stepped down as chairman of Microsoft and decided to focus his intelligence and talent in making the world a better place through his foundation - exclusively. Today, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is the single largest private philanthropic institution in the world, with a staggering $43 billion endowment.
Despite his enormous philanthropic efforts, he once again broke his old record, becoming the richest man in the world once again, with a wealth of more than $100 billion.
Although Bill's schedule these days is planned down to the minute, he still manages to find time to read 50 books each year. His focus on never-ending self-improvement and self-education have earned him a number of honorary degrees.
These days, Bill and Melinda continue looking for new and innovative ways to help people around the world, with a primary focus on the areas stricken with poverty.
During his amazing life full of achievements, both in the tech world and as a philanthropist, the one regret he has is that besides mastering a number of programming languages, he only speaks one human language, English. Guess that's what happens when you're so successful, you only know all the rest!