Talking the Talk: Bill Gates on His Biggest Business Mistake Ever.

Bill Gates seems to be into a lot of things these days, even more into Venture Capital (VC) financing for startups. And when it comes to supplying venture capital to startups, a lot of VC firms are trying to do it differently. Village Global is a VC firm that promises something unique. According to its website the firm states that “when you raise money from Village, you are getting connected capital. You are joining a network of the world’s most successful founders”. These successful founders include the likes of Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Diane Greene, Reid Hoffman, Sara Blakely, Jeff Bezos and so on.

Recently, an event was hosted for early-stage founders by Village Global and Bill Gates had a thorough conversation with Julia Hartz, the CEO of Eventbrite, about the process of founding a company and the tough decisions that are important to create, grow and sustain a thriving business.

Hartz was quite straightforward with her questions and they related mostly to how Bill Gates dealt with the age-old work-life balance question. Bill Gates had previously said that he “didn’t really believe in vacations.” One of the questions Hartz asked Gates was whether his current views on work-life balance has change overtime, if he thinks that they have evolved from an earlier time in his life.

Gates did not waste much time to answer this question. He posited that his views changed dramatically when he entered his 30s but still have not changed about work especially in the earlier years of a budding software company. As Gates related to Hartz “I have a fairly hardcore view that there should be a very large sacrifice made during those early years, particularly if you are trying to do some engineering things that you have to get the feasibility.”

Even now, Gates still beats himself up for not building the Android OS as this was supposed to be the natural progression for Microsoft following Apple’s development of the iOS. As stated by Gates, this was due to a slight slack off on the part of Microsoft to develop something that was a “natural thing for Microsoft to win.”

The full conversation about founding a company is in the video below, so watch it and learn what you can.

More importantly, the following is Gates’ full response on the work-life balance dilemma faced by early-stage founders.

I think you could over worship and mythologize the idea of working extremely hard. For my particular makeup — and it really is true that I didn’t believe in weekends; I didn’t believe in vacations; I mean, I knew everybody’s license plate so I could tell you over the last month when their card had come and gone from the parking lot — so I don’t recommend it and I don’t think most people would enjoy it.

Once I got into my 30s, I could hardly even imagine how I had done that. Because by then, some natural behavior kicked in, and I loved weekends. And, you know, my girlfriend liked vacations. And that turned out to be kind of a neat thing. Now I take lots of vacation. My 20-year-old self is so disgusted with my current self. You know, I, I was sure I would never fly anything, but coach and you know, now I have a plane. So, it’s very much counter revelations and taken place at high speed.

But yes, it is nice if during those first several years, you have a team that has chosen to be pretty maniacal about the company, and how far that goes, you should have a mutual understanding, so you’re not one person expecting one thing, and another person expecting another thing.

And you will have individuals who, who have, you know, health or relatives or things that [distract them]. But yes, I have a fairly hardcore view that there should be a very large sacrifice made during those, those early years, particularly if you’re trying to do some engineering things that you have to get the feasibility.

You know, in the software world, in particular for platforms, these are winner-take-all markets. So, you know, the greatest mistake ever is the whatever mismanagement I engaged in that caused Microsoft not to be what Android is, [meaning] Android is the standard non-Apple phone form platform. That was a natural thing for Microsoft to win.

It really is winner take all. If you’re there with half as many apps or 90% as many apps, you’re on your way to complete doom. There’s room for exactly one non-Apple operating system, and what’s that worth? $400 billion that would be transferred from company G [Google] to company M [Microsoft].

And it’s amazing to me, having made one of the greatest mistakes of all time — and there was this antitrust lawsuit and various things that, you know, our other assets, Windows, Office,  are still very strong. So we are a leading company. If we got that one right, we would be the company. But oh well.

So this idea that just small differences can magnify themselves doesn’t exist for a lot of businesses. You know, if you’re a service business, it doesn’t exist. But for software platforms, it’s absolutely gigantic. And so that’s partly where you have the mentality of every night you think, ‘Am I screwing this up?’ And eventually, we did screw up a super important one.”

Bill Gates
Bill Gates Interviewed By Julia Hartz at a Recent Village Global Event
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