Academy of Achievement Logo
Achiever Gallery
  The Arts
   + [ Business ]
  Public Service
  Science & Exploration
  My Role Model
  Recommended Books
  Academy Careers
Keys to Success
Achievement Podcasts
About the Academy
For Teachers

Search the site

Academy Careers


If you like Bill Gates's story, you might also like:
Timothy Berners-Lee,
Jeffrey Bezos,
Stephen Case,
Michael Dell,
Lawrence Ellison,
John Hennessy,
Reid Hoffman,
Jeong Kim,
Ray Kurzweil,
Craig McCaw,
Pierre Omidyar,
Larry Page,
George Rathmann,
Carlos Slim,
Frederick Smith,
Ted Turner and
Oprah Winfrey

Bill Gates's recommended reading: A Separate Peace

Related Links:
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Share This Page
  (Maximum 150 characters, 150 left)

Bill Gates
Bill Gates
Profile of Bill Gates Biography of Bill Gates Interview with Bill Gates Bill Gates Photo Gallery

Bill Gates Interview (page: 6 / 7)

Co-Founder and Chairman, Microsoft Corporation

Print Bill Gates Interview Print Interview

  Bill Gates

Bill Gates Interview Photo
How did the name Microsoft come about? Do you remember?

Bill Gates: You know, we had been talking about that actually back at Harvard, microcomputer software, and nobody else had done a company doing software for these things, and we thought it was a cool term, "Microsoft." When we had been kids and sending our names in for mailing lists we'd played around with a lot of company names, including "Allen & Gates" or things like that, but we decided no, it would be better not to have our names in it, because it wasn't like a law firm that was always kind of a small thing. We thought, "Hey, we're going to have a big company, so we'll have a company name." So "Microsoft" was a very natural choice.

When Ed Roberts of MITS agreed to buy your program, you included a "best efforts" clause requiring him to try to sublicense and promote your software. How did that turn out?

Bill Gates: Microsoft was only a few people and we'd written this BASIC, and the idea was to license it to lots of companies and then to write other software. So the head of MITS said he could help us market it to other people and take a sales commission for that, and I wrote the contract so that if they weren't serious about promoting it and putting a lot of investment into that, they would lose that right. That was the "best efforts" clause, a very strong requirement. They never got serious about that, and yet they kind of liked the idea of them having the BASIC and other people not. So we were discussing that, how we were going to resolve this problem, because we needed to license it to other people, and we were doing all the work to license it to other people even though they were getting this commission. And right at that time, another company, Pertec, bought MITS, and then those people got confused about the contract and so they weren't even paying us the money they owed us. They were essentially trying to starve us, so we terminated the contract. It had an arbitration clause. The arbitrator found that we were right. Five out of five reasons to terminate the contract, we were only right about five of them! So that contract was terminated. And then we had to -- like, we ended up having to do -- built our sales and marketing activities. And by then we started to have some other programs as well. So we started to hire more people and things really got going. The big thing though, was that because Pertec moved that company out to California, we no longer had a reason to be in Albuquerque, because you couldn't recruit people there as easily as you could to other locations. So we talked about where to move, and eventually, in 1979, we move up to Seattle.

[ Key to Success ] Perseverance

When you decided to leave Harvard to just concentrate on business, what was your parents' reaction?

Bill Gates: My parents had been fantastic throughout my whole student career. I mean, getting me to go to Lakeside, that my senior year at Lakeside, where I had wanted to take time off and do this job at TRW, they'd been very supportive of that, letting me live down in Vancouver, Washington. I challenged them a little bit when some of my coworkers at TRW said I should skip undergraduate and just go to graduate school, and they were not enthused about that. It looked like I would have an opportunity to do that, but I didn't, I just went to Harvard. And that was another case where they were right that, socially, being with other undergraduates was good. I got to take graduate courses up at MIT, and I did that to a limited degree. So I kind of had the best of both worlds. Anyway, when it came time to go on leave from Harvard, the policies of the school about -- if you're gone -- letting you come back are incredibly generous. So if the enterprise had failed, then I would have been back. So my parents were a little surprised, and kind of wondering what it meant, but they were pretty supportive. And in fact, when we got into this legal dispute with Pertec, my dad gave me good advice. He was very supportive on that, and so we saw that through. And then, as the company became successful, I hope they felt better about it. The only really bad case was if I stayed and the company was kind of mediocre-ally successful. If it failed it would be okay, if it was a big success it would be okay, and they could see I was very energized. And I thought we needed to get in at the very beginning and not waste a year or two, which is what I had left of my undergraduate course requirements.

But if kids wanted to follow in your footsteps today, wouldn't you advise them to stay in college?

Bill Gates: Well, college is amazing. There are all these smart kids sitting around, you can talk about anything, there are courses you can go to, there's tests to see if you know what you're talking about. There is nothing better than a great college for your experience. I would have stayed until the end if it hadn't been for the urgency. I watch lots of college lectures online now because I enjoy that so much. So unless you have something that's really uniquely, amazingly time dependent, it's a great thing to finish the degree.

Do you ever wonder what would have happened if the BASIC program for MITS had not worked?

Bill Gates Interview Photo
Bill Gates: Oh, I don't think it would have been a dramatic setback. We would have figured out what mistake we'd made and eventually gotten the thing running. It turns out, even though we were in this big rush, there weren't many other people doing serious work at the time. It was another couple of years before other software companies showed up. And even then, they weren't that serious about hiring people. They didn't have people who really understood about writing software, and how you created a company around writing software. They didn't figure out the global nature of the market. So we would have been fine. But it was certainly exciting that there was no mistake at all.

Bill Gates Interview, Page: 1   2   3   4   5   6   7   

This page last revised on Sep 23, 2010 11:02 EDT
How To Cite This Page