Tag Archives: Bill Gates

True Story: Steve Balmer Drops Out

“What? Steve Balmer dropped out? He’s not coming back?”

“Nope. He did his summer job at a software startup in Washington, and he’s staying there and quitting here.”

So went the gossip in September of 1980 as the Stanford MBA class of 1981 finished up the summer vacation and started the second of the two-year program. I was there then, a member of that class. Steve’s absence was a surprise. At the end of our first school year he’d won the coveted $5,000 scholarship award as the best student in the class. He was a bit of an oddball in his own way, often dressed in formal pants, white shirt, and wing tip shoes, instead of the standard student garb of shorts, t-shirt, jeans, etc. He’d been very active in class, quick to participate, always active, clearly smart and ambitious. We thought it was crazy to drop out when only halfway through. Statistics said we were going to be a very well-paid bunch of MBA grads when we finished up nine months later. And Steve dropped out.

So here’s the rest of that story, from his side. Oh, and to be clear, the software startup was Microsoft, the Bill in this story was Bill Gates, and Steve Balmer’s net worth today is probably more than that of the other 300 of us combined.

And this is here because it’s a good story. In this story, back in those times, the safe move was going back to school. And the right move was staying in Seattle with the software startup. Go figure.

50 Great Productivity Tips from Famous People

The blog at onlineMBA has an interesting post called 50 terrific productivity secrets of the rich and famous. It’s a lot of fun, and some good tips too. You can see the highlights here in the graphic. But click the post … it’s hard to stop reading.

They aren’t all straight lines to productivity, like Bill Gates’ “go paperless,” Warren Buffet’s “say no,” or Winston Churchill’s “take a break away from your desk.” They also include some really good life tips like Richard Branson’s “don’t forget to work out,” Arianna Huffington’s “get enough sleep,” or –one of my favorites — Mark Cuban’s “avoid meetings.”

 

Is Marketing Dead?

I’m troubled. Some of the smartest, most successful people I know say marketing is dead. It doesn’t matter, they say. It’s a waste of time. Instead…

… just build great product. Disrupt a big market. The buzz will follow.

And it makes some sense. Did Facebook care about marketing, or product? What about Twitter? Amazon.com? You could say their product was their marketing.

Which, however, is something like saying higher education is useless because Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerberg all dropped out of college.

No doubt marketing is all mixed up and turned inside out these days. It’s still a strong force in big businesses with multi-million-dollar advertising budgets, but there’s this new world in which thought, content, effort and authenticity make up for money. You don’t necessarily buy attention in this new world – you can earn it instead.

But a lot of the core concepts — like understanding your target markets, and developing your main messages, and pricing as message, and managing channels – are as important as ever.

Because there are the brilliant exceptions to the rule, and then there’s the rule.

(image: igoncepts/istockphoto.com)

The Nature-Nurture Debate on Entrepreneurship

Is entrepreneurship something people are born with, or do they learn it? Good question, I suppose, but not one I expect anybody will ever be able to really answer. Emily Malby does a good balanced job of reporting about it in Entrepreneurship: A Look at the Nature-Nurture Debate on the Online Wall Street Journal (WSJ.com).

WSJ page view

I’ve always found the nature-nurture debates interesting because only a fool is ever really sure anything is one or the other. These are all great examples of arguments in which the only intelligent answer is uncertainty. Who could ever isolate all the factors involved? And what about Malcolm Gladfield’s book Outliers, for example, which suggests that true expertise takes 10,000 hours of hard work. Is the accomplished musician, or the successful artist, the result of talent, training, or both? And what’s the role of luck?

The WSJ quotes a survey taken with 500 entrepreneurs in the UK. It says:

Only 13% believe that skills they gained through education and experience were the main drivers in starting a business.

Hmmm … but what does that mean, “the main drivers?” and what does “skills gained through education and experience” mean? The report goes on to suggest a contradiction, and maybe a problem with definitions:

Almost 90% of entrepreneurs who took the survey had worked for another company before launching their own companies, and 30% had studied business and management.

So that’s kind of mysterious. I think it goes back to how hard it is to get data like this. We don’t get the facts — as if there are any — but what people say about themselves. And nobody asked unsuccessful entrepreneurs what they thought … what if lack of education and experience increases the likelihood of failure?

The WSJ story, I should add, goes on to give a well balanced summary of this debate, quoting experts and research on several sides of it.

And either way, the nature-nurture debate has nothing useful to say about whether we can teach entrepreneurship, or learn entrepreneurship. Whether it’s learned or innate, there is still the matter of training, and skill, and experience. Don’t tell me born entrepreneurs don’t gain from learning the normal process, and skills like cash flow and marketing. Don’t tell me that the luxury of learning, if it’s available, doesn’t help.

For every Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg there are hundreds of millions of the rest of us.