“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.
Big squashes little. The elephant steps on a mouse and kills it, but never even notices. We stop on ants on the sidewalk without realizing.
You can probably think of a lot of these cases.
I had a friend who rode a big wave in the late 1980s with a PC-compatible add-on board that enabled a PC to send a fax as easily as printing a document. It was a huge win. Millions of dollars were made. Then Microsoft added a fax facility into a new version of Windows. Pop, crackle, snap.
At about the same time, there was a company in Canada that had a huge business selling compression software that worked with PCs. Then Microsoft bundled compression into a new version of Windows. Pop, crackle, snap.
Quick thought for the day: business landscapes change. Giants fall. Startups become giants.
The giant, the big power, that everybody fears, and by whom everybody wants to be acquired … it’s Google these days. It used to be Microsoft. Are you familiar with Lotus 1-2-3? There was a time when Lotus was the giant of software. And Vision? Look it up: it was the world’s largest personal computer software company in 1983.
Giants are hated and feared.
In January 1985 Apple released the now-famous 1984 commercial that pitted the high-tech newbie against the industry giant (here’s a link to it on (ironically) Google video) … and although it’s hard to believe now, back then that was all about IBM and everybody knew that instantly. Today it’s total anachronism. But IBM was the giant of the industry for about 20 years. It was hated and feared. They called it Big Blue.
So now it’s Google. What do you think: For how long? Who’s next?
Field also worries that entrepreneurship might not be right for older Americans because these folks have spent too much time in the corporate world.
Hmmm … a bit of a generalization, no?
In honor of that thought, with a tip of the hat to comedian Jeff Foxworthy’s “you might be a redneck” routine, here’s my list of ways (none of them age related) you can tell that you just might be too corporate:
If, when you see $850 or $1,450 in the budget, you assume that means $850,000 and $1.45 million (you ask: the numbers are in thousands, right?), then you might be too corporate for entrepreneurship.
If every time you encounter something that has to be done, you look immediately for staff people to assign it to, then you might be too corporate for entrepreneurship.
If you measure yourself and everybody else by office or cubicle size and layout, then you might be too corporate for entrepreneurship.
If problems are to be ducked, and monkeys to be passed on to somebody else, then you might be too corporate for entrepreneurship.
If having a reason why not is the same as getting something done, then you might be too corporate for entrepreneurship.
But just age? Age might make a person too old, but not too corporate.