Lessons From Luminaries: Bill Gates on Microsoft, Mistakes, and Advice For Today’s Founders

Village Global Team
Jul 1, 2019 · 6 min read
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We are honored to have Bill Gates, one of the most successful entrepreneurs of all time, among our small group of luminary LPs whose financial capital and engagement power the next wave of Village Global founders.

Recently, Bill joined Julia Hartz, co-founder and CEO of Eventbrite and friend of Village, on stage in front of our founders and Network Leaders in San Francisco. They covered his entrepreneurial journey starting Microsoft, his current perspective on the tech landscape, and his views on philanthropy and social change more broadly. Some of the highlights of the conversation are below.

Gates explains his thinking on work-life balance for founders and whether he would do things differently if he could do things over again.

“I think you can over-worship and mythologize the idea of working extremely hard. I didn’t believe in weekends or vacations, but once I got into my thirties I could hardly even imagine how I had done that. Now I take lots of vacations. My twenty year-old self is so disgusted with my current self.”

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He admits his “greatest mistake of all time.”

“Particularly for platforms, these are winner take all markets. The greatest mistake ever is whatever mismanagement I engaged in to cause Microsoft to not have what Android is.”

Julia asks which changes he’s seen in entrepreneurship over the last few decades and what he’s learned from the next generation of founders.

“It’s nice that the idea of being a founder is a thing. That you can meet other people doing it, that if the first one doesn’t work out, it’s okay to do a second one, and that there’s all these people who want to hand you money now. ”

He also walks through his thinking on whether as an early-stage founder, you should be thinking about giving back as soon as you can, or whether you should focus on trying to change the world through business and look to compound your returns within your company.

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They move on to talking about philanthropy and development. Gates explains how similar his work at Microsoft is to his philanthropic work.

“I get to use 80% the same type of thinking that I exercised at Microsoft. It’s backing engineers, getting a sense of the team and asking, ‘what needs to be added to that team?’ … [but] our profit is lives saved, as opposed to a monetary measure.”

“By 2050, 90% of the extreme poor will be in Africa. Nigeria will be the third largest country in the world. Asia’s population is mostly going to stay flat or shrink. The world’s poor will increasingly be on one continent.”

“The group that is least aware of the improvements in the world are professors at US universities. When they survey people to ask whether they think child mortality and the like has decreased, the people who are the furthest below 50% are professors at US universities, who manage to get all the way down to 20%. It’s the lowest group ever tested.”

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He talks about the challenges that the US faces in education.

“The US has the highest dropout rate both in high school and college. We actually have more people who enter higher education than any other country but we have 12 other countries that graduate more people than we do. In terms of cost of education, the person who is in bad shape is the one that paid that cost, but didn’t get the degree.”

He also talks about his book recommendations, how Microsoft approaches AI, and the role that elite universities might play in improving education overall in the US.

“The personal agent that knows everything about you and can proactively assist you in all areas of your life is the paradigmatic thing that collapses the current order of software industry.”

“Stanford doesn’t have a dropout rate, because they don’t let people in who would drop out. They succeeded the day the admissions department was done. They didn’t make those people hard working, they just picked hard working people.”

Check out more photos from the event.

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Village Global is an early-stage venture capital firm backed by some of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs. We’re not a traditional VC. We’re a network. From how we invest in startups to how we help founders — we operate as a network. When you raise money from Village, you’re not just getting money, you’re joining a network of the world’s most successful founders, including Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Sara Blakely, Diane Green, Reid Hoffman and others.

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