Bill Gates on Advice For Founders, Mistakes, and Philanthropy – Venture Stories

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Key Takeaways

  • Advice to founders on work-life balance:
    • It’s important during the early years of your company that you have a team consisting of people who have chosen to be maniacal about their work
    • “I have a hardcore view that there be a very large sacrifice made in those early years, particularly if you’re trying to do some engineering work”
  • The U.S. has the highest dropout rates among high school and college students compared to every other country in the world
  • Global poverty is decreasing, but it’s becoming increasingly concentrated in Africa
  • In the future, AI will be your portal to the world (largely replacing social networking, search, productivity applications, going to Amazon and buying something, etc.)
    • It’ll be like your personal agent
  • We haven’t yet solved the problem for how we get a low-cost education for low-income students (that they actually complete)
    • Most community colleges have a >50% dropout rate
    • Most 4-year colleges have a >30% dropout rate

Books Mentioned

Intro

On Microsoft

  • It was financed mostly by money Bill made in high school
    • (Besides a 5% investment at an early valuation of $20 million)
  • Bill says one of the most crucial hires early on was that of Steve Ballmer

Work-Life Balance

  • Bill has said that in the early days of Microsoft, in his 20s and 30s, he really didn’t do much else besides work (even on weekends)
    • He didn’t take any vacations
  • What would we he say to early stage founders today about work-life balance?
    • It’s important during the early years of your company that you have a team consisting of people who have chosen to be maniacal about their work
    • “I have a hardcore view that there be a very large sacrifice made in those early years, particularly if you’re trying to do some engineering work”
    • Many markets are “winner-take-all” in the software world
      • “The greatest mistake ever is whatever mismanagement I engaged in that caused Microsoft not to be what Android is [the standard non-Apple phone platform]… that was a natural thing for Microsoft to win”
      • Small differences magnify themselves over time – so it’s really important to work at it

If Bill were in his 20s again, what kind of company would he start?

  • Probably something that has to do with AI
    • “The big question for anyone who’s ever written a piece of software is, “What’s the software that’s controlling a human?”
      • Think – how can a human play chess, engage in social activities, create art, etc.
    • Expanded – He’d spend a lot of time trying to create software that can do the equivalent of what a human can do
  • Or perhaps something related to biology (specifically, trying to eliminate diseases of the poor/infectious diseases)
    • Disease like typhoid and rhinovirus
  • Or energy (related to solving climate change)

The Evolution of Entrepreneurship

  • Over the course of Bill’s career, a real “founder ecosystem” has started to develop
    • It’s much easier to meet other people facing the same challenges of running a company
    • “There’s all these people who want to hand you money now”
    • It’s much easier to move fast, invest, and scale – but because of this, intense competition is present
    • Entrepreneurship has really gotten to be much more of an understood field

A Quick Blurb on Education

  • The U.S. has the highest dropout rates among high school and college students compared to every country in the world
    • The U.S. has more students entering higher-education than any other country, but 12 countries currently graduate more students

Reading

Global Poverty is Decreasing But is Becoming Increasingly Concentrated

  • In 1990, 36% of of the world lived on $1.90 or less per day
    • Today – this number is 9% (which is mostly concentrated in Africa – by 2050, 90% of the extreme poor will live in Africa)
  • To bring this number down – we need investments in health, education, and governance (specifically in Africa)
    • “Until you get a certain quality of governance, you can’t get roads, you can’t get electricity, you can’t get schools, and you can’t get basic healthcare”

The Future of Education

  • With the rise of online learning (with platforms like Khan Academy) pressure is starting to rise against the traditional university model
    • Places like Stanford don’t have to worry due to a surplus of philanthropy and science grants
      • In fact, they’ll (along with Harvard/MIT) probably start contributing more and more material towards online education (expanding things like MIT OpenCourseWare
    • But state level schools are really at risk (where the vast majority of college education is completed)
      • Tuition for state schools tend to range from $11k-17/year, and it’s only rising
    • But realize – “The number of students who can learn without a social setting around them is very, very small”
      • (Currently)
      • And the group that does the worst with online learning is low-income students – they hit dead ends much quicker
  • “We haven’t yet solved the problem for how we get a low-cost education for low-income students (that they actually complete”
    • Most community colleges have a > 50% dropout rate
    • Most 4-year colleges have a >30% dropout rate

What’s the unsolved problem, which could be solved with tech, that Bill would like to see someone tackle?

  • There’s currently nothing that matches a great 1-on-1 tutor to a student ready to learn
  • The bodies and brains of ~40% of kids in poor countries don’t fully develop
    • During their early years, disease and nutrition characteristics are such that they tend to have IQs < 80
    • “If we can solve the nutrition thing – that’s gigantic in terms of human potential”

What’s going to be the business model of the “Microsoft for AI”?

  • In the future, AI will be your portal to the world (largely replacing social networking, search, productivity applications, going to Amazon and buying something, etc.)
    • It’ll be like your personal agent, giving in to see all your information, being the sole platform you interface with
  • Therefore, this type of AI has the opportunity to combine many different elements – advertising, subscription, etc.
    • Why advertising? – There are win-win situations where your desire to know about a new product type is beneficial to you and the advertiser

Who’s been instrumental to Bill’s success?

  • “No founder can change the world alone, it requires a village around you to help you realize your full potential” – Julia
  • Warren Buffet, who Bill has gotten to become friends with over the last 30 years
    • Warren doesn’t involve himself much with the tech world and therefore has a good outside observer’s prospective
    • One lesson Bill has learned from him – work should be fun! (work is so fun for Warren, that he works 6 days a week at 88-years-old)
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