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Bill Gates says his ‘greatest mistake ever’ was Microsoft losing to Android


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At a recent event hosted for founders by the venture firm Village Global, one of its most prominent investors, Bill Gates, sat down with Eventbrite cofounder and CEO Julia Hartz to discuss founding a company and the tough decisions necessary at nearly every turn in order to create and sustain a thriving enterprise.




As part of that conversation, Hartz asked Gates about his views on work-life balance, and whether they have evolved from an earlier point in Gates’s life, when he has said that he “didn’t really believe in vacations.”


His reply, in short: no, not in a company’s earliest years and especially not if that company is building a software platform. As Gates told Hartz, “I have a fairly hardcore view that there should be a very large sacrifice made during those early years, particularly if you’re trying to do some engineering things that you have to get the feasibility” or proof that a project can be performed successfully.


In fact, Gates is still kicking himself for taking his eyes off the ball and allowing Google to develop Android, the “standard non-Apple phone form platform,” as he describes it. “That was a natural thing for Microsoft to win.”


You can find their entire chat below, but here’s Gate’s full response to whether he thinks it worth it to focus narrowly on work or whether early-stage founders can strike a better balance:

I think you could over worship and mythologize the idea of working extremely hard. For my particular makeup — and it really is true that I didn’t believe in weekends; I didn’t believe in vacations; I mean, I knew everybody’s license plate so I could tell you over the last month when their card had come and gone from the parking lot — so I don’t recommend it and I don’t think most people would enjoy it.


Once I got into my 30s, I could hardly even imagine how I had done that. Because by then, some natural behavior kicked in, and I loved weekends. And, you know, my girlfriend liked vacations. And that turned out to be kind of a neat thing. Now I take lots of vacation. My 20-year-old self is so disgusted with my current self. You know, I, I was sure I would never fly anything but coach and you know, now I have a plane. So it’s very much counter revelations and taken place at high speed.


But yes, it is nice if during those first several years, you have a team that has chosen to be pretty maniacal about the company, and how far that goes, you should have a mutual understanding, so you’re not one person expecting one thing, and another person expecting another thing.


And you’ll have individuals who, who have, you know, health or relatives or things that [distract them]. But yes, I have a fairly hardcore view that there should be a very large sacrifice made during those, those early years, particularly if you’re trying to do some engineering things that you have to get the feasibility.


You know, in the software world, in particular for platforms, these are winner-take-all markets. So, you know, the greatest mistake ever is the whatever mismanagement I engaged in that caused Microsoft not to be what Android is, [meaning] Android is the standard non-Apple phone form platform. That was a natural thing for Microsoft to win.


It really is winner take all. If you’re there with half as many apps or 90% as many apps, you’re on your way to complete doom. There’s room for exactly one non-Apple operating system, and what’s that worth? $400 billion that would be transferred from company G [Google] to company M [Microsoft].


And it’s amazing to me, having made one of the greatest mistakes of all time — and there was this antitrust lawsuit and various things that, you know, our other assets, Windows, Office,  are still very strong. So we are a leading company. If we got that one right, we would be the company. But oh well.


So this idea that just small differences can magnify themselves doesn’t exist for a lot of businesses. You know, if you’re a service business, it doesn’t exist. But for software platforms, it’s absolutely gigantic. And so that’s partly where you have the mentality of every night you think, ‘Am I screwing this up?’ And eventually, we did screw up a super important one.


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The AchieVer

Bill Gates says his ‘greatest mistake ever’ was Microsoft losing to Android


Microsoft’s messy move from Windows Mobile to Windows Phone let Android thrive




Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates has been reflecting on his time at the company when crucial decisions were made over its mobile operating system. During a recent interview at Village Global, a venture capital firm, Gates revealed his “greatest mistake ever” was Microsoft missing the Android opportunity:



Google acquired Android back in 2005 for $50 million, and former CEO Eric Schmidt admitted that Google’s initial focus was beating Microsoft’s early Windows Mobile efforts. “At the time we were very concerned that Microsoft’s mobile strategy would be successful,” said Schmidt during a 2012 legal fight with Oracle about Java. Android ultimately killed Windows Mobile and Windows Phone off, and became the Windows equivalent in the mobile world.

Gates’ admission is somewhat surprising, though. Many had assumed that Microsoft’s missed mobile opportunity was a Steve Ballmer era mistake. Ballmer famously laughed at the iPhone, calling it the “most expensive phone in the world and it doesn’t appeal to business customers because it doesn’t have a keyboard.” While Ballmer accepted the iPhone could go on to sell well, he crucially missed the touch-friendly era it was ushering in, and laughed off its lack of a keyboard.


This was a key part of Microsoft’s early mobile mistakes, and it came from the very top. Microsoft spent months arguing internally over whether the company should scrap its Windows Mobile efforts, which at the time weren’t touch-friendly and were born out of an era of stylus-powered devices. Microsoft decided, in a December 2008 emergency meeting, to scrap Windows Mobile and completely reboot its mobile efforts with Windows Phone.


T-Mobile G2


The early days of Android

While former Windows chief Terry Myerson and Microsoft’s Joe Belfiore were involved in that emergency meeting, it’s likely that the company would have sought Bill Gates’ advice in some capacity. Gates stepped down as CEO in 2000, taking the chief software architect role during the crucial years leading up to Windows Phone and Microsoft’s Windows Vista missteps. Gates eventually stepped down as chief software architect in July 2008, and carried on as the company’s chairman until Satya Nadella took over as CEO in 2014.

Gates promised to “substantially increase time” at Microsoft back in 2014, and Microsoft’s Edge team sought his thoughts about the company moving to Chromium last year. Gates has been assisting on a mysterious “personal agent” project at Microsoft in recent years, and now uses an Android phone.


Gates might not have been directly involved in the management of some of Microsoft’s mobile decisions, but his departure came right in the middle of Microsoft missing out to Android. Comparatively, former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said that Windows Vista was his biggest regret at Microsoft before his tearful farewell.


Microsoft seems to have weathered its mobile mistakes, and the company’s cloud business is thriving. “It’s amazing to me that having made one of the greatest mistakes of all time, and there was this antitrust lawsuit and various things, that our other assets like Windows and Office are still very strong, so we are a leading company,” says Gates. “If we had gotten that one right, we would be the leading company, but oh well.”




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There's a bunch of contributing factors that lead to Windows Phone's death but I'd say there's 3 main reasons:


1.) It was too late so never had the momentum to get enough major app developers on-board, which meant it was never going to be popular with consumers. Catch 22. People like to point out that at one point it had double digit market share in a couple of specific European countries but that was never going to translate to global market share without things like Snapchat or apps for local banks.


2.) It was too buggy. The tiles were an interesting concept but they never worked consistently. Often they would refuse to update so you'd have to click them to launch into the app to see the updated info, which defeats the whole purpose of tiles in the first place. And the WM10 launch was such a bug riddled mess that MS had to start letting people downgrade back to WP 8.1.


3.) Microsoft kept shooting themselves in the foot by killing support and providing no update path. People that bought Windows Phone 7 phones were burnt hard when a few months later WP8 was announced as a huge update that WP7 phones couldn't receive (due to MS's lack of foresight in choosing their kernel). Later, WM10 was released as an update that was only compatible with the higher end WP8.1 phones, at a time when the lower end phones made up something like 70-80% of all Windows Phones. This update was the death knell.


So few people were willing to buy a phone that lacked all their regular apps. And of those that did, few were willing to stick with it through years of bugginess.

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