Lesson #1: Stick To Your Vision

When Bill Gates was asked by Fortune to explain the astounding success of his brainchild, Microsoft, his immediate response was, “Our vision, which has not changed since the day the company was founded.”

Gates was an astute businessman who, upon recognizing the potentially explosive market for home computers, set out to make his mark in the industry. As teenagers, Gates and Allen decided that the possibility of every household and business to have a computer was both a realistic and a desirable goal, which they could work to achieve. “Microsoft was a dream Paul Allen and I had about what software could become – the idea that you could buy PCs from many different hardware companies and yet they would all run the same software,” says Gates.

Despite the vast implications of their vision – that the entire IT industry would have to be restructured – Gates and Allen did not seemingly know just how much of an impact they were going to have. “Not that we had any clear view that it would ever be a large business, but I had to pay these friends that I had hired,” recalls Gates. But, they fearlessly approached their vision, entering into the unknown.

In the initial days of Microsoft, Gates and his co-workers programmed around the clock in order to meet the challenging deadlines that Gates would set. It was largely due to Gates’ aggression in getting tasks accomplished that allowed the company to grow rapidly. As the company expanded its product line, it all the while remained true to Gates’ original version.

“We always knew that we didn’t want to have a single product that was a dominant product,” says Gates. “We wanted to hire in more software people and have a full product line.” In doing so, Gates was helping to ensure that his vision would be realized. He was keeping Microsoft flexible enough to be able to develop as wide a range of products as possible. “We never saw ourselves as limited…As long as it was software where development talent was the key to doing it well. And that it could be sold in fairly high volumes.”

Vision remains an important part of Gates’ career, which is in no way nearing an end. Reflecting on Microsoft’s achievements of the past thirty years, Gates says, “This is just the beginning.” Predicting a future where computers will be much more involved in educating people, socializing people, enabling people to become politically active and engaged and even changing the way markets are organized, Gates sees his vision for Microsoft playing an even more important role. “The software is going to have to lead the way and provide the kind of ease of use, security, and richness that those applications demand,” he says.

By focusing on software – something that he knew well and he knew there would be a market for – Gates solidified his place as one of, if not the most successful entrepreneur of the 20th century. Though he was venturing into completely un-chartered territories, Gates stayed true to the vision he had as a teenager, creating software that has now become the undisputable industry standard.

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