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As a child, he spent hours locked in his room reading encyclopedias. At the age of 13, he taught himself to program. At 31, Bill Gates became a billionaire. He has been the richest man in the world for 17 years.
The story of how Bill Gates became a billionaire
The entrepreneur in this story is William Henry Gates III, better known as Bill Gates, who was born in Seattle on October 28, 1955.
From an early age he enjoyed the comforts of a wealthy family. His father was a well-known lawyer and his mother was on the board of directors of several companies.
As a child, Bill became a lover of reading, a prodigy in mathematics and a fan of games like poker, which he learned to play thanks to his grandmother.
He was so fascinated with books that he used to lock himself in his room for hours to read entire encyclopedias. This was of special concern to his mother, who tried to integrate him into the family and society, which caused some friction in their relationship, but it was definitely something that helped Bill develop his talent for business and interpersonal relationships.
Self-taught and passionate about computers
At the age of 13 he was enrolled in Lakeside Private School. There he met two great friends: Paul Allen and Kent Evans. The school had one of the first school computers, a Teletype Model 33 on which Bill and his friends taught themselves to program in Basic language. Their first program was a version of the game Tic Tac Toe in which they competed against the computer.
Bill and his friends founded the Lakeside Programming Club to make some money from the programs they wrote. There his friendship with Kent Evans became very strong, as they were both chosen by one of the computer professors to write a program to manage the class schedules of the students at the institution.
They worked together on the project over the vacations. With a few weeks left in the program, Kent was killed in a mountain climbing accident. It was a hard blow for Bill, who describes the event as one of the saddest days of his life.
As he had not yet finished the program, he asked Paul Allen, who was 2 years older than him, for help. They got along very well working together and forged a great friendship ever since.
When Bill turned 17, they decided to start their first venture. It was a company called “Traf O data”, which used the Intel 8008 processor to manage Seattle traffic data. They sold it for $20,000, a large sum for a couple of young people.
In 1973, at the end of his studies, Gates scored 1590 out of 1600 on the state attitude test, which allowed him to enter Harvard University without any problems. His parents had always wanted him to study law and become a lawyer like his father, but the young man decided to study mathematics and computer science.
At Harvard he met another great friend named Steve Ballmer, who would later become a fundamental part of his company.
Risking it all for a dream: Microsoft
After 2 years in college, Gates decided to drop out when he heard the news that MITS, the company that created the Altair 8800 computer, one of the most advanced computers of the time, was looking for someone to program an operating system for the computer.
Bill and Paul saw an opportunity to start a software company and create the operating system. Gates had to confront his parents, who supported him in his decision to drop out of college when they saw his passion for starting his own company.
So, in 1975, the two young men contacted the creator of the Altair 8800, who agreed to meet in a few weeks with the young men for a demonstration. And, although they did not have one of the company’s computers and did not have a single line of code programmed, they set to work day and night to create an operating system for the day of the demonstration.
The day of the meeting arrived and, since Bill was a minor, Paul traveled to Albuquerque to present his creation, which they called “Altair Basic”. The presentation was a success and the MITS company closed a deal with the youngsters to distribute Altair Basic with their computers. In November of that same year, Bill and Paul decided to found Microsoft, which they named after joining the words “Microcomputer” and “Software”.
With that contract, the company was able to keep going for a few years, but little by little the capital was diminishing and the company was on the verge of disappearing. However, in 1980 IBM was planning to launch a series of personal computers and was looking for a company to provide them with an operating system so that they could compete in the market with Apple’s computers.
The start of a multi-billion dollar software empire
Thanks to the influence of Bill Gates’ mother, the young men were able to meet with IBM executives. There they offered the company an operating system called “86 DOS”, which ran on computers with IBM-like hardware. This system was created by Tim Paterson in Seattle.
Paul Allen had known about it years before; and Bill, in a display of his great negotiating skills, offered to sell IBM a license to use it even though he did not own or possess the operating system. IBM executives agreed to give Microsoft a percentage of the sale of each computer with a DOS operating system license, as they believed that the profits were mainly in the sale of the hardware. The deal went through and the rights to the software would remain with Microsoft, who could create versions for other companies.
At the end of the negotiation, Microsoft contacted and hired Tim Paterson. He was paid $50,000 for the rights to distribute the DOS operating system. Tim joined the company and was responsible for adapting the operating system for IBM computers. They renamed the system “PC DOS” and it was released along with the computers in 1981. This allowed Microsoft to grow from a small company to a world-class software company. It also turned its founders into millionaires thanks to the profits made on every computer sold that had PC DOS installed on it.
With a fast-growing company on his hands, Bill decided to hire Steve Ballmer, his old college friend, to help them with the management of the company. In 1983 Paul Allen left the company after learning he had cancer. Bill Gates then became president of Microsoft and began working tirelessly to continue its expansion in the market.
During this period, he drove the development of office applications for MS-DOS that allowed the creation of spreadsheets and documents, which would later become the company’s flagship software package, known as “Microsoft Office”.
In 1984 Steve Jobs was working on what would be his next great computer: The Apple Machintosh. This new computer would implement a user-friendly graphical user interface and a mouse to control it. Bill heard about Apple’s development of the machine and approached Jobs with a promise to work on a version of Office for the Mac.
Steve Jobs agreed to provide Microsoft with some prototypes of his new computer because Bill threatened to work for IBM if Apple was not interested. After months of study, Bill Gates and Microsoft used the basic concepts of the user interface and the mouse to create an evolution of the MS-DOS operating system which they decided to name “Windows”. This infuriated Steve Jobs, who sued Microsoft for stealing his idea. However, after a trial, Microsoft managed to prove the opposite.
The Windows operating system was launched in 1985 and quickly became a sales success. Ninety percent of the world’s computers had a Windows license installed.
Microsoft went public in 1986 and was very well received. This fact ended up making Bill the youngest billionaire up to that time, at just 31 years of age, a title that currently belongs to Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, who became a billionaire at the age of 23.
Bill’s competitive spirit and his desire for Microsoft to be the No. 1 software company in the world led him to make several questionable decisions. In the 1990’s, Microsoft was known to destroy its competitors by either eliminating or acquiring them. This caught the attention of the U.S. government, which initiated an antitrust investigation against Bill Gates and Microsoft. However, after several years and dozens of trials, they were acquitted of the charges.
One of the richest and most generous people in the world
In 1994 Bill married Melinda French, a top Microsoft executive. His wife would be a great support after the death of his mother a few days after their marriage. In her he would find support not only in his business, but also in his passion to make the world a better place.
In 1995 Bill Gates was recognized as the richest person in the world according to Forbes magazine, a recognition he held from that time until 2017, when he was surpassed by the founder of Amazon, Jeff Bezos.
In this period of time, other billionaires who have managed to dethrone Bill Gates as the richest man in the world are: Warren Buffett (in 2008), founder of Berkshire Hathaway; and Carlos Slim (between 2010 and 2013), owner of Telmex and América Móvil. Bill Gates’ current fortune is estimated at more than $100 billion dollars.