Bill Gates And The Secret Of Persistent Focus

The real money is made by keeping on. Staying the course. Working hard. Getting up and doing it again. Going deeper in your expertise. Setting the pace. Expecting good things to happen. Persistence with focus is the key to success.

In 1982, I met Bill Gates. We were at a tech conference and we were the kids. Everyone was dressed in 1980’s standard business clothes, in other words, three piece suites. Not Gates.

Here was the 27 year old Gates leaning against a wall outside a conference room wearing jeans,  T-shirt, sneakers and a back pack. Completely withdrawn and unassuming.

Nobody was really paying attention to him because everyone at the conference was focused on mainframes and mini computers. That’s where the money was being made at the time. IBM had just released the personal computer in August 1981. It was far from a business computer so no one cared, including the leadership of IBM. But Gates knew what it could be.

Gates was just beginning to see the fruits of the operating system deal he cut with IBM in May 1981. It was this deal which launched Microsoft. For the six years prior, Microsoft was known for its BASIC programming language. It didn’t even own an operating system to license. Five years later Microsoft went public on March 14, 1986.

This excerpt from an AP story demonstrates Gates’ persistent focus.

Microsoft’s two founders, Bill Gates and Paul Allen, were made instant millionaires by the offering, but they didn’t seem fazed by all the hoopla. Allen went to work as usual at Asymetrix, the company he founded last year in Bellevue. Gates was in Australia on business.

It took eleven years for Bill Gates to become an overnight success. He went on to lead Microsoft to a multibillion dollar company. Many other companies in the computer industry started, succeeded, failed or sold in those eleven years but Microsoft kept on going. Gates kept on going. Growing the company profitably every year, year in and year out.

During all those years, how many companies approached him to cash out? You know IBM approached him at some point in the early 1980’s. Why not take the money and do something else. He could have cashed out and started something new. The day Microsoft went public he was worth $250mm. Why not cash out?

What I’ve learned is the real money is made in the continuing and not the quitting. Pair persistence with focus and you have life-long success.

Put Persistence With Focus

In 1987, Microsoft stock soared and Gates became a billionaire. This did not change Gates. If there was a microphone in front of a large group of people Gates was there pitching his products. He persisted with this focus for the next 21 years, for a total of 35, then retired from this focus in 2008 to pursue his new focus, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Microsoft is the result of a founder practicing persistence with focus. Lots changed in the computer industry over those 35 years but Gates persisted every day and stayed focused. The result is a company which went public at $500 million and is now valued at $350 billion. In addition, Microsoft is the computing foundation for businesses throughout the world. This persistence with focus locked out Apple and all the other competitors.

A presentation recently by Rob Kischuk, an Atlanta entrepreneur, reminded me of this principle (and inspired me to write this post). He started a company serving large retailers’ data and analytic needs over 3 years ago. He pivoted. Then pivoted again. He stayed at it and yesterday he presented a business to the ATDC which I know will succeed. The business has revenue traction based on meeting a real need for a real market.

Persistence with focus worked for Gates and is working for Kischuk. It will work for you. It’s easy to quit. It’s hard to continue. But the money is made in the continue.

What’s your startup entrepreneurial challenge? Your tweets help me decide what to write about next. @cpaparelli

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