Bill Gates has been a name synonymous with being the richest man in the world for the longest time.
Since childhood, his keen interest in computers led him to build Microsoft in 1975.
Within a decade, he became a billionaire and among the most celebrated entrepreneurs.
Under his leadership and beyond, almost 50 years later, Microsoft is still among the topmost companies in the world.
It’s a no-brainer that we could learn a few things (I mean, a lot) about business from Bill Gates!
Without wasting any more words, let’s dive into 15 powerful business lessons from him.
- 1. Start as early as you can
- 2. Think ahead of the curve
- 3. Empower your team
- 4. Show that you are solving a problem
- 5. Start low, keep improving your products
- 6. Always listen to your unhappy customers
- 7. Prioritize customer service
- 8. Keep innovating
- 9. Don’t be afraid to take big risks
- 10. Celebrate success but learn from failures
- 11. Work hand in hand with competition
- 12. To compete, be prepared for the unplanned
- 13. Build effective ecosystems
- 14. Don’t automate inefficiency
- 15. Use your power to improve the world
- Parting words
1. Start as early as you can
While there is no age bar for starting a business, the sooner you start the better. At least, this is the case with Bill Gates.
His fascination with computers led him to start programming as early as 13 years with his friend Paul Allen.
The machine was huge and slow, and it didn’t even have a screen. But I was hooked.
He even formed a group of programmers at his school, who digitized the school’s payroll system.
Moreover, he also built Traf-O-Data, a software that analyzed traffic volumes.
Soon after, he got into Harvard University and dropped out to start Micro-Soft (now Microsoft). He saw his fair share of challenges, too.
The point is, starting early helped Bill learn a lot about and thus, build a business that would eventually find tremendous success.
Not to mention, Microsoft reaped the benefits of being the first in the business.
2. Think ahead of the curve
One of the things that distinguishes Bill Gates from everyone else is his ability to think way ahead of time.
His farfetched vision of ‘a computer on every desktop and in every home’ was unthinkable, if not crazy, at the time when he started Micro-Soft (It had a – before it was removed to finalize the current name, Microsoft).
But, he believed that the personal computer was the future.
The PC and the Internet are going to be fundamental. They’re not there yet, but we’re certainly on a course to do that, and it will be just like the automobile. – Windows 98 Launch, 1998
He could visualize how having a computer in every home could change the way we live forever.
He was right, wasn’t he?
Thinking ahead of the curve may take you further than you could ever imagine.
3. Empower your team
A business can seldom be successful in a silo.
You may have a great vision, but if the people you’re working with are not onboard with it, it’s a sure path to failure.
The vision is really about empowering workers, giving them all the information about what’s going on so they can do a lot more than they’ve done in the past.
Bill not only focused on getting the right people on board but allowed them the freedom to take charge and creatively contribute to their company.
In an interview with CNN, he shared that he initially would micromanage his team but eventually learned to resist it.
Microsoft is an exemplary organization when it comes to taking care of employees and building an excellent work culture.
4. Show that you are solving a problem
If you observe successful businesses, at the core of it, you’ll find they are solving a problem.
Bill Gates backs this not only in his ventures but also while advising entrepreneurs.
If you show people the problems and you show people the solutions, they will be moved to act.
While Microsoft’s vision was far from the imagination of customers, its marketing changed the game.
They showed their customers the problems they were facing and how Microsoft products could solve them.
Firstly, your business needs to solve a problem. It’s possible your customer may not even be aware of it.
Hence, you need to show the problem and the solution you’re offering.
And voila! You’re off to a great start.
5. Start low, keep improving your products
One of the biggest mistakes entrepreneurs make is not launching until a product/service is perfect or going all in too early.
Bill Gates is of a different view. He believes you can always start with less than a “perfect” product and keep on improving it.
Microsoft has had its success by doing low-cost products and constantly improving those products and we’ve really redefined the IT industry to be something that’s about a tool for individuals.
Microsoft was no perfect product. Neither was it high-end. The affordability of the products made them lucrative and accessible to customers, playing a major role in Microsoft’s success.
Even today, MS products are not perfect, but they keep on improvising each day. Every release of every single product has some improvement.
The point is, take whatever you have to your potential customers. They will help you learn what else to improve.
6. Always listen to your unhappy customers
Even if you have a great idea or you’re solving the most pressing problem, not every customer may be happy with your solution.
Sounds bad, right?
In fact, Bill Gates says it is better to have unhappy customers.
Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.
Your dissatisfied customers are telling you something no one else can and, therefore, are the key to improving your products or services.
If you don’t pay attention to them, it can not only cost you a lot of money but also put you much behind in the race.
You would lose customers to the competition who would be willing to listen to them.
7. Prioritize customer service
While learning from unhappy customers is essential, prioritizing customer service is beyond just essential for a business.
Bill Gates has always emphasized the importance of customers and advises new entrepreneurs to prioritize customer service.
He believes staying in touch with customers is the key to success. Nothing can make or break your business like your customers’ experience.
Only a few businesses will succeed by having the lowest price, so most will need a strategy that includes customer service.
In 1989, when Microsoft had become huge, Bill once handled customer calls himself.
He often likes to recollect his experience from this incident and the insights it gave him.
8. Keep innovating
Microsoft and innovation are two sides of the same coin. Of course, because of Bill Gates’ passion for innovation.
He advocates innovation to be the critical factor in fighting the problems at hand today – be it innovation in products, processes, economies, or leadership.
Innovation is the reason our lives have improved over the last century. From electricity and cars to medicine and planes, innovation has made the world better.
The birth of software licensing and Windows are the most remarkable examples of Bill’s innovative thinking.
Out-of-the-box thinking will not only help you solve business problems but solve problems for the world at large – however small the problem may be.
9. Don’t be afraid to take big risks
The ability to take risks is one of the most common traits among successful entrepreneurs.
Bill Gates is no different. Right from the start, he took some big risks that paved the way for incredible success.
To win big, you sometimes have to take big risks.
The first was definitely dropping out of Harvard to start Microsoft. Another notable one is leaving Microsoft to start Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Over the years at Microsoft, he took some big risks that turned into big opportunities, whether it was developing new products or dealing with competitors.
However, to make sure his risks pay off in rewards, he bases it on proper mental models.
You might want to check out the Netflix documentary Inside Bill’s Brain: Decoding Bill Gates to learn about how he takes risks.
10. Celebrate success but learn from failures
Success and failure are part and parcel of any business, but how you deal with it makes all the difference.
Despite revolutionizing the tech industry and finding early successes, Bill Gates hasn’t been immune to failures.
His first business with his friend Paul Allen, Traf-O-Data, failed. They suffered net losses of $3,494.
It’s fine to celebrate success but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.
Moreover, Microsoft launched Bing with the aim of becoming a leading search engine. But, Google completely crushed it.
Microsoft further saw some big setbacks with its lawsuits. However, learning from each failure helped Bill strengthen his business.
Where Microsoft stands today is proof of its strength.
11. Work hand in hand with competition
In a world where businesses continuously strive to eliminate competitors, collaborating with competitors may not seem like the best idea.
But, Bill Gates and Microsoft are an exception.
At a time when Apple was on the brink of bankruptcy, Bill joined hands with Steve Jobs to save it’s one of its toughest competitors after years of sour relationship.
Software innovation, like almost every other kind of innovation, requires the ability to collaborate and share ideas with other people.
Microsoft invested in Apple and built Office for Mac, which turned out to gain a lot of popularity.
Since then, Microsoft and Apple have collaborated to build many products together, even when Apple outranked Microsoft in valuation.
Because Bill’s vision has been to shape the computing industry together.
In fact, Microsoft also collaborated with another competitor, IBM, and continues to do so even today.
12. To compete, be prepared for the unplanned
For a business, staying in the competition is as crucial as beating the competition.
But, how do you know if your business has what it takes to compete?
A company’s ability to respond to an unplanned event, good or bad, is a prime indicator of its ability to compete.
Bill Gates thinks the biggest indicator of a company’s ability to compete is its ability to deal with unexpected or unplanned things.
Unless you’re promptly responding well to changes – be it evolving technology, market fluctuations, consumer behavior, or changes within your organization – your business ought to fall short at some point.
13. Build effective ecosystems
The impact Bill Gates has been able to make in the world through his business or other ventures is because of creating systems bigger than himself.
Microsoft has been able to maintain its strong foothold in the tech industry because it has created a solid and expansive ecosystem of innovation, products, solutions, people, and partnerships.
If you want to stay in business, solving one-off problems won’t do the job. Building systems at the micro and macro-level and leveraging them is the way to stay ahead in the game.
Step back, build a better system, make sure that the government money gets to the people who deserve it.
Moreover, he also believes better systems are key to solving most problems in the world.
14. Don’t automate inefficiency
Automation is increasingly becoming the bedrock of business operations.
However, Bill Gates warns businesses against automating inefficiency.
Meaning you need to make sure you’re using technology in a way that makes your business efficient and not the other way around.
In addition, the operation you’re automating should be efficient in itself so that technology magnifies it. If you automate an inefficient process, technology will further multiply the inefficiency.
The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.
For example, if you’re automating email marketing but your process to identify your target audience is ineffective, you will definitely not get the results from email campaigns.
Moreover, it would have cost you time, money, and resources.
15. Use your power to improve the world
Besides being celebrated for his multi-billion dollar worth and business acumen, Bill Gates is also known for his philanthropic work.
He believes businesses have a pivotal role to play in improving the lives of the underprivileged.
Once you’ve found a solution that works, catalytic philanthropy can harness political and market forces to get those innovations to the people who need them most.
Through Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, he has committed billions of dollars towards eradicating diseases, improving education, and the overall quality of life of millions of people worldwide.
He also actively works on projects aimed at tackling climate change.
Even though you cannot pledge huge amounts of money, you can undoubtedly make a positive impact through innovation and influence.
Bill Gates is not only a business pioneer but a dreamer who envisioned a world and worked to realize it.
I hope these business lessons from him inspire you to take your business to new heights and make a positive impact.
Here’s the link to his personal blog if you’d like to learn more from him.