Bill Gates’s Departure From Microsoft Won’t Hurt Innovation, Seattle Entrepreneurs Say

6/27/08Follow @gthuang

Unless you’ve been buried under a rock for weeks, you’ve heard that this is Bill Gates’s last week at Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT). There has been a ton of national and international coverage—almost a lovefest, really, full of memoirs and anecdotes from people who’ve known him over the years. Love him or hate him, everyone has strong opinions about the world’s richest man. Todd Bishop of the Seattle P-I ran a particularly good special report this week.

All of which got me thinking: how does Bill’s exit affect the local innovation community? Does it really matter? After all, a whole generation (or two) of entrepreneurs weren’t even born yet in 1975 when Microsoft was founded, and they grew up in an era when desktop computers and operating systems were already commonplace. Many didn’t start innovating until the World Wide Web was everywhere, and Microsoft was in a catch-up mode. Why should they care about this guy? Well maybe, just maybe, Gates will have more time to devote to new ideas and ventures, in addition to the global health issues of his foundation.

So I went out and asked a few of the younger set of tech entrepreneurs for their take on Gates’s departure, and how it affects the innovation community. Here are some sample responses:

—Theo Nordsieck, 25, programmer and designer, Six Hour Startup: “I don’t see that Bill Gates or Microsoft has much bearing on the entrepreneurship environment at all except as a purchaser of companies and as an environment in which to operate… As long as Microsoft makes products upon which others can improve, [this] will remain a rich environment in which entrepreneurs can innovate.”

—Josh Petersen, 30-something founder of the Robot Co-op (43Things.com and other websites) and former Microsoft employee (2002-2004): “Gates was surprisingly foul-mouthed… But he could walk into a product meeting and talk more common sense than anyone else in the room. That was really impressive.” (By the way, Petersen does a pretty good Gates impersonation. I take his comments to mean Microsoft will miss Gates’s straight talk, and that the startup community could probably stand to learn a few things as well.)

—Nathan Kaiser, 32, founder and CEO of nPost, a resource site for tech entrepreneurs, took the consumer viewpoint (it doesn’t say much about local innovation, but I can relate): “Will he be using Vista on his computer after he leaves?”

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com or call him at 617-252-7323. Follow @gthuang

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  • http://www.grabbinglightning.com/will-gates-return/ Lois Peters

    Indeed its interesting to ponder about the local innovation community. I was also wondering how the change of guard would affect MSFT!