Back in 1975, when Paul Allen and I were college kids, the two
of us in my dorm room cooked up the first software program for a
Paul showed me a Popular Electronics story about the "era of
the computer in every home," and the two of us decided that
software was the future.
This was the beginning of Microsoft.
Communication was simple: just Paul and me talking over Cokes
and pizza. Nobody else cared much about our opinions.
Things have changed in the past two decades.
I still enjoy junk food, but I also spend two hours a day
reading and answering electronic mail from Microsoft's 15,000
Lots of e-mail comes from outside Microsoft too.
Questions range from what it's like to be married (it's
great), to what movies I like ("Schindler's List" and
"Shadowlands") to complicated questions that would take a book to
answer (and, as a matter of fact, I am writing a book).
The trouble is, I can spend my days answering outside e-mail
and giving speeches or I can run my company.
I try to do both, but I don't communicate enough to broad
groups and a lot of my e-mail goes unanswered.
Think of this new monthly column as my e-mail to you.
I'm excited about writing it because it lets me communicate to
a wide audience without being edited into a soundbite or filtered
through somebody else's perceptions.
Not all questions come to me through e-mail, by the way.
Sometimes people stop me at an airport, or a would-be
entrepreneur corners me at a computer show or a college kid sends
me a letter.
One student recently asked what to him was an important
question. It wasn't a big philosophical idea he wanted to
discuss, although I suppose you could say he wanted to talk about
the free-market economy.
He wanted to know: "Is it too late for me to get into the
software industry and build a company and get rich?"
I'm often asked that question, and my answer is always the
same: This is a great time to be in software.
I won't say you can build another Microsoft. But you can shoot
for $2 million a year in sales by selling 10,000 copies of a $200
That's pretty good and it happens all the time.
Because I remember how exciting it was to start a software
company, I enjoy the success stories of others.
Small software companies are always cool.
They begin with a guy (or gal!) who has an idea. He or she
gets together some friends who know how to program, and they
build a product.
There's lots of craftsmanship in what they do because they
care about it. …