Bill Gates spoke with Eventbrite cofounder and CEO Julia Hartz at an event by Village Global, the venture capital business partly owned by Gates.

By Ian Horswill

Posted on June 25, 2019

Bill Gates, the principal founder of Microsoft Corporation, has revealed he made “the greatest mistakes ever” to allow Google to develop the Android smartphone operating system.

“The greatest mistake ever is the whatever mismanagement I engaged in that caused Microsoft not to be what Android is, (meaning) Android is the standard non-Apple phone form platform. That was a natural thing for Microsoft to win,” Gates said in conversation with Eventbrite cofounder and CEO Julia Hartz at an event by venture capital firm Village Global, which is partly owned by Gates.

“It really is winner take all. If you’re there with half as many apps or 90% as many apps, you’re on your way to complete doom. There’s room for exactly one non-Apple operating system, and what’s that worth? US$400 billion that would be transferred from company G (Google) to company M (Microsoft).

“And it’s amazing to me, having made one of the greatest mistakes of all time — and there was this antitrust lawsuit and various things that, you know, our other assets, Windows, Office, are still very strong. So we are a leading company. If we got that one right, we would be the company. But oh well.

“So this idea that just small differences can magnify themselves doesn’t exist for a lot of businesses. You know, if you’re a service business, it doesn’t exist. But for software platforms, it’s absolutely gigantic. And so that’s partly where you have the mentality of every night you think, ‘Am I screwing this up?’ And eventually, we did screw up a super important one.”

Android is the most popular smartphone platform in the US. In the first half of 2018, 88% of all global smartphones sold had an Android operating system, Statista reported.

The business magnate, investor, author, philanthropist and humanitarian, who has an estimated net worth of US$89.9 billion as of October 2017, is perhaps being a little hard of himself.

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Gates, who uses an Android phone, retired from day-to-day work at Microsoft in June 2008 after stepping down as chairman of the board of Microsoft Corporation in February 2014.

He told Hartz he was an advocate of major sacrifices to work/life balance when starting a company.

“I think you could over worship and mythologize the idea of working extremely hard. For my particular makeup — and it really is true that I didn’t believe in weekends; I didn’t believe in vacations; I mean, I knew everybody’s license plate so I could tell you over the last month when their car had come and gone from the parking lot — so I don’t recommend it and I don’t think most people would enjoy it,” he said.

“Once I got into my 30s, I could hardly even imagine how I had done that. Because by then, some natural behaviour kicked in, and I loved weekends. And, you know, my girlfriend liked vacations. And that turned out to be kind of a neat thing. Now I take lots of vacation. My 20-year-old self is so disgusted with my current self. You know, I, I was sure I would never fly anything but coach and you know, now I have a plane. So it’s very much counter revelations and taken place at high speed.”