Bill Gates and Paul Allen: The raw truth, as told by Allen

The first excerpt from Paul Allen’s upcoming memoir, Idea Man, was published online by Vanity Fair tonight. After reading it, I can’t wait to get my hands on the actual book.

More than three decades later, it might have been easy for Allen to put a nice gloss on his partnership with his childhood friend Bill Gates. And he clearly has great memories of what they did together. But he doesn’t romanticize it.

The excerpt offers a frank and unvarnished look at the early days of Microsoft — including the behind-the-scenes financial maneuvering by Gates that initially left Allen with a lower stake in the company, and the shenanigans that ultimately contributed to Allen’s decision to leave Microsoft after being diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease.

[Follow-up: Report: Paul Allen's book has 'created a rift' with Bill Gates]

Particularly revealing is a passage about Allen catching Gates and Steve Ballmer talking behind Allen’s back about diluting his equity in the company because they weren’t happy with his contributions.

A few days later, I received a six-page, handwritten letter from Bill. Dated December 31, 1982, the last day of our last full year together at Microsoft, it contained an apology for the conversation I’d overheard. And it offered a revealing, Bill’s-eye view of our partnership: “During the last 14 years we have had numerous disagreements. However, I doubt any two partners have ever agreed on as much both in terms of specific decisions and their general idea of how to view things.”

Bill was right. Our great string of successes had married my vision to his unmatched aptitude for business. But that was beside the point. Once I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s, my decision became simpler. If I were to relapse, it would be pointless—if not hazardous—to return to the stresses at Microsoft. If I continued to recover, I now understood that life was too short to spend it unhappily.

This sentence from that passage is especially telling: “Our great string of successes had married my vision to his unmatched aptitude for business.”

Allen clearly has great respect for Gates, and he has always referred to him as his friend. But judging from the excerpt, the book also aims to set the record straight about Allen’s role in creating Microsoft, and his place in technology history. In that way, it’s the rebuttal to the “accidental zillionaire” rap that has long dogged the man often called the other Microsoft co-founder.

It remains to be seen if history will agree. But Allen deserves credit, at least, for not pulling any punches in telling the story. “Idea Man” is due out April 19.

  • http://twitter.com/GlennF GlennF

    I’d like to read that. I read Laura Rich’s Accidental Zillionaire, and quite liked it, but it suffered from her near total inability to get anyone close (or even far) to Allen to talk as folks are either too loyal or too worried about the agreements they signed to speak.

    I’ve always felt that Allen was 2 to 10 years ahead of the rest of the business world in seeing the potential of things. He invested at the wrong time in the right technology, typically, like satellite TV and mobile broadband. He finally started to catch up a few years ago. Maybe he slowed down just an iota, and got in sync with how long it takes most technology to mature into a profitable industry.

    • Anonymous

      Glenn, that’s more generous than most people would be about Allen’s investments, but I’m inclined to agree with you in some ways. Another example was the FlipStart/Mini-PC prototype that he was showing as far back as 2003. Smaller than a notebook, larger than a phone. Sound familiar?

      • johnhcook

        Another example is Mercata. Allen invested in the group buying site about 10 years before Groupon came on the scene. (Interestingly, the Mercata patents are now owned by Groupon rival and Seattle startup Tippr).

        In reading the passage above about Gates and Ballmer trying to diminish Allen’s stake, I was also struck once again to the similarities of Facebook where Mark Zuckerberg manipulated Eduardo Saverin. The similarities between Facebook and Microsoft are almost eerie.

        • Anonymous

          Yes, I agree with you. Bill and Steve trying to diminish Paul’s stake – just like ‘Joe the Coder’ is trying to diminish the work that Paul accomplished at microsoft which is grossly inaccurate.
          You mention the similarities with Zukerberg and Saverin at facebook….one item to note though – is you do not hear about Saverin much and I am not certain regarding his business acuity – but we still hear about Pauls current accomplishments and obviously Paul has created a global business away from microsoft….

      • http://eyejot.com/users/davidg davidgeller

        The FlipStart, though, was not first nor revolutionary. There were several products out before that, including oqo. The category was as silly then as it is now.

  • Anonymous

    In the beginning when microsoft had an office in an industrial park (before Redmond) – they used to use an answering service called Feeks Telephone Answering service to answer there business lines. I was there daytime operator. Paul used to check in many times a day for messages Bill would also check in but he pretty much left that to Paul. Paul was VERY active with the business! In fact I remember Paul telling me that in the future (this was back in the early 80′s) that there would be a computer in every home (which I scoffed at – and look at us now!!! ). I really look forward to reading his book. Paul is a VERY brilliant man!!! And was VERY involved with the beginning of microsoft.

  • Joe the Coder

    I have some history with the people involved in this and while Paul was definitely part of the team, Bill is the guy that made MS happen. The simple fact is that with out Bill’s drive, MS would have just been another software company. In fact, the most important move that MS made happened well after Paul left – the Windows pivot. That was all Bill – Paul was simply not involved.

    One thing that Bill and Paul do share is a passion for revisionist history.

    • Anonymous

      I read the Vanity Fair excerpt..and all the articles here and WSJ.

      Aside from Bill’s statement that he remembers things differently, I don’t see anything in any of the writings by Paul that are challenged for their veracity. Read the full excerpt. It seems very direct….

      So..I’m not sure of the revisionist nature of the comments around here. Paul relates what happens (often referring to notes, like Bill’s note to him) — and personal memories that don’t seem to be in conflict (reducing Paul’s share of the company). I see plenty of examples he gives that Shows Bill’s contributions were much more significant than his…that doesn’t mean he was always treated fairly or well.

      In other words…I fear the press people here, and WSJ and elsewhere, are making a story up — one that I don’t see at all by reading the available information. The only exception is Bill’s point about remembering some things differently…but without knowing what those things are, it’s hard to conclude anything about a rift other than one that develops by publishing things that have been kept quiet.

      • Joe the Coder

        The main point about revisionism is how much influence Paul had on the long term success of MS. Yes, he was a key guy in getting it started but he’s fooling himself if he thinks that he had any impact on the real money makers at MS – first DOS, then Windows followed by Office. My take away from this whole thing is he didn’t want to work hard and Bill resented it. Carl Stork’s public comments on this are pretty spot on.

        The guy is blindingly rich and has regrets about how it happened. I don’t know about how others think about it but I wish I had a chance to be so “badly treated”.

        I’ve seen this whole thing play out on a lesser scale many times with the technical members of start-ups. In general, they seem to feel like they got screwed because their bag of money wasn’t as big as the business guys bags of money. Sheesh – lots of people got rich and they should be freeking grateful.

        • Anonymous

          for someone who reportedly has “some history with the people involved in this” you are grossly mistaken!!!
          Paul Allen was and is still a visionary.
          In my estimation, he could see what people would want – before they knew that they wanted it. And to me that is someone who would (and did) go far in the business community.

          • Joe the Coder

            You’re pretty good at revisionist history. Sure, paul had vision. But frankly, being able to see something is nothing without the will and drive to accomplish it. I’ve heard people say “hey, I thought of that years ago” in regard to just about every great product that comes along. My response to them is “why didn’t you do anything about it?”. The simple fact is credit goes for the accomplishment, not the thinking (or seeing).

            And, I have laugh at your comment about going far. Facts don’t really back that up. Reminds of the old joke about how to make a small fortune – start with a big one.

          • Anonymous

            You keep on repeating “revisionist history” – hmmm …it must be your new ‘buzz word’ of the week…
            Just so you know what “revisionist history” actually means:
            (obtained from http://www.wordiq.com) The phrase is composed of two English words;
            revisionist (revision—act to examine and improve, from the Latin, revisere—look at again,
            and the suffix -ist—an adherent of a system of beliefs expressed by nouns ending in -ism,
            from the Greek suffix -istes), and history (the study of past events, from the Greek,
            historia—narrative). The popular use of the word revisionist arose in the first half of the
            20th century to describe the Communists who revised Marxist theory while professing they had not
            done so; however, the word was used at least as far back as the 1850s and in the same pejoritive sense.

            The phrase itself was coined in the late 1950s, although revisionist history existed much earlier
            (see Mein Kampf, which try’s to state that Germany did not lose World War I; or, compare the
            early Russian Communist histories with any of those published later by the Stalinist regime).
            The review of The Cold War, Revisited And Re-Visioned in the New York Times, Jan 14, 1968,
            includes an early usage of the term.

            Now back to my original posting regarding the story about Paul’s new book:
            I do not mean to imply that I speak for everyone – I can only speak for myself
            and what I saw; what I heard and what I experienced.
            Paul is a early visionary and has the ability to see what people will need.
            This trait does not exist in everyone. I immediatly think of Gene Roddenberry – the creator of star trek.
            He was also a visionary – and in fact many fictional pieces of his stories actually became real.
            Paul also is a modest person but wants to make a difference for people.
            He has created and funded many projects to help people.
            I do not understand why you are so against hearing a persons view that is different then your own…
            I really hope the best for you.

          • Anonymous

            Regarding your comment about an old joke “how to make a small fortune – start with a big one”…….just an fyi regarding basic business principles.
            Most businesses are started with seed money from large banking instutions.
            …reagrding your joke statement…I guess that business must be one really big joke to you….

        • Anonymous

          You keep on repeating “revisionist history” – hmmm …it must be your new ‘buzz word’ of the week…
          Just so you know what “revisionist history” actually means:
          (obtained from http://www.wordiq.com) The phrase is composed of two English words;
          revisionist (revision—act to examine and improve, from the Latin, revisere—look at again,
          and the suffix -ist—an adherent of a system of beliefs expressed by nouns ending in -ism,
          from the Greek suffix -istes), and history (the study of past events, from the Greek,
          historia—narrative). The popular use of the word revisionist arose in the first half of the
          20th century to describe the Communists who revised Marxist theory while professing they had not
          done so; however, the word was used at least as far back as the 1850s and in the same pejoritive sense.

          The phrase itself was coined in the late 1950s, although revisionist history existed much earlier
          (see Mein Kampf, which try’s to state that Germany did not lose World War I; or, compare the
          early Russian Communist histories with any of those published later by the Stalinist regime).
          The review of The Cold War, Revisited And Re-Visioned in the New York Times, Jan 14, 1968,
          includes an early usage of the term.

          Now back to my original posting regarding the story about Paul’s new book:
          I do not mean to imply that I speak for everyone – I can only speak for myself
          and what I saw; what I heard and what I experienced.
          Paul is a early visionary and has the ability to see what people will need.
          This trait does not exist in everyone. I immediatly think of Gene Roddenberry – the creator of star trek.
          He was also a visionary – and in fact many fictional pieces of his stories actually became real.
          Paul also is a modest person but wants to make a difference for people.
          He has created and funded many projects to help people.
          I do not understand why you are so against hearing a persons view that is different then your own…
          I really hope the best for you.

          • Littlg

            hahaha you’re ridiculously sad

    • Littlg

      Not necessarily revisionist

      In MOBA terms, Paul Allen was the support and Bill Gates was the carry. Sounds silly I know, but Paul basically outgrew the role of support when MS grew big. A company needs only one voice, so Paul had to go.