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.
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.