Entrepreneurs love the drive and passion of Jeff Bezos.

Since the early days of GeekWire, one of our favorite features has been the Startup Spotlight in which we touch base with early-stage entrepreneurs about the joys and fears of running their own companies. It’s fun to touch base with these folks, since many are hoping that they can follow in the entrepreneurial paths laid by the tech titans before them.

One of the questions we always ask is whether they’d rather have Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos; Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates; Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg or the late Steve Jobs of Apple in their corner as they build their own startups.

The responses always vary, and they shed light on the direction of where the companies are going. (Social companies tend to favor Zuckerberg, while design-focused entrepreneurs pick Jobs).

I got to thinking about this question some more today upon reading a profile in Fortune on Jeff Bezos being named “Businessperson of the Year.” Venture capitalist Bill Gurley was quoted in the story:

“If you were to ask 100 startup entrepreneurs who the CEO is they admire most, he would show up on 95 of the ballots.”

Given that we’ve actually asked more than 100 entrepreneurs a variant of that question in the past 20 months, I thought I’d dig into the archive and see if it was true.

Do entrepreneurs in the Pacific Northwest (where this feature is limited to) really prefer Bezos over all others?

My research concludes: Yes, indeed they do. (But not by the margin that Mr. Gurley thinks)

Here’s the tally:

Jeff Bezos: 42 votes

Steve Jobs: 35 votes

Mark Zuckerberg: 14 votes

Bill Gates: 12 votes

A combination: 13 votes.

(Write in candidates receiving one vote: Paul Allen, Elon Musk, Patty Stonesifer, Dawn Lepore and Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn).

So, what do you think? Is Jeff Bezos the greatest American tech entrepreneur of all time?

Here’s what some of the entrepreneurs had to say about the Amazon.com founder from our Spotlight profiles.

“He’s done an amazing job establishing a beachhead in a market and then expanding and expanding and expanding.”—Aaron Kassover of Zoomstra.

“Tough choice, but I’d go with Bezos. It’s hard to find a more visionary, data-driven leader and it’s amazing to see how he has continually evolved the company.”—Ryan Fuller of VoloMetrix.

“His vision changed the way goods are bought and sold, and everything he’s done has been grounded in real human behavior.”—Plumage co-founder Shawn Herron.

“When Bezos wants to enter a market, he goes all in. We like that.”—Nveloped CEO and co-founder Nikhil Palekar.

“Bezos. He said his strategy for success was: ‘Bet on good people doing great things.’ That resonates with us.”—Maptia co-founder Dorothy Sanders.

“Bezos is an incredibly bold and intelligent risk taker. He’s strategizing 10 moves ahead on how to create buzz and innovation. Bezos has the ability to identify and profit from disrupting an industry.—Adorii founder Matthew Matsudaira.

As an entrepreneur, I admire his ability to envision a brand new opportunity, take on the tough challenge of creating a market, and then become a catalyst for changing the landscape. And what’s even more impressive is that he accomplished this “reinvention” of a market multiple times with wildly different products and offerings.”—Opstera co-founder Ranjith Ramakrishnan.

“He has a demonstrated an amazing ability to change and morph Amazon’s business strategy and model to adapt to opportunities, challenges and competitive threats.”—GreenCupboards founder Josh Neblett.

“Bezos. All four bring something strong to the table, but Bezos is the guy who went from building his own solar microwave as a child to being a CEO applying technology to a very targeted, real-world idea. He somehow made selling books seem sexy and high-tech, yet easily accessible to the average person.”—Pinpoint Pickup founder Desiree Phair.

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  • Anonymous

    At first, I thought it was Steven Sinofsky in the photo, but then I realized that nobody voted for him.

  • RyanM

    There’s no question that Bezos has done a beyond amazing job that very few could have pulled off.

    But, don’t they need to actually make gobs of money before he can be granted “greatest tech entrepreneur of all time”? In comparison to Gates & Jobs – he’s not even close when talking about profits.

    • guest

      I guess it comes down to defining “greatest”. Is that most innovative product or business model, largest impact, most disruptive, largest amount of profit generated, other? You raise a point that Amazon is not very profitable. But he has made gobs of money for his shareholders.

    • http://seainhd.com/ SEAinHD

      That is a common remark about amazon, but lifecycles are important to look at. Amazon is just now getting factories to shift their production into optimizing for eretail. costco follows the same strategy.

      Amazon is basically a black hole in the retail world, customers go in and they RARELY leave. They’re changing one of the oldest industries, while $FB, $MSFT and $AAPL got to create their own. All noble feats but one is more challenging than the other.

  • Beerman

    Steve Jobs stands out head and shoulders above any of these guys. Why? Because he’s genuine and funky, and achieved phenomenal success w/o the privileges and advantages that Gates and Bezos had, for example. Jobs doesn’t come from the inbred I’m-smarter-than-you-are Harvard type culture, his Dad (a mechanic) taught him to tinker with electronics in the garage and that’s where his product genius started. His mom, an accountant, passed on some basic business sense to him, and then he was off and running, building the greatest product-company the world has ever seen. Apple actually makes stuff, how cool! They don’t “search optimize” or “data mine” or “tweet” or some other virtual world nonsense (other than itunes of course….).

    He was quirky and counter-culture and diverse and not really that interested in money. What he was interested in was making super great products and a world class company to get them out there in people hands.

    • http://twitter.com/TroyJMorris Troy Morris

      You should really read up on Jeff Bezo’s life if you’re going to use Steve Jobs’s as evidence for Steve Jobs’s excellence.

      Moreover, I don’t know how you came to the conclusion that Jobs didn’t care about money. Seems quite contrary to that considering he screwed Wozniak out of money and his stance on benefits and dividends.

      And to not “search optimize” is stupid considering it’s by far and away the largest driver of all internet and e-commerce– it’s also becoming a significant driver of local commerce.

  • http://www.famebook.com famebook

    I doubt any of these guys would be able to answer such a question. Which makes me think that entrepreneurs likely to achieve that scale wouldn’t be looking to emulate, rather to simply draw on any mistakes they’d made along the way!

  • http://twitter.com/M_Khalilian Michael Khalilian

    Bill Gates > everyone else

  • TechVeteran

    They are all evil. Gates destroyed the PC software developers and made many people hate pc’s. Now he allows MSFT to wallow in irrelevance. Zuck is selling people’s souls. Bezos is killing his employees and picking off businesses one by one. Oh and when he has a monopoly, the prices get ugly. Jobs built on divisiveness and ridiculous pricing. Oh, and he was not helpful to the developer community either.

    Please, Steve Ballmer, Facebook, Amazon and Apple corporate image cleaners – don’t bother commenting.

  • Robbie

    Until Amazon can out earn it’s “lowly retail competitors” like Walmart, Costco or Target, there’s no way I can put Bezos ahead of Jobs or Gates.

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