An energetic Ballmer appeared at the Saïd Business School in Oxford, U.K., earlier this week, pumping his fists and letting out big laughs while answering questions to a packed room of students.
Ballmer was asked about advice he’d give budding, young entrepreneurs who are interested in either starting their own business or joining a startup.
He began by saying that it’s about finding the right people to work with. Ballmer dropped out of graduate school in 1980 to join Microsoft not because he fell in love with the business model, but rather because he respected Bill Gates and Paul Allen.
Ballmer didn’t exactly understand what the Microsoft co-founders were doing, but he did know that they were world leaders in something.
“That sounded good, and these guys were really smart, which was even better,” he said. “Those are good criteria to think about. Being world leading at something big with smart people, hey, that’s a good place to be whether you are trying to start a company or thinking of joining one.”
The second piece of advice from Ballmer was simple: Learn how to recruit.
“It was the most important thing I added to Microsoft,” he said. “I actually got the hiring machine going.”
At small companies, Ballmer said “everybody is a recruiter.”
“Everybody is out there, finding who’s the best, who’s the brightest, how do we get them, how do we find them, go, go, go,” he explained. “It’s kind of the lifeblood. Even to my last minute at Microsoft, the last thing I did was a recruiting call. It’s what you are always doing.”
Ballmer also emphasized the importance of accounting.
“You have to think about price,” he said. “I gotta tell you, this thing called price is really important. You get a lot of companies that start out, and the only difference between the ones that succeed and the ones that fail is that one figured out how to make money because they were really deep in thinking about the revenue, the price, the business model — I think that is under-attended to, generally.”
Finally, the best advice Ballmer said he ever received was from his father, which was simply to pour everything thing you’ve got into whatever you’re going after.
“It’s the notion that if you’re going to do something then do it heart, body and soul, and do it,” he said. “And really care. And have the kind of brain that forces you where you are always thinking about it and worrying about it and caring about it and nurturing it and tending to it and growing it. You either be all in or be all out.”
Ballmer touched on a number of other topics, from his leadership style to his favorite thing to do now that the 57-year-old is retired. If you already miss Ballmer’s high energy at Microsoft, you’ll enjoy the talk: