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Why You Shouldn't Imitate Bill Gates If You Want To Be Rich (bbc.com) 311

dryriver writes: BBC Capital has an article that debunks the idea of "simply doing what highly successful people have done to get rich," because many of those "outliers" got rich under special circumstances that are not possible to replicate. An excerpt: "Even if you could imitate everything Gates did, you would not be able to replicate his initial good fortune. For example, Gates's upper-class background and private education enabled him to gain extra programming experience when less than 0.01% of his generation then had access to computers. His mother's social connection with IBM's chairman enabled him to gain a contract from the then-leading PC company that was crucial for establishing his software empire. This is important because most customers who used IBM computers were forced to learn how to use Microsoft's software that came along with it. This created an inertia in Microsoft's favor. The next software these customers chose was more likely to be Microsoft's, not because their software was necessarily the best, but because most people were too busy to learn how to use anything else. Microsoft's success and marketshare may differ from the rest by several orders of magnitude but the difference was really enabled by Gate's early fortune, reinforced by a strong success-breeds-success dynamic."
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Why You Shouldn't Imitate Bill Gates If You Want To Be Rich

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  • by Junta ( 36770 ) on Friday September 22, 2017 @08:04AM (#55243659)
  • by Revek ( 133289 ) on Friday September 22, 2017 @08:08AM (#55243683) Homepage

    scruples didn't hurt. He had little problem with raiding others ideas and pushing them out of the market. Many of the things he did to get on top of the pile would be actionable today.

    • by nagora ( 177841 ) on Friday September 22, 2017 @08:13AM (#55243711)

      scruples didn't hurt. He had little problem with raiding others ideas and pushing them out of the market. Many of the things he did to get on top of the pile would be actionable today.

      Google suggests otherwise - industrial-scale copyright infringement? Just ignore it and no one will do anything about it. Global tax evasion? Get the law changed and move on - tax is so "statist", this is the (new) age of the unaccountable corporation. They're not doing exactly the same things Gates did, but they are doing their things in the same style, and that's what actually works.

      • by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Friday September 22, 2017 @08:28AM (#55243767)

        Aka "it's better to ask for forgiveness than for permission".

      • Google suggests otherwise

        Support the most fashionable presidential candidate and you can be forgiven a LOT.

  • by laupark ( 668153 ) on Friday September 22, 2017 @08:09AM (#55243691)
    Step 1 to being like BG has nothing to do with his exact circumstances. It has to do with making use of YOUR special circumstances effectively. Capitalizing on each situatiin and conpunding the gains
    • by Ryanrule ( 1657199 ) on Friday September 22, 2017 @08:12AM (#55243703)
      Most people dont have any special circumstances.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by jonsmirl ( 114798 )

        Special circumstances happen all of the time. You just need to recognize when they are happening around you.

        • by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Friday September 22, 2017 @08:25AM (#55243753)

          Again, the best chance most people have for "special circumstances" is to jump into the way of a rich person's car.

          • by Solandri ( 704621 ) on Friday September 22, 2017 @10:58AM (#55244805)
            My extended family moved to the U.S. from Korea in the 1970s. Korea was still rebuilding back then and was paranoid about people leaving with their money, so limited emigrant families to taking about $1000 with them. So each of my father's and mother's siblings (8 in total) arrived in the country with about $1000 and the clothes on their back (and sometimes kids in tow). From worst to best off:
            • One unfortunately married an alcoholic, and lives in a trailer park with a poverty level income.
            • One made a middle class life built on running a dry cleaner 10 hours/day 6 days/week.
            • One made an upper-middle class life built on working overseas construction projects in crappy or dangerous locales. He gets home a couple months out of the year, but is otherwise "at work" 24 hr/day the rest of the year, and mails his paychecks home to his family..
            • One made an upper-middle class life built on a dual income (nurse and owning/running a printing shop).
            • One made an upper-middle class life built on buying a liquor store and working there 14 hours/day 7 days/week, and investing their income wisely in real estate instead of frittering it away on things like fancy cars and big screen TVs.
            • One made an upper-middle class life built on a dual income (engineer and pharmacist).
            • My dad was a doctor before moving here, so I'd leave him out of the statistics (lower-upper class). Although I do recall living in assisted housing and having to get clothes and other goods from the Salvation Army because we were poor while he was doing his recertification internship.
            • One married a wealthy husband.
            • One is upper class - they risked everything they had to start a cell phone store back when cell phones were first becoming popular, and now own a chain and warehouses worth several $million. No fancy education or pre-existing wealth. Just a lot of hard work, and an extensive list of contacts they've built up over the years with cell phone accessory manufacturers and suppliers in China.

            If you've convinced yourself or somebody else has convinced you that you have no chance to make "special circumstances" for yourself, then you've already lost. Enjoy the lower or lower-middle class lifestyle that you've consigned yourself to. Yes luck plays a role. But if you don't at least try, you'll never get anywhere.

            • by WrongMonkey ( 1027334 ) on Friday September 22, 2017 @11:14AM (#55244913)
              None of the situations that you describe sound like "upper-middle class".

              One of the characteristics of being middle-class is having leisure time. No matter how much money you're making, working 14hours/day, 7 days/week is not middle class, upper or lower.

            • Most of that family achieved upper-middle-class status by hard work and initiative. One achieved upper-class status by risking everything they had on something that looked like the Next Big Thing and managing to survive.

              Lots of people bet heavily on the Next Big Thing, worked hard, and wound up somewhere from upper-middle-class and bankruptcy.

              The lesson is that, if you work hard and show initiative, you can probably get into the upper middle class.

        • No, they don't. Otherwise they wouldn't be called "special", would they?

          • They occur continuously in the economy but the vast majority of opportunities are not exploited. Usually the reason is that the person in the middle of the circumstance does not realize that they are in the middle of one or they don't take action. You are looking at it through the lens of 'survivor bias'. You only see the opportunities that were captured, not the ones that were missed.

            On the other hand almost all of the exploited circumstances are non-repeatable. Gates got the PC monopoly, that simply can't

        • There's no evidence that Gates recognized special circumstances. He got into software early on, but lots of people did that. I was programming mainframes and my TRS-80 when the IBM PC came out. He completely missed the future of the Internet, and his GUI development followed Apple's. His idea of a tablet was a heavy and expensive portable device running XP. Microsoft made its name initially by producing what was arguably the best BASIC for 8-bit home computers, but there were plenty of other BASICs.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by decep ( 137319 )

        Special circumstances are not uncommon, but valuable special circumstances are rare.

        Being able to fit 3 golf balls in your mouth is special, just not something that you can easily capitalize.

        • True. I can wiggle my ears independently, which I suspect is rarer than having my level of programming ability, but guess which I can get paid well for?

      • by hey! ( 33014 ) on Friday September 22, 2017 @09:10AM (#55243991) Homepage Journal

        Actually I'd put it this way: most people don't have special circumstances that are as easily recognizable in advance.

        For example, Mum being chummy with the chairman of IBM at a time they're launching a product you're interested in is pretty trivially recognizable as a special circumstance.

      • Once you get to middle class status, which in the US you can do on two college level salaries, you are less willing to "risk it all" to get 10x wealthier.

        • By that token then rich people wouldn't want to get richer either. But the reality is human greed is infinite.

          • Greed is essentially unlimited. When money becomes irrelevant to your lifestyle, because you can buy anything that's on sale that you want, it serves as a way of keeping score among your peers.

            However, wealth, like most other things, comes with diminishing returns. I live a very comfortable life, and it wouldn't be all that much better if I earned five times as much as I do. (Not that I'd refuse it - see first paragraph). Also, humans hate loss more than they love gain.

            Also, in the US, success at s

    • by jonsmirl ( 114798 ) on Friday September 22, 2017 @08:19AM (#55243725) Homepage

      If you want to get rich you need to partake in an activity that has the potential to generate a lot of money. I have often heard people complain that they give everything working in a job and can barely keep their heads above water. Get a clue, working in a job makes the company owner rich, not you. You also need to do something that amplifies your actions. For example it is hard for a doctor to get really rich. That's because they are paid per action they perform and there is no way to scale. If you invent a drug you can get really rich since the drug goes into a factory which amplifies your invention. You also need to understand the difference between capital and income. It is far easier to get rich off from capital transactions that it is off from income.

      Gates' success is impossible to replicate. He had a "first movers" advantage that is gone now. He was also greatly helped by "network effects". These are also things you need to understand to get really rich.

      • You had me until "impossible to replicate". It is totally possible to replicate as you explained in the bit about amplifying success. Yes, you can't sell DOS to IBM again, but Bezos found a way to grab a fat pile of cash, Musk has too. Some kid named zuckerberg seems to be doing ok. Not EXACTLY a bill gates copy, but not too shabby a shpw for these guys so far. I guess it depends on what you think defines Bill Gates' success to date?
        • BG's domination of the desktop market is impossible to replicate. That particular 'first mover's advantage' is long gone.

          • A recent example of a huge first mover's advantage is Uber. You don't have to have a market the size of Uber's, there are many smaller markets that also will work.

            • And Uber isn't really that profitable. As far as I know they are still operating at a loss. Also, there's nothing preventing somebody coming along and taking a piece of the pie. I could install 3 or 4 different ride hailing services on my phone and check the best price from each, and the drivers could also be working for multiple companies at the same time with relative ease.

              Compare that to something like Microsoft. It's not so easy to make a competing operating system or office suite because by their na

              • You are describing network effects. There are some network effects in ride sharing -- the more drivers on the platform, the faster you will get a ride, but they are nowhere near as strong at the network effects between the operating system and the packaged software market.

        • by ranton ( 36917 )

          It is wrong for someone to say BG's success is impossible to replicate. It would be more accurate to say there are no actions you can take which will even give you a 1% chance of replicating BG's success. Probably not even a 0.01% chance. There are only a few people living in the US with BG's level of success, and probably hundreds of thousands of people who worked just as hard and just as smart as him.

          There are plenty of things you can do to give yourself a good chance of reaching a $10+ million net worth,

      • by xystren ( 522982 )

        Gates' success is impossible to replicate. He had a "first movers" advantage that is gone now. He was also greatly helped by "network effects". These are also things you need to understand to get really rich.

        He also had much less regulation with regards to IP laws - or perhaps the advantage of the IP laws at the time, no one really knew how they applied to technology. And having a rich father that will humor you with a $50k gift/loan to start up a business (not saying it's wrong, but not necessarily available to everyone). And 50k at that time was worth a whole lot more than what 50k is today.

        • Don't worry about IP laws, just don't blatantly abuse them like Napster did. There is very little you can do to stop an IP troll from targeting you if they want to. You best defense is to stay off from their radar.

          BTW - you can start a software company for almost nothing now. Back in BG's time PCs were $3,000 inflation adjusted to like $20,000 now. You can get a great PC today for $1000 and you probably already own it. AWS and Google will both let your try the cloud for free for a year. Lack of capital is

          • Back around 1980, starting a software company was expanding into a wide-open field, and it was possible to do very well without doing anything else extraordinary. That's no longer the case, and the fact that it's easy to start a software company means that most people can do it if they have a decent idea. In order to make it big, you have to have an idea that's either highly insightful or really lucky.

            • Software is in its infancy, it will still be going strong 200 years from now. We have barely scratched the surface of what is possible. Just look at the rise of self-driving cars. A huge revolution will occur when someone figures out how to get AIs to write decent software. So don't give up on your software startup yet, instead focus on the future and don't don't try to rebuild past successes.

    • With most people it already starts at not having any special circumstances, at least none that could in any way be used for their benefits. Actually, for most people, "special circumstances" happening usually means that they have to compensate them in some way to keep things going...

  • Survivorship Bias (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ptaff ( 165113 ) on Friday September 22, 2017 @08:11AM (#55243697) Homepage

    The Misconception: You should focus on the successful if you wish to become successful.

    The Truth: When failure becomes invisible, the difference between failure and success may also become invisible.

    Survivorship Bias; You Are Not So Smart [youarenotsosmart.com]

  • Let me see here (Score:5, Insightful)

    by burtosis ( 1124179 ) on Friday September 22, 2017 @08:11AM (#55243699)
    So I shouldn't have a extremely wealthy family, who is well connected, and further take vast sums of money to start a business - and if it fails just take even more money to try again? I'm pretty sure that is possibly the single most consistent detail of the success stories of the super wealthy.
    • The wealth and education part was actually irrelevant to his success (aside from enabling him to stay in business until the IBM deal came up). He didn't make MS-DOS. He learned from his mom that IBM was looking for an OS, and he knew he didn't have the skill nor time to write it himself. So he bought it from a competitor [history-computer.com]. He could've known nothing about computers (like Steve Jobs) and still pulled off the deal.

      So it was (1) his mom knowing the chairman at IBM in charge of the PC project, and (2) him
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 22, 2017 @08:22AM (#55243741)

    I was very active in startups between 1995 and 2000. Many entrepreneurs made a lot of money, and many lost the money again, because after the trick that earned them the cash, they thought they were pretty smart and wanted to replicate the success by investing in newer startups. Then they found out the hard way it wasn't how smart or special they are that made them successful at first, but that they were at the right place at the right time.

    • by hey! ( 33014 )

      While what you say is true, there are people who do have a knack, like the father of one my employees who was a wealthy merchant in Karachi before partition. He didn't believe partition was really going to happen, and ended up walking from Karachi to Mumbai with nothing but the clothes on his back. A few years later, he was a wealthy merchant in Mumbai -- although obviously not Gates-level wealthy which always takes some luck.

      There's an element here of nothing ventured, nothing gained. If getting rich is

    • Got caught up in that myself. Worked for a startup back in the late 90's that was acquired and made a lot of money for the founder and the ground-floor employees (but nothing for me, jumped on that bandwagon too late). Years later, the founder reached out to me, told me he was starting up a new venture, wanted me as employee #1, VP position, stock options, chance to lead the technical direction of the company. I jumped at the opportunity - although by then I was old and jaded enough that I wouldn't norm

      • by slew ( 2918 )

        Well... after a couple of years of working nights and weekends and not having much of anything to show for it I started to realize that even a blind squirrel finds a nut every once in a while... lesson learned, I guess.

        On the other hand nothing ventured, nothing gained. Working for startup is something you are investing your time in (not money). Some people are more conservative in their time investments, others are more aggressive. Just like any investment, as long as you can sleep at night, you are probably near your risk tolerance level.

  • I have always wondered about connections between Bill Gates and William Gates/Robert Gates.....
  • by RevDisk ( 740008 ) on Friday September 22, 2017 @08:37AM (#55243807) Journal
    To get rich you need three things.

    Hard work - Don't discount this. Yes, connections and money make things easier, but it still takes work. A lot of it.
    Intelligence - Hardest work on the planet won't always get you further.
    Sheer flat out luck - Being the hardest working smart person doesn't help if you get a crippling illness or just at the wrong time. Being born wealthy or with connections is genetic lottery.

    You pretty much need a lot of all three to get super wealthy. Two will get you into a decent place and you'll do fine.
    • Some economist say that is not the case. there are plenty of people that worked hard, came up with the next new mouse trap and had some luck but completely failed.
      Instead they put it down to being able to overcome the fear of risk and uncertainty.
    • No, you don't need "luck" to get rich. You need "luck" only to get super-rich.

      • by dryeo ( 100693 )

        You need the luck to be in a society that allows social mobility. Perhaps the majority of the worlds population doesn't have that luck.

        • You need the luck to be in a society that allows social mobility. Perhaps the majority of the worlds population doesn't have that luck.

          Well, the majority of the world's population lives in Islamic, progressive, or socialist states; of course, they don't allow social mobility. Which is why we need to keep that crap out of the US.

          But here, we're talking about whether American nerds can emulate Bill Gates, not whether some goat herder from the middle of Sudan or Congo can overcome the self-created limitations

    • Those three will get you the Nobel prize, not rich.

      Getting rich also involves the 'vision' thing. You have to be able to project out into the future and see where things will be, not where they are today. That's how you sort out the good ideas from the bad ones. You also need a firm grasp of economics since at some point your company has to make money.

    • by Xyrus ( 755017 )

      To get rich you need three things...

      No, you just need one thing. Luck. That's it. It is now an objective fact that you are more likely to be rich by being born to a wealthy family than you are through any amount of intelligence or hard work.Too much wealth is controlled by too few people, and the roadblocks in the way of you becoming one of the wealthy keep getting higher.

      Sure, people trot out these rags to riches stories but they are black swans (and most don't even start in rags). Upward mobility is generally a farce, and the "American Dre

  • How about being like Steve Jobs? Or like Larry Ellison? Or like Sergey Brin? How about the millions of tech millionaires that came to the US as immigrants, often growing up poor? The real "privilege" that Bill Gates had was that he came from an intact, high IQ, two parent family that valued education and hard work. It probably also helped that he got out of the soul crushing US public education system early.

    The real reason that you shouldn't try to be like Bill Gates is simply that trying to become a billio

  • by bravecanadian ( 638315 ) on Friday September 22, 2017 @09:11AM (#55244005)

    You'll be super rich and successful too, honest. Just listen to all the successful people who believe this...

    Sure, hard work is part of it, but as this article points out it is only part of it. Coming from the correct womb and happening to be in the right place at the right time seems to have a lot more to do with it.

    There are plenty of people who work their asses off and get no where.

    • Sure, hard work is part of it, but as this article points out it is only part of it.

      Correct.

      Coming from the correct womb

      Correct again. But "the right womb" isn't the womb of a millionaire or billionaire woman, it's the womb of a woman in a stable marriage with a good husband, the womb of a woman who values education, and instills the right values in her kids.

      and happening to be in the right place at the right time seems to have a lot more to do with it.

      Being in the right place at the right time isn't luck,

  • by feenberg ( 201582 ) on Friday September 22, 2017 @09:22AM (#55244087)

    It is true that there are a lot of people that claim that since monopolists are successful and charge high prices for poor products, you can become successful by charging high prices for a poor product. That generally doesn't work for non-monopolists. On the other hand, the emphasis on Bill G's parents does ignore the fact that IBM offered the same opportunity to Digital Research, which turned them down. And IBM offered a word processor of its own - can't have more advantages than that - and it failed in the marketplace. It also offered an OS - what happened to that? Maybe it was higher quality than Windows, but it was 10 times as expensive and the only print driver it came with was for a single dot-matrix printer.

    • by ZayJay ( 609601 )
      No, no, you don't want to disrupt the narrative that Bill Gates was the most evil man in human history that engaged in the most brutal of business practices right out of the Joe Stalin playbook. Really folks, I would never say the guy was a saint but there was a lot of market forces at play that tend to go unacknowledged in the PC story, and Gates may have played a little hardball, but he was hardly the Mafia Don that he is often portrayed as. ( As for that Anti Trust suite in the 90s I heard some of the st
  • Choose your parents well.

  • I can jump a chair

  • Yes the thing is most success is simply based on luck and also with how much money your parents give you and their connections. But mostly it is being at the right time at the right place with the right product. For every successful businessman there are million of others who failed, but not necessarly because they where bad but because they just where at the wrong time. If being successfull was only based on how much you where willing to work hard there would millions of Bill Gates running around.

  • What about those of us who want to imitate Bill Gates' life?!

    I want to start with being born a son of the richest banking family in the state of Washington. After all, being born rich [youtube.com] is a good way to tweak the odds of success in life.

    The problem with my plan is Doc forgot the flux capacitor and so the time machine won't work...

  • by westlake ( 615356 ) on Friday September 22, 2017 @12:54PM (#55245683)

    Microsoft was selling customized microcomputer BASICs to Fortune 500 clients in the mid seventies. MBASIC was the first product for the micro to reach a million dollars in sales. By 1980, Microsoft was offering a full suite of programming languages for CP/M and was moving into operating systems before being approached by IBM. The notion that Microsoft was am insignificant or invisible player in the industry before the IBM PC is just plain nonsense.

    What Gates offered IBM was a serviceable and perhaps more importantly a uniquely affordable 16 Bit CP/M clone + MBASIC, etc., in time for the scheduled launch of the IBM PC. I doubt that the IBM PC team gave a damn how Gates sourced or developed the package so long as it was ready on time.

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