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What I loved about Paul Allen (gatesnotes.com)
964 points by uknownuser on Oct 16, 2018 | hide | past | favorite | 114 comments

"... Popular Electronics. It featured a new computer called the Altair 8800, which ran on a powerful new chip. Paul looked at me and said: “This is happening without us!” That moment marked the end of my college career and the beginning of our new company, Microsoft. It happened because of Paul."

What a magical moment, those youthful fancies. I know that very spot they stood and it still is the same I guess -- all the traffic on either side of the newsstand, street singers, students running to their classes, eating places to decide upon, bookstores ... and the ideas that bloomed from there are so many.

Bye, Mr. Allen.

One of my favorite movies growing up was Pirates of Silicon Valley (excellent movie, even today) and they portrayed that scene exactly the same as Gates recalled it.

Paul himself told that story in his autobiography, "The Idea Man" [1], in colorful details. The first half of the book is full of anecdotes of those early days, the relationship with Bill Gates, and the beginnings of Microsoft. It's a great read.

Really sad he went so soon; RIP.

[1] https://www.amazon.com/Idea-Man-Memoir-Cofounder-Microsoft/d...

Not exactly (Gates was in bed, Allen chucks him the magazine), but the feeling was portrayed fantastically.

except if my memory serves, it was Paul who was sleeping in a pile of dirty socks and Bill barged into the room saying that. Then the scene cuts to New Mexico

Bill was waking up from a hangover due to the previous night. He awakes to Paul waving the magazine saying, Bill! Bill!


>“This is happening without us!”

That's quite a statement, wow. I wonder if it's moments like this that distinguish really, really successful people from the rest.

It's certainly the same feeling I had back in 2010 when I knew I had to quit my job and start pushing Python for data analysis.

Your work is the backbone of what we do to push financial inclusion in India.

Thank you!!

And are you really, really successful or the rest? :)

Well, judging by the account name, this is probably Peter Wang, the CTO of Anaconda, Inc. So maybe that answers your question.

Hahaha this is great. But did you win the Putnam?

Anaconda, inc. customers:

Citi, SEC, SAMSUNG, dozens of others...he certainly seems like he's in the former group.

So Microsoft was founded on a lucky case of FOMO? Hey, it works sometimes.

No, I don't think so. Inspiration is perishable, I don't recall who said that but it's true. It doesn't matter if you have a good idea, they are ever so common. Execution is everything.

I have perhaps one friend that I've known more than 15 years. Part of it is that I seem to be bad at keeping friends, and also because I spent a decade moving around a lot and just lost touch with people.

Paul Allen and Bill Gates were friends from early teenage years until the 60s, until death. Through so much change in the world, much of it instigated by them. Through becoming some of the richest, most powerful people on the planet and then turning into philanthropists together. Nearly half a century.

I literally cannot imagine the emotions Gates has to be going through as he writes this note. My heart goes out to him as much as Allen's family.

Add to the fact that Paul Allen was probably the only person who saw the meteoric rise to billionaire-dom at the same time as Gates and in the same way.

I am sure there were things between them, that no one else could empathize with.

They did have a falling out but it seems they reconciled. Paul Allen claims BillG tried to cut him out of Microsoft when he was first diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease.



> Paul Allen: Gates, Ballmer tried to 'rip me off'

> "One evening in late December 1982, I heard Bill and Steve speaking heatedly in Bill's office and paused outside to listen in," he writes in his memoir. "It was easy to get the gist of the conversation. They were bemoaning my recent lack of production and discussing how they might dilute my Microsoft equity by issuing options to themselves and other shareholders. It was clear that they'd been thinking about this for some time."

Thanks. Did we ever hear Gates’ side of the story?

I can imagine there could be good reason to dilute someone by issuing more stock to the remaining productive collaborators. That would depend on the scale, and method used to calculate the proportion, and of on obtaining consent from the diluted party.

@DenisM: “I can imagine there could be good reason to dilute someone” ..

Cutting a business partner out of his fair share while he's in the middle of battling a life threatening disease, a good reason. I guess you went to the same school of ethics as Gates :]

Many companies can die with the dying partner if the remaining partners are not able to capitalize and run the business in his absence.

I see it more as greed than administrative prudence.

Wouldn't we have to know about details of the situation?

This happens every year, and in every single company that you know of. People who remain employed are given retention grants, diluting the people who are no longer employed and receive no such grants. Do you think that's unethical?

Not in this case. Clearly Microsoft did fine without doing it .

Heh, you can find apologists for anything these days huh

From the caption of the first photo:

> Here we are in school. That’s Paul on the left, our friend Ric Weiland, and me on the right.

In case you are wondering https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ric_Weiland

Thank you for bringing this up. I had never heard of Ric Weiland.

Here is another article discussing how he distributed his wealth:


"A gay man who fell victim to HIV."

The number of times I have heard of this misfortune is sometime truly astounding. A whole community ravaged by an illness that we don't have a solution to, with the government turning their back to it.

Yup. It set back LGBT rights by decades; there’s a sizable chunk of an entire generation of the community just gone, people who might today have become leaders, activists, and mentors for young LGBT people.

Reagan and the US government not only “turned their back” and failed to act for years, leading to conservative estimates of thousands of new infections that could’ve been prevented; they also also actively interfered: for example, Congress banned the use of federal funds for prevention campaigns that “promoted or encouraged, directly or indirectly, homosexual activities”. So a lot of the prevention campaigns became ineffective fear-based propaganda rather than what was needed: targeted education to vulnerable communities about safer sex and needle drug use practices.

Not long ago a movie "120 beats per min" told the issues faced by HIV and/or gay groups regarding the start of the epidemic, but in France.

> with the government turning their back to it.

Do you also think the government is turning their back to cancer? The reality is if a cure is to come, it will come from private industry (for profit companies).

Wow. I can't imagine what it is like to be surrounded by people of that caliber in my day-to-day life. Don't get me wrong, I have some great friends. But nobody that I really could see myself starting a business with or people with such intelligence and ambition.

I had to smile at that picture, because I'm in a very similar one in my high school yearbook - 3 of us around a teletype. It's a shame about Ric Weiland. I have no idea what happened to the two other guys in my picture.

Growing up a poor kid in Seattle, Microsoft was always that shining beacon on the hill. The idea that anyone, if they study hard, can get a job at one of the most powerful technology companies on earth, was an amazing motivator and source of inspiration.

That beacon has grown a little bit dimmer.

And yet still, the impact Paul Allen has had on Seattle shall remain for generations to come.

Dimmer why?

The only thing I ever think of when Gates speaks about Allen is how they tried to reduce his equity when he got sick. It's something that has stuck with me for 20+ years.

That's why it's a mistake to oversimplify public figures into "hero" or "demon" or whatever. They are always just people.

If Bill Gates is just a person and not a hero, you don't have to explain away any of his mistakes. You don't have to elevate him for his philanthropy. You don't have to make any judgments about him, unless it has any bearing on any decision or action you have to take.

Fanboyism is like a cognitive disease.

Gates has himself admitted that he was a bully, yet people feel the need to defend him.

Rockefeller ruthlessly destroyed lifes but he was also committed philanthropist that started to give six percent of his earnings to charity at age 16. As he grew richer he gave more.

Some donations can be tax deductible, and even it they aren't they boost the donor public image as soon as it become news. I'm not saying Gates, Allen, Rockefeller or anyone else donated to charities only as a form of personal advertising, yet there's certainly a good incentive to do that which should be taken into account before making an opinion about someone.

Being tax deductible doesn't somehow make it profitable or even free. It just means that on a million dollar donation, it actually cost you something like $600k in the end. You're still down that money in every scenario.

Nobody is driven to donations because they are tax deductible. Deductions just allow you to donate more than you would have.

Charitable contributions weren't tax-deductible when Rockefeller was 16. Hell, there was no income tax when Rockefeller was 16.

He probably did it to gain favor with God (most of his charity was church-based until he got fabulously wealthy), but of all the things done in the name of God, charity is a pretty good one.

As someone who has spent time at Microsoft, Ballmer did good for the company post-gates for awhile, but hit a plateau. He continued too long and thus brought in the stalled time that some refer to as the Ballmeriam era. And have qualms about how things were handled during that time. I have no public opinion on that.

That said, Ballmer addressing employees, he bled the company on his sleeve. Even having disagreements on how things were, the genuine feeling coming from him - in person or on video - was actually contagious - for a time.

Things are not black and white.

My only knowledge of Paul Allen outside of stories about Vulcan ventures was knowing people that worked at one of his properties having to sign NDAs, which is understandable.

No one is black and white. Faults should not be washed over, achievements over blown, hopefully we all add something net positive in our finite time.

I don't pass judgement on Gates. It's just business. Same for Zuckerberg. Money winds up in somebody's pocket. Might as well be yours. He's doing good things with it too, so maybe his instinct was right.

True, but not fair, to Gates OR to Allen. "After a few years all that passes. Bill and I have always been friends, even through the ups and downs" https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2011/may/02/paul-alle...

I didn't say if it was fair or unfair, it's always the first thing that comes to my mind when I think of Bill Gates and Paul Allen. Similiar to Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs and the Breakout game incident.

"No remark without remarkableness" - which makes me curious: what do you think the remarkableness was, if not fairness or unfairness?

If you ever go into business with a friend, you should anticipate the worst. They're only human. You have to be on your toes from the start, and you can only blame yourself if you get beat or blindsided. At that point, its irrelevant to your friendship. It was just business.

The problem with "it's not personal, it's just business" is that business is always personal.

I mean, if I’m in a business with my friend and he hasn’t been working on said business for 2 years, even though he has a bunch of equity, I’d also start to think about maybe making that situation a bit more fair.

Probably not without them involved, but you can at least discuss the possibility at some point.

Isn't that what salaries are for?

I hope your friends read this! Sounds like you value money - just business - incomparably more than friendship. Why?!

I think you may be misreading the intent. I've also seen several friendships destroyed because of business disagreements. I take the message as "Don't get into business with friends if you value their friendship."

Replying also to the other comments: Ah thanks, yeah. I've painfully learnt not to lend/give friends money! It cost me a great friendship. But it wasn't deliberate on their part; I guess I read the GP as saying "Expect your friends to fuck you over, and that's ok/your own fault." I am familiar with the risk of business to friendship, but the GP seemed to be going somewhat further, although it seems ambiguous exactly what they're saying.

> Why?!

"I had some money and a friend. I lent my money to my friend. I lost my money... and my friend."

He's not talking about lending money. He is talking about a friend and business partner cutting you short out of your equity because you happen to be ill.

If your partner is not working, or working less, get the board to grant you a bonus, or an increase in your salary, or a decrease in his salary.

The point holds. When you have a friendship and then you add a business relationship on top, damage to either damages both.

pastor_elm is spot on. This is something most learn the hard way.

Just because the friendship remained, it doesn't make that particular event any better.

Had they gone through with it, it certainly would have been despicable. As it was, it was nothing more than a conversation that was hurtful to Allen. You can't indict someone for an action they didn't take, as though they did take it. It's entirely impossible to know if Gates would have gone through with that action.

Allen retained his full Microsoft stake and yielded tens of billions of dollars from the Microsoft that Gates, Ballmer and others proceeded to build up in the coming 15-20 years.

I suspect there are few here that haven't had insulting conversations about other people. Said negative, rude, belittling things that they later regretted. Hurled a very mean statement in the middle of a fight. Discussed leaving a spouse behind their back. So on and so forth.

It's not necessary to excuse the behavior of Gates, it was a crass mistake by a 27 year old. Allen retained his ownership, forgave Gates, and that's that.

> As it was, it was nothing more than a conversation that was hurtful to Allen.

Or maybe they didn't do it because got caught?

Does it matter? The point is that they didn't do it. Yes, it could've happened, nobody is disputing that, and nobody is disputing that it would've been a shitty thing to do. But at the end of the day, it didn't happen. You're arguing a hypothetical and adding even more hypotheticals on top. Nobody will know why it didn't happen, what the motivating factors might have been, but we all know that the conversation took place and then it was dropped. That's what's important.

Yes it matters. It says a lot about someone that they would even entertain the idea of cheating their cancer ridden friend.

Perhaps, once they’d reflected on it, they decided it wasn’t fair, just like you have. It seems as though a few here want to demonise Ballmer and Gates for something they ultimately didn’t do. So they had a conversation about it.

later reflected on it?

Like, they were talking about it, but didn't realize what they were talking about? They just realize about it later?

Look, I agree that we all do shitty things in life. And, most of the times, we know that we are doing shitty things when we are doing them. No excuse, just bad human behavior. Everybody does it. And it is despicable.

Like no, not really.

I actually agree that it's not a nice thing to discuss/think, the difference is I’m not pontificating about it as if I’m morally superior. In my view, that’s just as bad.

You don't think that to have a conversation about maybe doing something blatantly evil, instead of dismissing it out of hand, reflects poorly on someone's character even if the conclusion of that conversation is not to do the evil thing?

Not partituclarly. Evil is planning mass genocide and executing it. Besides, why judge when we only have one side of the story? Demonising people for having thoughts or discussing actions that you personally find distasteful is tyrannical and repressive.

Demonizing != distaste for cheating a friend. There is no both sides to this story. Gates and Ballmer didn't argue against Allen's telling of the story. Can you even name a hypothetical scenario where its ok to be annoyed that your cancer-ridden friend isn't contributing what he used to?

Wow. Were life as simple as you see it...

And what does "Demonizing != distaste for cheating a friend." even mean? You are attempting to defame Gates and Ballmer because of an uncomfortable conversation that they had 30+ years ago that they ultimately didn't act on! So no, they weren't evil. Cold, perhaps for having the conversation. I'd actually argue that they are merely human, just like the rest of us; wonderfully imperfect.

Presumably at least one person knows why it didn’t happen.

This is well covered in many books and articles. The back story, as I understand, is that Allen was checked out from Microsoft even before he got sick. He was going through relationship and other personal issues and went through long stretch of times travelling through Europe. Gates and Ballmer felt at the time that Allen received far bigger chunk of share of their success than he had actually worked for. You have to remember that Gates and Ballmer were both putting in 14-18 hours a day and many times not even have time to shower while Allen was touristing in Southern France for months with no indications of his commitments to the company. Even while at the founding of Microsoft, Allen's contributions to BASIC interpreter was not in balance as Gates but he did received same share of company because it was his idea. There are several authors who limit Allen's major contributions to Microsoft as: (1) Pointing out potential of microchips to Gates (2) be older face to partners like IBM (3) write small chunk of code in BASIC interpreter (4) suggest packaging apps as "office suit". There are few authors who believes that Allen did wanted to stay engaged but was sidelined by Gates when he started forming leadership team. This combined with his relationship issues and then sickness pushed him out of the loop.

There are lot of parallels to Zuck and Eduardo except that Allen was lucky enough to be at right place and right time to overhear the plan to dilute his stack and prevent it before it was executed.

I don’t know the exact specifics, but the notion of co-founder vesting schedules exist today. This provides a simpler pre-agreed upon way to handle that kind of situation. If I recall correctly Micro-Soft wasn’t even a properly incorporated entity for the DOS deal making things like a founder needing to stop having an execution role for health reasons hard to deal with.

And that is likely to help you not at all if another party with controlling interest decides to try to screw you. See the histories of Facebook and Zynga for a couple of more high profile and recent examples. Back when Microsoft was founded, I don't think there really was even the notion of vesting back the shares in your own company... you were either a partner in a partnership or a shareholder in a corporation. I'm pretty sure it was VC's who later came up with the concept of earning back ownership in one's own company.

It's not clear that typical co-founder vesting schedules are really capable of handling this sort of event: a co-founder develops a major disease that limits their ability to work but does not halt it completely.

In most instances like this the co-founder is likely to continue vesting as normal. Whether all parties are happy with this arrangement or not is likely to vary significantly from case to case.

Yeah, some kind of disability vesting would make sense.

That's an interesting way of looking at it. I wonder if you're right in looking at it that way.

i.e. if one co-founder cannot work as much as the other, should there be a change in compensation?

I think there's room for both compassion and contingency in compensation.

You can make sure that "your people" (operating from the mindset of corporate feudalism) are taken care of, that if they die prematurely from illness or accident their families are taken care of, and that if they are rendered simply unable to work they and their families are not worse off than in the worst case, without giving someone multi-digit ownership of the company.

It's something to consider when you start drawing up paperwork for your own startup, grisly as that may seem. What happens when one of your founders is struck by a bus a day, a month, a year, five years into the venture? How much of their vested and unvested founder-share goes to their heirs? Does it make a difference if their heirs are their children, their spouse, their siblings, or their favorite charity? Do you want to turn their founder-share from your super-voting shares to a share class with less voting power upon transfer [is that even legal? with vested or unvested shares?]? Does it make a difference if they are killed or merely incapacitated?

It's not a pleasant thing to think about, and it won't matter most of the time, but when it does...

Another factor that makes a difference -- but perhaps should not -- is whether you are reducing them from $10 billion to $1 billion or $100k to $80k.

In the first case, you might think "eh, they'll be fine anyway." But the magnitude of the money is not directly related to what is a fair reduction.

In case anyone wants to read more, it was my first time hearing about this too, I found a good resource here:


What struck me is that Allen was living with cancer for the last 36 years of his life.

Magic Johnson has had HIV for the last 27 years

Yeah that struck me as well. That must be quite horrible and lucky at the same time.

(lucky in the sense that, it could have ended much sooner, but it must be quite a horrible way to live. In my opinion)

Put yourself in his shoes, do you prefer to go after the stock or have him do something desperate and bring a rando with 'cofounder' power to your business? Don't know the specifics, but I know better than to judge quickly.

The road to being a billionaire is surrounded with bumps.

They started and ended as friends, the rest are details

Is there a detailed account of this somewhere? I'd like to read more about it.

There are stories, articles and biographies about it all from over the years but here is one mention of it:

"In December 1982, when Allen was sick with cancer, he overheard Gates and Ballmer discussing his lack of contributions and how to dilute his equity by offering stock options to other employees and shareholders. Allen confronted them and quit a little bit later. " [1]

[1] https://www.businessinsider.com/what-paul-allen-really-think...

There is a detailed account in Allen's book "Idea Man":


That is the power of lawyers and contracts, that´s the power of the dark side.

Gates probably could have did what the Zuck did, but it doesn't look like he did it because Allen was still very rich. Anyone with a controlling interest can dilute someone anytime?

It's certainly horrible behavior, but we must allow the chance that he has changed for the better.

Gates and the company never went through with it, it was just a conversation...and I'm sure it would be a conversation that any company in that predicament would have had.

Considering that he left at the end of 1982, contemplating the idea sounds fair. Believe they decided not to go through with it as well.

Which is absolutely the right thing to do, especially if you have any external investor, or if you need external funding some day.

Me too. My understanding is the minute Allen overheard that, he walked out of the Microsoft office and never went back. Hence why whenever you heard about him, it was from his yacht. I bet Gates and Ballmer have remembered that every day for 40 years.

That's false. Paul Allen remained on Microsoft's board of directors for two decades, continued to be involved with Microsoft for four decades, as well as being a major shareholder for its entire existence.

I loved him because he was a proper guitar geek. Owner of a lot of vintage stuff and really a good player too. A lot of people wanted him to buy and revive Gibson.

Does everyone know the story about why Paul left Microsoft? That when he told Gates and Ballmer about the cancer, in the early days, they immediately went in the other room to talk about how to divvy up Paul's shares in the company and Paul overheard them?

Don't read any of the more recent happy articles. Search for articles and books from the early days when the real truth was printed.

The way he portrays Allen as a man he looks up to, and he choice of photos, is touching.

I wonder if he had to look up what the name of that Jimi Hendrix album was? :)


Expected more from an eulogy from Bill, but that was not to be. Co-founding is obviously hard. Successful business or not.

It seems odd to have a popup over your eulogy of one of your best and oldest friends.

comment unrelated, but do not track me with ?WT.mc_id=10_16_2018_10_PaulAllen_BG-TW_&WT.tsrc=BGTW&linkId=58288095

anybody have a mirror? site's down...

> anybody have a mirror? site's down...


I wonder did Gates ever manage to get the shares back?


What a beautiful tribute!

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