Thursday, July 28, 2011

Idea Man by Paul Allen

Paul Allen was interested in chemistry and machines as a kid. At Lakeside he was introduced to computer programming and Bill Gates.
A few years later the two teamed up. They wrote the BASIC software to go with the MITS Altair 8080, a small computer that was assembled by the buyer. When a contract was required in 1975, a company name was needed. Allen & Gates sounded too much like a law firm. Paul suggested Micro-Soft (microprocessors and software). Bill suggested a sixt-forty split as Paul had been employed during the writing process while Bill was at Harvard.
They continued to adapt the code for the new processors as they came out. Their aim was “to provide all language software for every microcomputer on the market.” In Nov. of 1976 Paul left MITS and moved full time to Microsoft, the name they registered in New Mexico. Bill quit college, asked for 64-36, and Paul agreed. A formal partnership agreement was signed Feb. 3, 1977.
Paul says, “...I couldn't stop thinking about a time when everyone would be digitally connected, with instant access to information and services.” He notes an article he wrote in January of 1977 predicting an internet kind of phenomenon.
Their company continued to grow and Paul asked Bill to reconsider the 64-36 split. Bill would have none of it. “My partner was out to grab as much of the pie as possible...”

After having been at Microsoft for eight years, Paul decided to leave. He writes about owning the Portland Trail Blazers, his buying the Seahawks after getting his request of a new stadium, his investment in SpaceShipOne and winning the X Prize, creating the Experience Music Project, purchasing 80% of TicketMaster, his work at getting sports updates online, investing $500 million in the upstart DreamWorks, losing $8 billion in the cable business, establishing the Allen Institute for Brain Science, his owning the (then) fourth largest yacht in the world, trips to Africa and efforts to find new ways to supply electric power and clean water there, and his being diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. When treatment for it resulted in remission, Paul decided, “I want more than ever to cram as much as I can into life.”

Allen is brutally honest about his Microsoft years, about the first half of the book. The second half of the book is all about the money, where he invested it, his losses, and what he hopes yet to accomplish with it. Having finished the book, I can't really say I know Paul Allen. I do know what he did with his money, however, and perhaps that is what it was supposed to be about afterall.

Portfolio Hardcover, 368 pages.

I received an egalley of this book from the publisher for the purpose of this review.

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