When you think about Microsoft, the first name that comes to mind just might be Bill Gates.
When Bill Gates thinks about Microsoft, the first name that comes to mind just might be Paul Allen.
Allen was Gates’ classmate and friend at the private Lakeside School in Seattle, and together they went on to form Microsoft. Precious few people and companies have done as much to change the course of human history.
Even though Gates’ name is much more recognizable, even he says, “Microsoft would never have happened without Paul.” It takes moxie to start a revolution, and Allen had it.
Allen passed away this week after another bout with non-Hodgkins’ lymphoma. He was just 65, but had the moxie to cram several lifetimes into those decades. Here’s how his moxie shaped the world we live in:
People with moxie can be ‘bad influences.’
Allen and Gates met as students at a prestigious private school in Seattle. Allen was two years older, and the younger Gates looked up to him. The two bonded over a shared love of computing, and weaseled their way into every computer lab in the greater Seattle area and beyond.
Computing wasn’t at all like what we enjoy today – Allen and Gates were about to invent that experience – and the young adventurers enjoyed digging in and figuring out what they could make the unwieldy behemoths do.
Their obsession, coupled with their enthusiastic pursuit of an early (failed) entrepreneurial effort, got them booted from the computer lab at the University of Washington. It wasn’t the last time Allen would lead his younger pal afoul of established authority.
A few years later, Allen had already dropped out of the University of Washington to work for a company in Boston, near where Gates was attending Harvard.
“One day he came and got me, insisting that I rush over to a nearby newsstand with him. When we arrived, he showed me the cover of the January issue of Popular Electronics. It featured a new computer called the Altair 8800, which ran on a powerful new chip,” Gates remembered. “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.”
Allen got Gates kicked out of a computer lab, and convinced him to drop out of one of the most prestigious educational institutions in the world, all in pursuit of curiosity and innovation. People with moxie have a way of urging others down the right path on unconventional journeys.
People with moxie take that moxie everywhere.
In 1982 as Microsoft began reaching its greatest heights, Allen was struck with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He battled back from the cancer, but the experience reframed his sense of purpose.
“In the first eight or so years at Microsoft, we were always chained to our terminals,” said Allen. “and after I got sick the first time, I decided that I was going to be more adventurous and explore more of the world.”
He took the fortune he earned from Microsoft and drove it into a wide range of entrepreneurial pursuits.
He established Vulcan, Inc., which does everything from providing venture capital for start ups to developing real estate to making movies. He bought the Seattle Seahawks and the Portland Trailblazers. He funded space travel and exploration.
A lifelong music enthusiast and guitar player, Allen also pursued his musical passion and played in several bands, even releasing an album.
“Paul deserved more time in life,” Gates said of his friend. “He would have made the most of it.”
I was so struck by that statement. Can I say the same for myself? Do I have the moxie to make the most of every day, like Allen seemed to do?
People with moxie use it to make the world better.
Allen used his fortune not only to expand and explore his own horizons, but to offer the same opportunity for others.
Much like his business and artistic pursuits, Allen’s philanthropic pursuits were also remarkably varied. He funded several scientific institutes related to the brain, cells and artificial intelligence. He funded numerous environmental and conservation efforts, and contributed to efforts to fight back against ebola in Africa. He funded projects exploring World War II shipwrecks, education, and numerous arts-related projects.
I’ve observed a certain generosity of spirit in people with moxie. It’s never enough for them to achieve their goals; they always seem to want others to share that experience, too.
If you had a chance to interview Allen, what would you ask?