Bill Gates and The Guy Who Could Have Been Him (Part 4 of 10)

Do not miss out this great story, I recommend reading these first:

Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3


Gates and Kildall had a lot of common. Both hailed from the Seattle area. They had even bumped into each other at a Seattle computer center years when Kildall was still a graduate student at the University of Washington and Gates was a high school hacker sneaking some computer time.

Both loved talking about software code as much as they enjoyed writing it. They also shared a passion for driving dangerously fast. When they weren’t talking software, they swapped stories about speed traps, comparing the size of their most recent speeding tickets.

While they have similarities, they have more differences as well. Kildall was older, a family man, and much more accomplished programmer. At heart he was academic, a computer scientist with a Ph.D. Though he was nominally the head of Digital Research, he disdained making business decisions and preferred spending his time on complicated programming tasks that most CEOs would leave to their employees.

Gates was the exact opposite. He was a businessman first and a programmer second. He started Microsoft while still being a student at Harvard, and then he dropped out before finishing because his interest is getting his business going.

At the age of 25, he was still living like a college student in a messy one-bedroom apartment.

Gates and Kildall shared a capacity for getting lost in the days-long bonus of obsessive programming, their motivations were completely different. Gates would never have spent a year building a microcomputer from scratch as Kildall did, merely out of intellectual curiosity.

Gates’ all-nighters were always driven by practical business objectives and deadlines, while Kildall had more of an artistic temperament. Some said that Kildall designed computer code the way Mozart composed symphonies.


Continue reading Part 5Part 6Part 7Part 8Part 9, and Part 10.


The Billionaire Entertainer (Part 2 of 2)

Do not miss out the first part.


Le Grand Tour had been conceived as a one-year project, but Laliberte was determined to keep Cirque du Soleil going. He convinced the government to underwrite another season of shows in 1985. Outside of Quebec, however, the reaction was mixed. Shows in Toronto and Niagara Falls were poorly attended and the fledging Cirque organization ended the year of $75,000 in debt. A national tour of eight Canadian cities the following year fared much better, though, and ended with a showcase performance at the world’s fair in Vancouver.

Cirque had an informal, collaborative style of organization in which Laliberte took on the de facto role of executive producer. He kept pushing the circus’s creative staff to make the shows larger, more theatrical, and more visually lavish. Although the crowd kept growing through 1986, so did Cirque’s debt. Laliberte seemed determined to spend money that Cirque didn’t have. He went to France and brought back a gigantic new circus tent even though Cirque couldn’t pay for it. For almost three years, the fiscal management of Cirque du Soleil involved bouncing checks, wheedling creditors, and begging for government handouts.

In 1987, Laliberte booked Cirque to open the Los Angeles Arts Festival. The finances at Cirque were so shaky at the time that some members of the troupe quit over what they considered a reckless move. But Cirque quickly became the hottest ticket at the festival. All 30 performers sold out and the $19 seats were being sold by scalpers for $200.

Elton John and Francis Ford Coppola were among the celebrities who counted themselves a fans. Jane Fonda said she saw the show seven times during its two-week run. Cirque returned to Quebec with $1.5 million, its money problems a thing of the past. Within five years, Cirque shows were touring Europe and Asia. Over the next 20 years, Cirque grew into one of the largest, most profitable entertainment brands in the world

Laliberte’s story is often help up as a classic rags-to-riches triumph. His tremendous success suggest that anyone, even a street performer, who pursues a vision with hard work and determination, can end up falling into an enormous pile of money.

There is more to this story than just passion and drive. After all, plenty of passionate, creative people work hard their whole lives and still struggle to make ends meet. Laliberte isn’t a billionaire because he’s followed his passion and because he managed to hold on to a big equity stake in his business even increasing it along the way at the expense of his other partners.


— end —

The Billionaire Entertainer (Part 1 of 2)


Back in 1983, Guy Laliberte’s parents must be worried about their twenty-three year old son.

The French Canadian Laliberte had skipped college after high school and took off to Europe for a year. He supported himself hand-to-mouth as an accordion-playing street performer, or busker. When he first arrived in London, he had less than $1,000 in his pocket, and to preserve what he had, he spent the night sleeping on a bench in Hyde Park.

Laliberte’s English wasn’t very good and he soon moved on to Paris. There he fell in his shirt and tie back his hair for safety. Then he would swig a mouthful of toxic flammable liquid and, with a burning torch in one hand, spray a writhing plume of orange-yellow fire 10 feet into the air. Fire breathing became Laliberte’s crowd pleasing specialty.

He was raised in a large middle-class family headed by a corporate executive father. He always expected to go to college. But when he returned home from Europe, he instead joined a nonprofit collective of stilt workers and acrobats called Le Club des Talons Hauts (the High Heels Club).

His next several summers were spent living in a youth hostel while helping run Talons Hauts street festivals in the tiny Quebec resort town of Baie-Saint-Pault. Money and possesions never seemed all that important to Laliberte. Each winter he spent whatever cash he’d saved up by escaping to the beaches of Florida and Hawaii.

In early 1983, the Quebec government announced plans for a celebration of the province’s 450th anniversary to take place the following summer. Money was set aside for festivities that would showcase Quebec’s homegrown talent, and Talons Hauts received $1.6 million fir a travelling circus that would visit 14 towns throughout Quebec over 12 weeks. Laliberte led the planning. He even dreamed up its name: Le Grand Tour du Cirque du Soleil.

The travelling circus was a chaotic mess that often flirted with disaster. The new huge performance tent was almost impossible to set up. It collapsed in a rain storm one day during a preshow media event. Working conditions for the performers were so poor that there was a near-revolt by the Europeans circus artist brought in to supplement the amateurish Talons Hauts regulars. The Cirque du Soleil show itself, however, won glowing praise from the press and the public throughout Quebec.


Continue reading Part II