“Development sometimes is viewed as a project in which you give people things and nothing much happens, which is perfectly valid, but if you just focus on that, then you’d also have to say that venture capital is pretty stupid, too. Its hit rate is pathetic. But occasionally, you get successes, you fund a Google or something, and suddenly venture capital is vaunted as the most amazing field of all time.”
— Bill Gates compares what some view as the hit-and-miss nature of his work of “moving people from basic lives into decent lives” with the business risks VCs take.
In an interview with Rolling Stone, the Microsoft co-founder turned philanthropist weighs in on everything from climate change to the existence of God. Oh, and besides mentioning VC, he had other things to say about the tech industry.
On what Facebook’s $19 billion purchase of mobile messaging company WhatsApp — which Gates said Microsoft would’ve been willing to buy — means:
It means that Mark Zuckerberg wants Facebook to be the next Facebook. Mark has the credibility to say, “I’m going to spend $19 billion to buy something that has essentially no revenue model.” I think his aggressiveness is wise – although the price is higher than I would have expected.
On Zuckerberg, Gates and Steve Jobs (“a genius”):
I start with architecture, and Mark starts with products, and Steve Jobs started with aesthetics.
Long-dominant Microsoft is playing catch-up in mobile, and is dealing with the transition to the cloud. Gates addresses what that means for the company he co-founded:
Office and the other Microsoft assets that we built in the Nineties and kept tuning up have lasted a long time. Now, they need more than a tuneup. But that’s pretty exciting for the people inside who say, “We need to take a little risk and do some new stuff” – Google, which is a very strong company across a huge number of things right now.
The tech industry has been pushing hard for immigration reform. Gates calls U.S. immigration laws “really, really bad,” but says:
You can’t argue that all innovation has seized up because of the problem – I’m sorry. Innovation in California is at its absolute peak right now. Sure, half of the companies are silly, and you know two-thirds of them are going to go bankrupt, but the dozen or so ideas that emerge out of that are going to be really important.
As for privacy issues associated with technology, Gates talks of the need for “explicit rules” and “more intense debates about these things.”
Should surveillance be usable for petty crimes like jaywalking or minor drug possession? Or is there a higher threshold for certain information? Those aren’t easy questions.
Photo: Bill Gates in 2012. (Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)