Avram's Past / Technology

The Idea Man by Paul Allen


Just read the Idea Man by Paul Allen.  I don’t usually review books and certainly not here on my blog.  And this post is not really a review as much as it is a commentary.

The first 50% of the book deals mostly with Paul’s experiences with Bill Gates including the formation of Microsoft and the first  seven years of it’s  existence until  Paul left Microsoft (although he stayed on the boad until 2000).  I am eight yeas older than Paul and ten year older than Bill but our computer careers started about the same time (the second half of the 60s),  so I can relate very much to many of the experiences that Paul discussed about that time. I enjoyed Paul reminiscing about his feelings when he saw a transistor for the first time or what it was like to use a ASR-33 teletype for programing.  So the early part of the book was like “home week” for me..

Paul’s description of his relationship with Bill Gates rang true as did his description of Bill himself.   I meet Bill the first time in 1981 when I was at Digital Equipment Corp.  Bill was 26 by then. IBM had brought out the IBM PC and Microsoft was marketing  MS DOS.  We interacted  a few time  over  the next several years. From about 1992 to the time I left Intel in 1999, I had much more contact with him.  I meet Paul Allen during the 90s.  I certainly had a lot less interaction  with him and he did not impress me. I use to call him the richest 80 thousand-dollar-a-year programer in the world.

The book is an attempt to demonstrate that Paul actually played an imporant role in creating Microsoft i.e. he was the “idea man” and Bill was the “implementor” and therefore he played an  important role in creating the computer industry.  I think this  is probably true from what I read but Paul tries to demonstrate that the relationship was balanced and he contributed as much to Microsoft as  Bill.  This I doubt. There could have been many Paul Allen’s but there is only one Bill Gates (thank god).

Then there is the part of his story that deals with his first diagnoise of Cancer ( Hodgkin’s lymphoma).  I could easily relate to that having my own bout with cancer (although at a much later stage of my life). Later, he discusses his second cancer ( non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma). Paul also suffers from heart problems and has a pacemaker.

There is a lot about his investments in the second part of the book.  I have to say that during the 90s Paul was considered “dumb money” by many in the venture business.  He describes his investments and I think is pretty open about what went well and what went badly but you can tell that while Paul had a pretty good insight into what would happen in the future,  his  judgment about timing was pretty bad.  Also, I don’t think he was a good judge of people. Most importantly, he was spread way to thin.  Paul does not explain why he made these investments.  He was/is extremely rich.  Did he do this for money or to influence  the future?   I thought he was very honest about his investment in Interval. I had a lot of dealings with Interval.  There was a lot of value in the concept but the implementation was problem.  Again, Paul was not on top of what was happening.

I skipped over his discussion of investing in sport teams.  I have no interest in sports.  He discusses his involvement in entertainment. I was glad to see that he now realizes that he was “taken”  by SKG Dreamworks although I am surprised that he actually made money on his investment.

There was a lot about his philanthropic efforts.  Again, you can see he is all over the map.  It is interesting to compare the Gates Foundation with the Allen Foundation.

There is little about his personal life as  an adult.  He mentions two girl friends in the book.  This link  has some speculations.  When I was active in “Hollywood” in the 90s, I heard some stories but who knows if they are true.   Then again, there are some interesting stories about Bill and show girls. I always thought of Paul as a pretty lonely guy.  I remember that once I was in Portofino, maybe around 1997,   with the woman in my life at that time.  Paul showed up in one of his Yacht’s –  the  Méduse.  He was by himself.  I thought about saying hello but was afriad he would ask us to join him on his Yacht.  Paul was rich but in my opinion not very interesting.  We walked the other way.

Then there is Paul the consumer. The way he spends money is distasteful.  He appears to live like I imagine Donald Trump would like to live.  And sadly, I think there are a lot of hangers-on.   I once stood next to Paul at an Allen Conference (Herb Allen who is not a relation to Paul)  and listen to Paul discuss Yacht building with a woman I did not know.  The woman asked if he had a Helicopter Port on his boat.  Paul looked at her as if she was from Mars and said ” where else could you put your Helicopter?”.  He then told her that his boat had two. I wanted to puke.

Paul clearly wrote this book to demonstrate that he was and is relevant.  He was of course, and after reading this book, I raised his salarly.  He is now the richest 100 thousand-dollar-a-year programer in the world.

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