It is ironical that the dot-com bubble burst on 10 March 2000 and almost exactly 10 years later Forbes magazine has reported that Bill Gates relinquished his position at the top of the global wealth pile. A lot will be made about Gates’ displacement by Mexican telecom owner Carlos Slim, but the very fact that the man behind the success of Microsoft continues to be very close to the top tells us a lot about the technology business in these 10 years.
Gates struggled to come to terms with the rise of the Internet in the 1990s. He first underestimated its power to transform lives and then uprooted competitors such as Netscape with the clinical precision of a late believer. The point is that the pioneers of the online world, who were for a brief point of time seen as threats to the established order, are no longer in sight while Gates has continued to prosper.
Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint
A closer look at the Forbes billionaire list shows that three types of technology entrepreneurs have prospered in what many rightly believe is the age of technology. The first is the likes of Gates, Larry Ellison of enterprise software company Oracle and Michael Dell of the eponymous computer maker. These are computer firms founded before the dot-com age. The second group consists of entrepreneurs who built new companies in social networking after the dot-com bust—Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Larry Page and Sergey Brin of Google, Yoshikazu Tanaka of Japanese networking site Gree. And the third group has software service providers such as Azim Premji of Wipro, who have benefited from the fall in telecom and networking costs since the dot-com boom. Pierre Omidyar of eBay is a rare case of a dot-com entrepreneur who went through the dot-com bust and lived to tell the tale.
Yet, we cannot but note that there are only 91 technology entrepreneurs on the billionaire list that totals 937. You are far more likely to make it to the rich list if you are in a clunky old business such as steel making or retailing. Every revolution devours its own children and it seems that the tech revolution has not been any different. A few tech entrepreneurs have stood steady amid the gales of creative destruction, while most have toppled over into the abyss of business history.
The tech revolution has radically transformed the way we work, live and connect. But only a handful of those who have helped us do so have collected billions for their efforts.
Is creative destruction more common in technology than in other businesses? Tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org