Hard feelings at Microsoft

Hard feelings at Microsoft

Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen has lashed out at Bill Gates in his memoirs, claiming that his childhood friend neither gave him adequate credit for the achievements of their company nor an equity stake that reflected his true contribution to its success.

Allen is worth around $13 billion and most of that wealth has accrued from Microsoft stock.

The little tiff between Gates and Allen makes for juicy gossip. But it also raises a rather important question about the nature of early entrepreneurship and corporate leadership.

Microsoft is just one among several companies that had multiple founders but came to be identified with one man. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak formed Apple Computer in 1976. The iconic firm is now equated with just one of the two Steves—and no prizes for guessing which one. The Facebook example is more recent, with Mark Zuckerberg taking control from friends such as Eduardo Saverin, Dustin Moskovitz and Chris Hughes.

Despite the folk theory about a single entrepreneur tinkering around in his garage or college dorm, many of the world’s most dynamic companies were set up by groups of friends or relatives. Only one of them tends to lead the eventual business enterprise. And this is true of not just technology firms but also manufacturing firms.

In other words, ideas are co-created but successful companies tend to be run by single leaders.

Managing this dynamic is not always impossible: Think Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard of the eponymous company, or Robert Noyce and Gordon Moore of Intel, or for that matter, the team that founded Infosys. But the examples of Wozniak, Allen and Saverin show that it is not easy either.

The transition from toying around in garages and hostels to running a full-fledged business enterprise is far more difficult than most people realize.

Entrepreneurship: group effort or individual enterprise? Tell us at views@livemint.com