learned that Roberts was near death, he flew
across the country to spend several hours
with him days before Roberts died.
Allen writes in Idea Man that Gates regularly
visited him in 2009 when he was hospitalized
with his second battle with cancer: “He was
everything you’d want from a friend, caring
and concerned.” Based on their past history,
it seems likely the two billionaires will eventually make their peace, perhaps while agreeing
to disagree on some points. After all, many
Microsoft customers who have a love-hate
relationship with the company’s software
(including me) keep going back for more.
ideas and futuristic visions don’t guarantee
successful products and ventures. As Allen
wrote about his pre-Altair days with Gates,
“Each time I brought an idea to Bill, he would
pop my balloon.”
» Texas-style handshake agreements with
partners, supporters, and customers are
great. I sold millions of books to RadioShack
over handshakes and purchase orders. But
Allen’s experience suggests it’s best to follow
handshakes with carefully drafted agreements that all concerned are willing to sign.
Microsoft made its founders two of the world’s
richest men, and Idea Man follows Allen’s
account of the MITS-Microsoft years with
highlights about his life, business, and philanthropy. He enthusiastically discusses his
billionaire lifestyle, including his sports teams,
his love affair with the guitar, and his far-flung
travel adventures aboard his mega-yachts.
Much more important to us makers than
the celebrity name dropping and travel stories
are the details of Allen’s business successes
and failures, his founding of the Allen Institute
for Brain Science, and his carefully restored
World War II-era aircraft collection.
Then there’s Allen’s partnership with
Burt Rutan that culminated in SpaceShipOne,
the first privately developed and launched
reusable, manned spacecraft. The historic
SpaceShipOne, which earned the $10 million
Ansari X Prize, is now suspended between
Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis and Chuck
Yeager’s Bell X- 1 at the Smithsonian Air and
Space Museum in Washington, DC.
» Use care and prudence when working and
dealing with partners and financial backers.
» Get to know your partners and their idio-syncrasies before signing on with them.
» Partnerships are a two-way arrangement.
So get to know yourself. Are you living up to
your agreements? Is your management style
reasonable or do you create chaos?
» Carefully read any agreement or contract
before you sign it!
» A partnership agreement should provide
contingencies for all eventualities. For example,
the partners should agree to pursue arbitration
in the event of a serious disagreement. The
agreement should cover what happens should
a partner be incapacitated or die.
» Never, never, never release imperfect
products! Delaying a promised new product is
always better than releasing a defective one.
Lessons for Makers
Idea Man provides important tips and lessons
for today’s generation of makers, some of
whom might even now be developing what
might become the next billion-dollar technology or product. Here are some lessons I’ve
gleaned from its pages and between the lines.
» Does your idea pass the balloon test? Good
» Treat your customers with the respect they
» As Roberts learned so well, if your first
products don’t succeed, try again. ;
Forrest M. Mims III ( forrestmims.org), an amateur scientist
and Rolex Award winner, was named by Discover magazine as
one of the “ 50 Best Brains in Science.” He was a co-founder of
MI TS, Inc. and wrote the first Altair 8800 user’s guide.
30 Make: makezine.com/27