In Conversation with Steve Ballmer at Oxford (4 Mar 2014)

The 3 valuable takeaways (successful and failure experiences) from this 1- hour interview with Steve Ballmer, who co-founded Microsoft with the richest man in the world Bill Gates:

1. Have a great idea before startup.
– The financial,  talent, etc, will come later naturally, attracted by the great idea.
Look at the 3-year-old Whatsapp, a great text-video-picture free SMS idea which attracts 400 million users and $19 billion acquisition from Facebook.

2. Great company does one (or two) trick (or forté 看家本领) well.

– Microsoft has 2.5 tricks: PC operating system (Windows); Microprocessors in data center (Windows Servers); the half trick is X-Box game console. 

– Apple also has 2 tricks: Mac; Mobile computing in iPhone/iPAD/Appstore

– Facebook (Social Network) and Google (Search Engine)  have 1 trick.

– Sony has 2 tricks : Audio & TV, Sony Playstation PS4 Game Console.

– HP has 1 trick: Tester Equipment (now in Agilent).

– IBM has 2 tricks: Enterprise Data Centre Computing; IT Consulting & Solution Services (acquired the trick from Price-Waterhouse).

– Samsung has 1 trick: hardware manufacturer (LCD flat panel, Smartphone…)

– Amazon has 1 trick: Online bookshop

– has 1 trick: eCommerce

Many great companies degenerate into smallness or extinction, because they try to diversify into too many non-core activities, wasting financial, human ‘energy’ and precious time resources.

Steve Jobs on his final year gave advice to his competitor Google’s Larry Page: “Focus on one thing and do it well.”

Notes :
1). That explains why Microsoft drains the energy to too many fronts (> 2 tricks). The CEO ‘missed 2 BIG boats’ in Mobile Cloud Computing (Smartphone OS, Tablet) and Search engine (Bing) by playing late catch-up.

2). HP did not treasure the acquired tricks from Compaq iPAQ (the world’s first and top Windows Mobile Smartphone in 2006 before iPhone 3), and Digital Equipment’s (DEC) trick on Vax/VMS Networked Clustering Computing (Bill Gates hired the ex-DEC developers to re-create on Intel servers as the Microsoft Windows Server 200x Operating System for Data Centres).

3) Sony wasted energy in Phone (Sony- Ericsson ) and Notebooks (Viao), ignoring the upcoming threat of TV flat-panel technology from a “小さい” (\chisai) i.e. small, insignificant, or 鼻屎 (\pisai) Korean company Samsung.

3. World Centre of Entrepreneuship:
He said the place must satisfy three criteria –
a. Domestic Market,
b. Top Universities,
c. Global Talents flock there to live and work
Steve cited 3 places:
USA (e.g. Silicon Valley) : America is the world’s biggest market, Stanford / MIT / Harvard Universities, global talents immigrated there, English Speaking.
China : potential (barring political and environmental challenges), Beijing/Tsinghua/Fudan/etc top Universities, 1.3 billion people’s domestic market.
UK: Cambridge/Oxford/etc world class top universities, English speaking, European market.

Why not Japan, Singapore, Israel, Australia, France, Germany, India, Canada…? They all fail in 1 or 2 criteria.


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