How Bill Gates Overcame Failure

It is difficult to imagine Bill Gates, one of the world’s most powerful businesspeople and passionate philanthropists, as anything other than an enormous success. In fact, Gates was not always the success he is today. Before he was a business leader, Gates experienced business failure first. But Gates did not let a setback stop him. Instead, he learned from his mistakes, and went on to found Microsoft. As part of our series on business leaders who have overcome the odds, today we take a closer look at Bill Gates’s story.

Early Failure

Before Microsoft was ever conceived, Bill Gates and Paul Allen developed Traf-O-Data, a device that was supposed to read traffic tapes and process the data. The endeavor was a resounding failure; when they tried to sell the machine, it didn’t even work. Although Traf-O-Data was a failure, Gates and Allen count the lessons they learned as instrumental in preparing them to develop the Microsoft products that launched them to greatness.

Career Endeavors

The history of Microsoft begins in 1975, when Gates and Allen partnered and started “Micro-Soft” and developed the BASIC code. Soon, the hyphen was dropped to become Microsoft, and BASIC quickly gained traction with computer hobbyists.

Numerous partnerships and developments followed. In 1980, Microsoft partnered with IBM. In 1985, the Windows operating system was launched. As the personal computer became ubiquitous, Windows computers became the most commonly used PCs thanks to their usability and the range of functions they can perform.

Until 2006, when Gates left Microsoft, he played an instrumental role in product development and business operations. Gates’s aggressive development of products and the Microsoft brand was of immeasurable importance to the company’s success. Ultimately, Microsoft’s products and software have made the way for the virtual environments that are so prevalent in business and recreation today.


Gates continues to take on the odds and risk failure — by tackling massive global problems such as the existence of malaria. Gates started his first philanthropic efforts in 1994, when he founded the William H. Gates Foundation, which was combined with other family foundations in 2000 to form the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Since leaving Microsoft, Gates has focused heavily on developing its involvement in malaria research and treatment, as well as other endeavors.

Gates is also well known for his efforts to convince other wealthy people to give up a substantial portion of their wealth to philanthropy. With Warren Buffett, Gates developed the Giving Pledge, which encourages affluent people to donate most of their wealth. Recently, he has campaigned in China, where philanthropy is not part of the culture, to encourage philanthropic giving.

The Lesson: Don’t Give Up

Entrepreneurship is always risky, and many entrepreneurs choose to cut their losses and move to other fields after an initial failure. It’s easy to view failure as a lesson to play it safe. Although there’s a lot to learn from failure, Gates’s career demonstrates the rewards that can be reaped from learning from past mistakes but resolving to move on and do better next time.

What do you think of Bill Gates’s rise to success? Share in the comments!

This post was originally published on the One Smooth Stone blog on December 16, 2014. For a complimentary 30-minute consultation on how to build your brand and inspire an audience through events and communications, please contact Brian Duffy by calling 630.427.4235 or by emailing


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