Happy Birthday Paul Allen: The ‘Idea Man’ Who Co-founded Microsoft

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Paul Allen and Bill Gates can be regarded as the two sides of the same coin; Paul, despite being a recluse, was famous for his squandering lifestyle and parties, while Bill practices a sober lifestyle. The ever enthusiast, Paul met Bill while they were studying at Lakeside School in Seattle. Gates a Harvard dropout and Paul a Washington State University dropout, shared common passions and goals. The tech crazy teens founded Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) in 1975, in New Mexico.

“Any crusade requires optimism and the ambition to aim high.”

Always a fighter, Paul was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma disease in 1982 and underwent several months of radiation therapy.

“I’m a private person who prefers a low profile.”

Full Name: Paul Gardner Allen

Born: 21 January 1953 in Seattle, Washington, United States.

Died: 15 October 2018 (Age 65)

Net Worth: $20.3 billion

Paul had a variety of passions ranging from pop music, guitar, sports, and aviation to reverse engineering the brain. The owner of several lavish bungalows and an open-hearted philanthropist’s extravagant life has many unheard facts:

  • Books were his best friends: Paul’s father, Kenneth Allen, was an associate director of libraries at the University of Washington, and his mother, Faye Gardner Allen, was a teacher. When Allen accompanied his father to the library, under his father’s supervision, he got engrossed in books for hours.
  • Paul met Bill: In 1965, Paul began seventh grade at Lakeside School, where he developed an interest in computer science. He also befriended Bill Gates as they both have a passion for computers. They practised programming on several time-sharing computer systems using Lakeside’s Teletype terminals.
Paul Allen and Bill Gates at Lakeside School in 1968. (Lakeside School/ Seattle Times centennial)
  • In 1972, Paul enrolled at Washington State University in Pullman. However, after two years, he dropped out to work as a programmer for Honeywell in Boston. Paul reunited with Bill, who had enrolled at Harvard at the time, but persuaded him to drop out of Harvard and start Microsoft instead.
  • Birth of Microsoft: Paul Allen and Bill Gates co-founded Microsoft on April 4, 1975, in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Allen came up with the company name “Micro-Soft”, which is a combination of “microcomputer” and “software”. It was later renamed Microsoft.
Paul Allen and Bill Gates, 1981.
  • Paul Allen Left Microsoft: Paul officially resigned from Microsoft in February 1983 after being diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. However, he remained on the board of directors as Vice Chairman. Paul served on the Microsoft board of directors from June 1981 to April 1985, and again from May 1990 to November 2000. Following that, he served as senior strategy advisor to the company’s executives.
  • Allen’s Autobiography: Allen and Bill remained close friends until Paul’s death. However, Paul, in his autobiography – Idea Man: A Memoir by the Co-founder of Microsoft, revealed his bizarre working relationship with Bill Gates, and how it was he, not Gates, who had all the visionary ideas for Microsoft. He described the harsher side of Gates’ personality, his anger, and how Gates tried to take advantage of Allen’s generosity to enrich himself. Allen recalled in his autobiography that Gates renegotiated the terms of their partnership to give himself a 64-36 split after initially insisting on a 60-40 split in his favour. Things got even worse when Allen overheard Gates discussing how to dilute Allen’s equity in the company with Steve Ballmer (who later became Microsoft’s CEO) and complaining about how unproductive he was. “This is unbelievable! It shows your true character, once and for all,” Allen busted out in anger.
  • In 1986, Paul Allen co-founded Vulcan in Seattle with his sister and business partner, Jody Allen. Vulcan was built with every little detail that Paul had envisioned, from Vulcan Real Estate to Vulcan Aerospace, with the goal of tackling the world’s most difficult challenges.
  • Sports Fan: Paul Allen was a sports fanatic. In 1997, he purchased the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks from owner Ken Behring. In 1998, he ​purchased the Portland Trail Blazers NBA team from California real estate developer Larry Weinberg for $70 million. Allen’s Vulcan Sports & Entertainment also became a part of the ownership team of the Seattle Sounders FC, a Major League Soccer (MLS) franchise that began play in 2009 at CenturyLink Field, a stadium which was also controlled by Allen.
  • With an investment of $100 million and an aspiring idea of developing technologies that will shape the future, Paul Allen along with David Liddle co-founded Interval Research Corporation in 1992. However, Paul had to shut down his venture in 2000 due to its commercial failure.
  • During the decade-long run of Interval Research Corporation, it filed over 300 patents. Paul had filed Patent infringement lawsuits against dozens of companies, including Apple, Yahoo!, YouTube, Google, Facebook, Netflix, AOL, etc.
  • In 2003, Allen invested $500 million in the Allen Institute for Brain Science to reverse engineer the brain. Allen Institute for Brain Science is a non-profit organisation, and its data and literature are publicly available through Allen Brain Atlas.
  • On October 4, 2004, Allen became the sole investor of SpaceShip-One, the first private aircraft to send a civilian into suborbital space, earning him the Ansari X-Prize.
  • In 2008, Allen had invested $41 million and established the Allen Spinal Online Mouse Gene. Researchers can access the data and understand the effect of a particular disease on the spinal cord system.

“As a species, we’ve always been discoverers and adventurers, space and the deep ocean are some of the last frontiers.”

  • As a visionary and philanthropist, Paul Allen donated $100 million to fight the Ebola virus in Africa, the largest individual donation of 2014.
  • In 2016, Allen was aiming for a test flight of the world’s largest aircraft designed to launch satellites into lower-earth orbit under Stratolaunch Systems.
  • Allen, being a pop music lover, funded the EMP Museum, a collection of contemporary pop culture artefacts, in Seattle. If one wants to experience vintage computers, then head to Allen’s Vintage Computer Museum housing computers as large as cars and as old as the 1960s.
  • He was also an Emmy Award winner for his Vulcan Production film company that won it for Rx for Survival – A Global Health Challenge. Vulcan Production, a subsidiary of Vulcan, was Paul Allen’s vision for storytelling which impacted our present and future.
  • He was also a member of the Giving Pledge along with Bill Gates and Warren Buffet. His philanthropy amounted to $2.65 billion to date, and he pledged to donate a majority of his money to charity.
  • Forbes listed Allen as the 44th richest person in the world in 2018, with a net worth of $20.3 billion at the time of his death.
  • On October 15, 2018, at the age of 65, Paul Allen died of septic shock caused by cancer.

“The possible is constantly being redefined, and I care deeply about helping humanity move forward.”

The post is a part of a B’day Series where we celebrate the birthday of renowned personalities from the Tech Industry, very frequently. The series includes Entrepreneurs, C-level Executives, innovators, or renewed leaders who moved the industry with their exponential skill set and vision. The intent is to highlight the person’s achievements and touch base the little known, but interesting, part of his life. You can see the list of all earlier celebrated tech personalities, including Mark Zuckerberg, Marissa Mayor, Sean Parker, Andy Rubin, Julian AssangeSir Richard Branson, and Sergey Brin, by following this link or subscribing to your daily newsletter.


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