How the biggest players in technology became so successful
Do you know your Bill Gates from your Jeff Bezos? Did you think Elon Musk was a fictional character? Take a look at some of the most powerful people in tech, who are responsible or have working in some of the biggest companies in the world.
Net worth: $22.6 billion
Known for: Founding PayPal, Tesla and SpaceX. Digging big holes. Selling flamethrowers. Sending a car into space. Smoking a suspicious cigarette on a podcast.
Elon Musk is the CEO of Tesla Motors, Space X, Neuralink and The Boring Company, although you probably know him for sending a car into space for no reason, selling flamethrowers online and smoking marijuana with US comedian Joe Rogan.
Musk’s story is almost as extraordinary as his antics. Born in South Africa, Musk moved to Canada and then the US to attend Stanford University. He dropped out after two days but co-founded Zip2 (which he sold to Compaq for $340 million) and X.com, an online bank, shortly after. X.com later became a little company called PayPal, which eBay eventually bought for $1.5 billion.
Most people would take a break at this point but not our Elon. Instead, he used his share of the PayPal cash to start Space X after becoming convinced he could build a space rocket for a fraction of the stated costs (he was right). A year later, he invested in Tesla and became CEO in 2008.
As if that wasn’t enough, Musk is also CEO of Neuralink, a company developing brain-computer interfaces, and The Boring Company, which develops inner-city infrastructure and hyperloop tubes (and sells flamethrowers on the side – they sold 20,000 in just five days).
Business isn’t Elon’s only concern though. He is a vocal critic of AI and often warns of its dangers. He also plans to start a human colony on Mars and believes that we might all be living in a computer simulation.
Net worth: $137.6 billion
Known for: founding Amazon, being the richest man in the world, making it easier than ever to buy things you don’t need at 3 in the morning.
Opening an online bookstore isn’t the most obvious of billion dollar ideas, but it certainly worked for Jeff Bezos.
Bezos is the founder of Amazon and the world’s richest man (at the time of writing, although divorcing his wife of 25 years may change that). He dreamt up Amazon in 1994 while on a cross-country trip and set it up soon after with a $300,000 investment from his parents.
Amazon sold books for two years before gradually expanding its focus to other product areas until it became the online shopping behemoth (and world’s largest provider of cloud services) we all know and love today.
But who is the man behind Amazon? Well, we don’t really know. Bezos is a fairly private individual (his well-reported divorce aside), although he apparently has extremely high expectations and a near-obsession with data. He has also gone through something of a physical transformation over the years, morphing from a bookish type to a ripped billionaire alpha male.
Net worth: $55 billion – Zuckerberg’s net worth dropped by more than $5 billion this year after the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
Known for: founding Facebook, being played by Jesse Eisenberg in the film of his life, stealing all of your free time since 2007.
Mark Zuckerberg AKA the Zuck was writing games while others played them from a young age, and by the time he started classes at Harvard he was already known as a bit of a programming prodigy.
He wrote a program called CourseMatch to help find study groups before making Facesmash, a site let you choose the best-looking person on campus from a number of photos. The plug had to be pulled within a few days due to the traffic and as students complained their images were used without their permission. If only he’d learnt then, eh?
Not one to be put off, Zuck founded Thefacebook in 2004. After some initial success, he dropped out to pursue the website full time (don’t worry, he got an honorary degree in 2017) and the rest, as they say, is history.
Facebook is now the world’s largest social media site, although Zuck’s public profile didn’t really grow until Jesse Eisenberg portrayed him in David Fincher’s The Social Network. Zuckerberg has been a controversial figure ever since, although his pledge to give away 99% of his Facebook shares and increased interaction with the public has softened his image slightly. There are also rumours that Zuckerberg is planning to run for president.
Net worth: $3 billion
Known for: founding Snapchat, marrying Miranda Kerr.
Snapchat is another app to be born out of an American college, leading its founder to drop out and pursue his digital dreams. Evan Spiegel’s idea for the app, which currently boasts 187 million daily active users, came while he was studying product design at Stanford.
Originally dubbed Picaboo, Snapchat’s ideology was to have messages that would disappear. Many ridiculed it, but Spiegel would leave college to launch the app, which had reached one million active daily users in little over a year. Evan got his college degree in 2018, having been motivated by the birth of his son.
Back in 2012, Spiegel said the company’s mission wasn’t about “capturing the traditional Kodak moment”, and it was the solution to the fact there is so much information out there about us on social media. The temporary nature of the app means we aren’t scrambling to get rid of incriminating information before our employers find out. Those ugly snaps you send your best friend stays in their memory for just 10 seconds – no need to panic.
In 2015, Spiegel was named the youngest billionaire in the world and he married Australian model Miranda Kerr two years later – he’s still only 28 years old. Spiegel recently said that life is about more than money, although it’s easy to say that when you’re sitting on a few billion dollars.
Snapchat is now the most popular social media platform among 18 – 24 year olds in the UK, ahead of Facebook (sorry Zuck).
Net worth: estimated $45 million. Her annual salary is believed to be $33 million and in 2017, she received a $4.95 million bonus payout.
Known for: being the first female Chair, President and CEO of IBM.
She’s one of the most powerful women in tech, hailed for her innovation in diversifying IBM’s offering. Virginia M. Rometty (or Ginni for short), has worked at IBM since she was 24, beginning her career as a systems analysist and systems engineer in 1981. Now, she’s the CEO, chair and president.
When Sam Palmisano left his position as CEO, Ginni took his place – becoming the first woman to head the company. She’s been praised for leading the company through their transformation into AI, blockchain and cybersecurity, ensuring they weren’t left behind as technology moves forward. She also helped to negotiate the company’s purchase of PriceWaterhouseCoopers for $3.5 billion.
She’s come under scrutiny for her pay scale (and pay rises) but is the only powerful woman on our list. Make those money moves, Ginni.
Net worth: $3.8 billion. His base salary is $850,000 a year, yet he made $24.4 million in 2017.
Known for: Co-founding Netflix.
The idea for Netflix was born from a late fee for a movie. Hastings had said he owed his rental store $40 as he was six weeks late returning a video (it was the 1990s) as he’d lost it. On his way to the gym, he realised the business model it had was much better – he would pay the same amount to go to the gym as much or as little as he wanted.
When Netflix was set up in 1997, Hastings used the emerging DVD technology and kept this service to the Internet, rather than faffing with paper orders. He’d been inspired by the Amazon model and championing its field online – Hastings put $2.5 million into the company, launching in 1998 as the world’s first online DVD rental store.
Back in 2000, Hastings approached rental giant Blockbuster, asking their CEO John Antioco for $50 million to buy Netflix. Antioco didn’t see the value in the company, believing it to be a niche business. Two years later, DVD players dropped in price becoming much more accessible, accelerating the growth of the company.
Five years later, they offered a streaming service but the amount of content they could stream was about 1% of their DVD offering. Hastings credits YouTube for his shift in strategy to providing streaming content – a move that’s helped make Netflix one of the most highly valued media and entertainment companies in the world.
Net worth: $625 million.
Known for: helping to turn Apple into the force it is today.
Whilst Steve Jobs was hailed as a visionary at Apple, much of that accolade is also deserved for Tim Cook, the company’s current CEO. Before working at Apple, Tim Cook spent 12 years working at IBM, going on to serve as their Chief Operating Officer of Intelligent Electronics. Cook then worked at Compaq for just six months as Vice President for Corporate Materials when they were the biggest seller of PCs worldwide.
Tim Cook joined Apple after his first meeting with Steve Jobs. Despite having been at Compaq for a short time – and others advising him to stay put – Cook went with his gut to join Apple, helping to completely transform the company. Factories and warehouses were closed in favour of contract manufacturers as well as long-term deals being invested in that would help shape the iPod Nano, iPhone and iPad. After nine years, Cook was promoted to lead operations and would serve in Jobs’ absence as Chief Executive.
Jobs and Cook helped to take the company that was teetering towards failure into a well-oiled machine, producing high quality tech the world fell in love with. It has gone on to become one of the most valuable companies in the world – the first to become worth $1 trillion.
Net worth: $5.3 billion
Known for: Co-founding Twitter, getting fired then re-hired as CEO, founding Square.
Jack Dorsey, along with Noah Glass, Biz Stone and Evan Williams, founded Twitter in 2006. Dorsey had the idea to create an SMS style service for communicating, originally dubbed twttr. Within a year, they saw serious growth, with the tipping point coming during South by Southwest Interactive. Twitter usage increased from 20,000 to 60,000 tweets a day – a mere drop in the ocean compared to the numbers it does today.
A year later, Dorsey was fired, offered a “passive chairman role and silent board seat” due to the amount of time he spent on hobbies rather than his job. Between sewing, the huge phone bills and server issues that birthed the infamous fail whale, it got too much and Evan Williams became CEO.
Amid the Twitter drama, Dorsey tried to embody Steve Jobs and founded Square, a small business platform to accept payments from credit and debit cards on mobile devices. All was not lost on the Twitter front, as Williams was replaced by Dick Costolo in 2010 and Dorsey was now Executive Chairman. Costolo resigned five years later, with Dorsey becoming CEO.
Dorsey has declined compensation for his work at Twitter for a third year, but he owns 18 million shares to the tune of $529 million. The 65.5 million shares he owns at Square would equate to $3.1 billion.
Sergey Brin & Larry Page
Net worth: Brin – $48.5 billion / Page – $53 billion
Known for: Inventing Google, founding Alphabet, owning half the internet.
What began as a research project when Brin and Page were PhD students at Stanford University spurred on to become one of the biggest powerhouses of the internet. They created a technology called PageRank to determine a website’s relevance by the number of pages and the importance of those pages that linked back to the original site.
Their new search engine was later named Google, a misspelling of Googol – the number one followed by one hundred zeros. The company was incorporated in September 1998, and ran out of Susan Wojcicki’s garage. Susan is the CEO of YouTube.
The pair had wanted to create the company in order to organise the world’s information and make it accessible. By 2000, it was the most comprehensive search engine on the web. The minimalistic web page is down to Larry Page, kept this way to make the results load faster.
Page’s first stab at CEO was not a successful one. He went out of his way to fire all of Google’s project managers in 2001. He would have to step aside as CEO to make way for Eric Schmidt the same year, but a decade later Page would be back as CEO.
Although both Page and Brin are on one dollar salaries, they are worth more than $100 billion combined. Today, Page is CEO of Alphabet Inc., the parent company to Google and Brin serves as president. Both are among the richest people in the world.
Net worth: $95.6 billion
Known for: founding Microsoft, being insanely wealthy.
The former richest person in the world, Bill Gates, made his names in computers. After contacting Micro Instrumentation and Telemetry Systems (MITS) to tell them he was working on a BASIC interpreter for their platform back in 1975, Gates took a leave of absence from Harvard – and never returned. The partnership Gates and Paul Allen struck up with MITS became dubbed Micro-Soft before dropping the hyphen a year later.
IBM approached Microsoft in 1980 about an operating system for the IBM PC. Even though the system has IBM’s name on it, word soon spread that Gates was the man behind it. The first retail version of Microsoft Windows launched in 1985 – and the rest is history.
Gates is a technology advisor for Microsoft, having transitioned his full-time work out of the company and into the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, founded to improve global health. As of November 2018, the only man on the planet richer than Gates is Jeff Bezos.
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