Silicon Money: Stories of 5 Richest People in IT

richest man in silicon valley

If you think that leaving the university is enough to become a typical resident of Silicon Valley, you are mistaken. This is just the first point. Further — painstaking work, betrayal and divorce.

How the richest people in IT earned their fortune — in our new material.

Jeff Bezos — $143.2 billion

Jeff Bezos is not only the wealthiest person in the IT industry but also the world’s richest person overall. Bezos was engaged in international trade, but in 1994 he decided to start his own company in his garage — Amazon. Initially, he thought that Amazon is going to be an online bookstore called Cadabra. But Bezos changes his mind because «Amazon» starts with an A — the first letter of an alphabet.  At the initial stage, Amazon received funding of $300 thousand — from investors and parents of Bezos. The founder of the company warned everyone — there is a 70% chance that Amazon will go bankrupt.

Although Amazon was originally an online bookstore, Bezos always planned to sell other products. In 1997, he launched an IPO on NASDAQ, in 1998, the company began selling music and video content, and by the end of the year, other products. Bezos used the $54 million raised during the IPO to acquire smaller competitors.

For the first time, Bezos became the world’s richest person in 2017 — his fortune then reached about $100 billion. In 2019, he divorced his wife Mackenzie after 25 years of marriage. His wife sued Bezos for 4% of Amazon shares ($37.5 billion), but this did not affect his place in the Forbes rating. Even though Bezos has more money than anyone else, in the late 2010s, he earned a reputation for being «stingy«. People and the media accuse him of spending very little money on charity compared to other billionaires.

Bill Gates — $109.4 billion

The story of Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, began in 1975 when he and his friend Paul Allen read an article about microcomputers and decided to create a BASIC software interpreter. The name Microsoft can be deciphered this way: it was originally written micro-soft, from the words microcomputer and software. A few years after the company was founded, a couple of friends had an office in Japan, major contracts, and a successful product called Windows.

In 1983, Allen left the company and sold all of his shares to Gates. Gates bought them out for $10 a share, and later Allen said that his friend did anything to make as much money as possible. In the joint company, Gates has focused primarily on business issues and negotiations, while Allen was engaged in the technical side.

In 1987, Gates was first included in the Forbes list of the world’s wealthiest people and didn’t leave the ranking since. From 1995 to 2017, he held the first place but lost the lead to Jeff Bezos. The image of Gates, according to many, is the image of an ideal businessman: he honestly earned his fortune, and then switched to charity.

In mid-March 2020, Gates resigned from the Microsoft Board of Directors. He has now sold or given away most of his stake in Microsoft — he owns just over 1% of the shares-and invested in a combination of shares and other assets. Together with his wife Melinda, Bill Gates heads the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the world’s largest private charitable foundation. The Foundation donates money to improve the health of patients and create equal opportunities for different people. To date, Gates has donated $35.8 billion to the Microsoft stock Fund. 

Larry Ellison — $68.1 billion

Larry Ellison — the founder of Oracle software — is not as well known as Gates and Bezos, but he is the fifth richest man in the world and the third in the IT field.

In the 1970s, after a brief stint at Amdahl Corporation, Ellison began working for Ampex Corporation. One of his projects is a database for the CIA, which he called Oracle. In 1977, he founded SDL with two partners. SDL raised $2,000 in funding, $1,200 of which was Ellison’s own money. In 1979, the company renamed itself Relational Software Inc., and in 1983 it officially became Oracle Systems Corporation, after its main product, Oracle Database.

The company went through difficult times in the 90s: Oracle lost a lot of money, laid off 10% of its workforce. The crisis that almost led to the company’s bankruptcy was caused by Oracle’s «initial» marketing strategy. In the end, due to financial problems, Oracle had to recalculate its profit twice, it turned out that the company overstated its profit. Ellison said that Oracle had made «an incredible business mistake».

In 2012, Ellison spent $300 million to buy almost the entire Hawaiian island of Lanai. Lanai people, who are about 3000, lived a quiet life until a businessman came to them: he plans to rebuild the island and make it a kind of metropolis: with hotels, universities and rebuild the Lanai city business center.

Mark Zuckerberg — $54.7 billion

Zuckerberg was interested in programming in high school, first taught this by his father, and then hired a private programming teacher. Zuckerberg’s new Yorker profile says: «Some children played computer games. Mark created them.» But the real success came to Zuckerberg in 2004, when he founded Facebook.

He created a Facebook prototype at Harvard and called it Facemash. Students had to choose the most beautiful person from a variety of photos. The site only worked for one weekend — on Monday, the University administration closed it: the site was so popular that it led to network failures and students could not access the Internet.

The following semester, in January 2004, Zuckerberg began writing code for a new website. On February 4, 2004, Zuckerberg launched Thefacebook, then dropped out of University to finally take up the project — thefacebook was renamed Facebook, and it became one of the most popular social networks of our time. 13 years after mark left Harvard, he was awarded an honorary degree. Zuckerberg, who owned 24% of Facebook’s shares, became the youngest billionaire in history.

Facebook is now not only a social network but also a huge holding company that owns Instagram, Whatsapp, and plans to create its cryptocurrency Libra. Zuckerberg conducted the company’s IPO in May 2012 and still owns about 15% of the shares. However, in December 2015, Zuckerberg and his wife promised to give 99% of their share in Facebook to charity during their lifetime.

Steve Ballmer — $52.7 billion

Steve Ballmer is a former Microsoft CEO who led the company from 2000 to 2014. He joined Microsoft in 1980 after dropping out of an MBA at Stanford and became the company’s thirtieth employee and the first business Manager to be hired by gates. Ballmer was offered a salary of $ 50,000, as well as 5-10% of the company. By 1981, when Microsoft was officially incorporated, Ballmer owned 8% of the company.

For 20 years, Ballmer led several Microsoft divisions: operating system development, sales, and support. He also served as President of Microsoft from July 1998 to February 2001, making him the company’s de facto number two after bill gates. In 2000, Ballmer succeeded bill gates as CEO of the company. Ballmer was the CEO of Microsoft during a difficult time-the company was trying to overtake Google in search and Apple in mobile phones.

While working at Microsoft, Gates and Ballmer were «like brothers», but after the unexpected departure of the second, their relationship deteriorated sharply. Now Ballmer is engaged in charity: he has invested about $2 billion in a Fund that plans to pull Americans out of poverty, and in 2018, he invested $59 million in Social Solutions, which makes software for nonprofits and government agencies.

Ballmer became the second person after Roberto Goizueta to become a dollar billionaire based on his shares in a company in which he was neither the founder nor a relative of the founder.

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