Planning, Startups, Stories


Tim Berry on business planning, starting and growing your business, and having a life in the meantime.

True Story: Steve Balmer Drops Out

“What? Steve Balmer dropped out? He’s not coming back?”

“Nope. He did his summer job at a software startup in Washington, and he’s staying there and quitting here.”

So went the gossip in September of 1980 as the Stanford MBA class of 1981 finished up the summer vacation and started the second of the two-year program. I was there then, a member of that class. Steve’s absence was a surprise. At the end of our first school year he’d won the coveted $5,000 scholarship award as the best student in the class. He was a bit of an oddball in his own way, often dressed in formal pants, white shirt, and wing tip shoes, instead of the standard student garb of shorts, t-shirt, jeans, etc. He’d been very active in class, quick to participate, always active, clearly smart and ambitious. We thought it was crazy to drop out when only halfway through. Statistics said we were going to be a very well-paid bunch of MBA grads when we finished up nine months later. And Steve dropped out.

So here’s the rest of that story, from his side. Oh, and to be clear, the software startup was Microsoft, the Bill in this story was Bill Gates, and Steve Balmer’s net worth today is probably more than that of the other 300 of us combined.

And this is here because it’s a good story. In this story, back in those times, the safe move was going back to school. And the right move was staying in Seattle with the software startup. Go figure.