In 1975, while still a Harvard pre-law student, Gates along with his high-school friend Paul Allen, started building “BASIC” – a programming language for MITS’s Altair 8800 microcomputer, one of the first of its kind. They eventually sold the software to MITS but retained the rights to BASIC. Eventually, on April 4, 1975, Gates dropped out of Harvard to establish ‘Micro-soft’ and started selling BASIC to other personal computer manufacturers.
Microsoft grew rapidly and its turnover exceeded $1 million by 1978. In 1980, after shifting headquarters to Bellevue, Gates and Allen inked a deal with IBM to build proprietary software for their personal computers. When IBM launched the next year, Microsoft’s annual revenues shot past $16 million and by 1985, the company’s net worth had already exceeded $140 million.
Microsoft went public on March 13, 1986, with an initial share price of $21. By the end of the first day, the company sold over 2.8 million shares with shares trading at $28. The IPO ended with Microsoft gaining a market capitalisation of $777 million and a net revenue of $61 million. At that time, Gates owned nearly 45% of the company worth over $350 million.
Within a year, Gates’ net worth exceeded $1 billion and became the youngest person to ever achieve that feat. By 1995, his wealth had grown to $12.9 billion, making him the richest man in the world – a title that he’d retain until being surpassed by Jeff Bezos in 2018.
Gates passed on the mantle of Microsoft’s CEO To Steve Balmer in 2000. Eventually, he’d also step down as the company’s chairman in 2014 before eventually resigning his seat on the board in 2020 to focus on his philanthropic work. As of 2022, Gates still owns just over 1% of the company – worth over $28.6 billion in stocks.