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INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY | Contributed Content, Singapore
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Chris Reed

Jobs, Musk, or Gates – who's the greatest entrepreneur?

BY CHRIS REED

I have just finished reading the excellent biography on Elon Musk by Ashlee Vance,Tesla, SpaceX, and the quest for a Fantastic Future, which as an entrepreneur in Singapore is absolutely inspiring. The book I read before that was the Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson. I can't find as critically acclaimed book as the aforementioned on Bill Gates to complete my reading of the dynamic trio though.

As there are so many aspiring entrepreneurs in Singapore, these books have been well read here and I wondered who Singaporeans admired the most. Reading Vance's book about Musk also got me thinking (as he poses the question), who is the greatest technology entrepreneur between the three of them -- Gates, Jobs, and Musk. Who would impress Singaporean residents the most?

Vance believes that Musk is because he has achieved so much in so many different areas and still has half his life to lead. I decided to compile pros and cons for each of the three. What do you think? Who is the greatest? Who is the best role model for aspiring entrepreneurs in Singapore? Let me know at the end.

Steve Jobs

Pros:

  • Jobs was a self-made billionaire, an adopted child by a poor family that was able to get together just enough money to send him to college and start his
  • Jobs created the world's most valuable company in Apple
  • Jobs created the world's most profitable company in Apple
  • Jobs created the Apple brand with an emotional attachment to it. He dramatised Apple's stores, was a charismatic figure and his new product presentations, storytelling, etc., and natural ability to convince customers that by acquiring a mass market product you can "think different"
  • Jobs was creative and his sense of design was inspired by studying areas unrelated to his business and background and observing the world around him such as calligraphy and travelling to India
  • Jobs had the ability to say no, stay focused; when he came back to Apple in 1997 there were 350 products in Apple's catalogue and he reduced it to 10, simplicity was key to him
  • Jobs worked with Passion: "Choose a career you love and you will never have to work a day in your life" from Confucius was his motto, always knowing his own value he never worked for and flaunted his money
  • Jobs is very intuitive and was very good at predicting the market, using his initiative and analysing trends and looking at things like how a child would use a phone/iPad - the whole pinching/touching screen element much copied
  • Jobs gave us serious and revolutionary product innovations: The Apple II, the Mac, the iPod, the iPhone, the iPad (as mainstream innovations)
  • Jobs changed the music industry forever through digital downloads, iTunes, and the iPod - he did what no one within the industry could do or would dare do
  • Jobs changed the film industry through Pixar to such an extent that Disney bought it for US$5 billion - a phenomenal amount of money for a small studio producing one film a year and they weren't even buying him as he told them about illness before the deal went through
  • Jobs did not let money change him and stayed fairly modest throughout his career at Apple and he loved creating a buzz and excitement surrounding his products, he was genuinely excited and believed in what he was creating

Cons:

  • At a personal level he was a terrible father denying paternity of his daughter Lisa for years until just before his death - bizarrely he called the first Apple computer Lisa presumably after the daughter he denied having....
  • Jobs lost his temper with employees for small mistakes and created an infamous, toxic, and oppressive workplace with as many people hating him as adoring him who worked for Apple
  • Many people believe that Steve Wozniak was the true genius behind Apple with Jobs merely being the highly visible frontman, the sales guy who turned a concept into a brand
  • He created NeXT which failed but was used later in some of the MACS
  • Jobs had only donated to charity once
  • Greenpeace and other environmental groups targeted Jobs over his company's lack of ecological credentials, claiming that the company showed little dedication to reducing waste or recycling
  • Jobs cared little for pay and conditions for his workers in factories in China and Asia where parts of the Apple products were created
  • Jobs was first one to leave the battlefield… (though it always helps to become a myth)

Bill Gates

Pros:

  • Gates is a hands-on guy: he wrote the code himself for BASIC and kept coding 5 years after Microsoft was invented
  • Gates created what was the world's most valuable company and is still one of the world's most valuable and profitable companies, Microsoft
  • Gates invented the market of the software business - Microsoft was the first company which revenue stream came from software
  • Gates made Windows the default operating system in the world
  • Gates is the number one humanitarian on the planet
  • Gates dared and dares: In 1975, 19-year-old Bill Gates read an article about the Altair 8800, a new microcomputer. He contacted the computer's manufacturer to say that he and his friends were creating an interface to allow the computer language BASIC to run on the Altair. He didn't let the fact that he didn't have an Altair and could therefore write code for one slow him down
  • Gates started off being fantastically innovative and creative with the Office concept, ubiquitous on every PC in the world as the default business software

Cons:

  • Gates focused on rapid expansion and less on creativity and customer satisfaction - Microsoft reached its all-time peak in market capitalisation in September of 2000, when the stock was worth $642 billion. Today it is worth only about a third as much at $290 billion - 40% less than Apple
  • Gates had no problems in violating corporate law to kill competition and benefits from his monopoly
  • Gates used the law to create and protect patent monopoly
  • Gates tried to prevent open-source software such as Linux to develop
  • Gates could have done what Jobs did but stopped innovating to focus on humanitarian issues when he realised that he could no longer innovate to the extent that he had originally done and that Jobs did

Elon Musk

Pros:

  • Musk has created billion dollar brands in 5 totally different fields: - Internet (Zip2, Paypal), banking (X.com/PayPal),  Transportation/automotive (Tesla Motors, and I may add the Hyperloop project, which he has been at the origin of), Energy (SolarCity, Tesla), Space exploration (SpaceX)
  • Musk is unique in running three of these simultaneously - Tesla, SpaceX, and SolarCity - while Jobs ran Pixar and Apple simultaneously, he was not hands-on with either as Musk is
  • Musk innovated and disrupted the payments, automotive, space and solar industries virtually simultaneously
  • Musk focused on product/service and not brand, more Gates than Jobs in that context
  • Musk declared wanting to have a great impact on the future of humanity’s destiny and went beyond Gates with ambitions to create civilisation on Mars
  • Musk built a functioning video game at age 12. The game, "Blastar," was reportedly sold for $500
  • Musk looked to the future and focused on the existence of humanity to find ways of finding solutions - he was inspired by what the majority of people wanted/needed instead of just focusing on how he could make only his life easier
  • Musk allowed all his patents and sources to be opened to the public to copy when he could have made billions by selling them
  • Musk is an excellent negotiator gaining billions of dollars from friends, family, associates, and the government to challenge status quos when his companies were running out of money - he always found a way to keep funding them

Cons:

  • Musk's success would not have been possible without government funding for basic research and subsidies for electric cars and solar panels. Above all, he has benefited from a long series of innovations in batteries, solar cells, and space travel.
  • Musk sells himself as a singular mover of mountains and does not like to share credit for his success
  • Musk is known for humiliating engineers and firing employees on a whim. In 2014, when his assistant, who had devoted her life to Tesla and SpaceX for 12 years, asked for a raise, he summarily let her go
  • Although he wanted to focus on humanity’s problems, some say he did not really care about the poor/middle class. The business models are an example of this, especially his work with Space and Tesla X
  • Some critics claim that Musk has a distorted vision of reality - a common theme in Vance's book about him

Of course I could have added in Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos as well as the Skype founders in this list as well as others.

However, I felt that the three I have highlighted have had the most disruptive effect with innovative ways of using technology and been singular founders and innovators in completely new areas with new inventions and new ways of working more so than the others.

There was search before Google, there was social before facebook, and there was online shopping before Amazon, for example. Arguable, I know, but merely my humble view.

So who is the greatest?

So who do I think is the greatest technology entrepreneur? Who is the role model that Singaporeans should look up to?

Elon Musk. Why?

Well, I love my iPod shuffle for listening to music while cycling (Can anyone tell me why there is no Spotify fitness gadget that is similar other than clamping my phone to my arm, which is so impractical?) and I was one of the first to own an iPhone. I have also always used Office until I created my own business when I have the entire company on Google for simplicity and ease of work.

However, I think what Musk has done in 5 verticals is incredible. To take on NASA and win is amazing. To take on payments and win is amazing. To create Tesla which undoubtedly has changed the market of cars has been outstanding. To then move onto Solar Energy is stunning.

It's not just the areas he has been in but what he has done in them and the innovative- and value-based way he has looked at things like reusing rockets which NASA never did that I find most impressive.

The fact that he is CEO, and a hands-on CEO at that, of SpaceX, Tesla, and Solar City at the same time, all multi-billion dollar companies is simply unprecedented. For that and the fact that he is so young and has so much more to come, colonising Mars for example, means that I think that he is the greatest.

What do you think? Agree, disagree? Love to hear from you.

The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect this publication's view, and this article is not edited by Singapore Business Review. The author was not remunerated for this article.

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Chris Reed

Chris Reed

Chris Reed has 25 years of senior marketing experience on both the client and agency side in the UK and now in Asia Pacific. He is the CEO and founder of Black Marketing.

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