Before launching Microsoft, Bill Gates was a Harvard University dropout and co-owner of a failed business called Traf-O-Data. As Paul Allen relates in a Newsweek piece, "Traf-O-Data was a good idea with a flawed business model. It hadn't occurred to us to do any market research, and we had no idea how hard it would be to get capital commitments from municipalities. Between 1974 and 1980, Traf-O-Data totaled net losses of $3,494. We closed shop shortly thereafter."

Driven by his passion for computer programming, Gates eventually built what would become the world's largest software company. Microsoft went public in 1986, and by the next year its rising share price made then-31-year-old Gates the world's youngest self-made billionaire. In one year! An investor in the initial public offering would have seen a return of 30,207 percent. 

Microsoft continued to grow and was one of the biggest companies on the planet when Google was founded in 1998, but the open-software startup beat the Gates's tech giant when it came to creating a clean search engine, compared to Microsoft's own search engine technology.. Even Gates admitted this at the World Economic Forum in 2004, saying Google "kicked our butts." He acknowledged that Microsoft had misjudged just how successful open source software like Google's Android platform would be.

As Microsoft was in its heyday, Gates helped another company that would soon become the richest company in the world: Apple. 

Steve Jobs stands at a podium with Bill Gates on a screen addressing the MacWorld convention on Aug. 6, 1997 in Boston.
Steve Jobs stands at a podium with Bill Gates on a screen addressing the MacWorld convention on Aug. 6, 1997 in Boston.

The $150 million lifeline Microsoft threw Apple in August 1997 saved them from bankruptcy. That now-infamous investment gave Apple enough money and breathing room to consolidate control of its Mac business and parlay that momentum and cash flow into the iPod and iTunes. Then the iPhone and iPad that would go on to mortally wound the entire personal computer industry, effectively zero-sum annexing continents' worth of market capitalization from Microsoft's waning empire. Microsoft was worth $556 billion at its Y2K peak. It's now worth $320 billion. Apple was worth less than $3 billion when it took Bill Gates's money; today it commands a planet-leading $729 billion valuation.

But nowadays, Gates doesn't measure success in dollars or bank statements. And as 2018 came to a close he reflected on what matters most to him.

Did I devote enough time to my family? Did I learn enough new things? Did I develop new friendships and deepen old ones? These would have been laughable to me when I was 25, but as I get older, they are much more meaningful.

Whether you're still making it or barely keeping up, Bill Gates can inspire us wherever we are, motivating us to keep going in this tough industry. Let a setback close a chapter, not end the whole book. I believe failure is only a step towards experiencing success.

What failures have you experienced? What lessons have you learned from your failures? I would love to hear how you turned your failure into a success story. Send me a message or tweet me on Twitter

Check out other WINMI Blog posts...

With no previous experience except for having frequented the theater as a boy, at the age of seventeen I directed a play with a cast of friends and classmates. It was presented informally at our high school and also in a more suitable space, open to the public. The play was called Dress Rehearsal: it touched on the...