Bill Gross: A Devotion to New Ideas [Entire Talk] | Summary and Q&A

August 25, 2011
Stanford eCorner
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Bill Gross: A Devotion to New Ideas [Entire Talk]

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In this video, Bill Gross, a Cal Tech graduate and entrepreneur, shares his experiences and lessons learned in entrepreneurship and sustainable energy. He talks about his early ventures in solar devices and direct marketing, as well as his experiences with software products and educational software. He also discusses the importance of focus, the value of complementary skills in a management team, and the challenges and potential of renewable energy. Gross emphasizes the need for passion, equity sharing, and finding a balance between different skillsets in order to succeed in entrepreneurship. He also highlights the potential of solar energy and the importance of reducing its cost in order to make it competitive with fossil fuels.

Questions & Answers

Q: How did Bill Gross start his entrepreneurial journey?

Bill Gross started his entrepreneurial journey at a young age, beginning with a business called Solar Devices where he sold plans and kits for small engines and parabolic concentrators. He learned about direct mail and marketing to persuade people to buy his products.

Q: What lessons did Bill Gross learn from his early experiences?

Bill Gross learned the importance of testing and measuring the effectiveness of different advertisements. He would include different return addresses in each ad to track which magazine or medium was generating the most response. He also learned about the value of focus and minimizing costs while maximizing sales.

Q: How did Bill Gross approach his software ventures?

Bill Gross started developing software products and companies, focusing on areas such as natural language interfaces, search products, and educational software. He wanted to enhance the power of existing software and meet the needs of specific target markets, such as children in preschool or kindergarten.

Q: What were some of the challenges Bill Gross faced with his software ventures?

One challenge he faced was the need to clearly communicate and differentiate his products in a competitive market. He realized that customers were often confused by the wide age range of products available and introduced the idea of creating products for specific age ranges, such as kindergarten or first grade. This approach proved successful and resulted in the creation of multiple successful products.

Q: How did Bill Gross approach focus in his companies?

Bill Gross emphasized the importance of focus in a company, but recognized that it is essential to choose the right focus that matches what customers want. He learned that while it is important to be passionate about one's ideas, it is necessary to evaluate and ensure that the focus aligns with market demand.

Q: How did Bill Gross form Idealab?

Bill Gross formed Idealab as a technology incubator, where he could pursue multiple ideas and ventures while ensuring that each individual company had a laser-like focus on its target market. Each company would have its own CEO and team, allowing Gross and Idealab to participate in multiple ideas and industries.

Q: What was the incentive structure in Idealab?

In Idealab, equity sharing was a key component of the incentive structure. Gross believed that equity was a powerful motivator and gave everyone in the company an equity stake, including the receptionist. This created teamwork and unlocked human potential within the company.

Q: What were some of the lessons learned from companies within Idealab?

Bill Gross highlighted the importance of complementary skills in a management team. He discussed the different personality types within a team, including entrepreneurs, producers, administrators, and integrators. The right balance of these skills is crucial to the success of a company.

Q: How did Bill Gross become passionate about powering the planet sustainably?

Bill Gross realized the impending resource problems and challenges related to energy usage. He recognized the need for renewable energy and the potential of solar power, given its abundant distribution. He believed that solar power could be the solution, but its cost needed to be reduced for it to be competitive.

Q: What challenges does solar energy face?

Solar energy is currently more expensive than other forms of energy, such as fossil fuels. It requires cost-effective solutions to make it competitive and widespread. Government subsidies have helped promote solar energy, but it needs to become economically viable without subsidies to truly be a sustainable solution.

Q: What is Bill Gross's vision for renewable energy?

Bill Gross believes that renewable energy, specifically solar power, is the key to addressing the energy needs of the future. He sees the potential for solar energy to provide the 35-terawatt gap between current energy usage and projected needs. However, cost reduction is necessary to make solar power affordable and competitive, making it the preferred choice over traditional fossil fuels.


Bill Gross emphasizes the importance of passion, equity sharing, and complementary skills in entrepreneurship. He shares his experiences from starting various ventures, including solar devices and software companies, and highlights the challenges and potential of renewable energy, particularly solar power. He believes that focus, finding the right market fit, and reducing costs are key factors in the success and widespread adoption of sustainable energy solutions.

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