Bill Gates' net worth all started with one phone call in January 1975. He was a sophomore and doing all the right things, including his extra credit project. At the time, all Bill had was an idea. He wasn’t sure how he would pull it off. But he had a gut feeling about his software. It was going to be different, and it was going to be good.

Bill Gates' empire is estimated to be $123.9 billion in February 2021. So, as it turns out, it was billions of dollars of epic.

The phone call that January was from Currier House at Harvard to a small company in Albuquerque, New Mexico that had begun to make the world’s first PC. Bill offered to sell them software but the whole time, he was nervous that they would uncover his true identity: a mere college kid.

Rejection Before Riches

Their response? “We’re not quite ready. Come see us in a month.”

The timing couldn’t have been more perfect because, quite frankly, Bill hadn’t written the software yet. From that moment, he labored day and night on that extra credit project that took him from his college dorm room to his current net worth.

bill gates net worth

Lessons from Bill's Early Life

If there is one phrase that sums up Bill, it’s this: fiercely curious.

According to his dad, Bill Gates devoured all kinds of books from a young age. Encyclopedias, science fiction – he read anything he could get his hands on. It was so bad that his parents had to ban books from the dinner table.

But there is one thing that truly stood out – one trait that we all devote boundless energy in running from that set Bill apart from his peers. That was learning to accept and embrace his failures. Bill takes no credit for that. In fact, his parents were proud of his smarts and achievements. Instead of pushing him to double down on what was working for him in school, they encouraged him to continue participating in sports where he was, to put it lightly, less than stellar.

Today Bill admits that at the time, it felt pointless. Yet, those exact experiences groomed him to become the leader he is today. He became comfortable with being uncomfortable. He got used to persevering in the face of failure. And in many ways, that was the secret formula to his debut as the founder of software that powers billions of screens across the globe.

Dropping Harvard for Microsoft

In a gutsy move, Gates dropped out of Harvard two years into his studies. By this stage, he was already running a business with co-founder Paul Allen. Business was booming. Although his decision left his parents slightly worried, they had full faith in his abilities to make sound decisions and to pursue his love for computers.

Together with Paul Allen, they launched their company in 1975. Initially called Micro-Soft, it was a microprocessor and software company. Their goal was to make software for the Altair 8800, one of the first personal computers. They set up shop in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where MITS, the manufacturer of the Altair 8800, was based.

Three short years later, Microsoft’s sales had reached $1 million. In 1979, they moved the company’s headquarters to Bellevue, Washington.

More breakthroughs followed. In 1981, Microsoft licensed its software to IBM which was launching its first personal computer. By 1985, Windows was born, a novel operating system with features we all know today. The company went public a year later raising $61 million in its IPO when Gates was 30.

Melinda Gates Gave Bill a Hard "NO."

In 1987, a new interest caught Bill’s eye.

A product manager had just been hired at Microsoft. Her name was Melinda Ann French, a Duke Computer Science graduate. She had multiple job offers including one from IBM and she ultimately decided on Microsoft. She was flown to New York where she got to meet the company’s CEO.

Bill’s interest in her grew and a few months later he called her and said: “You know, I was thinking maybe we could go out if you’d give me your phone number, you know, two weeks from tonight?” To which she responded, “Two weeks from tonight? I have no idea what I’m doing two weeks from tonight. You aren’t spontaneous enough for me.”

An hour later, he called back and asked her “Is this spontaneous enough for you?”

7 years later, they got married.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

At the end of a pre-wedding trip together to Africa, they had very deep conversations about the wealth while walking along a beach. Aligned in purpose they both agreed that “the vast majority of these resources will go back to society” and they committed to it.

As of Q4, 2018, their foundation had made $50.1 billion in total grants since inception. Over the last 20 years, they’ve made a host of investments in health. Bill Gates officially calls philanthropy his “second career.” He’s seen surprising returns in the areas of financing and delivery of global health solutions around the world.

Bill’s core mission now is to go beyond celebrating new breakthrough medications because, as he puts it, “that’s not enough.” Drugs are often costly and have a hard time getting to their intended recipients who are often in rural areas or war zones. He wants to change that. Together with his wife, they have invested over $10 billion dollars into organizations fighting this very challenge. They include Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the Global Fund, and the Global Polio Eradication Initiative.

Wearing the "Richest Man in the World" Title (for a while)

For 13 years, he held the coveted No.1 spot on the Forbes list of Richest People in the World. However, today he sits in the No.2 position, second to Jeff Bezos of Amazon. Bezos’ net worth as of 2020 stands at about $120 billion while Bill Gates’ wealth is not too far behind at $98.9 billion.

Retiring from Microsoft

On June 27, 2008, Gates retired from his day-to-day duties at Microsoft. He ended up selling much of his stake in the company and now owns a little over 1%. He still holds a position on the board today.

Farmer Bill?

Making a hard u-turn away from the tech world, Gates and his wife Melinda have quietly amassed quite nearly 242,000 acres of rich farmland.  Their land holdings stretch across multiple states, including:

  • Arizona (25,750 acres)
  • Arkansas (47,927 acres)
  • Louisiana (69,071 acres)
  • Nebraska (20,588 acres)
  • Washington state (16,097)

Bill Gates, Author

On February 16, 2021, Knopf released Bill's new book, How To Avoid A Climate Disaster: The Solutions We Have And The Breakthroughs We Need. The book details a plan to stem the tide of greenhouse gases going into our atmosphere, all 51 billion tons of them.

15 Powerful Quotes from Bill Gates about Wealth and Success

If there’s one thing about success is that it’s uniquely inspiring and when harnessed well, it can literally change the world. Who better to learn about succeeding in life than from wise words shared by Bill Gates himself? Below are 15 of his best quotes:


“Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can’t lose.”


“If you can't make it good, at least make it look good.”


"[Intelligence is] an elusive concept. There's a certain sharpness, an ability to absorb new facts. To walk into a situation, have something explained to you and immediately say, "Well, what about this?" Or, to ask an insightful question. To absorb it in real-time. A capacity to remember. To relate to domains that may not seem connected at first. A certain creativity that allows people to be effective."


“I choose a lazy person to do a hard job. Because a lazy person will find an easy way to do it.”


“Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.”


“Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.”


"Intellectual property has the shelf life of a banana."


"Don't compare yourself with anyone in this world ... if you do so, you are insulting yourself."


"Of my mental cycles, I devote maybe 10 percent to business thinking. Business isn't that complicated. I wouldn't want to put it on my business card."


"Don't make the same decision twice. Spend time and thought to make a solid decision the first time so that you don't revisit the issue unnecessarily. If you're too willing to reopen issues, it interferes not only with your execution but also with your motivation to make a decision in the first place. After all, why bother deciding an issue if it isn't really decided?"


"A bad strategy will fail no matter how good your information is, and lame execution will stymie a good strategy. If you do enough things poorly, you will go out of business."


"If you show people the problems and you show people the solutions, they will be moved to act."


"Our success has really been based on partnerships from the very beginning."


“As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others.”

Finally, #15

"We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next 10. Don't let yourself be lulled into inaction."

The Takeaway

So, one reason so many people love reading articles about Bill Gates' net worth - and about others who've created massive, life-altering wealth - is curiosity. We want to know how'd they get so rich? What are they doing with all that money? What's their life like? It's almost as if there's this invisible wall we want to peer over, to see how "the other half" lives.

It's as if the ultra-rich have secrets most people don't know. They DO! And that's good news, actually, because we can all learn them. Once we begin learning what they know, we can do what they did, and create the kind of life most people only wish they had. If you've got that same curiosity about "the other half" you should check this out.