You can put all your eggs in one basket (just watch the basket!)
We’ve all heard the saying that you shouldn’t put all your eggs in one basket. While sometimes wise, I think there are many exceptions.
Mark Twain wrote that you should “put all your eggs in one basket and watch that basket.” I agree in many circumstances, including for business.
If you are super-selective and focus on one business (whether as investor or founder or employee) at a time, you can reap huge rewards. Look at Bill Gates of Microsoft (who loves using the word “super” by the way) — he invested purely in Microsoft for 30 years.
I had the good fortune of meeting Bill Gates a few times and I recall how reporters and other people were highly critical of the fact that he was reinvesting his Microsoft profits in Microsoft and not, for instance, in Philanthropic endeavors.
He told me that he believed his most valuable contribution at that time was focusing on Microsoft and that he would later focus on investing his money elsewhere.
Well, in 2000 Bill and his wife Melinda French (who I also had the pleasure of meeting once) created what is now the largest charitable foundation in the world and Bill turned his focus to investing in creating value elsewhere (specifically, helping solve many of life’s diseases).
So, Bill had his Microsoft basket for 30 years and now has his Foundation basket.
Similarly, Warren Buffett, who has created more wealth investing than anyone to date, has focused primarily on one business — Berkshire Hathaway — most of his life.
If the stock in Berkshire were to tank, Warren’s net worth too. But it probably won’t, because Warren is watching his one basket!
It’s no coincidence that when Warren finally decided to put his eggs (his money!) in a second basket, he chose to put them in the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation basket – one that he trusted would be watched closely for years to come by his younger friends Bill and Melinda.!
I had the good fortune of interviewing Bill Gates and Steve Jobs (separately) early on in my career when I was a journalist.
On May 31, 2007, Jobs and Gates agreed to a rare appearance together onstage together at the All Things Digital (D5) conference at the Four Seasons Hotel Aviara, just north of San Diego. It was put on by the Wall Street Journal and felt like a rock concert!
I was lucky enough to attend and I couldn’t resist asking them their advice for entrepreneurs (as part of the question and answer section).
Here’s the video (and below that is the transcript) of Gates and Jobs answering the question (yes, that’s me being a bit nervous!).
[Beginning of Transcript of Q&A With Jobs, Gates]
Rob Kelly: I’m here with my business partner, we have a 100-person Internet media company, and I’m wondering what would be the single most valuable piece of advice you would give us to even attempt to create some of the value that you guys have done in both your very impressive companies?
Bill Gates: I think actually, maybe in both cases, correct me if I’m wrong, the excitement wasn’t really seen by the economic value.
Even when we were down at Microsoft in ’97, a computer at every desk and in every home, we didn’t realize that okay, we’re going to have to be a big company (laughter).
Every time, I thought, oh God, can we double in size…geez can you manage that many people…will that feel fun still, you know, and so every doubling, it was like, okay this is the last one.
So the economic thing wasn’t at the forefront, but the idea of being at the forefront and seeing new things, things we wanted to do, and being able to bring in different people who are fun to work with eventually with a pretty broad set of skills…and figuring out how to get those people with broad skills to work together has been one of the greatest challenges.
You know I’ve made more of my mistakes in that area than probably anywhere, but you know eventually getting there and some of those things work really well together.
I think it’s a lot about the people, the passion and it’s amazing that the business worked out the way that it did.
Steve Jobs: Yeah, people say you have a lot of passion for what you are doing, and it’s totally true and the reason is because it’s so hard that if you don’t any rational person would give up.
It’s really hard and you have to do it over a sustained period of time. So if you don’t love it, if you’re not having fun doing it, if you don’t absolutely love it, you’re going to give up.
And that’s what happens to most people, actually.
If you look at the ones that ended up being successful in the eyes of society, often times it’s, the ones that are successful love what they did so they could persevere, you know, when it got really tough.
And the ones that didn’t love it, quit. Because they’re sane, right? Who would put up with this stuff if you don’t love it?
So it’s a lot of hard work and it’s a lot of worrying constantly and, if you don’t love it, you’re going to fail.
So, you gotta love it, you gotta have passion.
And I think that’s the high order bid.
The second thing is, you’ve gotta be, you’ve gotta be a really good talent scout because no matter how smart you are, you need a team of great people.
And you’ve got to figure out how to size people up fairly quickly, how to make decisions without knowing people too well and hire them, see how you do, and refine your intuition,and be able to help build an organization that can eventually just build itself.
Because you need great people around you.
[end of transcript]
The video continues with a couple of other questions (I didn’t transcribe those) and I encourage you to watch the other videos of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates Together.
By the way, Steve and Bill share the same personality type — If you want to see more about that, go here: Bill Gates and Steve Jobs’ Personality Type