In his years as CEO of Microsoft (MSFT), we’ve come to know Bill Gates as a collected and competent pitchman for his company. But presentations didn’t always go so smoothly for Bill. His first failed demo had the world’s richest man crying for his mummy. Literally.
Bill’s dad, the inestimable Bill Gates Sr., has a new book coming out about his family. Turns out Bill and childhood buddy Paul Allen had startup ideas well before Microsoft.
The pair came up with something they called “Traf-O-Data.” The idea was to use data collected from car counting devices — thin tubes of hose stretched across a highway that register when a car rolls over them — to generate a system of traffic metrics for civic engineers.
Clever idea, actually. (Note: “Trey” is what Bill was called by his parents.)
Fortune: After many successful kitchen-table practice sessions, my son persuaded some employees of the city of Seattle to come to the house for a demonstration. Well, things that day at the Gates home didn’t go according to plan. The Traf-O-Data did not perform.
How did Trey react when the first live demonstration of his system failed? He went running into the kitchen, shouting on the way, “mum! mum! Come and tell them that it worked!”
It’s probably no surprise that he made no sale that day. The Traf-O-Data did finally achieve some success, although it didn’t foreshadow anything like a Microsoft.
Chalk it up to a life lesson, one which would prepare Bill for other demo snafus in the future. For example, when Bill ran into the infamous “Blue Screen of Death” during a Windows 98 demo, the man kept his cool.
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