Bill Gross just may be the ultimate entrepreneur’s entrepreneur.
After several successful entrepreneurial ventures, he founded the incubator Idealab in Los Angeles in 1996, which has founded over 100 companies by one count, 8 of which have gone public.
The best known might be GoTo.com/Overture, which pioneered the business model of search advertising, the same business model that is making Google billions each quarter.
But those are only the tip of the iceberg. Bill Gross has founded car companies, clean tech companies, robot companies… As in any entrepreneur’s life there have been failures, but there’s also been tons of successes.
Here’s a selection of the most interesting stories.
eSolar is an ambitious company that wants to make solar energy cheaper than coal, the cheapest (and dirtiest) energy source. How? Not through solar panels, but with zillions of computer controlled mirrors that all focus light on a tower to heat up the water in it and power a turbine. It's obviously a huge engineering challenge but eSolar seems to be close to winning the future.
In February 1998, GoTo.com began offering advertisers the capacity to bid to appear at the top of search results in response to specific queries, based on keywords. It seems obvious now, but it turned search into the biggest online business. Up until then, people thought search was a nuisance because it took people off portals and the goal was to have them stay the longest.
The rest is history: Google imitated this model; GoTo renamed itself Overture, went public and was acquired by Yahoo for around $1.5 billion.
Gross founded UberMedia as TweetUp, a Twitter advertising service -- just as GoTo had started as a search advertising service. This scared the hell out of Twitter, who cracked down on advertisers. TweetUp renamed itself as PostUp, and then Bill Gross went on a shopping spree, buying applications accounting for up to 20% of Twitter traffic including TweetDeck and UberTwitter. Twitter briefly blocked those apps, starting a war.
The idea is to make the most energy and aerodynamic-efficient car possible. The Aptera gets 200+ miles per gallon and carries 3.
CitySearch was once huge and it's still around -- Yellow Pages for the web. CitySearch was an Idealab company, merged with Ticketmaster Online and went public. It's now part of Barry Diller's IAC.
eToys went bankrupt after the dotcom bust, but it was still the third-biggest e-commerce site at one point, and during the 2000 holiday season was the second most-trafficked site on the internet.
Evolution Robotics makes robots for the consumer market. And that's all we need to say to say that's pretty cool.
Its latest product is called Mint, and it's a robotic floor cleaner.
Internet Brands owns a bunch of big sites around buying 'big ticket items' such as cars and real estate, including CarsDirect. The company went public in 2007 and was acquired in 2010.
Duron Energy makes a solar-powered generator to bring affordable and reliable electricity to emerging markets, where it is sorely needed. Certainly a worthy business, and quite potentially a profitable one.
Bill Gross bought from the tiny island nation of Tuvalu the rights to sell .tv domain names, and then sold that business, dotTV, to VeriSign.
We love this because it's a classic swashbuckling business story: see an opportunity, pounce on it, monetise it and sell it. It's no eSolar but it's still a great entrepreneurial story.
We think 3D printing is the next trillion-dollar industry. So does Bill Gross. He built a company called Desktop Factory to make a sub-$5,000 3D printer for consumers. The company was acquired by 3D Systems, a big company in the sector.