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September 30, 2008

Microsoft VC Conference - Steve Ballmer's View On The World

Every year, Microsoft bigwigs trek down to Silicon Valley and brief the VC community on their view of the world and plans for the future.  They are kind enough to invite East Coast VCs, not just locals, and so I flew out last week to partake in the annual event alongisde a few hundred of my VC brethren.  Just as when I had attended the event in the past, the highlight was Steve Ballmer's address.

I personally think Steve Ballmer is the CEO of the century.  When he joined college buddy, Bill, the company's revenues were $2.5m.  This year, they crossed $60 billion.  Yet, when you meet him in person, he remains incredibly down-to-earth and accessible.  I remember a few years ago he gave out his email address.  For fun, I sent him an email.  I was stunned when he replied right back.  I love watching him speak as he is full of fire and brimstone, but also very insightful.

A few of the highlights from this year's discussion:

  • Ballmer claims he thinks of himself like a VC (ok, he was probably playing to the crowd a bit) - and tries to have a similar mindset as he makes decisions to prioritize and direct their $9 billion R&D budget.
  • He couldn't have been more bullish about the tech industry (which, he pointed out, feels as if it's in a different world than the CNBC crowd we've all been watching lately) - very excited about all the innovations in cloud computing, mobile, search, the enterprise and elsewhere.
  • Interestingly, he identified his top competitors as Google, Apple and Linux.  Secondary foes included IBM, Oracle, Amazon and SAP.  It goes to show how consumer focused Microsoft has become that two of their top three competitors are essentially consumer companies and brands.  Amazingly, almost all of these companies are doing well - in large part thanks to innovation and global expansion.
  • He admitted that they screwed up the Yahoo acquisition but vowed to get better at such transactions.  With their recent issuance of debt, clearly there is more to come.
  • In times like these, Ballmer indicated, he wants to be the guy with his foot pushing hardest on the pedal, implying that some of his competition might be thinkig of letting up due to the economic situation.

Microsoft clearly remains a force to be reckoned with, particularly with an executive as talented as Ballmer at the helm.

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