Can we have an Australian Bill Gates?

June 30, 2005

Steve Balmer was the speaker at a Microsoft breakfast I attended on Tuesday. An audience member asked if the next Bill Gates could come out of India or China, particularly given their culture of copying.

Personally, I felt this question reflected the usual lack of comprehension for the sheer amount of talent and skill coming out of these countries. Each year they are the world’s leading producers of Bachelor degree trained people. Steve Balmer also pointed this out.

But, what he went on to say was more interesting. He believes that an Indian or Chinese person may well be the next Bill Gates, but that they will do it from inside the US. His three reasons were:

  1. IP protection
  2. The legal system
  3. Access to the world’s largest domestic market

Unfortunately, this provides further evidence for my growing scepticism that Australia will not produce the next Bill Gates or Google. While we have the IP protection, legal system and talent our domestic market is just too small to support a sizable pool of early adopting customers and rapid growth. Our inherently conservative investment and customer market further decreases the presence of early stage customers.

As a result, Australian companies must start exporting before they are ready. Their products are still weak and the processes incomplete, which is brutal when you add distance into the equation. A local customer can be courted, worked on and built as a partnership to iron out the early adoption kinks.

While sceptical, I haven’t yet descended into complete pessimism. But the odds are certainly stacked against an Australian Bill Gates or Google.