TIME Companies

13 Brilliant Ideas That Turned These People Into Self-Made Billionaires

From Bill Gates to Mark Cuban

In general, nine out of 10 startups fail. But the ones that make it all have one thing in common: a brilliant idea — like the ones these self-made billionaires used to start their companies:

 

  • Larry Page and Sergey Brin

    time-cover-google
    David Strick for TIME TIME magazine cover from Feb. 20, 2006

    Larry Page and Sergey Brin were Ph.D. students at Stanford when they first came up with the idea of a search engine. But their idea was a little different than the other search engines on the market: It would examine the number and relevance of links between pages, not just the keywords on them.

    Google’s search engine now dominates the market, and the company has more than $66 billion in sales. It’s now involved in other businesses too — it makes the most popular mobile-phone platform in the world (Android) and runs the most popular video website in the world (YouTube). It’s also experimenting with all kinds of futuristic projects like Google Glass (seen here). Page and Brin are now each worth almost $30 billion.

  • Mark Zuckerberg

    mark zuckerberg cover
    Martin Schoeller for TIME TIME magazine cover from Dec. 27, 2010

    Mark Zuckerberg was a Harvard undergrad when he came up with the idea of a “hot or not” type of website called Facemash. From that site, Zuckerberg learned how technology could be used to connect people and launched a site called thefacebook.com.

    Later, he changed the name to Facebook, and in less than a decade turned it into a $250 billion company. Zuckerberg is now worth over $35 billion.

  • Michael Bloomberg

    bloomberg-cover
    Charles Ommanney for TIME TIME magazine cover from Oct. 21, 2013

    Working as a Wall Street trader in the 1970s, Michael Bloomberg quickly realized financial companies were willing to pay big bucks for reliable business information. Bloomberg launched a business that provided important financial information quickly through dedicated computer terminals.

    Bloomberg, with over $8 billion in annual revenue, is now one of the most powerful media and financial-information companies in the world. Bloomberg’s net worth is estimated to be roughly $37 billion.

  • Jeff Bezos

    bezos-cover
    Gregory Heisler TIME magazine cover from Dec. 27, 1999

    Jeff Bezos was working at a Wall Street firm in the early 1990s when he decided to start his own company. He eventually settled on an idea to launch an online bookstore.

    Now Amazon sells everything from books and furniture to gadgets and wine. It’s worth about $200 billion with over $88 billion in annual sales. Bezos is estimated to have a net worth over $38 billion.

  • Larry Ellison

    Growing up in Chicago’s south side, Larry Ellison had a rough childhood, dropping out of college twice. But once he moved to California at age 22 in the mid-1960s, he came across an IBM report about a database-programming language called SQL.

    Inspired by the IBM paper, Ellison took SQL and created the Oracle database, which could run on non-IBM computers. After a few years, Oracle took off, becoming the most popular database ever sold. Now Oracle is worth $195 billion, and Ellison is one of the richest people in the world with a net worth estimated at around $65 billion.

  • Bill Gates

    bill gates cover
    Michael O'Neill for TIME TIME magazine cover from Mar. 22, 1999

    In 1975, Microsoft cofounders Bill Gates and Paul Allen came across an ad for the Altair 8800, one of the earliest forms of microcomputers. They built a programming language called BASIC, which became the foundational code for Altair 8800.

    Soon Microsoft built an operating system called DOS and licensed it to IBM. A few years later, Microsoft built Windows, which had a more graphical interface than DOS. Since then, Microsoft has become one of the biggest tech companies ever, dominating the PC and software market. It’s a $370 billion business spanning servers and data centers, as well as video games and mobile phones. Gates is the richest man in the world with a net worth approaching $80 billion.

  • Marc Benioff

    Marc Benioff had a revolutionary idea when he founded Salesforce in 1998. He wanted to deliver software over the web, or the “cloud,” making it faster and easier to install and update.

    Salesforce started out as a service for salespeople, but now it has different software for marketing, customer service, and even data analytics. It’s one of the fastest business-software companies to ever reach $5 billion in sales, and Benioff is worth about $3.8 billion. He’s also credited with pioneering the cloud market, which is now one of the hottest areas in tech.

  • Mark Cuban

    Mark Cuban was an early internet entrepreneur in the 1990s, and built a company called Broadcast.com based on the idea of providing customized satellite broadcasts over the web.

    He later sold Broadcast.com to Yahoo for $5.7 billion. Broadcast.com no longer exists, but there’s no question Cuban — now worth about $3 billion — is one of the most successful self-made tech entrepreneurs of all time. He’s also the owner of the Dallas Mavericks and an active startup investor. His role on “Shark Tank” has turned him into a popular TV personality as well.

  • Jack Ma

    Jack Ma was captivated by the internet after visiting the US in 1995. He soon launched two internet startups, which both failed. As his third venture, Ma started Alibaba, an online marketplace where exporters could post product listings so customers could buy directly from them.

    Alibaba took off and, by 1999, raised $5 million from Goldman Sachs and $20 million from Softbank. Just about 15 years later, Alibaba had the largest US IPO of all-time, and now it’s worth over $200 billion. Jack Ma has a net worth in excess of $24 billion.

  • Jan Koum

    Jan Koum wanted to build a sort of phone-book app with status updates showing up next to individual names. It would show things like location or whether the person was on the call or not.

    WhatsApp later evolved to include push features and automatic notifications, before turning into the messaging platform it is now. In 2014, WhatsApp was acquired by Facebook for $19 billion. It now has over 800 million monthly active users. Koum is estimated to be worth over $6.8 billion.

  • Jerry Yang and David Filo

    jerry-yang-cover
    Arthur Hochstein and Ed Gabel for TIME TIME magazine cover from July 20, 1998

    As students at Stanford, Jerry Yang and David Filo came up with the idea of building a directory for websites. They launched “Jerry and David’s Guide to the World Wide Web.”

    Within a year of launching, it became one of the most popular websites in the world. They changed the name to Yahoo, which to this day is one of the biggest web portals in the world. It has a market cap over $38 billion. Yang isn’t involved with the company anymore, instead running his own VC firm. His estimated net worth is $2 billion. Filo is still on Yahoo’s board and has a net worth of about $3 billion.

  • Michael Dell

    While a student at University of Texas, Michael Dell realized there was a way to bypass salesmen to sell PCs directly to consumers. He launched a startup called Dell that custom-assembled each component of the PC and sold it at a much lower price.

    Dell had $6 million in sales in its first year. Soon its sales blew up, and by 2001, it became the world’s largest PC maker. Dell took his company back private in 2013 by paying roughly $24.9 billion. He’s worth about $18 billion now.

  • Nick Woodman

    As an avid surfer, GoPro founder Nick Woodman simply wanted to help surfers take better photos of themselves surfing so they could look like a pro. He spent years perfecting the straps that went around the first versions of GoPro.

    But it wasn’t until he took it out of the water and put it in front of race cars that GoPro really started to take off. GoPro went public last year and is now worth about $7.8 billion. Woodman has a net worth of about $2.5 billion.

    This article originally appeared on Business Insider

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TIME Amazon

Amazon Wants a Special Air Zone For Its Fancy Delivery Drones

The Internet retailer wants a 200-foot space of air

Online retailer Amazon wants to someday deliver your order via drone — a high-speed one, at that — and it wants a special piece of the sky to shuttle those drones, according to a proposal the company unveiled on Tuesday at a NASA convention in California.

As part of its plan, Amazon suggests a 200-foot space of air — between 200 and 400 feet from the ground — be reserved for state-of-the-art drones flying at speeds of 60 knots or more. To keep things safe, it also proposes that a 100-foot cushion just above that airspace be made a no-fly zone to act as a buffer between drones and other aircraft, such as planes, according to The Guardian.

“The way we guarantee the greatest safety is by requiring that as the level of complexity of the airspace increases, so does the level of sophistication of the vehicle,” said Gur Kimchi, VP and co-founder of Amazon’s delivery-by-drone project, Prime Air, at the NASA event, according to The Guardian. “Under our proposal everybody has to be collaborative – vehicles must be able to talk to each other and avoid each other as the airspace gets denser at low altitudes.”

In Amazon’s world, the drones it and others use will be highly sophisticated, safe, and autonomous. The company has outlined five capabilities drones in the special zones must have. They include: sophisticated GPS that tracks the location of other drones in real-time; a reliable Internet connection; online flight planning to communicate the drone’s path; communications equipment; and sensor-based sense-and-avoid equipment to fly around other drones and obstacles.

Amazon’s proposal would also set some limits on drone hobbyists. Their aircraft would be confined to small pockets outside of these new flight areas unless they meet the criteria to fly among Amazon’s drones. Currently, they are permitted to fly up to the 400-foot mark.

But even if Amazon’s proposal becomes reality, it will likely be a while from now before drones flying in a special zone to drop off packages are an everyday thing. Only recently did a company complete the first successful drone delivery — and it wasn’t Amazon. The company is unfortunately still butting heads with the Federal Aviation Administration over how strict its regulations should be.

TIME Android

Stagefright: Everything You Need To Know About Google’s Android Megabug

The Latest Mobile Apps At The App World Multi-Platform Developer Show
Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images A logo for Google Inc.'s Android operating system is displayed on an advertising sign during the Apps World Multi-Platform Developer Show in London, U.K., on Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2013. Retail sales of Internet-connected wearable devices, including watches and eyeglasses, will reach $19 billion by 2018, compared with $1.4 billion this year, Juniper Research said in an Oct. 15 report. Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Here's a friendly Q&A to help you understand what happened, why it is a problem that still needs fixing, and what you can do about it.

Stagefright? What? Huh? That’s what you’ve been asking yourself ever since the Internet erupted yesterday over the announcement of a big computer bug in Google’s Android operating system.

In fact, you might still be wondering: Is my phone safe? Wait, the Internet erupted? Did it actually explode? (Is that even possible?)

Thankfully, no. I mean maybe, but as long as you’re still able to read this then I think we’re doing okay. Anyway, for those who still have questions about all the hullabaloo, Fortune has drafted a friendly Q&A to help you understand what happened, and why it is a problem that still needs fixing.

What is stage fright?

Stage fright is the nervous sensation a presenter feels before appearing publicly. (Say, for example, at a major security conference next month.)

Stagefright, on the other hand, is the nickname of a terrible Android flaw found in the open source code of Google’s Android operating system. The vulnerability, disclosed on Monday, may be the worst one to date. It puts 95% of Android devices—950 million gadgets—at risk of being hacked.

Where does the name come from?

“Stagefright” is the name of the media library—a portion of Android’s open source code—in which the bugs were found. It’s obviously a great bug name, too.

No lie. What does that media library do?

Stagefright—the library, not the bug—helps phones unpack multimedia messages. It enables Android phones to interpret MMS content (multimedia message service content), which can contain videos, photos, audio, text, as opposed to, say, SMS content (short message service content), which can contain only 160 characters. The bugs are in that library.

Wait, I thought you said Stagefright is a bug, not bugs?

Okay, okay. So Stagefright is a collection of bugs, if you want to be technical. Seven to be exact. If you want to get real technical, their designations are:

  • CVE-2015-1538,
  • CVE-2015-1539,
  • CVE-2015-3824,
  • CVE-2015-3826,
  • CVE-2015-3827,
  • CVE-2015-3828, and
  • CVE-2015-3829

But for our purposes, I’ll just refer to them collectively as Stagefright. A singular bug set; one vulnerability.

Fine, that seems easier. Why should I care about it?

Well, if you’re an Android user then your device is probably vulnerable.

Is that bad?

That means an attacker can infect your device simply by sending you a malicious MMS message. (Remember that acronym? Multimedia message service.) In fact, a victim doesn’t even have to open a booby-trapped message for the attack to spring. Once the message received, your phone is toast.

Er…that doesn’t sound good.

Right. Once inside, an attacker can access your phone’s data, photos, camera, microphone. What’s worse is that a clever baddie can delete the booby-trapped message from your phone before you even realize that your device has been compromised. So basically, yeah it’s bad.

That does sound bad.

Yup. And it gets worse! Imagine this scenario: Someone attacks your phone, steals your contact list, automatically targets those devices—rinse, repeat. Now everyone’s infected.

That’s what we like to call a computer worm.

How long has this been the case?

About five years.

What?? You mean my phone has been open to attack this whole time???

Yes.

Surely, Google must have patched it by now!

You’re right! Google patched the bugs right away. The company learned about one set of vulnerabilities in April and another set in May. The person who discovered the problems—Joshua Drake, a researcher at the mobile security company Zimperium zLabs—says he provided patches, and Google adopted them within two days. (The company reportedly paid him $1,337 for his work.)

Woohoo! So I’m safe?

Nope. The problem isn’t fixed.

What? Huh? Why?

That’s because Google’s Android ecosystem relies on its partnering phone-makers to push out software upgrades. That means Samsung, HTC, LG, Lenovo, Motorola, Sony, among others, are responsible for delivering the patches to customers.

Have they done so yet?

CyanogenMod, Mozilla, and Silent Circle’s Blackphone have.

I don’t use those…

Then you’ll have to wait. The other companies have issued statements that basically say, “We’re working on it.” You can read them here.

Is there a way to test whether I’m vulnerable?

If you’re using a phone that runs on Android version 2.2 or above, you may as well assume you’re at risk. The most vulnerable phones predate Jelly Bean (version 4.1), and that accounts for about 11% of Android phones on the market.

(We’ll add a link to a test when one comes to our attention but, unfortunately, there’s nothing available yet—at least that we know of. Though it would be pretty cool if someone came up with one. Nudge nudge, wink wink.)

Why are post-Ice Cream Android phones better off?

As Google Android’s lead security engineer explains here, that’s about the time that Google put in place some strong exploit mitigation technologies, like one called Address Space Layout Randomization. “This technology makes it more difficult for an attacker to guess the location of code, which is required for them to build a successful exploit,” Adrian Ludwig writes. He goes on: “(For the layperson — ASLR makes writing an exploit like trying to get across a foreign city without access to Google Maps, any previous knowledge of the city, any knowledge of local landmarks, or even the local language. Depending on what city you are in and where you’re trying to go, it might be possible but it’s certainly much more difficult.)”

You can find a list of similar security technologies implemented since Ice Cream (version 4.0) here.

So I get that I should pressure my phone-maker to push out the fixes. What about my wireless carrier?

Well, if your wireless carrier was real cool, it could create a signature for Stagefright-based attacks, and block those threats on its network. Fiat Chrysler recently worked with Sprint to make its cars much less hackable that way. Your carrier could also help make sure the fix works for older versions of Android, too, rather than just making sure the latest version is protected. The security researcher Nicholas Weaver recently made this point on Twitter.

He suggested something similar for Google, too.

Can I do anything else to be safer?

First, ask your device manufacturer for an update: When will a patch be available and will you be covered? You might also consider changing the settings on your Android apps that use MMS, like Messaging and Hangouts. Un-click “automatically retrieve MMS messages.” In the meantime, consider using Snapchat or WhatsApp to swap clips, GIFs, and whatnot.

Other than that, keep your phone number private, I guess? Drake, the guy who found the flaw, plans to present more details at the Black Hat conference next month.

Okay, thanks for the tips. If I have any other questions, can I call you?

No, sorry. My phone number is private information.

Just testing you!

Ah I see what you did there, you jokester!

TIME policy

Google Joins Chorus of Companies Backing LGBT Bill

The Equality Act has a growing list of corporate supporters

Add Google to the list of major companies voicing their support for proposed legislation that would ban discrimination against members of the LGBT community.

The online search giant on Tuesday joined the likes of Facebook, General Mills, and Nike in publicly backing the Equality Act, a landmark anti-discrimination bill introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives last week. The Equality Act seeks to expand existing civil rights protections against racial and gender-based discrimination in the workplace and other public spheres to include safeguards against sexual orientation and gender identity.

“Diverse perspectives, ideas, and cultures lead to the creation of better products and services and ideas,” a Google spokeswoman told Fortune in an e-mail Tuesday. “And it’s the right thing to do. That’s why we support protections for LGBT Americans as outlined in the Equality Act.”

Other companies to announce support for the bill include Apple, American Airlines, the Dow Chemical Company [fortune-stock symbol=”DOW”], and Levi Strauss.

Fortune reached out to a handful of other large U.S. companies on Tuesday to ask about their respective stances on the Equality Act. An IBM spokesman said the company is still reviewing the proposed legislation. “IBM has a long standing commitment to equal opportunity, including LGBT employees,” the spokesman added. Fortune will add other firms’ responses as we hear back.

An increasing number of large corporations have embraced LGBT rights over the past few months. Earlier this year, tech companies Salesforce and Apple — whose CEO, Tim Cook, is openly gay — along with GE were among the most vocal critics of the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which opponents argued allows for discrimination against gay and lesbian employees. Walmart has also become an outspoken supporter of LGBT rights, particularly in its home state of Arkansas, where the nation’s largest private employer was joined by rival Target in speaking out against that state’s religious freedom bill. Walmart and Target did not immediately respond to Fortune‘s request for comment on the Equality Act.

TIME twitter

The 1 Most Interesting Thing We Just Learned About Twitter

<> on November 7, 2013 in London, England.
Bethany Clarke—2013 Getty Images Twitter's app on November 7, 2013 in London, England.

Twitter must look abroad for ever-important user growth

Twitter on Tuesday posted second quarter earnings of $0.07 per share, beating expectations of $0.04 per share. That good news sent Twitter’s stock up over 4% in after-hours trading early Tuesday afternoon.

But Twitter’s full earnings presentation reveals something else interesting about the service: Americans have pretty much stopped signing up for it.

The number of new American Monthly Active Twitter Users has been gradually getting smaller for a while now, even flatlining once before at the end of last year. Now that’s happened for a second time, with no new U.S. user growth from Q1 2015 to Q2 2015:

 Monthly Active Users
TwitterTwitter Monthly Active Users

That lack of American growth doesn’t mean Twitter isn’t making any money from the U.S. — domestic revenue hit $321 million this quarter, up 53% year-over-year. But it’s a sign that Twitter must increasingly look to foreign shores for more user growth, a metric closely watched by Twitter investors.

Twitter’s international growth figures are a little healthier on the surface, with the company adding 8 million international monthly active users in Q2 from the previous quarter. But Twitter says the lion’s share of that increase came from users who only engage with the service over SMS text messages, not the full mobile app. Those users, who mostly reside in less-developed countries that lack advanced wireless broadband infrastructure, will likely be more difficult for Twitter to effectively monetize.

TIME Nike

How Nike’s Medieval Ice Pack Helmet Will Cool Athletes’ Skulls

Or, how to be cool without looking cool.

According to Nike, pouring a bottle of water on your head isn’t a good enough way to cool down after finishing a decathlon. The sporting goods company’s solution? A super-cooling piece of headgear, which doesn’t have a price tag yet, but is surely more expensive than a water bottle.

The device fits snugly like a hat on the forehead, head and neck, then drapes over the face with loose mesh. It may make athletes look straight out of a Friday the 13th set, but the cooling effect might be worth the bad photos. The hood is like a head-shaped ice pack, which surrounds the athlete with chilled water.

In a Nike [fortune-stock symbol=”NKE”] press release, Olympic decathlete Ashton Eaton, who is partnering with Nike to create the headgear, explains why he wants to wear a medieval ice pack helmet: “A perfect scenario would be to fell like you’ve just started on every event. There more you do, the more attrition you experience.” For Eaton, cooling off quickly isn’t a matter of comfort: it helps him regenerate between his ten events.

Eaton is testing the prototypes for Nike in the months leading to the 2016 Summer Olympics, according to Wired. Olympic athlete Brianne Theisen-Eaton, who is married to Eaton, will be testing out the hood during her summer training as well.

TIME Solutions That Matter

See How Robotics Is Changing What It Means to Be Disabled

At the Human Engineering Research Laboratories (HERL) in Pittsburgh, Pa., veterans, engineers, doctors and researchers are working together to improve the lives of people with disabilities. Since 1994, Dr. Rory Cooper and his team have been solving everyday problems of people with disabilities and inventing new technologies to change the way people with disabilities interact with and experience the world around them

TIME windows 10

Microsoft Out-hypes Itself With a Windows 10 Music Video

GERMANY-IT-CEBIT
TOBIAS SCHWARZ—AFP/Getty Images A man shows Microsoft's Windows 10 operating system at the CeBIT technology fair in Hanover.

The video opts for extreme simplicity

The Windows 10 hype machine has kicked into overdrive.

In celebration of the software update — which introduces a retooled interface, more built-in apps, and a Siri-like Cortana assistant — Microsoft has released a music video on YouTube.

The video mentions none of the new software’s features, instead opting for extreme simplicity.

A Windows logo, created by conceptual visual artist GMUNK, shimmers for one-and-a-half minutes set to music from electronic duo Odesza. The video is capped off with a blue screen that instructs viewers to “do great things.” That is, apparently, what users of Microsoft 10 can do once they get their hands on the update.

The new update has already begun downloading on some computers in preparation for its release Tuesday evening, at 9 p.m. PT and midnight ET. Windows 7 and Windows 8 users qualify for a free download of the update.

TIME Google

Google Has Stopped Its Annoying App Ads

Android Device Protection
Bloomberg via Getty Images An Android phone running Google software.

A study found most people abandon a page when presented with a full page ad.

Every mobile phone user understands how frustrating it can be when you’re trying to navigate a mobile website and suddenly you’re attacked by a full page ad beckoning you to “download this app.” In your frustration, do you download it? Continue to the site? Or do you simply abandon your search?

Google wanted to know which of those three options their customers tended towards, so they conducted a case study. They found that 9% of visitors to the interstitial page clicked the “Get App” button. Some of those users may have already had the app, and others may not have followed through with the download. Either way, it’s a fairly high click-through-rate. However, the number that they were most concerned with was how many visitors completely abandoned the page altogether: 69%.

They subsequently experimented with a Smart App Banner so that they could continue to promote their app without forcing users to interact with the interstitial page. There was no significant change to the number of app downloads, but their mobile site traffic increased by 17%.

Finding that the full page ad was unproductive, they officially decided to nix it. Although being able to ignore pop-ups more efficiently is exciting to many, some people aren’t as giddy about it. Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman, a vocal Google critic, had this to say:

TIME facebook

Here’s Facebook’s Course To Combat Bias In The Workplace

The company is now sharing it with the public

Facebook is a prestigious Silicon Valley company where many people hope to work, and yet it has had trouble building on a truly diverse workforce despite repeated promises to do so.

So on Tuesday, COO Sheryl Sandberg shared in a blog post the company’s latest effort in that area: an anti-unconscious bias course for its employees. The company is now sharing it with the public via a new website, complete with videos and presentations on various topics.

“One of the most important things we can do to promote diversity in the workplace is to correct for the unconscious bias that all of us have,” Sandberg wrote. “At Facebook, we’ve worked with leading researchers to develop a training course that helps people recognize how bias can affect them, and gives them tools to interrupt and correct for bias when they see it in the workplace.”

Google released a similar body of resources and training materials in 2014.

In mid-June, Facebook released its second annual workforce diversity report. Much like the other large companies that have also released such reports in the last two years, not much has changed in Facebook’s numbers. The company saw only a one percentage-point increase in total female employees (32%) and in women in technical positions (16%). Women in senior positions stayed at the same level — just 23% of the company. Facebook also didn’t see much improvement in racial diversity, still mostly hiring white and Asian employees.

“Diversity is central to Facebook’s mission of creating a more open and connected world. To reflect the diversity of the 1.4 billion people using our products, we need to have people with different backgrounds, races, genders and points of view working at Facebook,” Sandberg wrote.

The videos cover four areas: stereotypes and performance bias, performance attribution bias, competence/likability tradeoff bias, and maternal bias. It’s not clear how Facebook has implemented these training materials within the company, although Sandberg notes that people have asked the company to share the course with others.

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