Power Players

Bill Gates on his crazy early days at Microsoft: We ate powdered orange Tang instead of stopping for meals

Bill Gates (right), from Microsoft, speaks with Jonathan Lazarus, from Ziff Davis Publishing/Kiha Software, at the annual PC Forum, Phoenix, Arizona, early 1985.
Ann E. Yow-Dyson | Archive Photos | Getty Images

Before there was Soylent, there was Tang.

"I would buy a bottle of Tang, which is an orange sugary drink [mix] that they took to the moon that you know, instead of going to meals, I would just pour orange Tang on my hand and lick it off my hand as I was working on things," says Bill Gates in Netflix's three-episode documentary series, "Inside Bill's Brain," out Friday.

"So my face would be covered in this orange stuff."

The goal of licking the sugary, powdered drink mix off his fingers was to get energy without taking the time to step away from his work.

"You are supposed to put it in a cup with water and stir it around and drink it, but you can just skip the water because your body already has water in it and just lick it off your hand," the Microsoft co-founder tells series director Davis Guggenheim, who won the Oscar for Best Documentary in 2007 for "An Inconvenient Truth."

"And the keys [of the computer] didn't get all orange?" Guggenheim asks Gates.

"Ah, that's a problem, yup," Gates says.

The vignette is illustrative of the obsessive work schedule Gates and Microsoft's other co-founder, Paul Allen, kept in the early days of the business.

"We were just bursting with excitement. We barely slept. We would take breaks off for fast food and go back to work until three in the morning," Allen says in an audio clip used in the documentary. (Allen passed away from cancer in 2018.)

Allen and Gates launched Microsoft in 1975 in Albuquerque, New Mexico. In 1979, the company moved to Bellevue, Washington and in 1986, Microsoft moved to Redmond, Washington, where it is currently headquartered.

"We were hardcore about hey, if you are working on a piece of code, then just get it done, don't worry about sleep," Gates says. "Back then, some amount of adrenaline or something."

Watch 28-year-old Bill Gates explain why he didn't see himself as a genius

Indeed, Gates was infamous for his incessant drive, which the 63-year old centi-billionaire says was critical to his success in building Microsoft.

"I love going into work and that work is my whole life," Gates says in the documentary.

Taking time away from the office was not part of his operating system. "A key advantage I had was being fanatical, that is taking all of my capabilities day and night and just focusing on, okay how do you write good software? I loved being fanatic. Eventually I reveled in it. I didn't believe in weekends, I didn't believe in vacation," Gates says.

Gates' drive meant that working for him was hard.

"For a lot of people it wasn't an ideal place to work. We were pretty frenetic and demanding," Gates says.

He wasn't known for delivering his opinions softly either. "I was famous for saying, 'That's the stupidest idea I have ever heard.' And of course everyone was like, 'But how could it be, it was only two hours ago he had this other one ... could it be that this one is really stupider than all those other ideas he heard before?'"

And he kept tabs on who worked how much too.

"I could be so extreme," Gates says. "It was like I knew everybody's license plate so I could walk through the parking lot and say, okay who is here and who is not here?"

Gates seems to now recognize that some of those tactics were harsh. In the third episode of the docuseries, Gates gives Guggenheim a hand in teaching him to play a card game.

"You are being nice. You have mellowed," Guggenheim says.

"I have mellowed. Thank god," Gates says.

See also:

Bill Gates: A.I. is like nuclear energy — 'both promising and dangerous'

Bill Gates: This is a 'great' way to use your tech skills

Hedge fund billionaire Ray Dalio to younger self: 'Why are you so stupidly arrogant!?!'

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