Some claim he did, but that doesn't really matter.
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4 min read
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There's a story about Bill Gates and an offer he made to a television interviewer several years ago. After this report by Sylvain Saurel on Medium, the conversation went as follows:
The journalist asked, “Mr. Gates, what is the secret of your success? "
Instead of answering the question, Gates gave the interviewer a blank check and asked them to write the desired amount on it. The journalist refused and repeated the question. According to legend, Gates gave her the same blank check and again asked her to write the desired amount. Again she refused. And even tore up the check.
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Gates looked at her and finally answered the question. "The secret of my success is that I never miss an opportunity like you just did," he said. "If you had that philosophy, you could have become the richest journalist in the world today."
Saurel, an avowed Bitcoin entrepreneur, had the right takeaway. As an entrepreneur, you should take every opportunity, right? "You will only be successful if you are able to take the immediate and massive action required when golden opportunities arise," he writes. "If one day a billionaire gives you a blank check and asks you to write the amount of your choice on it, don't waste time asking unnecessary questions and take immediate action."
He is certainly not alone with this opinion. In a Reddit conversation a few years ago, most of the people discussing the alleged incident agreed. "I'll write down $ 40 million and cash the check," wrote one. "Enter $ 25 billion, deposit and choose how you want to spend it," wrote another.
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But then again, you could take this Redditor's point of view: "Ask him what's the catch," he (or she) wrote. "I don't want to suddenly find out that I've signed up to kill the Woz or anything!"
OK, so the reference to Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak is a bit extreme. But this user (who has since been deleted for some reason and I hope it has nothing to do with Steve Wozniak) makes a valid point for any small business owner who offers what appears to be a treasure deal. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
The customer who promises to "pay twice" is unlikely to do so. The seller who promises to close this big deal next month is unlikely to either. There's a good chance the half-price device for sale isn't working. Bill Gates is not going to give you a blank check. Nobody is going to offer you a blank check. Life and business don't work that way.
See also: Ellen, apologize already
If you've run a business like I have for more than two decades, you learn that sometimes people break the rules, inflate the truth, and nothing – I mean nothing – is as good as it seems. Sure, you should take advantage of the opportunities when they come. But don't make it blind. Ask. Examine. Trust. But check. And expect that promises made will not be kept. If you're looking for quick wins and money that falls from the sky, head to Vegas or buy a lottery ticket. Otherwise, understand the reality that if something sounds good to be true, it usually is.