Entrepreneur and investor Paul Allen was best known for being one of the co-founders of Microsoft with Bill Gates.
Who Was Paul Allen?
Born on January 21, 1953, in Seattle, Washington, Paul Allen met fellow Lakeside School student and computer enthusiast Bill Gates when Allen was 14 and Gates was 12. Less than a decade later, in 1975, college drop-outs Allen and Gates founded Microsoft. Allen resigned after being diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease in 1983 and continued to pursue other business, research and philanthropic opportunities.
How Did Paul Allen and Bill Gates Meet?
While attending the Lakeside School outside Seattle, 14-year-old Allen met 12-year-old Bill Gates, a fellow student and computer enthusiast. Less than a decade later, in June 1975, Allen and Gates, both dropped out of college. Allen, who was from Washington State University, founded Microsoft with the intention of designing software for the new wave of personal computers.
By the time Allen arranged for Microsoft to buy an operating system called Q-DOS for $50,000, the company had already supplied software for emerging companies such as Apple and Commodore. Gates and Allen reinvented Q-DOS as MS-DOS and installed it as the operating system for IBM’s PC offering, which dominated the market after its release in 1981.
Microsoft and Vulcan Ventures
As Microsoft grew and its stock steadily rose, Allen’s share in the company he co-founded made him a billionaire at just over 30 years of age. In 1983, Allen, known as the “idea man” counterpart to Gates’ “man of action,” resigned from Microsoft after being diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease. After undergoing several months of radiation treatment, his health was restored.
Post Microsoft, Allen began to concentrate on other projects, hoping to find the next big idea lurking somewhere just out of sight. In 1986, he set up a company called Vulcan Ventures to research possible investments; to that end, he founded a Silicon Valley think tank in 1992 called Interval Research. Through Interval Research and Vulcan Ventures, Allen began to put his long-term dream of a wired world society — in which virtually everyone is online — into practice.
His investments were diverse: America Online, SureFind (an online classified ads service), Teluscan (an online financial service), Starwave (an online content provider), hardware, software and wireless communications. From 1994 to 1998, Allen built an infrastructure of well over 30 different companies in pursuit of his “wired world” strategy. With Vulcan’s 1998 purchases of Marcus Cable and more than 90 percent of Charter Communications, Allen became the owner of the nation’s seventh-largest cable company. In 1999, he invested nearly $2 billion in the RCN corporation, bringing his total holdings in the cable and Internet businesses to over $25 billion.
He also invested a good deal in the production of interactive media and entertainment. In total, Allen had major investments in over 100 “new media” companies. In 1993, he acquired 80 percent of Ticketmaster until he sold over half of his stock to the Home Shopping Network (HSN) in 1997. In late 1999, Allen and Vulcan Ventures agreed to fund POP.com, an Internet entertainment company formed as a partnership between two prominent production companies: Imagine Entertainment, founded by director Ron Howard and producer Brian Grazer, and DreamWorks SKG, founded by entertainment giants Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen.
Allen, already an investor in DreamWorks, reportedly invested $50 billion in the company, which aims to create and distribute short features exclusively on the Internet. POP.com was set to debut in the spring of 2000, but failed to get off the ground. Allen has also invested in Oxygen Media, a highly-touted company co-founded by Oprah Winfrey and dedicated to producing cable and Internet programming for women.
Other Interests: Seattle Seahawks, Experience Music Project & More
Allen’s other personal and philanthropic interests included sports (he owned the NBA’s Portland Trailblazers and the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks) and music. On June 23, 2000, his Experience Music Project, a $250 million interactive rock ‘n’ roll museum designed by the architect Frank O. Gehry, opened in Seattle. Allen co-founded EMP with his sister, Jody Allen Patton, who serves as the museum’s president of the board of trustees. In April 2003, he announced he would be spending $20 million to build the Science Fiction Experience, which opened in the summer of 2004. The museum was billed as “entertaining and thought-provoking exhibits and programs.” Allen had also established philanthropic foundations for the causes of medical research, visual and performing arts, community service, and forest preservation.
A dedicated Jimi Hendrix enthusiast since he first saw Hendrix perform in 1969, Allen played rhythm guitar in a Seattle band called Grown Men; the band released their first CD in the spring of 2000. In 2013, Allen released another album with his band the Underthinkers called Everywhere at Once through Sony.
On May 29, 2013, it was announced that Vulcan Productions, Allen’s award-winning media company, had signed on as a production partner of Pandora’s Promise, the groundbreaking documentary by Academy Award-nominated director Robert Stone. The film premiered at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival to rave reviews, and was scheduled to debut in the United States in November 2013.
According to a press release issued by Vulcan Productions in May 2013, Stone’s film tells the “intensely personal stories of environmentalists and energy experts who have converted from being fiercely anti to strongly pro-nuclear energy, risking their careers and reputations in the process.” Stone exposes this environmental controversy with stories of defection by Stewart Brand, Richard Rhodes, Gwyneth Cravens, Mark Lynas and Michael Shellenberger, among others.
“Pandora’s Promise presents nuclear power as a hopeful solution to climate change, and is opening people’s minds about one of the most critical issues of our time,” Allen stated. “This is exactly the type of thought-provoking project we are proud to partner on and support.” Acclaimed films and series from Vulcan Productions include Girl Rising (2013); This Emotional Life (2010); Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial (2007); Rx for Survival: A Global Health Challenge (2005); No Direction Home: Bob Dylan (2005); Strange Days on Planet Earth (2005); Black Sky: The Race For Space, and Black Sky: Winning the X Prize (2004); Lightning in a Bottle (2004); The Blues (2003); and Evolution (2001).
In 2014, Allen pledged $100 million to combat Ebola in West Africa. That same year, he founded the Allen Institute for Cell Science, which researches cells in order to understand their behavior in how to fight diseases. Allen has also taken interest in space time travel and launched Vulcan Aerospace in 2015.
Allen lived on Lake Washington’s Mercer Island, near Seattle.
Paul Allen Yacht
Loaned for rescue missions and scientific explorations, Allen’s yacht, the Octopus, is one of the largest in the world at over 400 feet long, equipped with two helicopter pads, a pool and two submarines.
Battle with Cancer and Death
In the fall of 2009, Allen received another blow to his health: he had developed non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and had to undergo more radiation treatments. Luckily, Allen beat this cancer diagnosis as well. However, in October 2018, Allen revealed that he started treatments for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He passed away on October 15, 2018, from complications of the disease.