Silicon Valley Entrepreneur Vic Gundotra Shares Stories of Risk, Uncertainty, and Failure with Rochester Startup Community

From left to right: Dr. Dave Albert, Vic Gondotra, and the author. Photo courtesy of Jamie Sundsbak.

From left to right: Dr. Dave Albert, Vic Gondotra, and the author. Photo courtesy of Jamie Sundsbak.

It was my immense pleasure to be asked to interview Vic Gundotra and Dr. Dave Albert last week at this event “A Conversation with Vic Gundotra.” Thanks so much to Jamie Sundsbak of Collider Coworking for this opportunity, which I will never forget.

Last week, the Rochester community was privileged to hear from Vic Gundotra and Dr. Dave Albert, senior leaders at the Mountain View, California healthtech company AliveCor. The event was organized by Collider Coworking and sponsored by Rochester Home Infusion and Mayo Clinic Ventures.

Both Gundotra and Albert are entrepreneurial leaders with extensive careers in disruptive technology. Albert, Founder of AliveCor, left academic medicine in the late 1980s to launch his first company. At that time, he already held fifty-seven patents and had sold three inventions. An expert in startup growth, Albert sold three companies before beginning AliveCor.

The journey of Gundotra, CEO and President of AliveCor, is just ever so slightly different. Gundotra, a man of Indian heritage, said his parents expected him to have one of two jobs.

“You can either be an engineer or a doctor,” he explained.

Instead, Gundotra became interested in coding during high school and figured out how to redirect the graphics buffer of his video game, the 1980s classic Lode Runner, to the LPT port of his printer.

“I had never been cool in my life until the day I went to school and my book covers had screen shots of video games. And people talked to me! It was amazing!” he reminisced.

These coding skills eventually became very useful when meeting Bill Gates during Gundotra’s time at George Washington University. Gundotra dropped out of college in the middle of his freshman year to join, as his mother called it, “that Meekrosoft company.”

Gundotra entered the tech world of Microsoft in 1991, just a few years after the company’s IPO. He says it was “Bill [Gates’] little company” at that time. “It was all driven by Bill. Startups are driven by their founders and culture is driven by their founders.”

Gundotra said people forget that Microsoft was a company under siege at that time. The business spent six years prior to the IPO pushing Windows, which was not successful then, and was going through a very public separation from IBM. Gundotra explained that IBM had more people in one building than were employed by all of Microsoft at that time, “which is how I got hired,” he explained. “Nobody wanted to work at Microsoft. The hiring standards were very low. Bill was just desperate for any engineer.”

In the early 1990s, there was no Microsoft Office. No Microsoft NT. The company essentially bet everything on Windows 3.0 in 1990, which was thankfully very successful.

“Everyone forgets those early days when Microsoft was struggling and it wasn’t clear that we were going to be successful,” said Gundotra.

Gundotra spent fifteen years at Microsoft, eventually working up to the position of General Manager, and was responsible for the overall platform and all of Windows development. He launched the very first developer’s conference, called the PDC, a precursor to today’s Worldwide Developers Council and Goggle I/O, and one of the first efforts to build a community of platform developers.

However, Gundotra famously “got sideways with Bill [Gates] because [Gundotra] believed in the internet. Bill did not believe in the internet.” Gates insisted that the internet was not a platform, but instead was a series of webpages with limited capability.

In 2007, Gundotra got courted by Google, also during the early stages of development, and left Microsoft for a business that he says was essentially just a search company at the time. While at Google, Gundotra ran Google Maps for mobile and all mobile application development. In the early stages, both his Gmail and Google Maps teams consisted of only five people.

Eventually, Gundotra became responsible for all the social efforts for Google, an attempt to stop top talent leakage to Facebook, leading the drive on projects like Google Photos and Google+. Neither product was as successful as the business hoped.

“Google does not get social. Google is the most anti-social company there is,” Gundotra admitted. Google failed to comprehend, and Facebook clearly saw, that people wanted their social networks prioritized.

“Facebook really understood what matters to people the most is other people. Like Microsoft missed the web…I think Google really missed social.”

Please check back in tomorrow for the second half of this story, where Vic Gundotra and Dr. Dave Albert speak about AliveCor and a “tsunami” they say will revolutionize healthcare as we know it.