How to make a billion in tech

From basements to billions, here's how you do it

These men below are all billionaires. Want to know how to be rich? Find out about the bright ideas and innovative thinking that got them to top of the tech ladder before anyone else

Mark Zuckerberg: Facebook

Estimated personal worth: $4 billion

How it all began

After being dumped by his girlfriend, Harvard computer science student Zuckerberg proceeded to get drunk and spend the evening turning his programming talents to Facemash, a website that used hacked photos from the Harvard college database – which was called Facebook – to let fellow students rate each other as “hot” or “not”.

Bright idea

Facemash was shut down fairly quickly by Harvard, but not before gaining notoriety around campus. Student rag The Harvard Crimson picked it apart and suggested the possible benefits of having a, somewhat less judgemental, online campus community. The success of Facemash inspired Zuckerberg to build TheFacebook, enlisting the help of dorm mates Eduardo Saverin, Dustin Moskovitz and Chris Hughes. It was to be an informal place that could be used to contact other students, as well as a place for sharing photos and personal interests.

What happend next

Within 24 hours 1,500 students had signed up. That was 2004. Zuckerberg bought the domain name Facebook. com from Harvard for $200,000. That was money well spent, as Facebook has since branched out to connect people across the globe. In 2009 it connected a staggering 400 million users, banking a revenue in the region of $800 million along the way. Facebook looks set to go public which could see the company being valued at up to £100 billion, which is not bad for the friend-collecting site.

Bill Gates: Retired

Estimated personal worth: $53 billion

How it all began

While at high school Gates was a computer programming whizz, to the extent that he and friends were able to steal pricey computer time remotely by exploiting flaws in Computer Centre Corporation’s system – flaws which he was later employed to fix for a tidy fee. At school he volunteered to work on the school’s scheduling database, fixing it so that he was mainly placed in classes with female students.

Bright idea

Gates spotted a magazine article about the hobbyist micro computer the Altair 8800 in January 1975. This inspired him and long-standing friend Paul Allen to contact manufacturer MITS to say that they’d written a programming interpreter for it. They’d actually done nothing of the sort but, following interest from MITS, the two designed and sold the first BASIC programming language for a home computer. End of year sales for the 8800 reached $16,005, allowing Gates and Allen to branch out and form Microsoft in 1976.

What happend next

Heard of Microsoft? The big boom for the company came in 1980, when it formed a partnership with IBM to write both the interpreter and the QDOS operating system for the IBM PC. In 1985 Microsoft launched the Windows OS, future iterations of which dominated the computing marketplace making Bill Gates the richest man in the world from 1995 to 2009.

Steve Jobs: Apple

Estimated personal worth: $5.5 billion

How it all began

Having completed a brief stint at HP while still at high school, Jobs chose to drop out of college and landed a job at Atari. Jobs, along with friends Steve Wozniak and Ronal Wayne then established Apple in 1976 and knocked out the Apple I and II home computers with the help of a hefty $250,000 bank loan.

Bright idea

While many consider 1984’s Macintosh to be Apple’s big start in the computing world, the Apple we know today is the result of a successful reinvention at the end of the millennium after years of mediocre sales. With the help of designer Jonathan (now Jony) Ive, and an unwaveringly elitist attitude, Jobs launched the iMac and the iPod in 2001. Apple’s position as the cool, media-savvy antithesis to MS’s business-like approach was cemented.

What happend next

The iMac was popular, but the iPod was something else, achieving complete social infiltration and 260 million sales. The iPhone and now the iPad, which has already sold in excess of three million units, maintained this level of success. All along, Jobs has deftly manipulated Apple’s image, securing it a vital slot in general culture as well as tech. Microsoft’s sales of Windows 7 are beyond Apple’s wildest dreams, yet Apple remains the pre-eminent tech brand in many people’s minds.

Larry Page & Sergey Brin: Google

Estimated personal worth: $17.5 billion each

How it all began

In 1996, Google co-founders Brin and Page were studying for PhDs at Stanford University. Their joint aim: “to develop the enabling technologies for a single, integrated and universal digital library.” They were encouraged to work together on a theory Page had about the best way to calculate usage of the internet, which was then blossoming.

Bright idea

The two co-founders realised that the method used by search engines at the time – which ranked results based solely on how many times the search words appeared within a given page – was inefficient and unreliable. Their solution was PageRank – initially called BackRub. This system checked links through to sources it thought of as reputable. The more links back and forth to trustworthy pages, the higher that page would rank, which made life better for the searchers and considerably worse for the spammers.

What happend next

1998 saw PageRank leave the safety of Stanford and become Google, operating out of a mutual friend’s garage and off the back of a $100,000 public investment. A year later Brin and Page announced a $25 million round of funding. The company has since spread to include projects like Google Maps, Google Books and the Google Nexus One phone, while Google search remains the web’s most popular page.