Chapter and Lesson #6

Winning is habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.  

Vince Lombardi


My next move at Microsoft happened fairly soon after I joined the Windows Team, by this time I had delivered some cost-saving measures for Product Support issues, and I had also got some experience working on Windows as a Product Manager handling the details of delivering the retail box of Windows for resellers.  It was 1996 and the Internet “Browser Wars” were starting to really heat up.   With new urgency around winning on the Internet, Microsoft Executives decided to carve off a team of people to focus solely on battling with Netscape and their market dominant browser Netscape Navigator.    I was offered a choice to stay with the Windows Marketing team or move to the new team that would be focused on marketing Internet Explorer.

There was no specific job that was set out, they were going to figure that stuff out later.  So I had a choice to join this new “Internet” thing, or stay with Windows and keep working on the “old thing”.   This was an easy choice for me.  It was obvious the Internet was going to change everything, and while I had been young and dumb in the past, not seeing the future and the opportunities ahead.  This time it was so blatantly obvious how big this was going to be, I jumped at the chance to join the Internet Explorer (IE)  Marketing team.  The guy heading up the IE team was a young up and coming executive named Yusuf Mehdi.   Yusuf was extremely charismatic, smart and charming, with incredibly strong marketing instincts, killer intellect and deft PR and public speaking skills.  He had made a name for himself with the Windows 95 launch, and he was set up to lead the Internet Explorer marketing effort under the tutelage of Windows Marketing Vice President Brad Chase.  Yusuf had a hot job, and was recruiting some of the best marketing people from across the company, he was set up for great success.   

A lot has been written about the browser wars, and I won’t bother trying to cover that in any detail here.  The browser wars are well documented because of the antitrust case they eventually brought against Microsoft in May of 1998.  Amongst the many charges against the company the DOJ claimed.

  • In May 1995, Microsoft executives attempted to persuade an internet browser software competitor–Netscape Communications Corporation–not to compete with Microsoft and to divide the browser market, with Microsoft becoming the sole supplier of browsers for use with Windows 95 operating systems and with Netscape becoming the sole supplier of browsers for non-Windows 95 operating systems. Netscape refused to participate.
  • Microsoft unlawfully required PC manufacturers to agree to license and install its browser, Internet Explorer, as a condition of obtaining licenses for the Windows 95 operating system.
  • Microsoft now intends to tie unlawfully its IE Internet browser software to its new Windows 98 operating system, the successor to Windows 95.
  • Microsoft continues to misuse its Windows operating system monopoly by requiring personal computer manufacturers to agree, as a condition of acquiring a license to the Windows operating system, to adopt a uniform “boot-up” or “first screen” sequence specified by Microsoft. This sequence determines the screens that every user sees upon turning on a Windows PC. Microsoft’s exclusionary restrictions forbid, among other things, any changes by an OEM that would remove from the PC Microsoft’s Internet Explorer software or that would add to the PC a competing browser in any more prominent or visible way than the way Microsoft requires Internet Explorer to be presented.

Some of the claims were accurate, some were not.  And for the purposes of this book, they don’t really matter now.

What was important was that Microsoft had a strong preference for winning.  They were aggressive, they hired what they believed were “A Players”, they had a culture of winning.   It was sort of just assumed, that if Microsoft was going to go after something with all of its power and will, they likely would win.  This was all prior to the DOJ case and settlement.  Things were very different in those early days.

My personal experience was one of great learning, fast pace working, and a feeling of teamwork and comradery I would never again experience at Microsoft.  Because we had a small team, I was fortunate to wear many different hats and do many different types of Marketing and Product Management jobs in a short period of time.  Nothing beats the feeling of winning a big battle and doing it with a team of people who work well together, who you genuinely enjoy working with.   Yusuf and Brad were both great leaders of that team and effort, and they had a great set of people they pulled together from across the company and industry to decisively win.

It was tons of fun- the most I ever had while working anywhere.   If you are competitive, being on a winning team is super important.  There’s a reason that great athletes late in their career only want to play on teams that have a shot at winning a championship.  After they get all the money, fame and respect of being a great player, they realize, nothing compares to winning.   

Learning Lesson #6  It is better to Play Backup on Winning Team than be a Starter on a Loser.   I think this holds in business and beyond the business world.   I would rather be a group manager at Facebook than an Executive VP at MySpace.  I would rather have the 3rd spot at Wide Receiver on the Super Bowl team than the 1st spot a team that didn’t make the playoffs.   Winning is fun!  Losing sucks.  In business losing is fatal.  And when working in technology it is a horrible and thankless spot to be in.

I spent time on several winning and dominant teams and a few real losers at Microsoft.  Windows, Windows Server, IE, those were great times.   MSN, and a lot of my time on Bing, well, those were often very tough times and not nearly as fun.

If you know you are on a loser, try and find a way to get traded, or move to a winner as fast as you can.  Sitting on a sinking ship is thankless, and no matter how much your boss, your co-workers, or your employees seem to need and want you to stay on.   DON’T DO IT!   Play for a winner, even if it means stepping to a lower level position to get on with a winner.   I can’t tell you how many people I knew who left their loser group at Microsoft to go to an obvious new leader – be it inside or outside of the company – and made great things happen.

Staying too long on a losing battle is normally a case of you getting caught up in your own ego – thinking you can turn it around, or you feeling like you are more important or capable than you really are.   Just like the stocks you may own where it is almost always better to kill your losers and keep your winners.  You should do the same with jobs if you know you are on a losing team get out.  It is a simple strategy, but hard to follow.  I followed the strategy reasonably well, but I wish I had done it even better.