Bill Gross has always been someone who has fascinated me. As one of the leading entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley, Gross has pursued his own path – sometimes enjoying spectacular success (CitySearch) and sometimes major disappointment (eToys).
While Gross probably doesn’t get nearly enough credit for it, he’s also the guy who pretty much invented the ultra-lucrative paid-search concept with Overture – a concept that a couple of young entrepreneurs named Larry and Sergey “borrowed” as they scrambled to find a business model for some cool search technology they had developed but couldn’t quite figure out how to monetize. While Google is now worth about $175-billion, the payoff for Gross was a paltry $1.6-billion when Overture was snapped up by Yahoo in 2003.
During the dot-com boom, Gross was right in the midst of it with his Idealab incubator – a start-up/entrepreneurial machine that churned out companies like they were going out of style. When the boom went bust, everyone – including Gross – licked their wounds and waited for the next investment cycle to begin.
And while Web 2.0 has captured the imagination of millions and created a second wave of dot-com start-ups, Gross has decided to place his bets elsewhere. Rather than Web 2.0, Gross is engross in Energy 2.0, particularly solar power and clean technology. His current portfolio includes Energy Innovations (low-cost roof-top solar electricity); eSolar (grid scale arrays); Aptera Motors (an aerodynamic vehicle); and Stirling Cycles (a low-cost engine to generate electricity in your home).
Gross was all over alternative energy long before the rest of Silicon Valley caught the bug. While green is suddenly hip and politically correct, Gross was already investing and innovating. If you’re looking for an entrepreneur to show you where the best opportunities are happening, Gross is someone you definitely have to watch.
For more on Gross, check out Erick Schonfeld’s interview with him in the last issue of Business 2.0.