As reported yesterday, although Silverberg has spent the last two years at Microsoft in a part-time advisory position, in the seven years before that he led the company's most stunning successes of the decade: the rise of the Windows operating system and the explosion in popularity of the Internet Explorer browser.
In an email interview with CNET News.com, Silverberg spoke about his nine years at Microsoft, the circumstances of his leaving, and his future plans.
News.com: I understand your professional plans post-Microsoft are to become more involved in mentoring and funding start-ups. But you've already begun that kind of work while on paid leave from Microsoft, with your investment in Tellme Networks--why not continue that way?
Silverberg: I was a part-time employee at Microsoft, not on paid leave. I have greatly enjoyed my involvement with Tellme and want to do a bit more of that kind of thing--being an investor and mentor for a group of really bright folks at a few start-ups. I really could not do that while still a part-time employee at Microsoft, so I have decided to move on and be a part-time angel instead.
When I took my sabbatical in summer 1997, I realized all the things outside of work that I had been missing out on. Time is the one thing you cannot get back, so I decided to try to reach some kind of balance in a "serial" rather than "parallel" way.
Sources say that you embarked on your leave after Jim Allchin was given control of IE. Microsoft denies there's any truth to this. What do you say? More broadly, why are you leaving the company?
My sabbatical was...long planned. Responsibility for IE was moved to Jim in January 1998, when I had already been on leave for seven months. Jim and I are friends and have great respect for each other.
For years I put work first; now it's time to put other things first. For what it's worth, when I was offered [the opportunity] to come back earlier this year, the responsibilities were to include what's in [Microsoft's consumer and commerce group, which includes the Microsoft Network (MSN) and WebTV] now, as well as other consumer efforts, such as consumer windows and IE. But I enjoy my current life too much and don't want to give it up.
Is there a particular kind of start-up you're interested in working with?
I'll be looking for smart, motivated people, preferably in the Seattle area, with great ideas who need some capital and, most of all, experience. I believe the key to success today for start-ups is great execution, and I believe I can help them.
Would you consider taking an executive position at one of these firms, or will your role be more of VC and adviser?
I'll be an investor and adviser. I'm committed to continuing to work part time. That's not something that an operational executive can do.
What do you consider your most important accomplishments at Microsoft?
My most important accomplishments were building great teams that built great products that changed the world. I am proudest of my roles in leading the Windows effort and leading the Internet "turnaround" at Microsoft. My fondest memories are of the great teams I was lucky enough to have worked with. It's a great feeling to travel the world and see people running the software my teams and I built.
What about setbacks?
Hard to answer. I feel very good [about] how things turned out.
What's the most promising opportunity for new companies as you enter the start-up arena?
The world is changing fast, and change leads to great opportunities for new players. The big driver of change is the Internet, coupled with tremendous improvements in communications, including wireless communications. The goal is to make the Internet a fundamental part of people's everyday lives, any time, anywhere. It's an incredibly exciting time--I believe the impact of the Internet will continue to be profound.