Founder and Chairman, idealab
Amazed by the inventions of Thomas Edison and Leonardo da Vinci, Bill Gross grew up dreaming of being an inventor. He started his first company–Solar Devices–in high school during the energy crisis of 1973 with a dream of making solar energy practical on a small scale. He sold kits and plans for solar energy products mail order in the back of Popular Science and Scientific American magazines. He sold more than 10,000 copies of plans, helping him pay his way through college at the California Institute of Technology, where he graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering in 1981.
While at Caltech, Bill invented and patented a new high-performance loudspeaker design and started a company to manufacture those speakers called GNP Loudspeakers (Gross National Products). Those speakers went on to become a model for many other high-end audiophile products.
After Caltech, Bill and his brother created HAL, the natural language interface for the Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheet, which was at the time the leading software in the world. Bill’s company was acquired by Lotus, and while there he created many software products, including the award-winning Magellan for finding and searching personal information.
In 1991, Bill started a new company called Knowledge Adventure, an educational software publisher that grew to be the third largest in the world. The company created the Jumpstart series of education products, sold 20 million copies to children all over the world, and revolutionized multimedia educational software. The company was acquired by Vivendi in 1995.
In 1995, Bill founded CitySearch, the world’s first online interactive city guide. After expanding to many cities across the country, the company went public in 1998. The company added online ticketing by merging with Ticketmaster, and eventually the combined company was acquired by Barry Diller’s InterActiveCorp to create the leading local portal and transaction company.
In 1996, filled with ideas, Bill decided to start his dream laboratory—a company “incubator”—modeled after Edison’s lab. Named Idealab, the company’s mission is to challenge the status quo, to be bold, and to tackle big ideas that others would not. During its more than two decades, Idealab has started more than 150 companies, created more than 10,000 jobs, and had more than 45 successful IPOs and acquisitions.
Among the transformative changes that Bill has wrought is the invention of the business model that powers most of the monetization of the internet. Bill invented the “paid click”, or CPC (cost-per-click) model with the company GoTo/Overture, which he founded in 1998. After a successful IPO and becoming the global market leader in paid search, the company was acquired by Yahoo in 2003. Today, Bill’s pioneering idea is used by millions of websites around the world and remains one of his most significantly impactful inventions.
Bill’s newest efforts in renewable energy include Energy Vault, a company that has developed a breakthrough in low-cost energy storage, and Heliogen, a company whose singular technology will meaningfully contribute to the world’s efforts to minimize reliance on fossil fuels. Bill is the CEO and Founder of Heliogen.
In addition to serving as Idealab’s board chairman, Bill is also a member of the Board of Trustees of the California Institute of Technology and of ArtCenter College of Design.