Why Founders Should Emulate Wozniak, Not Jobs
Having just read Isaacson’s biography of Jobs, I’ve come to realize just how many misconceptions there are about his life and who he was. In an era of Steve Jobs fan boys, I think it’s important founders understand the truth and not misguidedly emulate him.
More specifically, founders should think about something: Jobs was not a great founder. The early success of Apple was more dependent on the brilliant engineering of Steve Wozniak and the industry insight of Mike Markkula. What Jobs is known for today: product vision, design aesthetic, and Reality Distortion Field, were more harmful than helpful. Jobs’s most important contribution was just general hustling. Based on this, I challenge founders to consider what skills are truly important for them to develop.
Steve Jobs played a minor role in Apple’s early success with the Apple II
The Apple I & II were built by Steve Wozniak. Wozniak was definitively one of the best computer engineers of his time. At the first personal computer trade show in Atlantic City, Jobs walked around taking a close look at all the competitors. Afterwards he concluded, Wozniak really was the best engineer in the room.
The Apple II was marketed and pushed beyond the hobbyist users by Mike Markkula, Apple’s chairman and first investor. Mike was previously a senior marketing executive at Intel where he learned the industry and met everyone in it.
Mike Scott was the CEO of Apple from 1977, when the Apple II launched, to 1981 when Apple went IPO. This is the most difficult stage of running any company, and Scott built the team and navigated the market like a seasoned pro. But who hired Scott? Markkula did.
When Steve Jobs created the breakthrough Macintosh he had immense resources & clout
Many brilliant engineers wanted to work at Apple because they idolized Wozniak, not Jobs because he wasn’t an engineer. But Wozniak had no desire to run any part of the company, he just wanted to be a mid-level engineer (he initially wanted to give plans for the Apple I away for free). Markkula also had no desire to run the company either, he was content with all the money he had made after the IPO.
Steve who was mainly given no authority up until this point, was obsessed with (proving) himself and was able to get an opportunity to lead the Macintosh team. At this time Apple had already gone IPO and Jobs was a multi-millionaire with net worth > $200M in 1981. He was famous, successful, young, & rich. He grabbed the best engineers from around the company and put them on the Macintosh team.
The Macintosh underperformed against the Apple II, essentially was a flop
Despite its breakthrough technology, the Macintosh was too slow and overpriced. It sold like crazy the first year, mainly due to the runaway success of the “1984” Super Bowl ad. But sales dropped dramatically in the second year after people actually tried the product. The Macintosh only accounted for 10% of Apple Computer’s revenue, whereas the Apple II at this time accounted for 70%.
NeXT Computers released a series of product flops
After Jobs was kicked out of Apple Computer by the board, he founded NeXT Computers. With financing from billionaire Ross Perot, Jobs poached some of Apple’s employees and released the NeXT Computer and the NeXTstation. Both products had limited adoption and Jobs spent excessively on a $100,000 logo, $650,000 computer case molds (because Jobs wanted the case to be a perfect cube), and $10,000 leather chairs for his factory that was set to produce 10,000 units a month (they ended up only selling 400 / month). In 1993 NeXT laid off 300 out of 540 employees and left the hardware business altogether to focus on software.
Jobs’s later success (as a CEO) is due to his failures
Jobs should be remembered as one of the best CEOs ever to live, but not as a great founder. He went through many failures and his vision was wrong over and over again before he started producing successful products. Founders today will not have the opportunity to learn the lessons Jobs did because they don’t have the resources and clout that Jobs had. Founders will have to do a lot with almost no resources, not spend millions of dollars trying different things before something works.
So then look at the skills that were most valuable in Apple’s early success: Wozniak’s engineering ability and Markkula’s industry knowledge. These are the true ingredients to success for today’s founders.
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