Ever since I started looking for jobs in college, I’ve always been intrigued by the story of how Apple and Microsoft grew into the companies that they are today. You have a few college drop-outs who aspire to change the world somehow and risk it all. The movie, Pirates of Silicon Valley demonstrated how each company found a way to plunder from the big boys. It was Apple who first plundered their GUI interface from Xerox and it was Microsoft who plundered from IBM to sign a deal that would give them distribution rights for an operating system which they did not create yet, but had purchased from Tim Paterson later at a very low cost.
Bill Gates then convinced Steve Jobs that Microsoft would be a fitting partner in the development of Apple’s GUI system. Bill Gates literally walked out the door with Apple’s products before they were released to the market. Fast forward a couple decades later and Windows is the dominant operating system, Bill Gates is the richest man in the world, and Microsoft’s market cap is well over IBM’s. Apple was left with nothing but struggle.
Steve Jobs: “What is this? This is like doing business with a praying mantis. You get seduced, and then eaten alive afterwards?”
Bill Gates: “Get real, would ya? You and I are both like guys who had this rich neighbor – Xerox – who left the door open all the time. And you go sneakin’ in to steal a TV set. Only when you get there, you realize that I got there first. I got the loot, Steve! And you’re yellin’? ‘That’s not fair. I wanted to try to steal it first.’ You’re too late.”
–Quote from Pirates of Silicon Valley
Steve Jobs was laid off, the company had no real major distribution partnerships, and there was a lot of intra-company scars left from Jobs’ megalomaniac management style. The thought of ever being as big as IBM for Apple at the time must have been nothing more than a mirage created in a desert of misguided innovation.
Steve Jobs wasn’t as privileged as many of his other entrepreneurial counterparts early on and later in life either. According to Steve Jobs’ Stanford Commencement speech in 2005, Jobs dropped out of college since the parents who had adopted him were spend all their money on his tuition and he wasn’t sure at the time what he wanted to do with his life. Shortly after that, Jobs was forced to sleep on the floor in his friends’ room, returned Coke bottles for 5 cents each to buy food, and would walk 7 miles every Sunday night to get a decent meal from the Hare Krishna temples.
Matters became worse when Jobs was diagnosed with incurable cancer and doctors told him that he would have just 3-6 months. Fortunately for him, after doctors performed further testing, it turned out that he had an extremely rare form of pancreatic cancer that could be cured by surgery.
Despite all the tumultuous occurrences that have happened to Steve Jobs and the company he started in 1976, Apple still has managed to level the playing field against companies that are already established as conglomerates. Hearing about Jobs and Apple rising to a point where they are valued as much as a company that has 330,000+ more employees is inspiring.
When Apple was nearing bankruptcy and needed to be pulled out of the trenches, Jobs put his ego aside and made sure to put the company first. Jobs learned from his lesson of acting like a dictator in the early days of Apple:
“And if we want to move forward… see Apple healthy and prospering again, we have to let go of a few things here… we have to let go of this notion that for Apple to win, Microsoft has to lose. Okay? We have to embrace the notion that for Apple to win, Apple has to do a really good job. And if others… And if others are going to help us, thats great, because we need all the help we can get. And if we screw-up and we don’t do a good job, its not somebody else’s’ fault, its our fault. So I think thats a very important perspective. I think if we want Microsoft Office on the Mac, we better treat the company that puts it out with a little of gratitude. We like their software. So the era of setting this up as a competition between Apple and Microsoft is over as far as I’m concerned. This is about getting Apple healthy and this is about Apple being able to make incredibly great contributions to the industry and to get healthy and prosper again.”
–Quote from video below of Macworld Boston 1997
This is why Apple is owed their due. The creation of the iPods, iPhones, iTunes, and iMacs is a huge accomplishment, especially coming from a company that almost did not make it due to all sorts of unfortunate circumstances. It’s been an interesting and fun journey to watch and I am still as interested as I had been years ago.
I still remember having fun by pressing the Ctrl+Alt+Apple Logo on my classmates’ computers while they were programming C++ using Code Warrior in my High School Computer Science AP class and remember hearing the combination of swearing and the Mac startup noise shortly after.