When Apple Computer co-founders Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs collaborated on their first project together — a couple of years before Apple was created — it became clear what role each would play in their business relationship.
Both had youth on their side, and without it, that first project might not have happened. The pair was given four days to deliver to the Atari Corp. a circuit board for the game Breakout. They worked day and night and met the deadline.
Jobs showed his expertise of electronics and Wozniak demonstrated he could design a computer.
Jobs was a visionary and a dreamer who could pitch an idea while Wozniak was content to be an engineer all his life, working in a basement laboratory designing computers. It was the combination that helped launch the world of personal computers and put Apple at the top of this cultural revolution.
EO Thrive 2014 was largest region confab in North America
EO Thrive 2014, which took place in Cleveland, featured keynote speaker Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple. The event took place over a three-day period in early October, attracting more than 300 members of the Entrepreneurs’ Organization from across the globe — making it the largest EO regional conference ever in North America.
The largest membership organization in the world dedicated to peer-to-peer learning for successful entrepreneurs, EO has more than 10,000 members in more than 135 cities.
The Cleveland EO Chapter is one of the largest in North America, and was selected to host Thrive for the first time.
Over an 18-month period, Adam R. Kaufman, the 2014 chairman of Thrive, and a committee of other EO members planned the conference.
“We decided to build a theme around key questions in the life of an entrepreneur: ‘How do I sell my business?’ ‘How do I wisely buy other businesses?’ and ‘How do I raise capital?’” he says.
The theme seemed to resonate with the 320 registered attendees who represented 28 chapters, including some from as far away as Hong Kong, Perth and New Delhi.
“EO members have a thirst for learning, and they left Cleveland full of new ideas, deepened relationships, and also impressed with Northeast Ohio’s growth and hospitality,” Kaufman says.
Other speakers at the event included Eric Chen, co-founder of TinyPrints; Doug Holladay, former ambassador and Wall Street veteran; and Stewart Kohl, the Riverside Co.
“When you are falling asleep and waking up, especially in those younger days, your mind is more lucid and just goes to more places, like creativity and thinking out of the box and innovative,” Wozniak says of his energy level in those days. “Those are the times when you get really good thoughts. The trouble is you just have to be around someone or have it in yourself to know that you have the skills to build what you think of.
“You’re young, you’ve got so much intellectual energy and so much physical energy that you can work late nights.”
He later left Apple to finish his education, but it’s been reported he still receives an annual stipend from the company.
Wozniak was the keynote speaker at the recent EO Thrive Cleveland conference and shared the stage with Fred Koury, president and CEO of Smart Business Network Inc. Here are the highlights of the interview:
FK: What I would like to do is go back to the beginning, prior to you co-founding Apple Computer, and have you share with us how you got into engineering.
SW: I had one of those elementary school projects that now I look back on and say, whoa, that was the equivalent of a master’s degree at a university and I didn’t even know it. To me, they were just the most fun projects. I was kind of great in electronics, because electronics was an analog science. You had to learn difficult mathematical equations, formulas and design things with all these little parts that fit together. So I was very good at that.
I had a ham radio license in sixth grade. That was when you had to bolt together a bunch of parts. You had to bolt them together and had instructions on how to bolt them together, solder all the wires and run the little strings to tune in your receiver and transmitter. I was an early guy in analog electronics, but somehow I also discovered digital.
In high school, we didn’t have computers, but I had a great electronics teacher who said education is outside the school too. I got to go down once a week to Sylvania in Sunnyvale and program a computer. I was like, in my mind, the star of my school. Of course I was a nerd, an outsider, because I was an electronics geek. But I got to go program a real computer!
So I never had a book, I never had a class, I just had pencil and paper and tried to formulate methods to design a computer out of the smaller parts, the little chips that were available. I did it for fun. I never thought I would even have a job designing computers. I didn’t think there were such jobs.
FK: How do you keep innovation alive when you are growing a company? How do you stay ahead of the curve?
SW: In the early days of Apple, it was just so free. Almost everything we touched turned to gold. It was a new industry and there was a lot of positive press. The computer was built on parts connected to a printer — that changed the world for people forever. You could plug a printer into your computer. You had a part to plug into a modem. You could turn your computer into a terminal. These were new things, so this is what I loved to do. I would’ve done that anyway. Back then, the innovation was all really on me, I was the only engineer for a while.
We were revolutionary, we had the best product in the world, we had a real high price, but our product cost less to build than the ones with the low price. We had a company. We had investors. We had advisers. We had professionals around telling us how to establish a company — you need a president, director of operations, and here’s what he does. Investors were telling us all the people we needed and what their roles would be. At that time, Steve didn’t have an official title. You just participated in everything and learned how to run everything. But I hate politics, so I said, leave me out of running the company, just don’t kick me out.
I stayed in the laboratory. I wanted to do hardware, software for the rest of my life. I believe engineers are the best people in the world, and I wanted to be an engineer for life. I never wanted to move up the management ladder. Engineers are where brilliant ideas can become reality. There were a lot of great ideas, but they are not worth much on paper. You better have some working model; you better have an engineer who can build it.
When you design something, it has to work. It has to do the job. You have to take every precaution, because one little bug will come back to haunt you. That is what engineering is about, and you need that kind of precision when you are thinking out what kind of things do we put in a product.
FK: Is innovation something you are born with or is it something you can learn?
SW: My own thinking is that you are not born with it. I think everybody is born equally curious. Every little baby wants to learn everything about anything that starts to come into their eyes.
We are all born that way, but that doesn’t mean we’re all going to fit in a box and follow the same course. You have to take the same tests and you are called intelligent if you have the exact same answers as everyone else. But if you think differently and try to come up with answers that aren’t in the book, or if you challenge that thinking, you are called disruptive.
In schools there are 30 kids and one teacher, and you can’t have every kid doing everything randomly and independently. It doesn’t work in our system because of money. We don’t have one teacher per student. So we are trained all our lives to not be innovative.
I would do a lot of things outside of school. With my science fair projects, I discovered thinking about a problem and how to solve it. I was just lucky to be a creator, to create things on my own, and not just read about them in books.
I had no idea that in 1975 all the pieces were going to be there at the right price to make the personal computer affordable. I didn’t know that when I was learning. That wasn’t my goal. My goal was I wanted a computer of my own someday, because a computer sounded impressive.