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Apple’s “other” Steve – Wozniak on Jobs, starting a business, changing the world, and staying hungry, staying foolish.
I love my job. Some days more than others. Like on Saturday when I got a half hour interview with a business legend. The quiet genius, the “nice” half of the duo that created the world’s most valuable company, Apple Computer. Stephen Wozniak, or “Woz” as he is best known, was in Johannesburg to address a jampacked seminar organised by business coach JT Foxx. He was literally in the country for half a day, but set aside time for an interview with CNBC Africa. It was my privilege to do the honours. Some of us believe in this world you get Apple “Lifers” and the rest of humanity who just haven’t switched yet. I’m in the first camp, having gotten hooked three decades ago when the Woz-created Apple IIe changed my life. This was a long interview. So it is an investment of your time to read the entire transcript – or watch the video. But do it. There are many pearls to be harvested. Too often one meets heroes that disappoint. Woz was the opposite. His energy and passion, what the French call joie de vivre bubbles over. Even though Woz turns 64 this year, his spirit is youthful. His long-time business partner the late Steve Jobs advised in his marvellous 2005 Stanford Commencement Speech: “Stay hungry, stay foolish.” Woz has. – AH
ALEC HOGG: About 30 years ago, I scraped up enough money and took a big enough loan to buy an Apple IIe computer. Over the weekend, I caught up with Steven Wozniak, the man who actually produced and invented that computer, the co-founder of Apple. He took us through his journey with Apple and his relationship with Steve Jobs – fascinating insights. Let’s take a look.
ALEC HOGG: We’re talking today with the co-founder of Apple computer, the most valuable company in the world. Steve Wozniak or Woz rather…I think everyone calls you Woz, don’t they?
STEVE WOZNIAK: Oh yes, Woz or Steve; I don’t care. It’s really funny because everyone with the last name Wozniak – at least in the United States – winds up with the nickname Woz, so everywhere I go, I hear some other people or Woz’s around.
ALEC HOGG: And it stuck from being a young man…what was it about Homestead High where you went to school? We’re going to talk about lots of other important things, but getting into your background, Homestead High where you and Steve Jobs went to school…
STEVE WOZNIAK: As a matter of fact, seven of the first ten people responsible for Apple, went to Homestead High School, but that’s just an example that when you’re young, you tend to start things and call friends to help you. You aren’t professional enough yet to hire other people from outsiders and interviews etcetera, so Homestead was a new high school. It was in a place that had a reputation for good schooling. To this day, two of the top 25 schools in the country – public high schools – for SAT scores, are in Cupertino. Cupertino has had that reputation. It was a brand new school. I wouldn’t say it was that much different to any other school. Any other school might have had the same books and the same teacher quality. We had an incredible electronics teacher, and everybody thinks that whatever high school they went to, there were a couple of teachers that were so unbelievably incredible. This one was an electronics teacher who influenced both Steve Jobs and I, and many of the other people in the early start of Apple.
ALEC HOGG: What made him so good?
STEVE WOZNIAK: He was independent. He didn’t necessarily just follow procedure – give me a book and I’ll teach the book – he wrote his own course. He thought out what we needed and wrote every day: examples, experiments, methodology – here’s how this works – and he worked with us so closely that he got industries to contribute parts to the class. He got the school district to contribute low-cost kits, so as the students learned they would build. The first year they would build one thing, second year they built another, and by the year I got there – the third year of the school – we had a full set of test equipment. We had a better lab than the local colleges. He really taught it off the skin of his pants. He could smile. He could tell jokes. He understood people as being people – I don’t know why – and he got to us so well, we did more actual slide rule calculations in that class than you would in physics or chemistry. Yet, it was considered a vocational course, so it had many ‘lower-type’ students. Only a few of us were the high academic ones.
ALEC HOGG: You were five years older than the late Steve Jobs.
STEVE WOZNIAK: Four is closer.
ALEC HOGG: At that stage of one’s life, that’s a big gap and yet you became friends.
STEVE WOZNIAK: It turns out that as I grew up I was shy, I was an electronics geek, and I tended to pick friends who were not in my age because they were off socialising – boy/girl stuff, parties, and stuff I could not do. I was sort of an outsider, so I used to go to lower level people and impress them. I had my electronics knowledge and many of them were interested in electronics – so they were generally younger anyway – and I didn’t care about age. Steve Jobs could have been older. When I met him, we had similar interests. He was a big pusher to do things, and he spotted me as a great technologist, so we actually had endeavours that we did together over and over for five years, leading up to the start of Apple. The start of Apple was just us saying ‘let’s call ourselves a company because we’ve really been one for five years’.
ALEC HOGG: You were together for how long after that.
STEVE WOZNIAK: Well, until his death. We were never just dis-friendly or anything like that. We did go in different directions because of personal philosophies in life. I wanted to avoid big running companies. I didn’t want to turn power and wealth into more of it. I just wanted to do my engineering that I was so superb at. Steve wanted to find his way to be the head of a company, and he really didn’t find it in all that time until he left Apple. It wasn’t until he returned, that he really had the abilities to make those decisions without monitoring, without other people mentoring, counselling, or looking over him.
ALEC HOGG: Were you close enough to still spend time with his family now, post his death?
STEVE WOZNIAK: No. I don’t know. We were living in different cities. Even within the company, we hadn’t seen each other in a long time. I pick friends that are more like me, fun-loving and starting new companies. Steve was more the businessman, making the big thing out of the big company.
ALEC HOGG: Were you surprised when he came back to Apple? At that point in time, you’d already left before he returned.
STEVE WOZNIAK: I was not surprised because he had proven himself as a full-fledged company CEO with Pixar for example, and he developed a fine computer. He knew how to run a computer company, even though he hadn’t had success with it, so to Apple, he understood the bits and pieces of technology that were needed, and the foundation that the company needed. It was obvious from day one: that was one of the happiest days of my life when he came back, because I felt like the original Apple culture…everybody in the company loving where they worked and loving the company for the right reasons, was back. No, I wasn’t surprised at all. He rather took it on cautiously – like an interim CEO – and I was, like everybody, judging him for a while. Luckily, good things came out of it.
ALEC HOGG: The NeXT computer, just to digress a little, I spoke to Tim Berners-Lee in Davos and asked him ‘is it true that he would not have been able to do what he did with the Internet if it weren’t for NeXT Computer’, and he said ‘absolutely. That computer was so far ahead of anything else at the time’.
STEVE WOZNIAK: Yeah, it sounds fair to me. Actually, any UNIX machine was pretty much at that level. The Macintosh, unfortunately, was the one computer that had many difficulties doing that kind of stuff because from day one, the core of the machine had not been designed for networks. Steve didn’t understand networks. He wasn’t technical. It hadn’t been designed for multiple tasks running at the same time – all the modern languages like Linux, UNIX, and our operating system were based on. The Macintosh was the weakest of them all for many of those things. However, it was obvious that every single machine could get on and use the Internet for the purposes that Tim Berners-Lee was after, which was getting paid by DARPA in the United States to develop this web browser, a technique where people could share files from the many computers. One of the problems that Tim had, was his computer understood its programs for word processors. If you had a document that you wanted to read on a NeXT computer, it would play on a NeXT computer. It wouldn’t play on a Windows machine. It wouldn’t play on a Macintosh. He was therefore right at the centre of why we needed a method to share our written data in a way that every machine could read it.
ALEC HOGG: Woz, you’ve become very famous around the world now, not least because of the biography – Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs, which is a best-seller – but also a movie that came out with Ashton Kutcher. You are quoted as saying that the movie wasn’t really that good.
STEVE WOZNIAK: That’s right. I watched a TV show called Pirates of Silicon Valley – wow – I was excited. I was cheering. Man, that was so well-presented, and this movie just… I didn’t feel high energy or ‘wow, that’s exciting’. I didn’t feel like there were crises, resolutions, and conflicts. I didn’t even see the brilliance of Steve Jobs. I didn’t see him coming out. A couple of times they had him reading parts of our ads etcetera, and that was the best part of the movie to me, but they were very short and weak. They didn’t have him arguing with other people over why something should be a certain way. I wanted to see that brilliance. I wanted to see what we love about Steve Jobs, and even things that we hate about Steve Jobs. They downplayed a little. Some of that was in there, so I walked out feeling as though I’d had a meal, but I was still hungry. I wanted more. I missed the guts of it. It wasn’t there, but that’s just me. You don’t have to feel the same way I felt. I also felt it extended many myths about Steve Jobs being a lot more superior in the earlier days than he was. He was just a young kid.
ALEC HOGG: As you both were at that time, starting/funding up the company …tell us that story. What did you do to get it going – to get the cash together?
STEVE WOZNIAK: Firstly, we had an incredible product. This was going to be the only successful product of Apple Computer for the first ten years: It was the Apple 2 computer. I had conceived it, thought of it, I had my reasons, I wanted to affect society, and I had designed and built it, and then Steve Jobs came and saw it. He said ‘with this one we should start a company’. My engineer friends at Hewlett-Packard said this was the best product they’d ever seen, so it wasn’t just Steve Jobs. It was anybody who saw this that thought it was the best thing they’d ever seen. Mike Markel – who became our funder – took me into the Intel staff meeting. Here I am, this 25-year old shy guy at a staff meeting, typing hexadecimal data into a machine and making colours on a TV screen. It was obvious, but to seek the money…that was Steve Jobs’ role because he was always the businessman. That’s why we were such a good partnership. I had these technical abilities to see the world way ahead of everyone else, design things nobody had thought of, and violate all the rules and textbooks to get it done, and Steven always wanted to find sales. He didn’t necessarily always have social reasons. The very first Apple 1, I wanted to give so badly to a teacher and he wouldn’t go for it. He made me buy it, so I had to buy it to give it to her. I bought it from the two of us. He didn’t at first, have the social goals, but he became the voice of the company. He became the one that was in the press’ eye and that was equally important. You can’t take a great product and make it successful without good marketing, and Steve Jobs just learned. At first, he was taught by Mike Markel: the looks of a product are very important and how you present your company image is very important. He was taught the rules of marketing. Understand the clients. Build the machines exactly where they are. Your company has to follow the market. Steve would speak these words out so eloquently. He was a great speaker. I would have been way too shy. I would never have been able to explain to the world, ‘here’s why you should have computers in your home, here’s why they are good for society and good for the world; and the funny thing is we were actually wrong. They were really poor weak little machines at the beginning, but then all of a sudden miracles happened, and the miracles were programs and software that made this machine valuable…made it so worthwhile that we were going to be a huge successful business. A new category of business had been started forever. Steve and I were just a lucky, lucky partnership.
ALEC HOGG: Lucky also to be in Silicon Valley at that time?
STEVE WOZNIAK: At that time there was not so much entrepreneurship…young people thinking ‘what am I going to do to start my own company?’ Mostly they were existing companies in Silicon Valley building electronics and silicon chips. Engineers would spin off and they would start their own company doing roughly the same thing. ‘Spinoff’ was the mode of the day, but we had a capital system that understood that a lot of these just add success to this growing electronics market. The electronics market was always growing because ‘more is law’. You could absolutely – every year – have products at the same price that did more than the year before and the year before that. The rough number is every 18 months it can do twice as much, so over a lifetime that winds up being a billion times more than when we started, so of course, electronics was going to grow. Silicon Valley had critical mass. We had all the elements from the legal people that were used to the business and how to write different contracts. We had other companies around there, which you could talk to and become partners with. We didn’t have the Internet in those days, so you had to be local. It was therefore a huge advantage to be in Silicon Valley, but nowadays it’s not so true.
ALEC HOGG: Woz, we’re going to go broader in the second half of our segment, but before we leave the early days of Apple, Ron Wayne – the man who convinced you, apparently, according to legend, or according to what’s been written – to join Steve Jobs, although you weren’t too keen in the initial stages. He was the guy who had ten percent of Apple Computer and then gave it away or sold it – unluckiest man alive.
STEVE WOZNIAK: No, Steve and I were on our own. We had built and sold my projects for five years. We started this company with the Apple 1 computer. It was actually the fifth time with one of my projects that Steve was going to turn into money. The idea was not even to build the whole computer at first. You deal with what you have. We didn’t have any bank accounts. We had no money. We had no business experience. We had no rich relatives, so what we were going to do was put a few hundred dollars each in, to make a part of a computer for $20.00, and sell it for $40.00 – one part of a computer that would help other people build my computer. Steve had met Ron Wayne at Atari and kind of liked him because Ron Wayne had business experience and Steve was seeking in his life, for anyone that could train him on ways to go. Ron Wayne had been through stock deals, companies that made it and companies that failed. It turned out that he was archconservative…reading all these brochures about ‘you should have all your money in gold’, but to us young guys it sounded like brilliance. He sounded so brilliant. He really sees the world in ways other people don’t. Steve invited me over to meet him, and Steve and I both agreed to give him ten percent, because if Steve and I ever had a dispute we could trust Ron Wayne with his logical thinking, to resolve the dispute, so it wasn’t Ron Wayne’s idea. If it was Ron Wayne’s idea, I was never told that and I never read Steve’s book.
ALEC HOGG: What happened to his ten percent?
STEVE WOZNIAK: Well, what happened was after a short time – way too short a time – because he was participating, he drew great etching – the apple tree – that became the cover of our Apple 1 manual. He sat down at the typewriter and wrote a legal document asserting all the rights etcetera and all the lawyer talk that I can’t do…he just wrote it out of his head, and he was brilliant about things in so many ways. He was so versatile and so multitalented. I was shocked when Steve told me Ron decided he was going to sell out for a few hundred dollars. These were Apple 1 days. We didn’t really see the unbelievable future we were going to have with this new Apple 2, although we had the Apple 2 built before we even shipped an Apple 1. Ron Wayne had seen it. I guess he just had doubts and there were many good doubts. The big computer companies of the day doubted we’d be more than a little dinky hobbyist movement – people like to build parts and solder them together themselves – and they were right. When we came out with these computers, they really couldn’t do much to pay for themselves. They were an interesting type of electronic toy. People were hearing the word ‘computer’. It was like a new fad. ‘Wow, maybe we can get a new computer in our home’. They really didn’t do much until the spreadsheet program came along and made them more valuable than mainframes – for certain other applications.
ALEC HOGG: We’re here in Johannesburg with Steve Wozniak, the co-founder of Apple Computer. Woz, it’s been interesting going over the history, but perhaps you can bring us up to date now with what you’re doing with your life. I had a venture capitalist tell me that Silicon Valley is seeing more innovation today than ever before. Do you think that’s right, given the road that you’ve travelled?
STEVE WOZNIAK: I think that’s right. I think the whole world is seeing more innovation, just based on everywhere I go in the world I hear people talking…more and more ideas…they want to turn companies into products. Many of them are apps for Smartphones and they aren’t making a lot of money, but that’s a phase you go through in your life. I developed many things in my life that had value, but they just weren’t quite enough to be big money for a company but you hit a home run someday, and that’s the path you go on. I’ve seen a lot of that kind of innovation.
ALEC HOGG: Do people come to you. Do they ask you for advice or suggestions on inventions/innovations?
STEVE WOZNIAK: Young people do. Very often, they ask me for advice about their invention: ‘is it good, how to think of it, how they should market it, how should they start a company, and where do they go?’ I just go back. I think of my own successes and I try to go back in Apple successes that were close to me, and failures and I try to advise them as best I can and give them some little advice in life. It would surprise you how many emails I get back later in life, ‘oh my, gosh, I started a company. I did this and that. I’m so grateful to you. You really steered me in the right direction’, and I’m very grateful. It’s like a teacher having one of their children grow up and say ‘I have to thank you for what I have’ and it’s very endearing. I try to spend time with young people. I try to answer their emails. The trouble is, I’m only one person, and there are a million of them.
ALEC HOGG: You mentioned Apple…your wife – until recently – did work at Apple, so you kept close to the company, although you didn’t work there for many years.
STEVE WOZNIAK: Obviously, I will love Apple more than any company in the world – wherever. I love the products. I love using them. I love people that use Apple products, but I’m still objective enough to look at other competition and to see what they’ve done that’s good or what they’ve done that’s bad. I try to not complain about bad things. I try to only spot things…’wow, I like this. Somebody thought of something new and clever’. My wife was also an educator. She was an educator and worked for Apple education for 19 years or something like that, and education was my second goal in life. In fact, I went and taught elementary and middle school for eight years secretly – no press – because I just wanted to have an effect on young people in that way. I’m so lucky. My wife and I have similar worldviews. I recommend everybody who doesn’t know what a real marriage can be, to look at mine: similar values, similar personalities, similar goals, and similar views of the world. We love all the same things. We love doing things together. She even loves my corny jokes.
ALEC HOGG: Similar values – one of which is legendary – that you were taught by your father never to lie, and extreme honesty has been a value of yours, but perhaps not so for your partner when you started Apple.
STEVE WOZNIAK: It’s funny. I just though – in my head – my mother also said to me ‘funny, and be a comedian’, and comedian…everything they tell has to be a lie, so a joke is a lie. It is true. However, my partner said he always told the truth. It was like ‘executive style’. You can tell when a question is answered, when people want to know something and they’re being totally misled and not even told ‘sorry, we can’t tell you’. That’s more honest. I think Steve was actually fairly honest – usually. I don’t remember him… There were a few cases maybe, where people or friends would tell me ‘he promised me stock for his’ and he didn’t give it to them. I have a funny feeling that it’s just because they didn’t realise that Steve isn’t all-powerful. He works for a public company, a public company has owners, the board can only represent their owners, and to give somebody some stock that you didn’t have a written agreement for is sometimes difficult to do. It’s harder to keep your word. I was taught by my dad ‘a handshake and your own word is much more important than any legal document or signed thing’.
ALEC HOGG: Did you keep stock in Apple?
STEVE WOZNIAK: Yes, but I’m not a stock trader so basically, the only stocks I have right now – my wife and I – are Apple and Fusion-io (another company I’m with). That’s it. We don’t do all this day trading, and I have never once used Apple’s iPhone stock app to look at the price. I determined early in my life that I didn’t want to be one of these people who say ‘this is up. This is down’ every day, their whole life is stressful, and it leads to a lot of unhappiness. Why would you want to have frowns in your life? My formula is happiness = smiles – frowns. H =(S – F).
ALEC HOGG: The people who are running Apple today: do they get your vote of confidence?
STEVE WOZNIAK: They do, but it’s in a trial period. I think I’m going to wait a little bit longer. I figured that after Steve Jobs’ death, two years is probably the right timeframe to start seeing the new Apple, to see their own personalities and direction of the company. Tim Cook is largely the head, and I’m still kind of waiting. The products though, are excellent. The first thing is… Bottom line: a company like Blackberry saw the iPhone company and they saw ‘maybe this is a whole different future, but we have our sales and nothing is going to interfere with it this year, next year, or the year after that’. The trouble is, in the fourth or fifth year they started seeing the products become in disfavour and it was kind of late to start trying to get into the game of this kind of machine with a total screen and not a hard keyboard. Sometimes, you don’t necessarily see. You could hold your company in sales, and your company value very high and yet, when something falls into disfavour… You don’t want to be in that position. Apple has really made its way to the top by having top quality, maintaining it, and coming up with new outstanding products that are so different…the whole world says ‘this is the way I want to go. Even though there are similar products that do similar things, Apple did it right’. You can’t have that top new product and a whole new category of life every single year. That’s why I say wait a while. The products that are coming out were pretty much in the pipeline, even when Steve Jobs was alive, so it takes a while to really see the newcomer. When Steve joined the company, the first products that were coming out had been in the pipeline for a long time; he could only put his magical final touch on it.
ALEC HOGG: There are some young kids in Kenya in the Silicon Savannah, as we call it on our continent, watching this and saying ‘how do I become like the two Steve’s – the Jobs/Wozniak partnership?’ How would you answer that question?
STEVE WOZNIAK: Firstly, I don’t know that it’s very often in one person to do both halves. I was so intense and focused, and even when I slept and dreamed, my head was working out technical problems. I was so good at doing things better than almost anyone else in the world – tricky methods that I’d taught myself rather than learning them in books – but I had a lifetime. I had 15 years – before Apple even started – of working on project after project, and developing these kinds of skills. You do need that. You need a technical person with you. You need some clever problem-solver who thinks of things other people wouldn’t think of, in clever ways. For example, I had a bathroom in a hotel once; there’s a bathroom door to the bathroom, and there’s a door to the shower. They made one door on a pivot, so the one door was either the bathroom door or the shower door…part savings…cost savings…that was how I used to think about everything. How do you get the most out of things? Find an excellent technical person to help you think about what your company should do and what you should do in life. Firstly, get a job. Get an income. Get stability in your life. Okay, you go to work for eight hours per day. Come home. You’re young. You have the mental energy. You have the physical energy. Don’t party your life away. Work on your own little projects on the side. Spend your own time working on something you believe in. Build something that you can just show to people and they’re impressed, and that has value. You might not get any money for it yet, but if you build something next time…the next time, you build something when you’re young. You start out building a project, you build something a little better – maybe it’s a program – and it works a little better, and it catches a few more eyes. Every time you build on what you already knew, your ability to create things, happens. When you hit the home run and you have something -many people would even be willing to spend money on; we could possibly raise money for this. Many people want this’ then you’ll know it.
ALEC HOGG: Your eyes are still shining. You’ll be turning 64 this year and yet, your eyes are shining. What keeps you getting up every morning?
STEVE WOZNIAK: That’s a nice question, actually. All the young people that are excited about life and what they want to do…they want to include technology – that keeps me going. Memories of my own life, just great things I did and my reasons for it; I am so happy that I made many of the choices I made, and I’m just happy. I had the formulas to happiness in my life/spark in my eye with or without Apple. It didn’t even matter. I just had ways of living and ways of life.
ALEC HOGG: They way of life that you lead now: you travel a lot and you meet many people. Doesn’t it get a bit much – too much sometimes, for a guy who’s supposed to be shy?
STEVE WOZNIAK: Not only shy, but I also came to where I did not like travel, so much so that I did not use my passport for ten years, except for one trip to some place like South Africa. I did not use my passport for ten years and my last kid finally graduated from high school, so I’m home all alone in my big house – no wife at the time. I then started saying yes to many things. I wrote a book. I started a company with some Apple executives, I had a friend travelling the world, and it impressed me – a hacker friend, Kevin Mittnick. He would call me from Moscow or from Columbia, and I’d say ‘well, I’m kind of jealous’ and he said ‘my speech agent could probably get you speeches’. I said ‘okay, tell her she should go ahead’. All of a sudden, ever since then I’ve been flooded with lots of speaking opportunities and I’ve come to love it. If I hated it, it’s real easy to just say no, but I love meeting different kinds of people in different categories of life that are not necessarily technicians. They’re not engineers like myself, building technical companies. They might be building chairs. They might be carpenters. They might be at beauty salons. They might be jewellers. They might be insurance executives. I love getting to meet all these people in life, and I like to share my stories because I love them so much.
ALEC HOGG: Stay hungry. Stay curious.
STEVE WOZNIAK: Yes, I’m staying hungry. Well, I actually had a philosophy all my life and it went back to things teachers said in high school and college, that made me think I want to stay young. We have good minds. We have a lot of fun. We have a great life. We can think out great thoughts, and you don’t have to give that up…you don’t have to give up the exciting world, the world of new inventions, and the world of creating things – you don’t have to give that up when you become an adult. Now you have to become ‘I order things and I run things’. I didn’t want to become that kind of person. That was one of the keys to my own happiness.
ALEC HOGG: Steve Wozniak, it’s been such a privilege. Thank you for being on CNBC Africa today.
STEVE WOZNIAK: My pleasure.
ALEC HOGG: Thank you.
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