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Prue and Apple Co Founder Steve Wozniak

Apple Co Founder Steve Wozniak meets…me!

I spent two brilliant days at the ICC in Birmingham last Sunday and Monday for the Entrepreneur’s Circle National Convention. The keynote speaker on the Sunday morning was the amazing Steve Wozniak who co-founded Apple with Steve Jobs. We were extremely privileged to be able to hear him speak to all of us for an hour or so (followed by a Q & A) as it has been some years since he has visited the UK.

Apple is a huge success story and much of this is based on Steve Wozniak, not just Steve Jobs. Despite the current issues surrounding the iPhone 6, we can therefore all learn a lot from their success story so here’s a brief run-down of what he said based on the copious notes I made:

Geek can be Good!

At school, Steve Wozniak was the archetypal ‘geek’. He always wanted to be the one to do things first (whatever it happened to be) which sometimes involved getting into a few scrapes with his teachers. His mistrust of authority arose from being ‘told off’ for challenging what was being taught and for the odd school prank where others were responsible (that’s not to say that he wasn’t responsible for some of them though, as we’ll hear later!)

Having an end goal is motivating

“Knowledge isn’t as important as motivation”. Steve Wozniak’s motivation wasn’t money – when he did small electronics jobs (at school), he and his friends did not want to be paid in cash; instead, all they wanted to do was root through all the old mayonnaise jars in someone’s garage looking for useful electronic components. It was a passion!

He has always had a passion and fascination for numbers and even now, he can’t resist looking at the number of his hotel room e.g. Room 1625 – and saying to himself “well, 4 is the square root of 16 and 5 is the square root of 25 “etc.

“There were no books to learn how to build a computer”, Steve said, so he competed with himself to build one using simple pen and paper. He learnt by coming up with tricks in his head to reduce the volume of parts he would need to use in a computer. “To solve problems, you need an intuitive brain – not a powerful computer”.

Steve Wozniak the Joker

Steve didn’t tell his school friends about all the practical jokes he did – “if you tell others, you might get caught!” He explained how he had once developed a device to make free phone calls and on one occasion managed to get through to the Pope at the Vatican to say “I have a confession to make…”

On another occasion, he built a transistor jammer to make the TV go fuzzy. As soon as someone hit the TV, he would bring back the crystal clear screen again… for a minute or so… and then would jam it again. It wasn’t long before some poor person was instructed to stand by the television throughout the whole evening to hit the TV every few minutes or so. But then Steve went further – soon the TV fuzziness couldn’t be cleared unless someone was standing on a chair with one leg in the air. He followed this by making people arrange themselves in all sorts of other contorted and ridiculous positions to see how far he could go with his prank!

Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs set up Apple

Steve Wozniak was working for HP when he asked them if he could focus on developing the first personal computer. On five occasions, they turned him down – who knows what would have happened had they accepted! He had already met Steve Jobs by this time and it was Steve Jobs who said “well, why don’t we set up our own company?” To get started, they had to sell what they could to raise money and they subsequently managed to purchase the components to build their computer on 30 days credit – soon the Apple 1 was born.

Steve Wozniak was always the engineer and he was also the ‘shy and retiring’ one. Later on as the business expanded, Steve recounted a tale of how Steve Jobs, a marketing guy and another senior person were all due to go to Las Vegas to do a presentation. Steve Wozniak really wanted to go too, but was too shy to ask. He thought to himself, “well, if I can design a disk drive in 2 weeks, they’ll have to take me too!” He may not have had the sales clout of Steve Jobs but as an engineer, Steve Wozniak he felt that no-one else could beat him on that, so he went!

A few business tips from Steve Wozniak

  • Get a business angel and they’ll tell you who the best people are to hire.
  • Be nice and be kind – be nice to your customers and your employees. Your employees are your family and if they are upset, or not up to the job, don’t chuck them out – they can be put to good use elsewhere.
  • Management decisions should always flow down to those at the bottom – it will make them feel good. Put trust in your employees.
  • Anyone in the business should be able to talk to anyone else in the business.
  • Always be willing to move out of your comfort zone.
  • Don’t come out with a new product that totally kills the first one (keep the money coming in from the first product too).

A few final comments…

  • iPod was so successful because they made iTunes available to Windows as well as Mac
  • SIRI is Steve’s favourite App
  • A ‘poor user interface’ is Steve’s pet hate
  • Whenever a new iPhone comes out, he camps out like everyone else to get one (when he’s got it, he travels off in his limousine to the next appointment!)
  • He never uses the same speech twice

Finally, a couple of Steve Wozniak formulas:

H = S – F
(Happiness = Smiles – Frowns)

H = F3
(Happiness = Food, Fun, Friends)

Thank you Steve Wozniak for such a warm, entertaining, thought provoking and inspiring talk.

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