Steve Wozniak: The Wonderful Wizard of Woz
Welcome to Remarkable People.
This episode’s guest is Steve Wozniak, more commonly and intimately known as simply “Woz.”
He is the co-founder of Apple, prankster, iconoclast, concert producer, Dancing with the Stars contestant, and college graduate.
True or false? Woz is still an Apple employee. Keep listening, and you’ll find out.
IMHO, he is one of the purest examples of the profession of engineering. No matter how you cut it, no Woz, no Apple.
If you, or someone you like, is a tech entrepreneur, listening to this episode is a must.
I’m Guy Kawasaki, and this is Remarkable People. Now here’s the wizard of Woz.
What did you learn from this episode of Remarkable People?
Use the #remarkablepeople hashtag to join the conversation!
Why is Woz a pirate? In January 1983, “Steve Jobs gathered a group of Apple employees at an off-site retreat in Carmel, California. The group was in the midst of developing the Mac, the company’s hugely ambitious personal computer—and some employees felt the project was losing its scrappy spirit. And so Jobs offered a maxim meant to motivate the developers: “It’s better to be a pirate than join the navy.”
This wasn’t about treasure maps and eyepatches. “Being a pirate meant moving fast, unencumbered by bureaucracy and politics,” software engineer Andy Hertzfeld, an original member of the Macintosh team. “It meant being audacious and courageous, willing to take considerable risks for greater rewards.”
The pirate metaphor also involved a certain willingness to plunder. “Steve also never minded occasionally stealing good ideas from others, like the Picasso quote—’good artists copy, great artists steal,’” Hertzfeld adds.
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FULL TRANSCRIPT of Guy Kawasaki’s Remarkable People Podcast with guest Steve Wozniak
Guy Kawasaki: This episode’s guest is Steve Wozniak, more commonly and intimately known as simply, Woz. He is the co-founder of Apple, a prankster, iconoclast, concert producer, Dancing with the Stars contestant, and college graduate.
True or false, Woz is still an Apple employee? Keep listening, and you’ll find out. In my humble opinion, he is the purest example of the profession of engineering. No matter how you cut it. No Woz, no Apple.
If you or someone you like is a tech entrepreneur, listening to this episode is a must. I’m Guy Kawasaki, and this is Remarkable People. Now, here’s the Wizard of Woz.
Guy Kawasaki: I want to know how that first conversation went with Steve when you decided to start Apple.
Steve Wozniak: Trouble is there were two different conversations because there were two different starts of Apple, and the very first start was for just a little partnership, and the second was the corporation. The corporation started with a great product that was going to carry the company for ten years and really helped start the company. The first one was a little product that was hastily put together and never even designed to be a computer. It was the Apple I in the end, and we knew before we ever delivered Apple I, we had the Apple II, and we knew we had the product that would make a company.
Steve Wozniak: So the Apple I was almost incidental. But before that, when we first had the discussion, I had developed this computer. I had a terminal to get on the ARPANET because I love the newest things going on, and I found out there was this phone number that you could reach about five different computers in the United States, log in as a guest. They were out in Boston, and Utah, and UCLA, and places like that. You could log in as a guest, read files, run programs. So I built my own just from scratch, just how to put things on a TV set from game experience.
Steve Wozniak: And then I went to the Homebrew Computer Club. Steve did not go to the Homebrew Computer Club ever. He didn’t even know that I was going really. He was up in Oregon, and I went there, and I got really inspired, and I saw the first night that these 8-bit processors had finally gone up to the level I could build the sort of computer I wanted my whole life, one that I could type in programs and really solve things.
Steve Wozniak: So I built the computer. I passed out my designs for free to everyone at the club, no copyright or anything. I helped some people in the club build their own versions of it, and Steve still didn’t know it existed. So he came into town, and there’s a movie with Ashton Kutcher that shows Steve dragging me from a basement down to some club. I bet every day since the club started, he’d never been there. I was the one who brought Steve down to see the excitement and feel what we were all talking about, and he got to see my computer too for the first time, see it there.
Steve Wozniak: And then he approached me after the meeting. He saw there was a lot of interest in people looking over my shoulder, and one little board, the size of a piece of paper with chips on it, was doing the whole thing that any 4K computer programming language could do. He saw the excitement, and he said we should start a company because he’d been turning some of my stuff into money for both of us for five years.
And he said, let’s start a company. There was not a computer company. His idea was what he knew. He’d sold surplus electronic parts.
Steve Wozniak: He knew how to buy switches and capacitors and transistors and sell them and even some little low-level chips. Chips [inaudible 00:03:43] in those days and sell them for a big huge… He knew it was a good deal. So he wanted to make a PC board. See, I’d already passed out my design. People were building my computer already. He wanted to start out and just make a PC board. It would cost us 20 bucks a board to build, he estimated, and we’d sell them for 40 bucks. Neither one of us could really come up with a good argument that we’d make money, but he said, “Well, at least for once in our life, we’d have a company.
Steve Wozniak: One thing he wanted was to somehow be important in the world, but he didn’t have the academic background or really business background, but he had at least me. And so he said, “Let’s start a company.”
And my gosh, I froze at that point because when I start a company buying Hewlett Packard’s back, when I was determined and told everyone in my life I would be a Hewlett Packard engineer forever. My loyalty to that company was extreme on even for this product that really didn’t seem like a company, a business. I was going to make a lot of money. I said, “Oh, I got to make sure that Hewlett Packard is okay with it. They’ve got to turn it down.
Steve Wozniak: And I approached it, implored them to build it. So they turned me down for the first of five times. And then when the owner of the local store called the Byte Shop, there was Paul Terrell. He believed there was going to be a market for home computers, and he contacted Steve and said he wanted to buy a bunch, but they’ve got to be more ready-made, like a hi-fi. You pull it out of a box and use it.
And so Steve did all the business deals with him and called me up and said he got a $50,000 order, back when my engineering salary at Hewlett Packard designing the hottest product at the time, the handheld scientific calculators was only $25,000.
Steve Wozniak: He had a $50,000 order, and I was shocked. This is big time. We have no bank accounts. We have no savings accounts. We have no rich relatives. So it’s scary like that’s a big risk. You’re going way beyond what you have.
And he said, “We’d have to come up with maybe 1,000 bucks,” between us to put together 108 boards, and I sold my most valuable possession. He sold something valuable, but then he went past when he first brought up the subject. He really was just inspired by all these people looking at it that there might be something in this just as you’ve seen with other things I’ve developed.
Steve Wozniak: I don’t think he understood to see how makes shift this little computer thing was that it was [inaudible 00:06:10] something that he could call a computer far away into being a computer on its own. I don’t think he knew that it wasn’t designed from the ground up as a computer because he didn’t really know the insides of a computer and all that.
But anyway, it was a really, really good… I wouldn’t… If somebody else came up to me and said, “Hey, you want to start a company, I would’ve said, “No, no. I just do all this little business stuff on the side for projects with Steve.”
Steve Wozniak: My loyalty to him as a friend, he’s the only one I’ve never sold some of my technical designs through because I was way too shy to talk to normal people.
But Steve, at least, would talk to me and understand me. We were friends, so that was beneficial, and that came in more into play, of course, with the Apple II computer. That was the one… With the Apple I, we started the company, and Steve got a few friends that he met that had skills and analog engineer. This one guy who had been in company startups before, we gave him 10% so… No, Steve had 45%, I have 45%, and Ron Wayne had 10%, and he would be the adult who could settle any disputes. It sounded good to me.
Steve Wozniak: And looking back, I didn’t know anything about the world and people. I was so naive, and he was just one of these, what you call libertarians today, reading all the libertarian journals of the time, None Dare Call It Treason was a big one, he’d referred to.
But it makes him sound like I have experienced and I have knowledge and I can… Really, you need that when you’re starting something. The second start was the one you really read about where we had this Apple II computer, and we kept it quiet, kind of quiet.
Steve Wozniak: I did show it off at the club at least one time, running game written in a color arcade game. See, this computer was not just a computer; this thing that was the Apple II going to become the Apple II that was not just a great computer, which is what people acknowledge. It was the first time ever that arcade games, a new industry being pioneered by companies like Atari was the first time arcade games would be color. It was the first time arcade games would be software.
Steve Wozniak: A nine-year-old could write a good game with colors moving on a screen in one day rather than a skilled engineer hooking up thousands of wires to a hundred chips over six months to get a prototype done.
This was a huge step for gaming, and gaming was the key to the whole market. So we had a great computer. We knew it. Other people commented on it. Even friends at Hewlett Packard. Although Hewlett Packard turned me down five times, friends at Hewlett Packard said it was the greatest product they’d ever seen, and Steve started looking for the big money because he knew we had something good, and he finally found the angel.
Steve Wozniak: He took a lot of good paths, and I’m sort of thankful. Right now, I’m saying, “Thank heavens, they didn’t buy in the offers that we were making to them.”
Because we really wound up doing the whole thing. And we were young. You start a company, you have a big company, it lasts forever. But you don’t get acquired, bought out and merged into other things.
No, you start a good company, or you’ve got one of those electronic companies that’s out on the street. They all just started, and they live forever. We had a computer we knew we could sell a thousand of these easy right away.
Steve Wozniak: $250,000 when you have absolutely no checking accounts, no money, nothing like that, and that’s where we both were, and Mike Markkula was willing to put it in. Mike felt we were going to be a $500 million company in five years, and I just sort of said, “Well, if you’ve had success in your life,” which he had, “you’re allowed to talk big numbers.”
But it wasn’t really until we showed off the computer and Mike put his arm around my shoulder and said, “This thing is actually going to go. We are going to be… Some people say things so assuredly from their own background and knowledge, and he had the background that Steve and I didn’t have. We were young, young 20s. Like I said, no experience. So Mike was really an important part of this company.
Guy Kawasaki: Did this naivete and this lack of capital with hindsight, were they good? I mean, aren’t you glad you had that attitude?
Steve Wozniak: It not about accomplishment. It was not about success. It was not about money, ever. I had told everyone I knew I was going to be an engineer at Hewlett Packard for life because I loved it, and I didn’t want to ever be corrupted by big money.
I read too many stories that were not the person I wanted to wind up being. It could be you read stories about big politicians maybe. I don’t want to ever be that person. And I’d already decided that.
So I had been developing a lot of things, developing incredible skills at using very few of the parts of the day, the building at blocks of the day. I call it the lumber of computers called chips. Very skilled at using fewer than anybody in thinking out strange solutions and always sharing parts.
Steve Wozniak: So to me, that was… I always did that because I couldn’t afford more, but when I worked at Hewlett Packard, I could at least get a few chips, but nothing else. I had to design things small, so I could afford the parts I had to buy.
So not having money was sort of an incentive. You’ve got to design things yourself because you can’t go out and buy stuff like some people can. Some people, the head of digital equipment corporation, could just put out all the money in the world to have his own little personal set up on one of their computers acting like a personal computer, but it costs $1 million.
Steve Wozniak: So I wanted things all for normal people. My whole life was about building appliances for the home. I decided that when I was very, very young, and my father told me that engineers build things like dishwashers, and before dishwashers, we had to do it all by hand before washing the things. We had to do it all by hand, and I thought, “Oh my gosh, making life nice at home was going to be my purpose in life.”
Just building things good in the home. I don’t care about the corporate market, and big, and the industrial, and financial, and all that. I didn’t ever want to get close to it.
Steve Wozniak: So, lack of capital was something that I always credited with making me such an extreme engineer in a certain sense, which was the right sense to develop personal computers.
But I also credited one other thing. I had somehow, through all my experience, I had gotten so good at thinking so deeply into problems. You give me something you want you want to be built, and I have never been [inaudible 00:12:51] before that it needs. I would go back and study all the diagrams and the timing diagrams, the voltage diagrams of all the parts and figure out a way to do things that I had never done before.
Steve Wozniak: For example, I had never used a microprocessor before the Apple I, but okay, study it, study it, see how it works into a circuit. That was my forte, something I was very good at of dynamic memories. Everybody else was trying to build little affordable computers based on the Intel datasheet. Here’s how you hook a microprocessor to memory, to a couple of switches and a bus.
Wait a minute, the only thing that they could show on their datasheets, that’s very, very expensive is static memory.
Steve Wozniak: And there in the summer of 1975, three companies introduced the 4K dynamic for the first time that real chips memory were less expensive than… It’s very complicated for any individual who never really consider making core-based memories. So this was a huge step.
Well, things are harder to design. Intel can’t show them on the datasheet because you have to have ways to get addresses in so that every single address on the chip gets accessed every 2,000th of a second.
Steve Wozniak: This is a whole separate job that almost all of these little starting people that wanted their own computers, kind of little hobbyists and all that, they couldn’t really design that stuff.
My gosh, for me it was so trivial. For one thing, I’m starting with how do I get all these addresses? I need a counter that counts up and down addresses constantly. I already had horizontal and video accounts for the video. So I just shared those accounts, and it was really easy for me to come up with the formula that made a real affordable, complete computer.
Steve Wozniak: It had to have 4K memory, and here’s why. A programming language where even a young kid could sit down and start typing in some commands in a simple language to solve problems.
To run a programming language you needed a 4K computer. That was where the number came from. And so here I was at the computer club showing off [inaudible 00:14:57] on one board with the chips, and it was the size of a piece of paper.
It connects to a TV, connects to a keyboard, and does the whole job. I know it was rather shocking for the people in the club who saw it and that was before we thought there was really going to be some big money here maybe.
Guy Kawasaki: Okay. I understand that role of yours. Now was Steve, similar to you or complimenting you? He was about selling and money.
Steve Wozniak: No, no, no. Steve was very complimentary and not similar because I had a lot of values about kind of disdaining money even and not wanting to do that. Also, I had the computer skills, engineering skills, and Steve had electronics knowledge to a decent level. He could understand us, but he couldn’t really design things.
Now, Steve wanted to be important, and he had zero money. I had a job as an engineer. So anything we did, I give it all to Steve if he wanted it. He was my friend.
Steve Wozniak: So he had zero money. So he was always looking for little ways to make the next step in money. But he wanted to be that important person in life.
And this was his big chance because now he was founder of a company. That’s a title. Founder of a company with big money being put in.
And he didn’t really have any executive skills. He didn’t really have a title that he could merit. I was easy, vice president of engineering. That was trivial. Steve didn’t really have one for a while. Mike Markkutan was sat down and told us, “Here are the people you hire to have a technical company. Here are the various categories, and here’s what their responsibilities are, and here’s how you interview them.”
Steve Wozniak: He kind of taught us a lot of business, and he taught marketing principles, which were so important to him. And Steve not being technical, hung on to the marketing principles because you can understand things like it’s important when you take a picture, to have it not look sloppy, and that sort of stuff. And Steve had always been a little more kind of favor in the arts because he wasn’t technical.
Steve Wozniak: How do things look to the eye, that kind of beauty. So that was the role that he took on, and he did an excellent job. He basically was marketing… Well, first of all, turning my design, the Apple II computer into a product and second, marketing it and talking to the press and the world that, “Here’s the reason you need to do it.”
Those two skills are critical. We’re talking three skills that any startup really has to have business orientation and that can from Steve, and then marketing. And Mike Markkula started it with the Apple II computer, which was really all of our income for the first ten years at Apple.
Steve Wozniak: The marketing was, I built the computer I wanted. That I couldn’t see anything in the world that came close to. I built it for myself. When you build something for yourself, it’s the best marketing.
But then from that point on you have to have the sort of marketing that goes along with sales and maybe thinking out new products, and Steve Jobs was very much instrumental in that. Although Mike Markkula was the teacher about marketing principles. Steve picked it up because that was going to be one of his strong points in the company. Not engineering. And then I did the engineering.
Steve Wozniak: So we had business marketing, engineering.
We kind of split it up except I deliberately stayed the furthest from the marketing because, to me it was kind of political, and I was going to be a non-political person, never vote. This is just something I’ve actually stayed true to this day because I don’t want to get into all this vying against other people competing, backstabbing, pushing, trying to get a better opportunity in the company.
No, I wasn’t going to be like that. So I didn’t want to go near the business, and I just got put off in a different corner and never really heard the business discussions except at board meetings and staff meetings.
Guy Kawasaki: When you say that Steve wanted to be somebody, do you mean that in a negative way, inferiority complex, or this was a positive thing that inspired him?
Steve Wozniak: No, from the day we met, he was talking about important people like Shakespeare that have really changed humanity forever. Steps forward not steps backwards. Because he talked about those people all the time, he wanted to be one of them, and he felt he had it.
He had the motivation and sometimes motivation, wanting something is a lot more important than having the real skill. So he was good.
So Steve was really just trying to be, “I want to do some good for the world, and I’ve got to find the path there.” And probably the biggest thing he had was me. But then again, we had [inaudible 00:19:35]. We started Apple with the big money.
Steve Wozniak: Mike Markkula, our investor told me on the phone that I had to leave Hewlett Packard, and I said, “Wait a minute. Well, I don’t have to leave Hewlett Packard. I’ve developed two computers in the last year moonlighting, and I wrote a programming language. I’d built mass storage on cassette tapes and all this stuff. I did it all just on the side.
I can keep my job at Hewlett Packard in the daytime because that’s my job forever, and I’ll do Apple on the side.” And he said no.
So Mike Markkula wanted me, said I had to quit Hewlett Packard, and I said, “No. Look in the last year moonlighting just on the side, keeping my job at Hewlett Packard. I developed two computers, and I had things signed off by Hewlett Packard vice-presidents is two. We owned it.
Steve Wozniak: I developed two computers and an operating system. A language I wrote, basic. Mass storage on cassette tapes and lots of other things. And I’ve done all this on the side, the Apple II computer with color and everything, and I can just keep doing that.
And Mike Markkula said, “No, you’ve got to decide on Tuesday.” So I drove up to his cabana, and Steve was there, and I said that I had gone inside myself searching for answers in my own soul and that I came up with, “No, I would not take the big money. I would not do Apple.”
I owned Apple II computer. It was all mine. And I said, “No, I’m not going to do it because I want to be an engineer for life at Hewlett Packard, and I love designing computers, but I don’t need a company, a new company of my own to do it.”
Steve Wozniak: And Mike kind of said, “Okay,” and Steve went into a kind of a frenzy and started calling everybody that I knew and asking them to call me. My relatives called me. And finally, one friend called me, and he said the right thing. He said, “You could start this company, and you could just start it and be an engineer forever. Just stay an engineer, and just use it to make money off it.”
And the fact that it was okay to start a company and not have to run it was what I was scared of. If I tried to run a company, I’d be kicked out and overrun by others.
Steve Wozniak: And so I changed my mind. Right there, when I got that phone call at Hewlett-Packard one day, I picked up the phone, called Steve Jobs and said, “I am going to leave,” and probably left that very day.
Guy Kawasaki: Oh my God, I had never heard that story. That is a story. And the whole universe…
Steve Wozniak: It was actually Allen Baum. Allen Baum called me, and what he said specifically was, “Look, you could be an engineer, start a company and become a manager and get rich, or you could be an engineer, start a company and just stay an engineer and get rich.” And that was really what one other person is saying in it, made me feel that now I can say it.
Guy Kawasaki: Wow. Are you still an Apple employee?
Steve Wozniak: I’m still an Apple employee. The only person who’s received the paycheck every week since we started the company. I get a small paycheck and out of it after whatever goes into… Whatever the funds that companies have for saving your money. I mean, I don’t even know. I’m so non-financial. I’ve never read financial papers. I’ve never invested in the stock. I’ve never used Apple stock app. I just stay away from finances. But it’s whatever companies have to do. After all, that’s paid. I think I get $50 a week or something into my bank account after taxes.
Steve Wozniak: So it’s small. It’s small. But it’s out of loyalty because what could I do that’s more important in my life, even to me.
And nobody’s going to fire me. And I really do have strong feelings always for Apple. The thing is, I can’t really be inside operations because I’m just too outspoken and honest, and I don’t want to give that up.
Guy Kawasaki: Do you think Apple should or could tap you more?
Steve Wozniak: I think that Apple could tap me more, but only in some very easy to do high-level areas. Why don’t you look at these choices? Which one do you think is better and why or where do you think we ought to take it? The high-level stuff is kind of easy to do.
You’re not really the inventor, you’re not the engineer. To me, my life was about being an engineering work. I don’t do that anymore. I haven’t programmed in a long time, just like Linux’s Turbolinux.
Guy Kawasaki: Yeah, Turbo.
Steve Wozniak: I can’t be that engineer that I loved that I wanted to be my whole life is it takes your full-time concentration work, nothing else. And I have family now and everything, so all I could do is kind of one of these little high-level jobs, but I don’t rate them as high in my opinion as the real engineering.
We’re going to make this computer for real. Steve’s going to finish up the productizing of it. I’ve finished up the important parts, all the code that makes it run. So we’ve got these… We were the first users of the 2K byte ROMs, and in the room, I had extra space on the… It wasn’t used. I’d finished up everything the Apple II needed.
Steve Wozniak: Oh my gosh, I started writing more code, more code, little things. I wrote a little emulator called Sweet16 that saved the code on occasions. And that’s what I was doing.
Steve was working on getting a case. He’d met a guy who makes motorcycle seats with a press, kind of a press. They put this foam stuff in, press it and heat it, and you get a motorcycle seat. I haven’t had one, made one eventually, but this guy could make these little cases for us and that was a disaster.
Steve Wozniak: They weren’t real plastic and they almost put us out of business and thank God we’ve managed to get on the ball and get real plastic made. We had to introduce the computer. We had to have advertising, talking to press. That was all Steve Jobs’ role.
And his personality changed. The day that he was founder of a company with big money. This was his key to being an important person, and his personality changed. No more of this.
All the fun, all the Bob Dylan albums, and the liner notes and the lyrics and all that. Because he didn’t have albums, he was only 16 years old.
Steve Wozniak: Steve was now one of the founders of a company with big money. This was the key to his stepping into being someone important in life, and your personality settles between 18 and 23 years old, and then it stays that way forever. That’s who you are.
And he’d been just a fun guy, go running off to concerts with me and chasing concert paraphernalia, driving around, playing pranks, doing the blue boxes and all that. We had a lot of fun time. He’s all of a sudden disdained that. He didn’t want to talk about jokes, fun, kid things, only business suit on the front of magazines, talking business talk and learning how to speak it, and becoming sort of a different presence to the world.
Steve Wozniak: So that’s when his personality changed, and he got kind of strict and he wanted to make sure the world got a message that all the computer thinking came from him, from his head, and his thinking.
And one of the things he tried to do was introduce other computers that he was in charge of basically defining. Not designing, but defining. And the Apple III failed for marketing reasons, and the Lisa failed because Steve didn’t understand what computers cost, and the Macintosh failed because it wasn’t a full computer. It didn’t even have a real operating system.
Steve Wozniak: Steve didn’t know what an operating system was.
It’s the reason we had to buy an operating system 12 years later or whatever because the Mac never had one put in as a core operating system. It only had hacked on little things that acted like one.
Guy Kawasaki: Did this make you sad, this transition of Steve?
Steve Wozniak: Oh, no. I didn’t care a bit. Look, I’m going to go in engineering. I’m not going to step on other people’s feet. Mike Markkuta has done marketing for twenty years. I’m not going to tell him the box should be green instead of red. That’s for Steve to do.
And Steve would make these little minor decisions that every time he made them though, generally almost every time he was right. He was kind of like the smartest person in the room. But I didn’t want to have participation with that, and it’s good.
Steve Wozniak: Steve was getting what he wanted, and I had what I wanted, a laboratory to run into even late at night and work on some ideas. I was just very much allowed to be the inventor, and it turned out very, very good for Apple and for follow on things including the floppy disk for the Apple II computer.
Steve did start talking to the press even before the Apple II was out to the world, I think, are very early days. He started talking… They would ask, “Did you do the hardware, did you do the software?” Like he was one of the real computer inventors that it was… He was kind of giving that impression to them sometimes.
Steve Wozniak: So I did call him on that. I said, “Hey, don’t act like you designed it.” Looking back though, you know what, working on, oh, putting the whole product together and getting the companies little ways. Solder the chips onto a board and put it into a plastic case of a certain design. That’s part of the design. It’s not like the brainiac-
Guy Kawasaki: Ones and zeros?
Steve Wozniak: Well, ones and zeros and chips, and lines, and timing, and all this stuff and writing huge amounts of code.
He didn’t do any of the computer hardware, but the product he did help design. Yeah. I mean, I only gave it a side dimension. Here’s about how big it’s going to be for what I’ve designed. That’s all I did.
Guy Kawasaki: I truly do believe even for this conversation, you are the purest form of engineering that I’ve ever met. How does one tell if a person is a good engineer?
Steve Wozniak: There’s good engineers, and there are great engineers. And good engineers, you can sometimes tell just by what courses they took or doctorates they earned or whatever. You could see what is their past experience.
But to me, I found in Apple, there were very few engineers that did what I did, thought the way I did. I was always trying to be whatever I did, my thing, I was going to be the best in the world. Somebody might be equal to me, but I was sure there was no one better.
Steve Wozniak: And I ran into others. Bill Atkinson was one who really pointed out in their code how they had done something clever that saved things and did it quicker or did it with fewer steps or they thought about something unusual.
Those were the sort of people that entire new product or product category could come out of and today I look at it a little differently that there’s these kinds of people that go to maker fairs. They worked and worked, and built little unusual things that might not have any value to the world. I did a lot of that in my life.
Steve Wozniak: And those are people that actually get projects done without having to have university education, whatever. Burrell Smith studied me, and he wanted to be as good as Woz at design.
He was a technician at Apple. He had never gone to college a day in his life, and he studied. He started working on paper the way I did and design and stuff, and he got as good as me.
And I told Steve Jobs that after my airplane crash, while I was on the Macintosh team, I said that, “The Macintosh group is in great shape. The most creative people I know in Apple, my best friends, and Burrell Smith can design as well as I can.
Steve Wozniak: He’s designed the Macintosh hardware, the original Macintosh hardware, without a day of college. So we hire for skill sets, but we often don’t judge the people as people. And one of the important things is to make sure… Today I say, “You’re going to find that the best teams you’re ever on, the best products you ever developed, the most productive you were in your life, the most enjoyment you had working was when you work with people that you’d liked.”
Steve Wozniak: Similar personalities. You get along, you’d like to go to the same movies and do the same things and talk about it, have the same ideas, and eat together.
But companies usually just sit down, “We’re just going to be strict. It’s like a spreadsheet. We’re going to check this off and check that off and check that off. We’ve got all these elements for our new project idea. We’ll hire these five people.” They never really deal with them as human beings and people in a psychological sense.
I once told Steve Jobs that sometimes the best person for a company to run a company be a psychologist. And he said, “Oh yeah, Atari did that for a while.”
Guy Kawasaki: To replace Nolan?
Steve Wozniak: I think it was post-Nolan. There was somebody, maybe just some high high level position with Nolan, but it’s really funny because when you go to game seminars nowadays, sometimes the… Especially the founders of game companies, they’ll talk about the psychological meaning why they made a certain game, or they made it operate a certain way somehow boils down to the psychology of the users. So I admire that thinking.
Steve Wozniak: Somewhere, there’s something inside of some people that isn’t just, “I know how to do what I want to do. No, I want to chase dreams and make things greater happen.”
And you can’t always tell. They might be shy just like I was. I mean, God knows how without a college degree, I wound up designing the hottest products in the world at Hewlett Packard, but somebody mentioned me to them. They called me in. Every question they asked, I had just such instant answers. I knew anything about logic design and computer parts and all that.
So that was fortunate that they were that open. I don’t believe many companies are very open to even interviewing somebody that doesn’t have a certain education level.
Guy Kawasaki: Don’t you think that’s true of Apple today? You can’t get an Apple without the right background.
Steve Wozniak: It’s largely true, unless you somehow had the right connection, knew the right person. You might be able to get evaluated for something. I don’t know because I would never myself find out because I would never pull a string. I wasn’t going to try to pull any strings. I don’t believe in it.
Once in a while, somebody knows it’s me, and they say, “Oh, here’s what we’ll give you,” and they do it for me, and I won’t turn down a gift. Steve Jobs actually sent me the very first iPhone.
Steve Wozniak: But for all the iPhones, I also waited in line overnight anyway to do it the hardcore way like normal people, average Joes. And one time Steve sent me, there was a new laser writer of some sort, and he sent me one, I think it was a laser writer. I didn’t particularly want it, but I got it for free and all these Apple products that come out, I never asked for them. I didn’t even know that I could get 10% off on some of them with my employee discounts still until recently.
Steve Wozniak: There’s this guy that I was on Dancing with the Stars, Steve O and he’s famous in the entertainment world, and he remembered that when we were doing that show, I got him riding a Segway. We took a Segway over to The Grove shopping center in LA, and the Apple Store was there, and we went in and bought him a computer. I guess I might have used an employee discount back then. I might’ve known I had them.
And so he came up recently and visited right here in Los Gatos, and we got on Segues again wrote into the Los Gatos store and I helped him buy another more recent computers.
Steve Wozniak: So I’d like things that people that are thinking for fun, thinking a lot of what’s entertaining, what’s unusual, not what is the money factor guiding my life. I don’t want to be driven by money.
I only want to know interesting people like Steve Jobs, for instance, like Captain Crunch of Blue Box fame. I want to hang around interesting people they might write movies about because, I don’t know, it’s a more interesting life than just turning your wealth into more and more wealth and more power and all that.
Guy Kawasaki: Does Tim Cook passed that test for you?
Steve Wozniak: Tim Cook has been outstanding, in my opinion for keeping the company going very well. High profits is a big part of growing without having to borrow money and be an important brand.
The brand Apple has been maintained well and also he is so anti, any discriminatory bias in people for any reasons at all. But Tim Cook has just been representing, we are all equal. We’re all people and don’t put us down just because we’re different. Somebody is different than us.”
But we live in Silicon Valley here. Apple in Cupertino, Silicon Valley. Santa Clara County is one of ten counties in the entire United States where more than half the people speak non-English at home. They came from all over the world. China and Japan, Thailand, Singapore. They just come… India, tons of them, and they’ve come to Silicon Valley attracted by the new products, the technology industry, and all that. So we’re just totally used to it.
Everybody’s different. You just work with them, and they work fine, and everything’s fine, but a lot of parts of the country are not that integrated.
Guy Kawasaki: What is the lesson of Apple?
Steve Wozniak: Oh, well, I think one lesson is a lot of people look back, and they say, “How did two youngsters start such an incredible company, and what was it all about?” I find that everywhere I go, there’s an interest in the story behind Apple still.
Maybe eventually it’ll just be the products, the ecosystem is all the products work well together with my computer. It works with my phone. It works with my watch. It works with my and my AirPods, and they all know about each other. It’s that whole idea we have from the beginning.
Steve Wozniak: You build a product, a computer, and you write the software that runs it. The two will work together in a very understood manner to make it a satisfying experience for the users rather than just like Microsoft.
We write an operating system, we’ll let anybody in the world adapt to their hard work, and you’ll wind up with so many problems to deal with. You lose a lot of the simplicity of life.
Steve Wozniak: So the Apple world, if you stick in it, it’s very, very simple and nice. Same thing with the Google world except that Apple doesn’t follow you. I mean Apple is respecting your privacy.
What’s more important? I used to ask myself… I sat there during Macintosh days even, I said, “What’s more important? What’s it really about?” It’s the user.
We had a reputation for ease of use of our computers compared to the IBM PCs or whatever, the Google stuff. I mean, the Microsoft stuff.
Steve Wozniak: We had a reputation for ease of use. That means the human is more important than the technology.
Where that first came to me was a guy named Jeff Raskin, came into Apple in our early Apple II days and he sat down with Steve and I. He explained that you could build two computers with certain ships that will do certain jobs the same, but one of those computers, you can put a whole lot of work into it to making it so easy for a user that somebody who knows isn’t a computer expert can walk up and just intuitively see things on the screen, words, and icons that suggest things to them and they’ll know how to use it.
Steve Wozniak: And to me that was, you put the work into the technology to work more in the human way. On the Macintosh, we didn’t call it a screen, we called it a desktop. The Lisa computer really.
A desktop because a desktop is something that all humans relate to. Just like the Apple II having the shape and look of a typewriter was very easy, more accommodating than a bunch of switches and lights that no human could understand anyway.
Steve Wozniak: If the technology is more important, the human has to look at the technology and figure out, “Oh my gosh, how do I make this work? How do I adjust my life for this?” And everybody gets used to a pattern. Your habits drive your life.
But even trying to use a new program you’re not familiar with can be quite intimidating, quite difficult even for a computer expert. So that’s where the technology seems more important a lot of times.
You know what, you try to get some support, you call a company, and you got this problem on your phone or whatever, and it goes through a whole list of voicemail things that’s dealt maybe through the cell company that don’t apply to the problem you’re having at all ever. And you just sort of work your way through it, and you can’t just get to a human that if you just explained one thing, they would instantly say, “Oh, yes, yes. Here’s what you do.”
Steve Wozniak: Support has really gone down a lot in this gig economy. Not universally. Apple is the best with some real human attention.
But to me, it’s more important that we respect that human users are more important than the technology or even the makers of the technology.
I’ve always thought that my whole life and I fight for it. Once you’re big and powerful, you’re more powerful than they. It’s kind of like you can be wrong. Even if you’re wrong, you’re right. You make yourself right even though you are wrong because you make the rules.
Guy Kawasaki: What’s your proudest moment at Apple?
Steve Wozniak: Wow, this is so hard because you’re saying at Apple and almost defines it in a technology sense and-
Guy Kawasaki: Okay, in life then.
Steve Wozniak: Oh, in life, definitely. When I was 20 years old reading a book, and I read in a story in a book, this is before Apple, well before Apple, and I think it was about Sumner Redstone buying and selling companies for $10 million, $50 million and this and that. Whoa. These numbers were unbelievable to me. And then I thought right there in the hallway, this is in the days when I played lots of pranks and laugh with my friends, playing them, and I said, “If I died today, would I rather be that person or the person that had laughed and laughed through all human life?”
Steve Wozniak: And I said, “No, I’d rather be the person who laughs, and I wouldn’t trade who I’ve turned out for anything because of this thought.” I said, “Life is about happiness.”
And then I thought maybe in less than a day, I thought it out. It’s things you feel emotionally smiling and laughing is good. Frowning is bad. So I worked on making sure I’d have a lot of fun in my life, a lot of fun things and a lot of jokes and music and things like that. And to get rid of frowns was where I was even more successful.
Don’t ever argue with anybody. Don’t take a different opinion because you can express your opinion, you can express them.
Steve Wozniak: Nobody is going to change their mind, so don’t get too attached to it. You have to win. I became very noncompetitive around the time I became a pacifist during the Vietnam War and would never want to vote and all that stuff.
So it’s like you never want to be… You don’t want to frown. Okay. If something goes wrong… This comes from a teaching of my father when I was very young. Somebody dents your car, don’t go look into blame somebody and jumping out and screaming and getting upset. Just say, “Well, the car is dented. That happens. I’ve got to go get it fixed.”
Steve Wozniak: Only take the progressive steps, the constructive steps, not the destructive ones. And that was how I got rid of frowns was it’s largely not worrying. And the frowns came back to me in later life only because every time technology doesn’t work well, I kind of frown. I kind of want to cuss at it like navigation systems that mislead you.
Because it’s people like me that could have made this stuff work a lot better. But it’s so hard to go into any world with humans where things are all different and make technology work.
Steve Wozniak: That’s the mistake we make with artificial intelligence. We assume we can make it perfect. So I do. I get a little upset with those things.
Now, in a later time, Steve Jobs, I remember I had the plane crash, went back to college for a year to get my degree, my real degree, and Steve visited the apartment with a bunch of people for a party, and he said… I was putting on a big concert. He said, “That music concert is not your thing. You’re a computer designer.” And I thought fun and entertainment is all part of life.
Steve Wozniak: So I redid my formula a little bit instead of H equals S minus F, happiness equals smiles minus frowns. I came up with a new one. H equals F cubed and F cubed is food, fun, and friends. And food isn’t what you eat, it’s the necessities of life to be happy. Food and fun is all the entertainment to include things like my concerts and friends. People are so important.
Steve Wozniak: So I was getting inducted into my high school hall of fame once, and I gave that formula out, and the students all started laughing. And I had to go like all embarrassed into the microphone. I said, “Well, maybe there’s a fourth F.” But coming up with that formula has made me a person. I didn’t ever need Apple for happiness in life. I had my life solved. Even if I got fired, had no money, was on the street, I had my life solved by my formula, and that was the most important personal thing in my life.
Steve Wozniak: Now, as far as Apple and all that, the Apple II design, when I go back and look at it, I was so much a genius at certain things in that day and one after another, after another, after another came to be in that one product. But then there was the floppy disk. I had never… We were in a meeting. This is a very interesting story. We were in a staff meeting one year into Apple, about a year into Apple.
Steve Wozniak: Apple was going to be allowed into the consumer electronics show in Las Vegas, Nevada. That’s where all the new consumer electronics appliances, things like HiFis and TVs get introduced every year. It’s a huge show. They were going to allow the three personal computer companies in, Apple, Commodore, and RadioShack. Oh my gosh, and I sat there, whoa, I’m going to get to see Las Vegas. And then Mike Markkula said, “We’re only going to send three people for marketing.” Mike Markkula, who ran marketing, Steve Jobs, and I think our sales guy, Jean Carter. Those three would go to Las Vegas.
Steve Wozniak: And I’m too shy to raise my hand and say, “Hey, I’m a founder. I developed this computer. I should be…” I wanted to see the lights of Las Vegas, the things you’ve always heard about and seen in movies. So I raised my hand. Don’t ask me why I did this. I had never worked on any disk hardware or software in my life of any type. I raised my hand, and I said, “If we have a floppy disk…” I knew it would help to have a disk where you could type run a program rather than loading in off a cassette tape.” I raised my hand, and I said, “If we have a floppy disk, can we show it?” Mike Markkula said, “Yes.”
Steve Wozniak: Oh my gosh, my head is spinning. If I can figure out how to make a floppy disc in two weeks, I’ll go to Las Vegas in two weeks.
My gosh. I don’t look at what is the science of discs? I don’t do it that way. I went all the way down. What are the little structures of writing a signal onto a floppy this like writing it on a tape, signals out of wires, go up and down, and what’s the speed? Then what’s a circuit that can do that?
And I came up with… I mean even looking back, I do not know how I came up with such incredible design to plug into our computer with just eight chips doing the job. Other people had 50 chips, including a big expensive one, designed to do the whole job. So that one’s another one’s just dear to my heart as the Apple II is.
Guy Kawasaki: It was motivated because you wanted to see Las Vegas.
Steve Wozniak: Motivation was more important than knowing how to do it. And also after I had the design and we were going ahead with it, I… By then, we were making a few little things. I designed a printer interface, and a serial interface, and Wendell Sander had designed a modem interface card. These are cards that plug into our computer.
So I went over to another building. By now, we had our first building, and I came in at night. I talked to a couple of technicians, “So where’s the company that makes our PC boards? I want to get ahold of them to make a PC board for my floppy disk, but I want to make sure they lay it out with the chips in the exact best location.” And they said, “Well, that company’s kind of busy right now, but why don’t you do it yourself?”
Steve Wozniak: Oh my gosh. One of the techs… Dick and Cliff Houston were the two guys. I think Dick Houston set me up with a big piece of clear stuff on drafting table and some red tape, and I could tape up the things that basically made the entire PC board for my floppy disc. I put the chips in the most optimal position. I went in every day for two weeks every night.
Every night I worked until those two techs would leave around midnight. I’d still stay until 2:00 in the morning. I was always the last one to leave working on this design. And when I got it completed, here it is. You have to have on a PC board, you have to have little holes drilled to pass signals from the top to the bottom.
Steve Wozniak: And I only had eight of them because this design was so important to me to make it perfect. I only had eight of these little holes, which is a tiny number. And then I looked at it, looked at the design, and I said… I think Dick Houston actually challenged me. I told him I could have had three fewer holes if I had designed it with the shift register going the other way. He says, “Well, why wouldn’t you correct it? You should correct it.” He challenged me.
Steve Wozniak: Okay. I tore everything apart. All the little pieces of tape I’ve been putting on for a week or two, and then I started retaping. I redesigned it on papers. Now, my circuit design was different, so I could lay out a PC board with fewer holes.
Nobody would ever see this. And it was really funny because near the end of that I got it done or right near the end of it, I went into a staff meeting, and Steve Jobs accused me of being lackadaisical. I wasn’t coming in every day until 10 or something late. Why wasn’t I coming in early like I was slacking off? Nobody knew that I was going in every night until two in the morning.
Guy Kawasaki: Oh, my God.
Steve Wozniak: But these designs… I look back at others of my designs and other things, and I think… Because I was doing… While I was at Hewlett Packard, I was doing designs for people all over California. They’ve heard here’s an engineer who will do a design and always charge you 5 cents.
So a guy in Hollywood came up, and he wanted to do the very first time ever, hotels would have movies. There were no hotels with movies back then, and I got to design the digital part of it and then even fly down briefly to LA for all that. I don’t know. A lot of great projects I was working. I did SMPTE time codes for one inch video tape. It was brand new in 1973.
Steve Wozniak: Just a month or two ago, I got to give out the SMPTE fellowship awards. They invited me to do that. They had no idea that I had such major background that was an important part of my life.
But I did an incredible Woz design on their thing too, way back when. It’s a time code. They put every frame of video. Every frame of video would have a code saying what frame it was, and it had to take generations of accelerated tape from almost barely moving to real fast. And I did it.
Guy Kawasaki: Oh, God.
Steve Wozniak: Because I was doing all these projects. That was my life was fun to build all these little things. And like I said, I would always charge 5 cents. When I was in college, I loved typing. And I was very good at keypunches, all that, but I just loved typing. Got really good at it. I would type term papers for people from midnight until 6:30 in the morning. Not too often, not every week. Midnight until in the morning type it off from their hand notes, and that was back with typewriters where if you made one mistake, it was a horrible thing to correct it, and I would charge 5 cents.
Guy Kawasaki: So now you know that Woz is still an Apple employee. Maybe he’ll let you use his employee discount. I hope you enjoy the inside story of the formation of Apple.
Let’s just say that there are multiple versions, but this is the one to believe.
I’m Guy Kawasaki, and this is Remarkable People. Thanks to Janet Wozniak for making this interview happen and to the two wizards on the remarkable people podcast team, Jeff Sieh and Peg Fitzpatrick.
Guy Kawasaki: This is Remarkable People.