When people think about the original founders of Apple, most people usually think of Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. These guys are two of the most notable figures in tech history. However, Apple has a third co-founder that is rarely ever mentioned. In fact, the latest Jobs movie starring Ashton Kutcher didn’t even include him as a character.
Meet Ronald Wayne, some media outlets in the past has dubbed him as “the unluckiest man in the world”, because he sold his 10% stake in Apple 12 days after co-founding the company — his stake would be worth around $35 billion today. Aside from that, in the early 1990′s he saw that Apple was plummeting and decided to sell the original document of the first Apple company agreement for $500. After nearly two decades, that same exact document was sold at an auction for $1.8 million dollars. Now if you think thats not bad enough, at one point in his life, he had all his life savings stolen from him as well. He likes to summarize his entrepreneurial enterprises as always being “either a day late, and/or a dollar short”.
Ron has made some key contributions to Apple’s beginnings. For one, he drew the first Apple logo, wrote the original company partnership agreement and the Apple I manual. He was also chosen personally by Steve Jobs to be a founding partner because he liked Ron’s ability to solve disagreements. The 10% given to him was for him to act as a tie-breaker if there was ever a disagreement between Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak.
We recently had the pleasure of being invited by Ron to his house for an interview in Pahrump, Nevada — a little town about 1 hour away from Las Vegas. When we arrived, we saw that Wayne lives in a relatively modest lifestyle and spends most of his time as a coins and stamps dealer to supplement his Social Security checks. The NextShark team was inspired and humbled to see the level of positivity and generosity this man has after going through so much in his life-time. In this interview, Wayne reflects on his life at Atari, forming Apple and working with Steve Jobs.
No. Look, I live my life step by step, event by event as it happens. And by the way I got myself extremely fortunate to have been at a turning point in history and the establishment of Apple was indeed a turning point in history. Although at that time of course, nobody really knows this. It takes perspective of history to do that.
Oh the contract. That’s the one thing in this whole experience I really do regret. I sold that contract for $500 — that was 20 years ago. It was the same contract that sold at auction about 18 months ago for 1.3 million. That, I regret.
I lost my life savings in the Florida house. That was what obliged me to sell [my] house in Florida. It was an inside job. We figured that, and the person who stole it was caught, spent six years in prison, which didn’t mean of course a lot of good. But there was 145 ounces of gold, $3000 on face-value silver coin, and how much collector’s coin, no one will ever know.
No. As a matter of fact, it kind of confused people at that time. The fellow not only broke in to my safe by finding the combination and going in — because the safe is five feet high, four feet wide, three feet deep, weighs 2 1/2 tons, the walls are four inches thick concrete steel; he needed the combination to get in there. What he did was he turned it over to some pro because he had been shoving some stuff up his nose and apparently he threatened him concrete shoes if he didn’t come up with the money, so he decided to pay him off with my money. So he told them when I was going to be out of the house, and they came in and emptied the safe, and then they smashed the lock. it took me two days to get the lock open — to get the safe open — and I was waiting, wondering, hoping. Well they opened the safe and of course, it was empty. And everybody was wondering why, at that point in time, I did not go screaming up the walls? My answer to them was very simple and I meant it. I said, “What am I supposed to do, make myself sick over the sides?” I mean the situation has happened. I’ll deal with it. When something happens, you just deal with it.
There were many reasons why I took myself out of it 12 days later. One of the reasons, it was a straightforward business decision in the sense that I have had my own corporation I told you years before, and that was when I learned that I was a hell of a lot better engineer than I was a business man. The whole thing went belly up and rather than use the corporate shell to protect myself against creditors and so on — which is what you normally do; that’s what you build a corporate shell for — I felt that it was my enterprise. It had failed because of my inability to do the job right. I blew it. Why should everybody else pay for it because I blew it? So all the creditors over the span of about a year were paid off a hundred cents on a dollar, and all the stock that I had sold in that corporation were bought back for the price they paid for. I felt very good; I could look in the mirror when I am shaving and not be embarrassed. But at the same time, it was a very traumatic experience.
With that reality in mind, all of the sudden I am in this company arrangements — it’s not a corporation, it’s a company — and who is reachable? I mean Jobs and Woz didn’t have two nickels to rub together. I had a house, I had a car, I had a checking account — I was reachable. Well when that contract was drawn out, Jobs went out and did exactly what he was supposed to do. He got a contract with a place called The Byte Shop to sell them a certain number of computers. And then he went out, also did exactly what he was supposed to do and he borrowed $15,000 for the materials necessary to fill the order. Perfectly appropriate. The only problem was, as I heard, The Byte Shop had a terrible reputation for not paying their bills. If this thing blew up, how’s that $15,000 going to get repaid? Do they have the money? No. Was I reachable? Yes.
Among other things, when Jobs and I worked at Atari… I went to work for Atari, the company was three and a half years old, and Atari was organized under the genius of a man by the name of Nolan Bushnell. Well Nolan, being the genius that he was, pursued exactly the same course that geniuses do when going to business like this: get the product out on the street. What it takes to set up a company is a nuisance. You want to set up a drawing number system? Fine, your first drawing is drawing number one; next drawing is drawing number two. It doesn’t work that way. Not when you have been in engineering and design and drafting for a number of decades that I had. You have to have a meaningful numbering system so that the documents that you put into the files were traceable; you can pick up one document and follow the thread of numbers to rebuild the entire paper structure for that particular product. And you do this through the structuring of your numbering system. And I had to rebuild the numbering system.
Jobs knew about these documentation systems that I had put together for Atari and he was very impressed with them. And I had every reason to believe that Jobs wanted me in Apple to set up and run the documentation systems in the entire documentation department. There was a bit of a problem there because I was a product development engineer on my own right. Even though I knew, at the time, that I was standing in the shadow of giants. I knew these guys knew a hell lot more about product development than I did. I felt I was never going to get a project of my own; they would certainly not get involved in slot machines, which was my passion; and the last thing I wanted to do was to spend the next 20 years of my life in a large backroom office, shuffling papers.
These were some of the reasons, aside from the fact that I was in 40s and these kids were in their 20s. And they were whirlwinds. It was like having a tiger by the tail. And I said this many times before and I meant it, if I have stayed with Apple I probably would have wound up the richest man in the cemetery.