Ronald Wayne may not be a name you recognize, but he is Apple’s third co-founder alongside Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. Wayne met the two future tech titans during his tenure at Atari in the 1970s.
One day, Jobs called Wayne in to settle a small dispute he had with Wozniak. He was able to properly mediate the situation with the two men, who were both in their 20s at the time.
Impressed with his ability to solve disagreements, Jobs asked Wayne to become involved in their new company, Apple Computers, in exchange for a 10 percent stake. Wayne wrote the original company partnership agreement, drew its first logo and the Apple 1 manual.
“I admired Ron for his experiences and tales of being with startups,” Steve Wozniak told Cult of Mac. “Most of all I was impressed, as a young person might be, by [his] worldliness. He was well-educated on many topics of life and was skilled and creative at many as well.”
However, just 12 days after forming the company, Wayne sold his shares back for just $800 because he was traumatized by the failure of a previous business venture that had forced him to pay back creditors. Seeing that both Jobs and Wozniak were broke at the time, he feared being on the hook in case Apple failed and money was owed.
Wayne explains: “When that [partnership] 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. Then 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.”
“I was in my 40s and these kids were in their 20s and they were whirlwinds. It was like having a tiger by the tail,” Wayne told NextShark. “If I had stayed with Apple I probably would have wound up the richest man in the cemetery.”
Wayne recounts one of the biggest lessons he gave to a young Jobs: “One of the pitfalls you have to watch for is success. When you have made a lot of money, don’t forget what you wanted the money for.”
“If you had your choice between Steve Jobs and an ice cube, you’d nuzzle up to the ice cube for warmth,” Wayne said. “Jobs wasn’t a diplomatist. Jobs was the sort of fellow that played people like pieces on a chessboard. He was very serious about what he did, and he had every reason to believe that he was absolutely right – which meant that if your view was different from his, you better have a damn good case to present.”
Wayne summarizes his ventures in life as always being “either a day late, and/or a dollar short.” In 2000, for example, Wayne had the original Apple partnership sitting around in his file cabinet and didn’t think he needed it anymore. He sold it to an autograph collector he found on a newspaper for $500. That same contract was sold at auction in 2011 for $1.6 million.
Even worse was when Wayne was forced to sell his house in Florida after his life savings were stolen from a safe by a burglar. The loot included 45 ounces of gold and $3,000 in face-value silver coins.
Wayne, now 81 years old, currently lives in a mobile home in Pahrump, Nevada, a town 16 miles west of Las Vegas. He lives off of Social Security checks and makes money selling rare coins and stamps on the internet.
Even after Apple became successful, he rejected multiple offers from Jobs to come back to Apple. Up until his death, Jobs regularly flew Wayne out in all-expenses paid trips to exclusive Apple events.
Wayne claims that he doesn’t regret his decision to leave Apple and continues to have a positive outlook in life despite his misfortunes. He tells NextShark: “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.”
If he had never sold his Apple shares, Wayne would be worth roughly $35 billion today.