2011 5 25EspinozaHP

Train Wreck or Next Big Idea?

So this guy calls you up and tells you he has a great idea and he asks if you want to join him in starting a small business. You’ve met him a few times here and there – you’re both members of the same hobby club. You think he’s a little arrogant but an okay guy overall.
He tells you that he has already started putting his dream team together. His compatriots are: A guy he met in junior high; a friend of a friend’s neighbor; a nay-saying contrarian who is grudgingly investing in the venture even though he’s sure it will fail; an avowed card-carrying communist who also thinks the company will flame out in no time; and a 14-year-old high school kid who can only work part-time, because, you know, he’s still in high school and all.
Not an attractive prospect, right?
No doubt your answer would be something along the lines of: “Gosh, thanks for thinking of me, but you know, I have about three more months of unemployment benefits coming in and I hate to shoot myself in the foot with that … maybe I’ll check back with you in a couple of months ...”
And so this guy – this acquaintance who was nattering on about wanting to name his little enterprise after a piece of produce moved on, formed his little start-up, and you continued on with your life.
Years later you would sit in an airport lounge in Newark wanting to punch yourself in the face as you watched gazillionaire Steve Jobs bound lithely around a stage in his edgy black turtleneck and jeans ensemble showing off his snappy little iPod invention while you were on your way to yet another grubby trade show in Omaha. Oh yeah, and those guys we mentioned above? Gazillionaires.
Most of us like to think that we are smart people who would recognize a diamond-studded brass ring when we saw it and that we would jump through flaming hoops to lunge at it, but chances are pretty good that we don’t. Because we look for success – or the promise of it – to look a certain way and when we don’t see it we quickly move on.
The people who found themselves in the labor room when Apple Computer was born were not necessarily risk-takers. Several of them had to have their arms twisted before they sighed and half-heartedly signed on. In the case of the 14-year-old, he probably didn’t know any better at best, and/or it probably seemed like a much better employment option than the local fast food franchise.
So what was it about the guys (and one gal) who threw caution to the wind and their respective lots in with Steve Jobs? What did they have (if anything) in common? These are questions that came to my mind as I read Jay Yarow’s recent piece on the first ten employees who joined Jobs and Apple’s first CEO Michael Scott (yes, that’s his name) on an adventure that ensured that they will never have to work again unless they want to. Yarow, an editor at the Business Insider attempted to track down the original ten for a “where are they now?” piece and, failing to locate all of them for interviews, spent time talking with Scott, who provided some insights into who the original ten were.
#1 Steve Wozniak, Apple’s official “employee number one” was a tech junkie who was headed to a job at HP in Oregon because he was convinced that “Apple would crash and burn,” Yarow says. It took some convincing, but he decided to stick around and see what happened. Bet he’s glad he did.
#2 Steve Jobs was given the employee number two designation for the sole purpose of irritating him, according to Scott, who told Yarow: "I know I didn't give it [employee number one designation] to Jobs because I thought that would be too much."
#3 Mike Markkula was the money man, making an investment worth about $250,000 at the time and in exchange he took 30% of the company. He also helped manage the company, develop a business plan, hired the first CEO, and talked Wozniak (see #1) into sticking around.
#4 Bill Fernandez met Steve Jobs (see #2) at Cupertino Junior High School and he was also a neighbor and friend of Steve Wozniak (see #1). He was Apple Computer's first hire when they incorporated in 1977. He worked on both the Apple I and Apple II computers and in the 1980s was a member of the Apple Macintosh development team.
#5 Communist Rod Holt was a highly regarded designer who was skeptical of joining Apple and later insisted that Steve Jobs (see #2) "conned" him into taking a job. Holt developed the power supply for the Apple II.
#6 Randy Wigginton was a student at Bellarmine College Preparatory in San Jose who was interested in computers. He heard about the Homebrew Computer Club but, according to Yarow, “had no way to get there until he started getting rides with another club member, Steve Wozniak (see #1). The two hit it off, and Wigginton became one of Apple's earliest employees.
#7 Michael “Scotty” Scott was Apple’s first CEO, brought in to run the company by its first investor (see #3). Scott is a confirmed Trekkie, who, according to Yarow, is currently working on developing a Star Trek tricoder that will allow people to identify gemstones in the forest.
#8 Chris Espinosa was in high school when he started his part-time gig with Apple. He says he was at school when employee numbers were assigned, which is why his number is so high. Espinosa is still with Apple.
#9 The only woman of the original group, Sherry Livingston was hired as Apple’s first secretary and the CEO’s right hand, according to Yarow.
#10 Gary Martin believed that Apple was doomed to fail from the start but stayed on until 1983. Martin is now a private investor and is on the board of Canadian tech company LeoNovu.
In thinking about the original ten hires at Apple, it’s obvious that luck and happenstance played huge roles, as did the timing, the state of technological advancement at the time and the “right place/right time” phenomenon. That aside, my question is: How do we spot winners or winning propositions, be they opportunities within our current employment situation or elsewhere?
Here’s what I came up with:
Look for commonality in interests and passion when considering joining a team. The one thing the Apple founders had (other than the fact that they all lived in California in close proximity to one another), was that they were all geeks. They shared a common interest in computing and science.
To the degree that you (and your spouse/partner) can stand it, take a risk. If you have a feeling that there is some potential there and your gut is nudging you, close your eyes and jump. You may not land initially where you had hoped but the trip may be worth it. And eventually, who knows? You could wind up on Dancing with the Stars, like Wozniak.
The benefits and power of networking cannot be underestimated. Long before the emergence of social networking there was plain old vanilla networking. And it worked. The Apple guys networked with one another and became tightly connected through their common interests and reaching out to connect with others who shared those interests. Some of them were members of the same club and developed relationships through that group. So put yourself out there, connect with fellow lovers of whatever it is you love in a real way. This can start with joining affinity groups on LinkedIn, for example, but don’t be passive unless you are into passivity and letting life happen to you. Make your presence known in a group, take a stand, establish a voice, get off your butt and participate in a meaningful way. Here’s a crazy idea: show up in person.
Switch off the auto-pilot button. Pay attention to the confluence of what’s going on around you. Do you have an opportunity that will involve working with people you admire or just plain like? Is the prospect of this project one that jostles you from your current apathetic coma? Are you daydreaming about all the things that might emerge from this project and what your contributions might be? Has another opportunity recently fallen through – is this fortuitous timing? Wake up and look around.
The next time someone floats an idea or opportunity by you, take a beat to actually truly think it over before you respond. And if those ideas and opportunities aren’t coming your way, ask yourself why. Because they’re out there.