I’ve been thinking about this story from Steve Jobs, recalled in 1996 and told in the new book Make Something Wonderful, about how and why he and Steve Wozniak started Apple:
The reason we (Woz and I) built a computer was that we wanted one, and we couldn’t afford to buy one. They were thousands of dollars at that time. We were just two teenagers. We started trying to build them and scrounging parts around Silicon Valley where we could. After a few attempts, we managed to put together something that was the Apple I. All of our friends wanted them, too. They wanted to build them. It turned out that it took maybe fifty hours to build one of these things by hand. It was taking up all of our spare time because our friends were not that skilled at building them, so Woz and I were building them for them.
We thought if we could just get what’s called a printed circuit board, where you could just plug in the parts instead of having to hand-wire the whole thing, we could cut the assembly time down from maybe fifty hours to more like an hour. Woz sold his HP calculator, and I sold my VW Microbus, and we got enough money together to pay someone to design one of these printed circuit boards for us. Our goal was to just sell them as raw printed circuit boards to our friends and make enough money to recoup our calculator and transportation.
What happened was that one of the early computer stores, in fact, the first computer store in the world, which was in Mountain View at the time, said, “Well, I’ll take fifty of these computers, but I want them fully assembled.” Which was a twist that we’d never thought of.
We went and bought the parts to build one hundred computers. We built fifty of them and delivered them. We got paid in cash and ran back and paid the people that sold us parts. Then we had the classic Marxian profit realization crisis, which was our profit wasn’t liquid—it was in fifty computers sitting on the floor.
We decided we had to start learning about sales and distribution so that we could sell the fifty computers and get back our money. That’s how we got in the business. We took our idea (for the computer) to a few companies, one where Woz worked (Hewlett-Packard) and one where I worked at the time (Atari). Neither one was interested in pursuing it, so we started our own company.
I’m interviewing newly appointed marriage celebrants for a podcast project at the moment and some don’t have a fire in their belly as to why they started. Their genesis story is missing some heart and soul. I think about them and whether they have staying power like the two Steves who just built computers because they wanted one. That early fire is valuable.