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Friday, June 11, 2010

Apple’s Forgotten Founder Living in the Nevada Desert

Have you ever heard of Dick Taylor? Dick Taylor, along with Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, was a founding member of the Rolling Stones. But Taylor decided to go back to art school, so the Stones hired bassist Bill Wyman to replace him just as they were preparing to record the band's first album. As a result, Taylor became one of the great “what if” stories in rock history. Have you ever heard of Ron Wayne? Ron Wayne is technology’s equivalent of Dick Taylor. One of the great “what if” stories of Silicon Valley, nay, the enter technology industry. Wayne was one of three men present at the “birth of cool” when on April Fool’s Day 1976 – along with Steve Jobs and Steve WozniakApple Computer was launched. Not only was Wayne one of the founders of the new computer company, he was the guy who designed the company’s logo, wrote the users manual for the first Apple I computer, and drafted the company’s partnership agreement. That partnership agreement gave Wayne 10 percent ownership in the fledgling company. That tidy little slice of the pie that would be worth $22 billion today – if only Wayne wouldn’t have sold it back to Jobs and Wozniak 12 days after the company’s launch for a mere $800.
Ron Wayne
Wayne was 42 years old and working at Atari when he met up with 21-year-old Steve Jobs who was freelancing at the video game company started by Nolan Bushnell. Jobs had already met up with Wozniak and the two had created a prototype of the Apple I that they had demonstrated at the Homebrew Computer Club that met on the campus of Stanford University.
The Apple I
Jobs and Wozniak knew they were onto something with their new machine, but their wildly different personalities, and approach to business, threatened to kill their project before it could off the ground. They turned to Wayne for “adult supervision.” Wayne would give the two Apple partners counsel, help them resolve disagreements and provided business advice. For his valuable input, Jobs and Wozniak asked him to join them in their venture and carved off 10 percent of the company ownership for him. Once all three had signed the partnership agreement, Wayne took it to the county registrar’s office and Apple Computer became an official company. Almost immediately after becoming a legal entity, Jobs plunged the company deep into debt when he took out a $5000 loan and bought $15,000 worth of computer parts to fill an order for 50 computers for the Byte Shop in Mountain View, California. Wayne was impressed with Jobs’ salesmanship, but was nervous about the amount of money the company owed. Byte, an early Silicon Valley computer store, had a reputation for being slow to pay its bills and Wayne worried if Apple would get paid before their loan payment came due. Jobs and Wozniak, both in their early 20s at the time, were penniless. So if creditors came after Apple for its debt it would be Wayne that they targeted. Wayne just wasn’t ready for that type of risk, so less than 2 weeks after he helped launch Apple, Wayne asked Jobs and Wozniak to buy him out. It was back to the county registrar’s office for Wayne where he renounced his involvement in the company. For that he was paid $800. A year after Wayne left the company, Jobs and Wozniak filed the paperwork for incorporation and contacted Wayne asking him to officially forfeit any claims against the company. Wayne did so and received an additional $1,500, bringing his total payment from Apple to $2,300, almost exactly a millionth of what his shares would be worth today. Today, Wayne is living a simple life in the desert town of Pahrump, Nevada where at age 76 he supports himself by selling stamps are rare gold coins to supplement his government social security checks. But one has to wonder, what if?

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