Steve Jobs got his start in business with another Steve, Steve Wozniak, building the blue boxes phone phreakers used to make free calls across the nation. The two were members of the HomeBrew Computer Club, where they quickly became enamored with kit computers and left the blue boxes behind. The next product the two sold was the Apple I, which was a kit for building a PC. In order to do anything with it, the customer needed to add their own monitor and keyboard.
With Wozniak doing most of the building and Jobs handling the sales, the two made enough money off the hobbyist market to invest in the Apple II. It was the Apple II that made the company. Jobs and Wozniak created enough interest in their new product to attract venture capital. This meant they were in the big leagues and their company, Apple, was officially incorporated in 1976. Steve Jobs was a month shy of turning 22 and would be a millionaire before his next birthday.
By 1978, Apple was making $2 million in profits solely on the strength of the Apple II. The Apple II wasn’t state of the art, but it did allow computer enthusiasts to create and sell their own programs. Among these user-generated programs was VisiCalc, a type of proto-Excel that represented the first software with business applications.
Although Apple did not profit directly from these programs, they did see more interest as the uses for the Apple II broadened. This model of allowing users to create their own programs and sell them would reappear in the app market of the future, but with a much tighter business strategy around it.
By the time Apple went public in 1980, the dynamic of the company was more or less set. Steve Jobs was the fiery visionary, with an intense and often combative management style, and Steve Wozniak was the quiet genius who made the vision work.
In 1985, the board ousted Jobs in favor of John Sculley. Steve Jobs was rich and unemployed. Although he wasn’t working at Apple, he was far from idle. During this time, from 1985 to 1996, Jobs was involved in two big deals; the first of which was an investment. In 1986, Jobs purchased a controlling stake in a company called Pixar from George Lucas. The second was a return to his old obsession with computers, founding NeXT to create high-end computers. These were expensive machines with an operating system representing the best attempt yet at making the power of UNIX fit into a graphical user interface.
Of these two deals, NeXT proved the most important, as it turned out Apple was looking to replace its operating system. Apple bought NeXT in 1996 for its operating system, bringing Steve Jobs back to the first company he founded.
When Jobs returned, the company wasn’t in a good place. Apple had begun to flounder as cheap PCs running Windows. Jobs found himself in the driver’s seat again and took some drastic steps to turn around Apple’s decline. The company asked for and received a $150 million investment from Bill
Gates. Jobs used the money to ramp up advertising and highlight the products Apple already offered while choking off research and development (R&D) money in non producing areas.
The NeXT operating system was used to create the iMac, Apple’s first hit PC in a long time. Jobs followed this up with a list of successes from the iPod in 2001 to the iPad in 2010.
The years between saw Apple dominate the smartphone market with the iPhone, open up an e-commerce store with iTunes, and launch branded retail outlets called, what else, the Apple Store. When Jobs stepped down as CEO, Apple was scrapping with Exxon for the world’s largest market cap.
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