The superior businessman: Jobs or Woz?

December 26th, 2011 10:56 AM
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Filed under History, Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak;
2 comments.

The current state of the economy presents unique challenges, but also unique opportunities. As larger companies fold under the weight of their own bulk, new enterprises are small, nimble, and innovate enough to fill new niches and needs. What what better innovator and businessman to inspire budding entrepreneurs than Apple's greatest Steve?

Jobs? No — Wozniak.

So says Trevor Owen, founder of the Lean Startup Machine. In his essay, "Why Founders Should Emulate Wozniak, Not Jobs" he makes several arguments:

  • • Steve Jobs played a minor role in Apple’s early success with the Apple II
  • • When Steve Jobs created the breakthrough Macintosh he had immense resources & clout
  • • The Macintosh underperformed against the Apple II, essentially was a flop
  • • NeXT Computers released a series of product flops
  • • Jobs’s later success (as a CEO) is due to his failures

It's not unusual to question Steve Jobs' role in the design and success of Apple's products, but this is the first time I've seen his business acumen also fall under scrutiny. Unsurprisingly, not everyone is convinced. Over at Forbes, E.D. Kain has some objections:

… if Wozniak had been in charge, it’s doubtful Apple would have been much of a company at all. Wozniak wanted to open the whole project up to all-comers. His enormous skill was in making things tick – not in building a company from the ground up…

… it really helps to couple visionary businessmen with brilliant engineers. So what if Jobs got ahead of himself in the early years? Start-ups today shouldn’t just look at the early careers of tech businessmen; they should pay attention to the entire package.

What do you think? Could Woz have built the Apple empire without Jobs? Could Jobs, without Woz?

Communication is key in vendor-client relationships

June 21st, 2010 11:57 AM
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Filed under Musings;
Comments Off on Communication is key in vendor-client relationships

An Apple II user recently posted to csa2 his concern over the service he'd received from an Apple II vendor, who took 12 days to ship an order. His complaint is legitimate, but his respondents provided a perspective that he hadn't considered. He followed up later: "I did not know that the company was a one-man operation. That helps to explain the delay."

Despite the proliferation of Apple II software and especially hardware these days, the platform is sadly no a longer financially viable means of earning a living. What motivates those vendors who remain is their enjoyment and passion for the Apple II, with the hope of at least breaking even. It's this spirit that drives them to pursue their hobby in their extracurricular hours, even after a grueling day job leaves them exhausted. As a result, a customer's order does not always receive the attention that both the customer and the vendor want to give it, and delays such as the above do happen.

When this happens, guessing at the vendor's situation isn't the only solution, as some commenters on the csa2 post suggest. Communication from the vendor can help the customer set appropriate expectations. The hosting service with which this site currently resides, DreamHost, is especially good at this. They have a blog and a Twitter feed dedicated to communicating the status of their servers to their customers, so that no one is ever left uninformed of planned maintenance or unexpected outages. It's also an efficient means of communications: rather than fielding the same support ticket dozens of times, they can publish one blog post in anticipation of such questions. And finally, it's honest: DreamHost isn't covering up their outages but posting them for all to see.   Big money
This is about how much money there is to be made from the Apple II these days. Photo by Stavros Karatsoridis.
 

The Apple II community also has many examples of vendors who practice this habit. Eric Shepherd of Syndicomm sometimes falls a month behind in fulfilling orders. When that happens, he usually posts a message to csa2 informing folks of his backlog and his progress. Likewise, I recently placed an order for an issue of 300 Baud magazine. Before I ever handed over my money, I was informed right on the product's homepage, "PLEASE ALLOW 4-6 WEEKS FOR DELIVERY". Even the vendor at the focus of the csa2 thread had updated his Web site last summer to indicate a significant delay in shipping, as some recent publicity had led to a spike in the popularity of his product. Unfortunately, he has no such notice posted today that could've precluded the above complaint.

I'm an Apple II vendor myself, and for each Juiced.GS order I receive, I personally email the buyer to let him know when his order has shipped or will ship. However, my philosophy is a bit more selfish than the principles outlined above. There are so few Apple II users these days that I want to reach out to each one individually and learn their stories: How long have you been using the Apple II? How did you hear about Juiced.GS? Your name seems familiar — did you happen to write that program I used in 1988? Making such connections is vital to community solidarity and growth. That's how Brian Wiser, a first-time subscriber as of earlier this year, came to be someone with whom I now regularly communicate about podcasts, Firefly, scanning techniques, and more. At the least, the more I learn about my customers, the better I'm able to serve them in the future.

So, yes, vendors have a responsibility to their clients and their community — but it is the customers' responsibility to remember that we're all in this together, and though our patience must still have limits, we should adjust them accordingly.