Discover more from Understandably by Bill Murphy Jr.
Effective January 1 ...
If I’m not willing to eat my own dog food, so to speak, why should anyone else?
In October 1981, Inc. made history by putting Steve Jobs on a magazine cover.
Jobs was 26 years old at the time, and Apple—then called Apple Computer—had just gone public. He was worth an estimated $163 million. He's bearded on the cover with a full head of hair, frozen in time.
As history, it's well worth checking out. This is Apple before the iPhone, before iTunes, before the MacBook, heck, before the Macintosh. It's the Apple that Gen X-ers like me might remember from elementary and middle school—when I first learned a bit of programming on an Apple II.
First, much of the article focuses on decisions made by Apple's first chief executive officer, Michael Scott (yes, same name as Steve Carell's character on The Office), who was CEO from February 1977 to March 1981—as opposed to Jobs.
Second, it's largely about a decision that Scott made in 1980, the year before the article came out, and expressed in an eight-sentence memo that was "circulated" to employees:
EFFECTIVE IMMEDIATELY!! NO MORE TYPEWRITERS ARE TO BE PURCHASED, LEASED, etc., etc.
Apple is an innovative company. We must believe and lead in all areas. If word processing is so neat, then let's all use it!
Goal: by 1-1-81, NO typewriters at Apple... We believe the typewriter is obsolete. Let's prove it inside before we try and convince our customers.
Now, I know this memo is almost laughably anachronistic. But in 1981, the typewriter was still pretty close to state of the art. Announcing that your entire company would no longer use them was game-changing.
Case in point: Apple was the leading personal computer company, so I spent about 30 minutes Tuesday trying to figure out how many Apple II's it had actually sold by 1981.
Apple's Securities and Exchange Commission filings don't go back that far online, but I found a secondary source saying Apple did $334 million in revenue in 1981. If we estimate a $2,500 price point for the Apple II then, that would put us at about 132,000 computers sold that year.
Another completely unsourced statement (so take it for what it's worth) says by the end of 1982, it had sold 750,000 Apple II computers.
Either way, it's a pretty small number. They still had a giant market to capture.
I know this is comparing apples to oranges (sorry), but consider that last year, Apple reportedly sold nearly 47 million iPhones.
Even Jobs, in the same article, held up the personal computer as being on a par with four other office innovations that really weren't that old at the time:
the IBM Selectric typewriter,
the Xerox copier, and
the "newer, advanced phone systems."
Look, I love this article, largely because I love business history like this.
Unlike political history and military history, I don't think we go back often enough and try to put ourselves in the shoes of business decision-makers, to discern what lessons there are for today.
But in the case of Apple back in 1981, Scott—and even Jobs, who famously didn't get along with him—are basically saying the same thing in different ways: If I’m not willing to eat my own dog food, so to speak, why should anyone else?