Welcome (seriously)

Two years ago, Apple was officially valued at $1 trillion. Last month, it doubled that: $2 trillion.

With that milestone, I’d like to look back quite some time ago, at a small piece of history, when Apple was a much smaller company.

It’s about what Steve Jobs did when Apple’s first small lead in the marketplace for personal computers was threatened.

This really is ancient history—not long after Apple went public in 1980, and its IPO made 300 millionaires overnight. Less than a year later, it faced an existential crisis.

The personal computer market was growing, but it was still utterly dwarfed by the market for mainframe business computers, which was dominated by IBM.

And in August 1981, IBM announced it was getting into that market, too.

It's funny to think now, but IBM coming into Apple's market then was kind of like Apple or Google or Amazon coming into your market today. Potentially terrifying, maybe even worse.

Only, Jobs wasn't really worried. As Walter Isaacson wrote in his 2011 biography, right after IBM announced its new computer, he had his team buy one and tear it apart.

Their consensus was that it sucked ... "a half-assed hackneyed attempt." ...

Apple became cocky, not realizing that corporate technology managers might feel more comfortable buying from an established company like IBM rather than one named after a piece of fruit.

Thus, with “cheeky confidence,” according to Isaacson, Jobs decided to take out a full page ad in The Wall Street Journal, to “cleverly position the upcoming computer battle as a two-way contest between the spunky and rebellious Apple and the establishment Goliath IBM.”

Its headline: “Welcome, IBM. Seriously.” (The entire ad is below; enable images if you can’t read it.)

Not mentioned: Commodore, Tandy, and Osbourne — mostly forgotten brands now that were real personal computer players then. Apple ignored them, and portrayed the whole thing as a two-person race.

The ad was a big deal. But Apple didn't win against IBM right away, and there's a reason why people remember the “1984'“ ad, the “Think Different” campaign, and probably many others before they remember this one.

It's actually been imitated many times, including in 2015 when a now-bankrupt music streaming company tweeted a similar message to Apple. (Also, the 2016 ad that Slack took out in The New York Times, welcoming Microsoft to its industry.)

But without this “Welcome IBM” ad, and the cockiness and marketing it represented, would Apple of 1981 have lived long enough to become the Apple of 2020?

Which is to say, the entrenched competition for everyone else, worth $2 trillion—and thus about 18 times as much as IBM.

Postscript: Here’s what was probably the first-ever ad for an Apple product, several years earlier: a single page of looseleaf paper, on which Jobs marketed the Apple-1 computer,” quoting $75 for a “longtime friend.”

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