Apple’s lost founder: Jobs, Wozniak and… Wayne?

Apple’s lost founder: Jobs, Woz and Wayne

[Ron Wayne] was present at the birth of cool on April Fool’s Day, 1976: Co-founder — along with Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak — of the Apple Computer Inc., Wayne designed the company’s original logo, wrote the manual for the Apple I computer, and drafted the fledgling company’s partnership agreement.

That agreement gave him a 10 percent ownership stake in Apple, a position that would be worth about $22 billion today if Wayne had held onto it.

But he didn’t.

Afraid that Jobs’ wild spending and Woz’s recurrent “flights of fancy” would cause Apple to flop, Wayne decided to abdicate his role as adult-in-chief and bailed out after 12 days. Terrified to be the only one of the three founders with assets that creditors could seize, he sold back his shares for $800.

In Wozniak’s autobiography, “iWoz,” he recalls meeting Wayne and thinking, “Wow, this guy is amazing “… He seemed to know how to do all the things we didn’t. Ron ended up playing a huge role in those very early days at Apple.”

But in those early days the free-spirited Woz was reluctant to commit himself, and it was driving Jobs crazy. “There were bits and pieces of the circuit for the Apple computer that Wozniak wanted to use in other places,” Wayne recalls. “Jobs said, ‘You can’t do that. This is the property of Apple Computer.’ He had an awful time with Woz because of the difference in their personalities.”

Jobs quickly figured out that their budding partnership would require adult supervision, and asked Wayne to step in as the “tiebreaker.” The two Steves came to Wayne’s Milpitas apartment, and after two hours of thrashing it out, the older man explained to Wozniak that the electronic architecture he was creating was critical to the ongoing existence of Apple. “He finally got the message,” Wayne says. Jobs was agog.

“It was at that point he said, ‘Let’s form a company,’ ” Wayne recalls. Like a quarterback drawing a play in the dirt, Jobs came up with the idea of giving himself and Wozniak each 45 percent, the final 10 percent going to Wayne, who would mediate disputes between his headstrong partners. “That would resolve any problems forever and ever,” says Wayne, who drew up the contract on a typewriter. There was no such thing as a word processor yet. They were about to invent it.

After the agreement was signed by all three, Wayne took it to the county registrar’s office. “And Apple Computer was born as a company,” he says.

Jobs immediately plunged the company into debt, agreeing to fill an order for 50 computers from the Byte Shop in Mountain View, then borrowing $5,000 cash and parts worth $15,000. Wayne was impressed with Jobs as a promoter — “His psyche was already fully matured,” he says — but was astonished to discover huge gaps in his new partner’s knowledge of electronics, such as aluminum’s ability to conduct electricity. “I almost lost my uppers,” says Wayne.

He also fretted that the Byte Shop — one of the first retail computer stores — “had a terrible reputation for not paying its bills.” Jobs and Wozniak were essentially penniless, which meant that creditors would eventually come looking for Wayne.

“I just wasn’t ready for the kind of whirlwind that Jobs and Wozniak represented,” he says. “I felt certain the company was going to be successful; that wasn’t the question. But how much of a roller coaster was it going to be? I didn’t know that I could tolerate that kind of situation again. I thought if I stayed with Apple I was going to wind up the richest man in the cemetery.”

It all might have turned out differently if Wayne hadn’t suffered a traumatizing failure in business with a slot machine company he started five years earlier in Las Vegas. “That was before I realized I had no business being in business,” he says. “It came to a disastrous end.”

Twelve days after Wayne wrote the document that formally created Apple, he returned to the registrar’s office and renounced his role in the company. When Jobs and Wozniak filed for incorporation a year later, Wayne received a letter asking him to officially forfeit any claims against the company, and he received another check, this time for $1,500. Taken together, the $2,300 he made as one of Apple’s founders is almost exactly one-millionth what his shares would be worth today.

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