I’m currently reading Jerry Kaplan’s excellent book “Startup: a Silicon Valley adventure”. In this book, Kaplan, founder and CEO of GO Corp., details the founding, financing and eventual demise of his highly innovative company, including the development and workings of their product. What’s so surprising about this book is just how timeless it really is – the names and products may have changed, but the business practices and company attitudes surely haven’t.
When I hit chapter 7, detailing which hardware partner GO was going to work with, it really hit me just how little this industry has changed over the years. In 1989, GO was given the opportunity to team up with either HP and IBM, and when detailing the latter, Kaplan wrote:
As with many of the world’s religions, it takes a bit of extra faith to fully accept that the IBM corporate culture is completely benign. It instills in its employees a sense that they are tough, fair, and among the chosen. Yet individuals are occasionally expected to do questionable things for the greater good, like a CIA operative ordered to defend democracy by assassinating a head of state. IBM has a tendency to create internal myths that protect its sense of order. If it is outwitted by some fast-moving upstart competitor, it is probably because someone didn’t play fair. If it doesn’t have the best products, it may merely be trying to protect its customers from unproven technology.
Replace “IBM” with the current biggest technology company, and this piece of wisdom would still apply word-for-word. Uncanny.
Kaplan’s book is definitely required reading material. It’s well-written, filled with anecdotes about the biggest names in the industry, and, on top of that, it’s just plain funny.
Did you know, for instance, that Apple didn’t come up with the idea for the Newton at all? After Kaplan had his epiphany of a small, portable pen computer, one of the people he contacted as a potential partner was Steve Sakoman, an Apple employee. Sakoman was interested in the idea, but instead of moving to GO and joining Kaplan, he took Kaplan’s idea… And started the Newton project at Apple instead.
“I met with Sculley, and he asked me what it would take to stay and do the project [i.e., Kaplan’s pen computer] at Apple,” Sakoman told Kaplan and his partner, Mitchell Kapor, “I gave him a straight answer – complete freedom, protected resources, a separate staff and site. He agreed to my terms. I have to give him a final answer this week.”
We all know the answer. Sakoman took Kaplan’s idea, and in the same timeframe GO developed its pen computer and operating system, Apple developed the very similar Newton. Interestingly enough, you rarely hear this part of the Newton’s history – but as we all know, history is written by the winners. This “stealing” – as Apple calls it – is simply a core aspect of Apple’s DNA. However, thanks to its incredibly loyal and unwavering fanbase, the very fabric of space-time is generally altered until it looks like Apple came up with everything all by itself.
While Kaplan’s book may be from 1995, and while it may detail the late ’80s and early ’90s, it’s a very revealing book and every bit as relevant to the technology industry today.