The Wonderful World of Woz

Posted by

Silicon Valley Entrepreneurs Are The New Rock Stars.

It’s hard to believe that 1983 was 26 years ago. I was just becoming a teenager (not to age myself) and the testosterone was raging. I found myself much more interested in rock ‘n’ roll and video games than anything else. At the time, San Bernardino, Calif., played host to a four-day rock concert called The US Festival. On Sunday, May 29, 1983, the whole day was dedicated to some of the loudest rock bands in the world. Judas Priest, Scorpions and Van Halen played alongside some of the newest bands to hit the charts, including Motley Crue and Quiet Riot. The day also featured Ozzy Osbourne and Canadian Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame inductees, Triumph. It was almost too heavy for a heavy metal punk like me to handle.

Fast-forward to last week, and I found myself giving a presentation in San Francisco at the first National Sales Conference for Google. During that two-day conference, I managed to see Larry Page (Google’s co-founder), Eric Schmidt (CEO), and Chad Hurley (the co-founder of YouTube). It struck me that these guys were the new "rock stars" in my life.

If given the choice of hanging out backstage at a Van Halen concert or having dinner with any of the Google/YouTube people, the geeks would win — hands down. My, how things have changed.

It’s somewhat curious how closely linked those two worlds are because of just one person. Imagine one individual who at once invented the world’s first personal computer and was also responsible for the US Festival in 1983. Imagine adding to that individual’s credentials the fact that he is the world’s number-one Tetris champion and a former contestant on the hit ABC TV show Dancing With The Stars.

That’s the brilliant, strange and creative world that is Steve Wozniak. Known to most as "Woz," Wozniak paired up with Steve Jobs in the mid-’70s to launch a company called Apple based out of his garage. The rest, as they say, is history (in fact, it’s a long and winding history that you can quickly view over at Wikipedia or by picking up his book, iWoz). In 1987, Woz ended his tenure at Apple (although, according to Wikipedia, he still remains an employee – and receives a paycheque – and is a shareholder. He also maintains connections with Steve Jobs.)

"When I started Apple, I had a desire to be a good social element in the world," said Wozniak on the phone from California. "I really wanted to help people build their own computers for cheap, and I wanted those people to use computers to make this a better world. The idea of selling them and making money off of computers came from Steve Jobs. He had all of the inspiration to do something great with computers through the company. He had the aspiration to build a great company, because once you have a great company, you can do even more great things in the world."

Great People Do Great Things.

Part of those "great things" for Wozniak includes education, teaching and philanthropy. Along with his stellar rise to fame as one of the people who has influenced and changed the very fabric of our society, Wozniak "adopted" the Los Gatos school district, where he provided student and teachers with "hands-on teaching and donations of state-of-the-art technology equipment. Wozniak founded the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and was the founding sponsor of the Tech Museum, Silicon Valley Ballet and Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose," according to his bio.

While technology and business are seamless to him, Wozniak realizes that there are many businesses that have yet to truly embrace the power that technology and the many new online channels can bring to business.

"I’m usually around a certain type of business here in Silicon Valley, where companies not only understand and embrace technology, but are usually very up-to-speed and using whatever is going big on the Internet right now," he says (Wozniak is presently the chief scientist for Fusion-IO – a solid-state storage technology company). "In the old days of the Internet, you would have to hand-craft your own HTML pages, and there was no broadband Internet access in homes. You would do these things by hand, and struggle along to create these stories with text and images. And then one day blogging comes along, and it’s so easy for everyone to now tell their stories and share them with the world. The things that we saw as good ways to communicate in the pioneering days eventually become good for everyone. The thing is you have to get to the point where it’s easy for everyone, and that’s when things start to break through and become more common in business."

I no longer wait in line for tickets to see Kiss. Now I’m one of those people that will stand in line to watch people like Steve Wozniak speak. And Apple fans can stand in line this week for the latest operating system – Mac OS X v10.6, otherwise known as Snow Leopard. What’s amazing about our world is how hard it has now become to tell the difference between those waiting in line for tickets to see Kings Of Leon and those waiting in line to buy the latest iPhone. And, in some strange way, Wozniak has a role to play in all of this.

Steve Wozniak will be speaking in Montreal at the eConcordia Summit 2009 on September 10th, 2009.

The above posting is my twice-monthly column for the Montreal Gazette and Vancouver Sun newspapers called, New Business – Six Pixels of Separation. The full audio portion of my conversation with Steve Wozniak will be posted in a future episode of Six Pixels of Separation – The Twist Image Podcast. I cross-post the article here with all the links and tags for your reading pleasure, but you can check out the original versions online here:

Vancouver Sun – The Wonderful World of Woz.

Montreal Gazette – Concordia tech summit lures Apple’s Wozniak.


  1. Never thought about it this way Mitch, but this is exactly how I live now. I completely agree!

  2. But you are exceptional Mitch. And so are many of us that appreciate insights from technology, business, philanthropic, and political leaders. The mosh pit can’t match the excitement of a brilliant keynote anymore.
    We must recognize however that we’re acquiring knowledge for business purposes, and to some extent to satisfy our personal fascination with the advancement of technology and the societal uses thereof.
    On the flipside, we need to start recognizing that there is dysfunction in people lining up for iPhones–pieces of junk containing plastic and precious metals–if it weren’t perhaps for the change that these smartphones are bringing to the world. I’m not sold yet on them being more beneficial than the collective experience of rocking out with 20,000 other music fans at a gig. But that’s another story in itself.

Comments are closed.