Friday, January 24, 2014

Sneaking into the Macintosh launch

The Apple Macintosh was launched 30 years ago, which seems like ancient history because of course it is, but it’s fun to reflect a little on it because it brings back lots of personal memories for me – especially memories of what I think was the true Spirit of Macintosh.  In those days, most of us felt like the true meaning of computing was embodied in a company like Apple (and to a much lesser extent, Microsoft, which was barely known at the time) which were fighting the on-coming onslaught from the Big and Boring Establishment (i.e. IBM).  We wanted Apple to succeed because we thought of it as the Good Guys versus the Bad Guys in the Establishment, led by IBM with their zillions of dollars to force the world to use their software.  All we had was our ingenuity.

I was in college at the time, and I remember being pretty excited during the weeks leading up to the launch. In those days there was no world wide web where you could read up on leaks about the product, and the whole thing was shrouded in ultra secrecy. I was working part time at a small startup software company funded by a Japanese printer manufacturer that was hoping to successfully introduce a PC to the US (based on, of all things, the CP/M operating system).  But the management of the company was very interested in Apple too, and I had access to some of the early Mac stuff at the Stanford lab where I hung out.  My friends and I were also avid high tech stock gamblers investors too, so we were Apple stockholders as well, which entitled us to get into the annual shareholders meeting at the De Anza Auditorium, where we knew we could see the introduction in person.

Unfortunately, when we got there the place was packed and it was impossible to find parking,  so we agreed to split up in order to ensure we could get inside.  One of my roommates, David, was driving, so he dropped us off at the front while the other three of us, Craig, Dario, and I went inside to find seats.  But the auditorium quickly filled up and they closed the doors before David could get inside!  What to do?

Without hesitation, Craig reminded us of some advice that I still remember:  “Sometimes, if you can’t get in through the front door, you have to go in through the back door”.

So that’s what we did.  Remember, this was before cell phones, so there was no way to call each other to set up the plan.  Instead, Craig held our seats while I ran outside to find David.  Dario and I agreed that in precisely five minutes, he would be standing at the locked exit door in back and would let us back in.  I rushed outside and fortunately was able to quickly find our friend, and sure enough, Dario had the door ready for us and we snuck inside in the nick of time.  We saw the entire event – and by sneaking in we felt even more like insiders for having “beaten the establishment” just like the Macintosh Spirit encouraged us to do.

Craig’s good advice still applies today when you’re a startup forced to think creatively about how to get around obstacles.  The Established Players have the front doors all locked up.  If you want to get inside, you need to be creative – and more often than not, that means going through the back door.

[cross-posted and updated from my old blog. Photo thanks: William Wilkinson]