Steve Wozniak in Trondheim

Apple co-founder, Steve Wozniak, came to Trondheim on Friday to speak at StartIT, an event run by Start NTNU and Spark NTNU to encourage budding IT entrepreneurs.

A gifted engineer and a charismatic speaker, Wozniak entertained the auditorium of 500 students with anecdotes about Apple’s beginnings and advice for new inventors. Here are some of his choicest stories.

On the origins of Apple

Before Wozniak took the stage the organisers played the famous 1984 commercial, setting the tone for a trip down memory lane. According to Wozniak, he and Steve Jobs started working together “for fun – not doing it thinking we’re going to have a company, a job”. They were part of a group of people talking about social revolution, he elaborated: “I never did it for the money… it was something I was good at creating and something I thought could help other people – I really wanted to be part of a revolution”.

Beyond that, though, his sheer enthusiasm for his inventions was clear in every sentence. “Once you have a computer it’s a platform,” Wozniak told the crowd.  “I had a goal of someday owning my own computer – then all of a sudden it was apparent I could build that computer”.

In particular he talked about the Apple II. It would be a computer you could use straight from the box, and it would be in colour. “They only used black and white televisions for arcade games in those days… and I was thinking about colour TVs – how they use a nice wave at exactly the right speed – and then the idea popped into my head of using 1s and 0s at the right speed and the computer would think it was colour”.

“We were bringing colour to the world,” he concluded.

The Apple II, launched 1977.

On Steve Jobs

When Wozniak talked, the years rolled away and you could imagine being back in California in this moment of intense innovation and excitement. You could imagine Steve Jobs would walk out on stage any second.

In Wozniak’s story, Jobs and he made the perfect team: “Steve was the entrepreneur, I was just the designer – I understood the market really well, because the market was one person, me. He didn’t know the cost to build but he knew what people wanted and which engineers were able to achieve the impossible”.

Jobs persuaded Wozniak to go further and achieve more: “to design a game that young, game-loving people would like would be the highlight of my life – and Steve said you’ve got to do it in 4 days.” Wozniak explained that this was in the days of hardware, not software, but – “I didn’t question him. We had four days and nights with no sleep – both of us caught mononucleosis, but we delivered it to Atari!”

Advice for IT entrepreneurs

For all the fun of hearing about the past, what really grabbed to audience was when Steve Wozniak turned to the future – to the innovators and entrepreneurs in the room.

“When we started the company we were like all of you… we were young, we had no money, and we had no business experience,” Wozniak began. But “if you want to do new outstanding different things, they don’t have to have value at first – look at Apple…If we didn’t make a profit it didn’t matter, we would have a company that we cared about.”

“What really matters is when something’s in your own head, nothing can stop you,” Wozniak continued. “You do as much as you can with the few resources you have…We bought our computer parts on credit, so you have 30 days to pay for them! We built the computers in 10 days, and got paid cash.”

Steve Wozniak quoted the advice of their angel investor and second CEO Mike Markkula: “we’re going to be a market-driven company, because the greatest companies like IBM were market-driven, not engineering driven.”

To “all these people come out of business school”, Wozniak had this to say: “Please, find the engineering students. All these people who like to create, original problem-solvers…the engineers will be able to give you ideas you never thought of.”

And with that engineering foundation, “build a working model that somebody can play with and interact with – because you’ll be able to convince a lot more people it’ll be fun to use.”

When asked if the students in the audience should pursue a business or finish school, Wozniak laughed and said: “If you have a chance to start a company with a few friends, do it, you can always go back to school! On the other hand, if you can do it while you’re at school…”

Looking forwards

When Steve Wozniak finished speaking all 500 students rose to their feet – a tribute to the man and to the legacy that continues to shape our world.

Earlier in his talk Wozniak threw out the idea that “Steve Jobs would say the computer age is gone”. Hard drives are increasingly located elsewhere – devices like iPads are more like displays.

Technology has come so far from the invention of floppy disks and colour screens in the 1970s – what will the future bring?

Want to hear more?

What is the future of technology and innovation – and what role will Norway play? At Technoport 2014 we will explore topics like this through keynote speeches, hands-on workshops and live crowdfunding. Learn more about Technoport 2014.

Photo credit: Start NTNU and oldcomputers.net