The cautionary tale of Apple’s forgotten founder

Jun 8, 2010
Rachel Helyer-Donaldson

As Jobs unveils the new iPhone4, former partner Ron Wayne lives in poverty

On the day that Apple's Steve Jobs unveiled the iPhone 4, the story of what happened to the company's third co-founder has come to light. While Jobs and his Apple partner Steve Wozniak are now two of the world's richest people, their former associate 76-year-old Ron Wayne is living on social security in a Nevada town famous for its brothels.

The story of Apple's forgotten founder - rarely told but unearthed this week by the San Jose Mercury News (pictured) - is probably Silicon Valley's ultimate 'what if' case.

On April Fool's Day 1976, Wayne, along with Jobs (above) and Steve Wozniak, set up Apple Computer Inc. Wayne designed the company's original logo, wrote the manual for the Apple I computer and also drafted its partnership agreement.

But after just 12 days, he bailed out. Then working as chief draftsman at Atari, and aged 42, Wayne was worried that the risk-taking business practices of his 20-something partners would quickly bankrupt the company. Jobs, for instance, immediately plunged Apple into debt by taking a large order from a company notorious for failing to pay its bills. As the only one of the trio with any sizeable assets, it would have been Wayne who would have lost everything had creditors come calling.

As a result, Wayne cashed in his 10 per cent share in Apple for $800. According to the Mercury News, if he had held on to his stake it would have been worth more than $22bn today.

Both Jobs and Wozniak refused requests for an interview. But Wozniak has already acknowledged the crucial part Wayne played in setting up Apple, in his autobiography iWoz. "He seemed to know how to do all the things we didn't,” Wozniak wrote. “Ron ended up playing a huge role in those very early days at Apple."

Wayne has never owned an Apple computer or any of its products and has not heard from Steve Jobs in some years. He holds a dozen patents but has never had the money to develop them.

Wayne lives in the Nevada township of Pahrump, famous for its Chicken Ranch brothel. According to the Mercury News, he spends his days playing the slots at the local casino and trying to be philosophical about the past. "I don't waste my time getting frustrated about things that didn't work out," he said. "I left Apple for reasons that seemed sound to me at the time. Why should I go back and 'what if' myself? If I did, I'd be in a rubber room by now."

He added: "Unfortunately, my whole life has been a day late and a dollar short."

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