Just as I was graduating from college, I heard Steve Wozniak was coming to speak at my university. As a huge Apple fan, this was marked on my calendar as the event of a lifetime to attend. I wanted to meet him and maybe have a couple minutes to just chat about a few of his experiences. I started asking around about how the university would handle people meeting Woz before or after his speech. You would've thought I asked for Apple's next iPhone prototype. University officials told me that he was coming to speak and that I could buy a ticket to see it happen, but they would not guarantee that anyone would get to meet him. Over the next few weeks, I talked to anyone who would listen about how excited I was about the event and bought two tickets, one for me, and a surprise ticket for my girlfriend at the time. About two weeks from the event I got an email titled: "You didn't get this from me." As I read on, I learned that 20 College of Business students got to meet Woz in a pre-speech meeting. Now, let's be clear; I was a student in the College of Communication, not the College of Business. Come to find out, they'd invited the cream of the crop from their business program to attend. Although this email didn't come with an invite, it showed me that I had a 1 in 21 chance of being there. So, I started sending emails to the Dean and Secretary of the Dean to ask if I could attend. I got back boiler plate responses that said no, but wished me well. However, every day I would send a new note or find a reason to drop by the office.
It was now the day of the speech, and I went to my classes normally, thrilled that I was going to hear Woz speak, and I still hadn't given up on meeting him. I was in my 2:00 p.m. class that day and I received an email from the College of Business, telling me that a seat has opened up, and I would actually get to meet Woz. I was ecstatic! Then, I realized that I was wearing a blue sweatshirt, jeans, and big white tennis shoes and would have classes until the Woz meeting that day. I figured that I might blend in with my current attire. It was just my luck that everyone except Woz and myself were wearing suits. I've wondered to this day if it made me seem more normal and if he was more comfortable with me because I was dressed down. I sat down at a large boardroom table with students as excited as I was, waiting to powder him with questions.
He was fascinating to listen to as he told stories of Apple's founding, working with Steve Jobs and what they'd built in a simple residential garage!
He could've talked for hours, and I would listened to every word because he had been involved in something I was so interested in learning more about. Many people forget that Apple was once a struggling company next to IBM, but they had a passion to keep going. I respected what they stood for as entrepreneurs and it further fueled my curiosity.
The questioning came to a close and students lined up to meet Woz, one by one. I started racking my brain thinking of what I could say to Woz that would mean anything to him. I would only have about 90 seconds with him before he'd be swept off by the administrators. I didn't want to act like a total fanboy but I wanted him to know that I loved his philosophy of doing something for the purpose of doing it because you love it, not for the end goal of making money.
Early Successes of Steve Wozniak
On June 29, 1975, Wozniak tested a functioning prototype of the system, projecting just a sampling of software and characters to prove the concept. It boggles my mind, that this was the first time in history that a character was successfully rendered on a TV display, being generated by a personal home computer.
In 1976, Apple Computer released the Apple I. Wozniak hand-built the Apple I and was responsible for overseeing the building of its operating system, architecting the hardware, and creating the design of the internal circuit board.
Shortly thereafter, Apple Computer followed up the Apple I with the release of the Apple II in 1977, which sold in the millions.
He experienced breakthroughs in computer history; that will never be forgotten. When I talked to him, I told him that I admired his work, philosophy, and Apple as a company. I'd considered asking him to lunch at this point, but I knew that the administration would likely interfere, so I let it go until later that night. Wozniak seemed very approachable and gave the sense that he genuinely liked students and was interested in their pursuits. Later that night, I surprised my girlfriend at the time (who is also a huge Apple fan) with tickets to go see his speech. The time had finally come to see him speak! Laxson Auditorium, one of the largest venues on my campus was packed from floor to ceiling with people waiting to see him speak.
He was so humble as he spoke, speaking of things that were the foundations of engineering and computer components that we take for granted in all of our technologies today. Everything he worked on seemed as if it were just an experiment or something he'd tinkered on to challenge himself and make the world better for people, who might benefit from his technology. He loved everything he created and spoke of the time he spent with Steve Jobs and how they could've never imagined that what they built, would have such a profound effect on the world today. They were geeky and built things that excited them, which I've found as a common thread amongst my favorite companies like Evernote, Facebook, Twitter, Flipboard, and Pinterest. During his speech I started thinking about life after college. What did I want to do? Who did I want to be? How could I change the world? I went to high school in the Bay Area, but Wozniak was telling a story of Silicon Valley that would've made anyone think they could create the next Apple. It sounded magical -- a place where dreams come true. I got chills and knew I had to know more and that I wanted to live in Silicon Valley. I needed Woz's advice and wisdom, and I wanted to hear more stories about his adventures beyond Apple. I'd heard rumblings that there might be a book signing after, so of course I brought my MacBook cover to be signed, and I'd purchased two iWoz books for my girlfriend and I to have signed. The speech ended, and I immediately queued up in line to have one more chance to talk Steve Wozniak. As it happened, I got to wait in line with Ross Serrett and George Carleton, who remain two of my closest friends to this day. Today, they've taken some of the advice that Wozniak gave us and have pursued their dream, creating a company called BFA Games.
Finally, we got up to the front of the line; Woz signed our computer equipment, and I asked him to have lunch. I remember it like it was yesterday. Below is exactly how I phrased my request...
He said YES, I'd love that.
He handed me his metal business card and directed me to speak with his assistant to set up a time we could meet. We exchanged contact info and my friends, and I left Laxson Auditorium speechless about what'd just happened. In the next few months, I would have lunch with Steve Wozniak. Little did I know, he'd just had a profound influence on my life, that I wouldn't realize, until I was leaving my day job at XEODesign to start my passion project, 105 Conversations. When I got home the next day, I started an email thread between Woz, myself, and his assistant. He expressed his joy about students and that he was excited for our lunch. We started exchanging emails about where we'd meet and got to know each other a little bit. He started our first correspondence off with this:
Looking back, it has become clear that Steve Wozniak was Cup #0 on my 105 Conversations List. He was the cup of coffee that started it all. I plan to make him an official 1 of the 105 Conversations in the coming months, if he'll meet up with me again, but that's not what's important. He planted the seed for me to have the courage to pursue a dream that sometimes seems impossible. He was an approachable celebrity, who had a way of making me feel like I was the most important person in the world. He wanted to help students, and I found that remarkable. It made me wonder if there were other famous people in the world, who might want to impart their knowledge upon the millennial generation and beyond. Hence, 105 Conversations was born but more importantly the mission made sense and had time to sink in, as 105 Conversations wouldn't be born for about another two years.
I started asking myself a series of questions...
If I could be the mouthpiece for important conversations around the future of technology, innovation, leadership, and education, shouldn't I pursue it to the fullest extent and broadcast my findings to anyone who will listen, if I'm able?
I believe the answer to be YES, but it's a very humble yes because so much of the journey is unknown.
What I started to believe in my heart was -- If I have the potential to change the world and make society as a whole better, I should dare to risk it all and dream big.
After a few more emails, we picked the place, a restaurant called the Southern Kitchen in Los Gatos. We had a brunch that lasted about 1.5 hours, where Woz told me stories of Apple and Silicon Valley and his current pursuits, telling me of engineering concepts that were so complex, but he'd made them so simple and applicable to help people enjoy the experience of his technology. He was interested in me and what questions I had and the types of things I wanted to pursue after college. I won't go into too much detail because I respect his privacy, but I will tell you that it was an experience that I'll never forget. I left with a few pieces of advice: Follow your passion and do what you love. It doesn't matter what it is; the money will follow. Engineering products was never about the money for Woz. He wanted to build something important, that was manufactured with care, down to the smallest detail and was a quality piece of equipment that did the job it was intended to do. Woz and I got so wrapped into our conversation that at 1.5 hours, we finished up and actually forgot to pay the bill! After realizing the accidental error, I rushed back into the restaurant and paid the bill. Woz insisted that he buy as he picked the place, but I wouldn't hear of it. He said if we ever have lunch again he has to buy but I'd pay to just hear more stories.
I've seen Woz since at a few Apple releases, but I'm sure he doesn't know exactly how much of an impact our lunch had on me.
Therefore, I'm writing this post to inspire someone to live their dream or to have lunch with someone they've always admired. If you're genuine, your chances of having the person say yes increase dramatically. If Steve Wozniak ever reads this, all I can say is thank you for being you and sharing some of your wisdom with me. You've given me one of the most rewarding gifts that I get to reopen every day, a dream.