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Poor Ronald Wayne

Image via Zhiyue Xu on Unsplash

When you think of the early days of Apple, most people picture Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. Very few people think of, or even heard of, Ronald Wayne.

In 1976 Wayne was asked by Jobs to join him and Wozniak, who he met while working at Atari, to help them start a computer company known as Apple Computer Company and serve as a sort of voice of reason if the two disagreed on something.

Jobs and Wozniak were each given a 45% stake in the company, while Wayne was given a 10% stake. Wayne is credited for designing Apple's first logo, writing Apple's partnership agreement and writing the Apple I manual.

Wayne had become risk-averse following a failed slot machine business that caused him to spend a year repaying debt. Wayne became concerned when Apple received its first order from a notoriously slow-paying company and feared his personal assets could be seized if Apple had trouble repaying the line of credit it took out to buy the parts to fulfill its first order.

"If the company goes poof, we are individually liable for the debts," Wayne told the BBC a few years ago. "Jobs and Wozniak didn't have two nickels to rub together. I had a house, and a bank account, and a car… I was reachable!"

On April 12, 1976, just twelve days after the three founded Apple, Wayne returned to the registrar's office to renounce his role in the company. In doing so he received $800 for his 10% stake in Apple.

A few months later Wayne received a letter from Apple saying he could receive $1,500 in exchange for forfeiting potential future claims against the company.

"The letter says all you gotta do is sign away every possible interest you could have in the Apple Computer Company, and the cheque is yours," Wayne said. "As far as I was concerned, it was 'found money.' So I went ahead and I signed."

As shares of Apple came within a few dollars of a $2 trillion market capitalization yesterday, Wayne's story becomes all the more remarkable.

Wayne has said he doesn't regret his decision to leave Apple and sell his stake, calling it the "best decision with the information available to me at the time."

"What can I say? You make a decision based on your understanding of the circumstances, and you live with it," Wayne said.

Wayne does have one decision he regrets making. In the 90's, Wayne sold the original Apple partnership contract signed by himself, Jobs and Wozniak for $500. In 2011 the same contract sold at an auction for $1.6 million, to which Wayne expressed regret over.

Ironically, Wayne said he's never owned an Apple product except for an iPad that he was given as a gift. He subsequently gave it away.

As Apple continues its relentless move higher, in part fueled by help from the Federal Reserve buying its bonds, Ronald Wayne is probably wondering what could have been if he hadn't sold his stake in 1976.

Leftover Crumbs

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