A little story about Apple.

I generally don’t like referring to companies by their stock ticker, but today, with the enterprise value of Apple going up above $750,000,000,000 — more than twice the value of any other company in the world — it seems appropriate.

Here’s what the adjusted stock price of Apple has looked like over the years (courtesy of Yahoo Finance):

Amazing. In a lot of ways the story of a technology company hanging around, making interesting things, and waiting for the world to actually need what they wanted to build. (Lots and lots more complexity than that, I know.)

But when I was there in 1997, a little bit after graduating from Stanford, here’s what the chart looked like:

Yep. Stock adjusted, 47 cents per share. The market cap of Apple at that time was $2.3B.

Our revenues for 1997? $7.08B.

If I recall correctly, cash on hand was right around $2B.

And as bleak as that sounds, the mood inside, even after SJ came back, was worse. We took a $250M investment from Microsoft that year that felt like charity — or really felt like it was designed to keep alive some Mac customers for their Office products — if I’m being completely honest, it was that investment — from a competitor we all felt made a profoundly inferior product — that was the most demoralizing part of working at Apple that year.

The overwhelming narrative in the press and with the technorati — and really internally as rank & file at Apple — was that we were going to get bought by Sun Microsystems. Which, I know, lots of you have never heard of. They made Java. Before that they made UNIX computers that were pretty great. (I worked there over a summer as an intern, too.) Now they’re part of Oracle. And not for nothing, but they did important work — we stand on the shoulders of giants, as always.

But then NeXT folks took over, Steve started steering the ship, and life got better.

Steve and the crew he brought with him, along with some amazing long time Apple folks, and many folks who came in — they changed the narrative. They killed a bunch of products and reinvented the Mac. And then invented the iPod, the iPhone, the Apple TV and the iPad. Next the Apple Watch.

Photo by Wilfred Iven

And that is how you go from $2B -> $750B.

A story for the ages. Nothing like it.

But also something to remember: narratives are bullshit. It’s the people who show up and build and keep going who ultimately write the stories that last.

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