Steve Jobs and the entrepreneurial revolution

It occurs to me that some “young people” and even some of our older guys and gals might not know or might not remember what a huge impact Steve Jobs had on everyday life, especially for small business people.

As amazing as the iPod is and as incredibly useful as the iPad is, I think his earlier products had a more massive impact on society than even his later ones.

For example, when I lived in New York City in 1984 I had a little business teaching speed reading to college students and professional people. I was in my 20s and I don’t mind admitting I was stretched pretty thin.

My main –  make that my sole –  means of effective advertising was posting flyers up and down both sides of Broadway. The response rate on those flyers literally determined whether I ate and was able to pay my rent on time or not, therefore I did a lot of testing.

Guess what it cost to typeset a single one-sided 8 1/2 x 11 flyer in those days?

$100 –  which in 1984 was a lot of money.

The first Macintosh, the 128K, changed that overnight. You could actually lay out flyers in different types and with different typefaces by yourself and then, if you had a laser printer, you could print them out too.

This was life-changing for me.

I didn’t have anywhere near enough money to afford to buy either a Macintosh or a laser printer, but in those looser, friendlier times, I could take the subway up to Columbia University and pretend to be an undergrad, get in the “computer lab”, and knock my flyers out before anyone was the wiser.

In time, I was actually able to buy my own Mac – amazing –  though I still had to make the trip to Columbia to print stuff out. (Thank you Columbia University.)

I did have enough money to buy an ImageWriter (I think that’s what it was called) which was a very mechanical sounding dot matrix printer, though it ran like a racehorse.

I don’t think I ever wore it out. I did outgrow it though and eventually was finally able to buy a laser printer, which happened many years later. I think I paid $2000 for it.

My business then was simple. I’d lay out flyers on my Mac, get the master printed up at Columbia, and then get it printed by the thousands. I’d post the posters myself and then wait for the phone to ring.  (Pre-Internet days folks.) Thankfully it always did ring and I was always able to fill my classes.

The Mac help me again. After somebody called and I described the course to them, I take their name and mailing address and send them a brochure which was actually a sales letter.  I’d print out the sales letter right on the spot on my ImageWriter.

Understand that previous to this the only other way to accomplish this was to type the letter by hand or send a xerox copy. With my own printer, I was able to personalize the letter so it looked  like I sat down and actually wrote it to them. Amazing.

The Mac help me in yet another way. I forget the name of the program but there was a program at the time that let you easily enter names and mailing addresses into a database and then print them out on labels. Another miracle.

Every month when I had a new class, I simply printed out the labels of anyone who ever inquired, put in the letter for the new class in envelopes and mailed it.

With this simple system I was able to buy my freedom from the 9 to 5 workaday world.

How can you put a price on something like that? Steve Jobs and Apple made it possible.

But that’s not all…

A few years later,  I upgraded the 128K to a 512K and that machine became the foundation of one of the first digital audio for film studios in New York City. Don’t ask me how he did it, but my brilliant friend Bill Markle somehow rigged together a mixing board, an Otari tape recorder, a Sony U-Matic 3/4″ video deck, and the Mac and use that to create the soundtracks for countless small productions.

From this humble beginning, Bill went on to create the soundtracks for some pretty famous movies including “Like Water for Chocolate” and the Academy award-winning documentary “When We were Kings”, the film about the life of the boxer Mohammed Ali.

I’m sure there are thousands of stories like this, maybe even millions.

The whole concept of “desktop publishing” was enabled by Apple and the vision of Steve Jobs. Suddenly, businesses of all kinds could produce their own marketing materials and anyone who had the will could become a publisher. This was literally as important a breakthrough as Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press.

But that’s not all…

Amazingly, and not many people realize this, Tim Berners-Lee wrote the original code for the World Wide Web on a NEXT machine and, of course, Steve Jobs was behind that machine as well. Therefore, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that Jobs was present at the two great revolutions of self-publishing, first on paper and ink and second on the Internet. The iPod and the iTunes Store put the icing on an already substantial cake.

Note that Steve Jobs received no government subsidies, wasn’t anybody’s friend in Washington, and didn’t need bailouts to do any of these things. Yet it’s very possible he created more jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities than anyone in the last 30 years.

Here’s a video of the talk Steve Jobs gave at a college graduation in 2005.

I guarantee the 15 minutes. it will take to watch it will be worth your time.


– Ken McCarthy

P.S. For over 25 years I’ve been sharing the simple but powerful things that matter in business with my clients.

If you’d like direction for your business that will work today, tomorrow and twenty years from now, visit us at the System Club.

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14 Responses to Steve Jobs and the entrepreneurial revolution

  1. Sean October 6, 2011 at 3:07 pm #


    Absolutely spot on Ken.

    I am extremely grateful for the pioneering work that Steve Jobs and his team have been responsible for.

    He has also made it easier for me to krank out flyers, video, audio recordings and other promotional stuff which would have been very difficult without using a mac.

    The graduation video is brilliant, I first saw it about 3 years ago and as soon as I heard about Steve’s demise, I went searching for it again to watch it this morning.

    Well done Ken for writing with such clarity as usual.

    Steve Jobs RIP

  2. Sean October 6, 2011 at 3:07 pm #

    Absolutely spot on Ken.

    I am extremely grateful for the pioneering work that Steve Jobs and his team have been responsible for.

    He has also made it easier for me to krank out flyers, video, audio recordings and other promotional stuff which would have been very difficult without using a mac.

    The graduation video is brilliant, I first saw it about 3 years ago and as soon as I heard about Steve’s demise, I went searching for it again to watch it this morning.

    Well done Ken for writing with such clarity as usual.

  3. Bart October 6, 2011 at 3:13 pm #


    I can still remember visiting a computer dealer and discovering the only machine that would let us create art as it was going to appear on paper – the Mac.

    It was 1988, and the Mac was a Mac Plus. It cost $2500 for the machine, an external hard drive and ImageWriter printer (about $4600 in today’s dollars). That made it possible for us to show our customers their plaque designs – and get their orders.

    You were not the only one who couldn’t afford a laser printer. We would drive to a print shop and pay them per page to output our artwork on their LaserWriter. That art was then sent via US Mail (because e-mail didn’t exist yet) to our suppliers for production. That’s an archaic process by today’s standards, but it worked, and got us plenty of orders.

    Yes, Steve Jobs brought desktop publishing to entrepreneurs, and opened up possibilities that simply did not exist in the past.


  4. Bart October 6, 2011 at 3:23 pm #

    That Mac Plus also had a whopping 9″ display, in pure black and white. That’s right, no color at all, not even shades of gray.

  5. Manju Thirani October 6, 2011 at 4:32 pm #

    I first read about Steve’s passing away in your email.
    The world has not only lost an ace inventor but a spirited entrepreneur who knew how to dream .
    Steve taught others to dream and gave them the means to make their dreams come true.
    I do not own a single Apple product (other than the iPod)but know the intensity of its cult-like following.
    Had Steve lived on I am sure many more amzing technological revolutions would be rolled out.

  6. Rick October 6, 2011 at 4:47 pm #

    He was definately the game changer in the computer and electronics world.

  7. Gary Earle October 6, 2011 at 5:41 pm #

    Hi Ken, glad your email appeared in my inbox…yesterday and today. And you’re right, Jobs did more for so many industries, but most will never know. And you, back in 1984..was wowed when the MAC came into our little computer store that was selling the IBM & Texas Instrument monsters. I was the “tech” I got to open it was an incredibly simple machine. But enough of that, it was a sad day when he passed away, visionaries are so few and far between and I was lucky enough to see one at work in my lifetime. RIP Steve Jobs.

    Wanna know what’s really kind of sad though? Many people don’t even know who the hell he was. go figure.


  8. Curt October 6, 2011 at 6:23 pm #

    The video was encourging and motivational. I fowarded it to key people in my life and encourged them to do the same.


  9. Jesús Ramón October 6, 2011 at 7:34 pm #

    Thanks, nice words…

  10. Suzy Weiss October 6, 2011 at 8:33 pm #


    Great Story. It’s an amazinging ‘ripple effect’ that Steve Jobs has had on many people’s lives.

    Your description of how this new technology empowered you and your business is one of literally millions of tales of how this driven visionary impacted our lives.

    I too caught the DTP bug in about 1985 and bought a Mac 512 + laser printer for about $10,000 (a lot of money back then). Fast forward to 2011, Apple is about to release the latest iPhone (iPhone 4S) which will run circles around the Mac 512 for a fraction of the price.

    Yes, Ken that 15 minutes of Steve at Stanford was priceless.

    “Stay Foolish, and Stay Hungry”

    Suzy Weiss
    Dating Coach For Women Over 40

  11. Ken McCarthy October 7, 2011 at 1:49 pm #

    I wrote this to my buddy Michael Campbell who also wrote about how Jobs and Apple changed his life.

    Dear Michael,

    Just read your Steve Jobs piece.

    More parallels between your life and mine…

    I too lived in a one-room apartment in the 80s not much bigger than my bedroom today (and my bedroom today isn’t very big)

    My bathroom was outside in the hallway and was about the size of a phone booth and a half.

    I did have one up on you though. It was my own. I didn’t share it – but it had no sink.

    I didn’t get an air conditioner until 1988 (I was 28) and I assure you that little room on the top floor just underneath a black tar roof with no cross ventilation got very hot in the steamy NYC summers.

    Desktop publishing bought me my freedom, not that I ever took it as far as you did, but I was free.

    The Internet, which Tim Berners-Lee created on a Steve jobs created NEXT machine, was what finally put some real money in my pocket.

    Sometimes I try to imagine what life would be like without easy-to-use personal computers with graphical interfaces, nice type, and laser printers. And without the World Wide Web.

    I don’t think about it too much because the concept is too horrible to contemplate

    Now of course I could live without these things just fine if I needed to, but I sure wouldn’t have gotten from Point A to Point B without them as pleasantly as I have.

    – Ken McCarthy

  12. Short Metallic Uggs October 8, 2011 at 7:40 am #

    I wish more people would put down sites like this that are truly provocative to read.

  13. Michael Campbell October 8, 2011 at 8:41 pm #

    Hi Ken,

    Thanks for sending that. There certainly is an uncanny amount of parallels between us. Are you sure we weren’t separated at birth. LOL

    Yes, it was a weird feeling. I knew he would pass soon but it certainly shook me more than expected. I spend more time with Apple products 8 – 10 hours per day, than I do with my wife. 😉

    And that’s just the computer. I read in the morning on my iPad. My iPhone is a constant companion as I listen to audio books while out for walks, or doing chores.

    So pretty much from the time I wake up, to the time I sleep, there’s an Apple product of sorts, if not on my person, within arm’s reach. I cannot imagine being without them.

    I even stuck with Apple through the lean years, when Steve was with NeXT and Pixar. I know its just technology, but if it wasn’t for it, I can’t imagine what I’d be doing right now… I don’t even want to “go there” because its too depressing to even think about.

    I actually used a NeXT computer in the print industry. Very smooth. When Steve came back to Apple and revamped them. The first operating system was based on NeXT. It felt like home.

    Gosh… I wonder if the computer would have evolved at all if it wasn’t for Apple and Steve Jobs. I shudder to think that we’d still be using DOS and command line interfaces. 😉



    I linked to this post from my blog, so my readership could see what you wrote. Here is a link to my tribute to Steve Jobs for your readers.

  14. Abram October 14, 2011 at 4:52 pm #

    Thank you for finding the time to explain the terminlogy towards the newcomers!

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