Business Antedotes



The garage is almost as mandatory for the birth of a high-tech business as a manger for a Nativity scene. Apple I, as everybody must know, was created in the garage of Steve Jobs’ parents’ home in Los Altos, California. It ran on a $20 chip. First Jobs and Steve Wozniak assembled computers for fellow members of the Home-brew Computer Club at Stanford University. Their first commercial order was for fifty computers from the Byte Shop in Mountain View, and, in order to pay for the parts, Jobs sold his old Volkswagen bus and Wozniak his Hewlett-Packard calcu-lator. That was in 1976. The following year Apple had sales of $800,000, and in seven years $1.5 billion. Apple became a Fortune 5 company in a record five years.


What brought Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs together wasn’t just their mutual interest in electronics but their common bond in pranks. Wozniak was an early telephone hacker who used the “blue box” invented by John Draper (a.k.a. Captain Crunch) to make free calls anywhere in the world. But the different talents of the future founders of Apple Computer also showed up early: whereas Woz enjoyed calling the Vatican, demanding that the Pope be woken, Jobs was already thinking of how to market the illegal boxes to other hackers who did not like paying Ma Bell.


Tom Bradley, Mayor of Los Angeles, declared May 27, 1986, “Nina Blanchard Day” to commemorate the twenty-fifth anniversary of the founding of the largest modeling agency on the West Coast. Just before founding the agency, Ms. Blanchard had gone bankrupt as owner of a franchised modeling school. She tried to find work and failed. In desperation she decided to invest her last $300 in a new business . Because of her experience with the school, Nina Blanchard knew “a lot of models who needed work. But when photographers began calling her, Nina was afraid to tell fashion photographers that her models might not be ready yet for prime time. Instead she said that they were unavailable. Soon word got around that all of the Blanchard Agency’s models were always booked. This in turn attracted the established models, who wanted to be represented by the hottest agency in town . And when they signed on, their prophecy became self-fulfilling.


Susan Mendelson began making snacks, cookies, and cakes, to supplement her income, while working at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre. Very quickly her food became the main attraction at the theater and her future career: “People began calling to reserve cheesecake for intermission, and critics began to review my bak-ing,” she told Allan Gould, author of The New Entrepreneurs: 80 Canadian Success Stories. As the fame of her concoctions spread, she was asked one day to come into the studios of CBC radio to talk about her cheesecake. Listener response was so strong that she became a regular, first on radio, and then on local television. In 1979, she and a friend , Deborah Roitberg, opened a take-out catering firm called “The Lazy Gourmet.” It was ideally suited to the emerging Yuppie generation: people could bring their own dishes, fill them with the Lazy Gourmet’s custom-made creations, and pretend that they did it themselves. As the catering grew to a staff of twenty-five and began to serve restaurants, bar-mitzvahs, board meetings, office parties, and weddings (including this author’s), Susan Mendelson found time to write a number of best-selling cookbooks with titles such as Mama Never Cooked Like This and Let Me in the Kitchen! (a Cook Book for Kids and Other First-Timers); she was also commissioned to prepare The Official Expo 86 Souvenir Cookbook. She even goes back to her roots in theater at the Cultural Centre, where she produced a sell-out Song and Dance Cooking Show for children. Mendelson thinks he, secret is simple: “Believe it or not, it’s simply paying attention to the customers. They must feel that they are the most important person in the world and responsible for my success. They must be looked after all the time . In a service-oriented business, you lose touch with that and you’re lost. And keeping the staff happy, so they’ll be loyal and want to be here.”



EarLy in the computer revolution the phenomenon of the computer widow was recognized. Wives who before would lose their husbands to TV football found a much more serious threat in the computer. It is not uncommon, especially for those who get into programming, to stay up all night or to disappear for weeks on end. Mrs. Alexis Adams was one computer widow who planned revenge on her husband Scott.

At the same time that Scott Adams began to spend endless hours programming a game called “Adventureland” on his TRS-80 Model I, Mrs. Adams found out that she was pregnant. To get his attention, Alexis took all his disks, including the only copy of the game, and put them in the oven. When Scott started on a frantic search, she told him that his programming days were over until he spent more time with her. Fortunately, she had not turned on the gas, and the husband and wife jointly founded Adventure International, makers of highly successful computer games and educational software. The company was soon grossing $10 million a year, and the Adamses built a castle surrounded by their own 2,000 acre wilderness park, near Disney World in Florida. When last heard from, they were living there happily and harmoniously ever after.


When Tara and Gayle Hallgreen, sisters and ex-waitresses, started Cookies by George in Vancouver, they wanted a bank loan. The loan officer was incredulous: “Cookies? we won’t loan you money for that!”

After reaching a million dollars in sales within a couple of years, Tara claims the banks have changed their mind: “They are saying: “Ahhh, cookies!

As two arts graduates, they might have been prepared for the initial rejection. After all, Gayle received her degree from the University of British Columbia in an envelope stamped, “No Commercial Value.”


John Jacob Astor made his first couple of million in the fur and tea trade, but it was New York real estate that made him the richest American of his time. Some of his methods have survived the test of time. According to a panegyric written soon after Astor’s death in 1848: He had a firm faith in the magnificent future of New York as the greatest city of the continent, and as fast as his gains from his business came in, they were regularly invested in real estate. A part was expended in leasing for a long period property which the owners would not sell, and the rest in buying property in fee simple. In his purchases of land Mr. Astor was very fortunate. He pursued a regular system of making them. Whenever a favorable purchase could be made in the heart of the city, he availed himself of the opportunity, hut as a rule he bought his lands in what was then the suburb of the city, and which few besides himself expected to see built up during their lifetime. His sagacity and foresight have been more than justified by the course of events. His estate now lies principally in the heart of New York, and has yielded an increase greater even than he had ventured to hope for. Seventy hundred and twenty houses are said to figure on the rent roll of the Astor estate at present, and besides these are a number of lots not yet built upon, but which are every day increasing in value. When Mr. Astor bought Richmond Hill, the estate of Aaron Burr, he gave one thousand dollars an acre for the hundred and sixty acres. Twelve years later, the land was valued at fifteen hundred dollars per lot.  In 1810, he sold a lot near Wall Street for eight thousand dollars. The price was so low that a purchaser for cash was found at once, and this gentleman, after the sale, expressed his surprise that Mr. Astor should ask only eight thousand for a lot which in a few years would sell for twelve thousand. That is true,” said Mr. Astor, “but see what I intend doing with these eight thousand dollars. I shall buy eighty lots above Canal Street, and by the time your one lot is worth twelve thousand dollars, my eighty lots will be worth eighty thousand.”

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