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Nov 3, 2011 - 2 minute read - Comments - entrepreneurship

Execution Matters

I’m in the process of reading the new Steve Jobs biography and it gives the details about the famous story of Jobs and his engineers visiting the Xerox PARC research centre to learn about the graphical user interface the Xerox engineers had developed.

The legend that had always been told about this event was that Jobs convinced Xerox to give them a look at their technology, which Jobs then stole for the Macintosh. What really happened is that in exchange for letting Xerox’s venture capital arm invest in Apple’s next round of private financing, Jobs negotiated a deal where he would be allowed full access to the technology being developed at PARC.

The conventional wisdom that had gone along with this event was that if Xerox had just realized what they had, they could have came to dominate the computer industry. The interesting thing is that Xerox did launch a product based on their ideas.

Xerox Star

The Xerox Star was launched in 1981 with a focus on the business market. A workstation sold for $16,000 and required 2 or 3 other workstations and a file server and a name server/print server to be useful. A full system would be $50,000 to $100,000. The system had a bit mapped screen and the graphical user interface we’re all now familiar with.

Xerox Star Screenshot

Xerox only shipped about 25,000 units and it was considered a commercial failure. The high price and poor user experience were contributing factors.

Compare this to the Macintosh which launched in January 1984 at a price of $2,495.

Macintosh 128K

The Macintosh’s price point immediately made it accessible to more people. Apple’s engineers had taken Xerox’s designs and innovated on them to produce a computer that was easier to use and more capable than the Xerox effort. The Macintosh went on to be a huge success.

The lesson here is that having a good idea isn’t enough. Doing something that delivers the potential of the idea in way that creates value for people is everything.