Alex’s journey began when he was an eighteen-year-old college freshman. The day before his final exams, he hacked The Price Is Right, won a sailboat, sold it, and used the prize money to fund his quest to learn from the world’s most successful people. The following story takes place right after Alex’s big interview with Bill Gates and it features none other than Steve Wozniak. I’ll let Alex take it from here…
I walked up to Mandarin Gourmet, a restaurant two blocks from Apple headquarters. The location couldn’t have been more perfect, because in just a few minutes, I would be interviewing Steve Wozniak, the cofounder of Apple, who built one of the first personal computers with his bare hands.
I was standing in front of the entrance when my phone rang. It was my friend Ryan.
“The Woz?” he asked as I told him what I was up to. “Bro, I know you were having trouble getting interviews, but Woz peaked like twenty years ago. Look at the Forbes list. He’s not even on it. I don’t get why you’re doing this. Actually, you know what? Maybe it’s good you’re interviewing him. Try to figure out why Woz never became as successful as Steve Jobs.”
Before I could respond, out of the corner of my eye I saw Steve Wozniak striding toward me, wearing sneakers and sunglasses. A pen and green laser pointer were clipped to the chest pocket of his shirt. I hung up my phone and greeted him, and then stepped inside.
As soon as we sat, I picked up a menu but Wozniak motioned for me to put it down. He called over the waiter and ordered for both of us with the enthusiasm of a kid who could get all the desserts he wanted.
Our table was soon overflowing with fried rice, vegetable chow mein, Chinese chicken salad, sesame chicken, honey walnut prawns, Mongolian beef, and crispy egg rolls. Even before our first bite, Wozniak already seemed to be the happiest person I’d ever met.
Whether he was telling me about his wife, his dogs, his favorite restaurants, or the road trip he was about to take to Lake Tahoe, Wozniak seemed to love everything about his life.
He told me that he met Steve Jobs in 1971, just a few miles from where we were sitting. Jobs was in high school and Wozniak was in college. The moment they met, Wozniak and Jobs hit it off and spent hours sitting on a sidewalk, laughing and sharing stories about pranks they’d pulled.
As Wozniak told me prank after prank, a woman with short brown hair joined our table.
“Woz,” she said, “did you show him the laser pointer test?”
Wozniak introduced his wife, Janet. He unclipped the green laser pointer from his shirt and held it close to my face, telling me it could detect “how much brains” I had. When he shined it into my right ear, green light appeared on the opposite wall.
“Holy crap!” he said. “Your head is completely empty.”
Glancing down, I spotted a second laser pointer he was holding under the table. Woz and I let out a laugh. He clipped his laser pointer back on his shirt and told his wife about my mission. He shared with her the names of the people I was interviewing.
“You know,” he said, turning to me and lowering his voice, “I don’t know why you’re interviewing me. I’m not a successful mogul like Steve Jobs or anything like that . . .”
His words trailed as though he was baiting me for a response. It felt like he was testing me, but I didn’t know what to say, so I did the only thing I could think of—I stuffed an egg roll in my mouth.
“When I was a kid,” Wozniak said, “I had two goals for my life. The first was to create something with engineering that changes the world. The second was to live life on my own terms.”
“Most people do things because that’s what society tells them they should do. But if you stop and do the math—if you actually think for yourself—you’ll realize there’s a better way to do things.”
“Is that why you’re so happy?” I asked.
“Bingo,” Wozniak said. “I’m happy because I do what I want every day.”
“Oh,” his wife said, laughing, “he does exactly what he wants.”
I was curious about the difference between Wozniak and Steve Jobs, so I asked what it was like founding Apple when it was just the two of them. Wozniak shared a handful of stories, but what stood out most were the ones that made it clear how different their values were.
One story took place before Apple was formed. Jobs was working at Atari and was assigned to create a video game. He knew Wozniak was a better engineer, so he made a deal: if Wozniak would create the game, they would split the seven-hundred-dollar pay.
Wozniak was grateful for the opportunity and built the game. As soon as Jobs got paid, he gave his friend the three hundred and fifty dollars he had promised. Ten years later, Wozniak learned that Jobs hadn’t been paid seven hundred dollars for the game, but rather thousands of dollars. When the story broke in the news, Steve Jobs denied it, but even the CEO of Atari claimed it was true.
Another story took place early in Apple’s growth. At the time, it seemed obvious Jobs would be the company’s CEO, but it wasn’t clear where Wozniak would fit in on the executive team. Jobs asked him what position he wanted. Wozniak knew that managing people and dealing with corporate politics were the last things he wanted to do.
So he told Jobs he wanted his position capped at engineer.
“Society tells you that success is getting the most powerful position possible,” Wozniak said. “But I asked myself: Is that what would make me happiest?”
The final story Wozniak shared took place around the time Apple filed for its initial public offering. Jobs and Wozniak were set to make more money than they ever imagined. Leading up to the public offering, Wozniak found out that Jobs had refused stock options to some of Apple’s earliest employees. To Wozniak, these people were family. They helped build the company. But Jobs refused to budge.
So Wozniak took it upon himself and gifted some of his own shares to the early employees, so they all could share in the financial rewards.
On the day the company went public, those early employees became millionaires.
As I watched Wozniak lean back in his chair, cracking open a fortune cookie and laughing with his wife, I could hear the words my friend Ryan had told me before the interview ringing in my ears.
But the only thing that came to mind was: Who’s to say that Steve Jobs was more successful?
This is just a glimpse of the lessons Alex learns on his journey. To read what happens next in his interviews with Pitbull, Jane Goodall, Jessica Alba, Quincy Jones, and how it all leads to a fateful week with Lady Gaga, check out Alex’s new book The Third Door: The Wild Quest to Uncover How the World’s Most Successful People Launched Their Career.
And, hopefully, you won’t have to stuff an egg roll in your mouth to get the answers.
Reprinted (or Adapted) from THE THIRD DOOR: THE WILD QUEST TO UNCOVER HOW THE WORLD’S MOST SUCCESSFUL PEOPLE LAUNCHED THEIR CAREERS Copyright © 2018 by Alex Banayan. Published by Currency, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC