Steve Jobs Said This 1 Surprising Thing Is What Made Apple a Giant Success

Steve Jobs Said This 1 Surprising Thing Is What Made Apple a Giant Success

Most surprising: Apple didn’t design it, and it came out 40 years ago this week.

This is a story about innovation, legacy, and a surprising thing most people don’t remember about Apple’s early days. And it comes just as Apple is embarking on yet another new strategy.



The story starts for our purposes from an impassioned interview that Steve Jobs gave two decades before his death, in which he talked talked about the single, long-forgotten software program without which he said Apple likely wouldn’t have succeeded.

That program — the very first computer spreadsheet — called VisiCalc, made its debut at a computer expo in Manhattan exactly 40 years ago this week.

Almost nobody noticed at the time, but VisiCalc became the “killer app” that prompted widespread adoption of the Apple II computer in the early 1980s.

“VisiCalc,” Jobs said in the 1990 television interview. “And that’s what really drove, propelled the Apple to the success it achieved, more than any other single event.”

‘All hail VisiCalc’

Contemporary news stories talk about businesspeople going to computer stores to buy the groundbreaking $100 VisiCalc program, and then buying their first computers — the $2,500 Apple II — when they realized it was the only computer VisiCalc could run on.

(Inc. wrote about it back then, saying, “The significance of VisiCalc isn’t that it’s full of whiz-bang technical features, but that it’s written for non-technical people.”)

But it wasn’t an Apple product. Its creators were Dan Bricklin, a computer programmer who attended Harvard Business School in the late 1970s, and a former colleague named Bob Frankston.

Bricklin came up with the idea for the spreadsheet during an HBS class, and he then designed a prototype version. Then, Frankston worked via dialup from the attic of a rented apartment to program it.

Among the key problems they solved that we now take for granted: lettering the columns and numbering the rows, so that they knew how to refer to each individual cell.

They wound up distributing through a software publishing company launched by another Harvard graduate, Daniel Fylstra. Brlcklin explained in his talk what happened next:

In June of 1979, our publisher announced VisiCalc to the world, in a small booth at the giant National Computer Conference in New York City.

The New York Times had a humorous article about the conference. “The machines perform what seem religious rites … ‘All hail VISICALC.'”

That was the last mention of the electronic spreadsheet in the popular business press for about two years. Most people didn’t get it yet. But some did.

The rise and the fall

More than 1 million copies of VisiCalc were sold between 1979 and 1983.

As The Wall Street Journal put it in a retrospective around the same time Jobs gave his interview, because of VisiCalc, “suddenly legions of business-school graduates, accountants and others who pushed numbers around for a living for the first time had a reason to own a PC.”

But its dominance was short-lived.

A product manager who had worked for Fylstra’s company, Mitchell Kapor, negotiated an exit from the company, signing over everything he’d created, as the New York Times described contemporaneously, “with one exception – a product he described in a one-page document attached to the buyout agreement.”

Kapor started his own company and turned that single product into a better spreadsheet program called Lotus 1-2-3, that ran better than VisiCalc did on IBM’s new computers.

‘You’d be interviewing somebody else’

Once, companies had bought Apple II computers to run VisiCalc; now they were “buying $5,000 IBM personal computer systems simply to run a $495 spreadsheet,” Kapor told Vox in 2014.

Eventually, the company Bricklin and Frankston started wound up in a giant lawsuit with Fylstra’s company, which he’d now renamed Visicorp.

Meanwhile, Kapor’s Lotus 1-2-3 did $53 million in its first year. Eventually, IBM bought it outright. Of course, as a spreadsheet it was ultimately overcome by Microsoft Excel, Google Sheets, and many others.

Still, before all those there was Lotus 1-2-3, and before Lotus 1-2-3, there was VisiCalc. And Jobs was very clear in how crucial it was to the early success of Apple.

“If Visicalc had been written for some other computer,” he told his interviewer in 1990, “you’d be interviewing somebody else right now.”

By Bill Murphy Jr. Twitter: @BillMurphyJr

Steve Jobs Said This 1 Surprising Thing Is What Made Apple a Giant Success

You are a visionary! Kindly share this publication
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on telegram
Share on whatsapp
Share on email

Please scroll down for (i) the writer / author's brief profile, and (ii) readers' comments and / or to comment

Steve Jobs Said This 1 Surprising Thing Is What Made Apple a Giant Success

Member? Please login below...

Not a member? Cool, registration is FREE!*

No comments yet

Zing4Life! will equip you with simple and very insightful principles, techniques and strategies that will bring out your true / hidden potential and that of your people and get you to become… Exceptionally Brilliant, Exceptionally Creative / Innovative, Exceptionally Productive / Wealthy, Exceptionally Healthy, Exceptionally Free / Happy, and so much more!

Never miss a single beat! Get all the goodies.

Subscribe to our top publications


When you enter your email address, and click the ‘Yes, add me!‘ button, we will add you to the Seers Voice Subscription List, and you will receive an email alert when updates and / or new exciting publications are posted on this website; you may remove yourself from the list anytime you so wish. By the way, it’s FREE!

If you don’t have an email address, or that you prefer any of the following: SMS, WhatsApp, Telegram, WeChat, Etc (probably in addition to email) no problem! We can send you an alert via your preference; click here to make your selection.

Join our social get-together...


Featured Publications

From Our Pressroom
From Our Market
Featured Products

You may display a different currency for the items on this website by clicking the following currency selector…

USD, $
USD, $

Recent Publications

From Our Pressroom
Some privileged publications may not be visible because you are not logged in.
You may click here to log in.

You have great and unique content? Great! You can publish that on this website for Free! We delight in promoting good works! You may click here to see more.

Terms & Conditions Apply.

From Our Market
Recent Products

Countdown to Our Upcoming Major Event


Opportunity for #Impact, and for #Wealth

Direct Coaching

Comes in 2 main options, each with a different cost implication...

  • Option 1 :: Online on a suitable interactive social media platform with the guidance of a facilitator
  • Option 2 :: In person with a facilitator at a training location / venue (usually our premises, or an equally suitable location for the training)*

Price shown online for Direct Coaching* are for the popular choice... Option 1.

For Option 2, a minimum of 10 subscription purchases are required. Where trainee(s) opt for a significantly different training location / venue other than one within the reach of the facilitator, prorated facilitator transportation charges (FTC) may apply, in addition to the subscription purchases. Where it occurs, actual figures shall be determined and agreed upon prior to the training.