2017 / 20 October

How Did the World’s Most Valuable Start Up, Start?

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The year was 1971. Two boys in Palo Alto, California, aged 21 and 16, both electronic geeks stumbled upon an article. The article was titled ‘Secrets of the Little Blue Box’.

The boys were the best of the buddies owing to their common interest in electronic, the age difference notwithstanding.

The article told about the ways hackers had found a way to make long-distance calls for free by copying the tones used for routing the signals by AT&T. As soon as the two read the article and understood its significance, the ran off to grab a copy of the Bell System Technical Journal. This journal was supposed to contain the details of more such frequencies, which if replicated, could fool the company’s network into allowing fake calls through to long-distance and transcontinental recipients.

AT&T also realized that their trade secret (akin to the secret Coke formula) was out in the open and started retracting the copies of the journal from libraries and the market.

The boys found themselves in front of the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center library on a Sunday. The library was closed but they barged in using a secret entrance. The found the journal and exclaimed,’ Holy Shit!’. All the secret (or not so secret) frequencies were out in the open. The implications were huge.

With some trial and error, they were able to fabricate a device that connected to normal phones and allowed the user to make free long-distance calls. It was big breakthrough, though illegal and immoral. But their young blood was boiling with excitement. They made a few trial calls and it worked well. A crank call to the Pope in Vatican, with one boy posing as Henry Kissinger, proved the efficacy of the device. It was named ‘The Blue Box’.

The younger boy, a commercial mastermind in addition to being a techno-geek, quickly figured out that the Blue Box could be sold at a huge profit. It would take AT&T years to figure out ways to detect fake calls and by then anyone having the device could maker thousand of dollars worth of free calls.

The cost of assembling it was $40 and they sold hundred such boxes for $150 each, pocketing a cool $11,000 in profit. The eplisode ended quickly when they encountered some gun-totting customer while trying to sell one.

The younger boy was none other than Steve Jobs while the older one was Steve Wozniac (Woz). The two had an explosive set of complementary qualities. Both were phenomenal in their electronic engineering capability, Woz being more advanced in engineering and technical design, while Jobs scored better on product design, creativity and commercials.

This episode laid the foundation of what became Apple Computers and both of them played similar roles in making the first Apple Computer. Rest, as they say, is HISTORY.

PS: Ashutosh Mishra is the author of the book Happiness is All We Want! It is available on Amazon.in and Amazon.com

Ashutosh Mishra - Author/Banker

A seeker and explorer in the quest for lasting happiness, health and well-being. An MBA from XLRI Jamshedpur and a Mechanical Engineer from IIT Delhi. Has been a senior banker with large global banks like Goldman Sachs, Deutsche Bank and ANZ Bank. Working in these demanding global institutions with a gruelling schedule and plenty of business travel. Was fortunate to realise the importance of health and wellbeing early on. Learnt and practiced many wellbeing tools and techniques to focus on his own well-being while balancing the demands of a high-profile career and a lovely family.

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