Apple does a lot of work in hardware and hardware manufacturing, both areas which are pretty capital-intensive and might not lead themselves as easily to the startup world.
Say, you are an Apple engineer working on the Ax chips for the next iPhone and have an idea for something great in CPU design, you cannot exactly rent a scalable 14nm chip fab from AWS to try to build it on your own and sell it market.
Now "an idea for something great in CPU design" is unlikely to result in a marketable chip these days, but chip startups exist, and some are very small. Adapteva for instance is a 5-people company.
I was pondering the viability of almost exactly this. Could one invest in a hardware pipeline that efficiently combines e.g. 3D printing with FPGAs to create the consumer-electronics equivalent of Lulu.com's just-in-time small-batch book printing + drop-shipping.
Or, in other words: you can do pretty much anything with the sensors in a modern smartphone. All most manufacturers probably need is smartphone boards (with maybe some options of extra sensors) in custom cases with fancy buttons and displays, maybe custom remotes, and a cute little 4-colour double-walled box. That describes everything from Nest to Roku to some drone controllers.
JIT small-batch assembly seems roughly analogous to other low-volume electronics, which are obscenely expensive. For example, specialty bench equipment like spectrometers can cost as much as a house.. There are many factors at play there, but you can bet one of them is very low volumes.
This is why, at least so far, the kind of play you describe is accomplished with large batches of a generalizable platform that can be sold into many different devices.
Happy to make some free parts for anyone's ideas on here!
Don't forget all the hardware companies you know today were once startups. Yes there's a current fashion to call companies that are basically small businesses "startups", but the term encompasses a far more profound class of enterprise.
And Apple itself was founded by an engineer (Woz) who first got his start at a big company, HP, which is celebrated as a hardware startup that grew.
I think the article and your comment do get to an important point, which is that Apple is big enough to have solid (and at the moment very successful) processes and infrastructure so that you only get experience in that matrix, and don't have to spend any time learning stuff outside your own area. You can, of course, and plenty of companies have come from Apple alums.
I also think its right to compare now with the 1980s when F500 companies didn't know how to compete in the new tech hardware space. Companies like Samsung rush into new product spaces very early in the adoption cycle.
Unfortunately the winds of VC have changed a lot since then. Originally, VCs were willing and eager to invest millions in a promising innovation. Now they expect you to demonstrate traction before any large investments—which is infinitely harder with hardware startups.
Wrong. Gates and Allen used Harvard's University mainframe to do their first gig, then paid for other mainframe time:
All the students wich are entitled to access to the mainframe worked typically on a single mainframe which was also used for the university accounting etc.
Mainframes were, using the more modern words, the big servers with the capital S, effectively.
Hobbyist keyboard alone (without the TV) had the price of nearly 1000 US dollars equivalent today in 1975
The cheapest self containing computer that year had a minimal cost of 30,000 of today's US dollars.
The "operating system" of it were Basic and APL, and it had the storage of 200 KB.
Now compare all this to the "server" which started this discussion. The claim was that when Gates started he didn't need "servers."
But were they selling Altair_BASIC running on said mainframe? No they were not, hence they did not have servers. They used a mainframe as a dev box.
You can't redefine my terminology just to suit your own viewpoint.
Hardware startups are still being funded. Software startups are still being funded. Life science startups are still being funded. And it's a lot of the same old line VCs who are doing these deals. I'm thinking $15M-$20M first round, with companies need significant funding but get quite large.
Then there are a ton of small companies, many of which are really small businesses (just look at the list of companies at https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=9666013), that are getting small amounts of funding ("spray and pray" funds). Are their funders really "VCs" in the classic sense when the amount they invest is =< $100K and they can't participate in future rounds? Although they get a most of the press for "startups" and "VCs", and they are the volume in absolute sense, most of these seem designed to run for a little while and then be aquihired away. So no need to build most of the infrastructure for a sustainable business. In that role, the "VCs" are really more like agents getting a commission on the aquihire.
It's the latter that aren't particularly picky. The traditional VCs seem mostly to still look for the same things.
To Amazon's credit, I can imagine Bezos reading your comment, frowning, and muttering, "Why the hell not?"
Could such an extreme outsourcing service (not necessarily only fabricating chips) paired with the accessibility of AWS be viable? Does such a company exist?
There is some truth to that but it's not the custom chip manufacturing that drives it. It's not even what I guess I would call 'excellence in material design' that drives it. Really it's a combination of the choice to not cut corners on hardware combined with the scale and market position to support the cost.
As an example a lot of has been made in the past about Apple's charges, both laptop and iDevices, they are small, sleek and powerful for their size. There isn't anything special going on there from an electronics perspective, they didn't invent new types of power conversion, they just didn't cut every possible corner to reduce cost and they had the budget to allow custom parts when off the shelf didn't fit. I don't mean custom IC's here I mean custom metal fab, maybe custom caps that are 'normal' other than being shaped a bit differently, etc. Apple has the volume and price point to let them do this when the vast majority of companies don't.
My impression, which comes from meeting a handful of Apple employees and several friends who took jobs and later left, is that the culture of Apple is that of “show up, do good work, cash the paycheck, and go home to your family.”
It is not one of “Let’s conquer the world and become bazillionairres while we’re at it” — the Google culture — which is more prone to eventually jumping ship and creating a startup.
I could be totally wrong about this.
I have a lot of friends and former colleagues who are at Apple and you're wrong about the 'go home to your family.' At least the friends I have (mostly nerds admittedly) are routinely in the 60-70 hours mark (have only one exception and he's worked at Apple since the 1980s). But they seem to like it.
> It is not one of “Let’s conquer the world and become bazillionairres while we’re at it” — the Google culture — which is more prone to eventually jumping ship and creating a startup.
This feels more like Google propaganda. My impression is that google folks seem to work a lot less (long hours its true, but less) than the Apple folks. Unlike Apple I only know nerds at google -- no marketing or business folks, so it could be different.
But of my google friends there are two groups: the übernerds who get to work on whatever they like (basically research) and they seem to have a lot of fun. A bunch of them are former colleagues from PARC and MIT, so they are doing the same kind of work we did years ago -- probably Microsoft research is the same.
The rest are doing product work of some sort of another and none of them seem particularly happy. A lot of them are on the market (I have hired a couple). It feels like Google has reached the microsoft phase: they have two real cash cows and are struggling to find more. Product managers have a lot of sway. They aren't really organized like an effective business.
Apple went through that mode and was within a few weeks of dying. Luckily they debugged themselves. My Apple friends, even those deep in the bowels of tools or drivers, amazingly are still super excited by the Apple products (I guess they would have given up by now if not).
I think the primary difference may come down to a culture of secrecy. Openness breeds cross fertilization, couple that with very few restrictions on Googlers in working on side projects, open source，and collaborating outside Google and it it's easy to see why so many Googlers are lured away by the allure of startups.
As for Googlers being unhappy with their projects, there's two answers. One, google culture permits challenging your management and product vision even as far as calling out VPs, so people here are constantly voicing their criticisms instead of falling in line. That can breed dissatisfaction especially if your criticisms are later proven right.
The other is that Googlers switch products often when they get bored. It's easy for people to get unhappy when you switch from development to maintenance. I think this is very healthy，enduring people working on a product are enthusiastic. If your jet collecting a paycheck while dreaming of more interesting stuff better to go do interesting stuff.
The level of secrecy and compartmentalization in Apple sounds like hell to me.
Google is definitely more open in the way you describe, both in terms of collaborating internally and externally. "Googlers switch products often" matches my experience. The transfer process is easy, and hiring managers are welcoming.
The downside is that your team is constantly in flux, making it harder to build relationships or friendships. It is not healthy for a team to be constantly changing; it's better to have stable teams, where contributors can develop deep expertise and collaborative relationships.
At Apple, you have greater chances for meaningful ownership. Software teams are generally smaller, so your responsibilities are broader. Product direction is top down, so what you work on is more likely to actually ship.
Google's "bottom up" culture makes it easier to start up a project. But it also results in duplication, and a sense that the company isn't really committed to your product. My work at Apple mostly shipped, but my work at Google was mostly scrapped. It's frustrating to work on projects that are cancelled, through no fault of your own.
I wonder why we saw things differently? I stayed away from the big central codebase (you know the one), instead working in Android and Chrome. Maybe the bottom-up culture is more vibrant on the periphery?
AFAIK 20% time is dead, and has been for > the last 2 years. People only use it to try out new teams before transferring.
But I never did get access to the "other" codebase, so you know more than I in that respect. :)
I'm going to guess you're fairly junior in the profession?
The more time you spend writing code, the more you realize that most of your projects will never, ever ship. That's just how the gig goes.
And it's okay. As an engineer, you should be looking forward more to the journey and how much you'll learn working on that project than anything else. Once in a while, you'll ship and you'll feel pride knowing that millions of people are using your code, but that's the exception, not the rule.
Enjoy the journey.
Anyways, the way I see it, if I'm OK with my project being cancelled, I am working on the wrong project. We should not be comfortable with delivering results "once in a while."
Apple doesn't prevent you working on side projects, open source etc. It's just that you are working so many hours under tight deadlines that you want to spend time with friends/family during a spare time.
And Apple absolutely allows challenging management and product vision. In fact I was involved far more in product design that I expected to be. Every team is different but it is a relatively flat structure.
Just a correction, Apple does indeed forbid employees from working on side projects, including selling software on the AppStore and most contributions to open source projects. This is made very clear during the employee's initial (and yearly) Business Conduct training. To me it's one of the major drawbacks of an otherwise great place to work.
Most people fall into #2. Further, I found that many if not most of the engineers there are foreigners on work visas. Many are not that motivated or very good, and they are most concerned with playing politics and entrenching themselves so that they can stay on their work visas. This has helped to create a culture surrounded with politics and bureaucracy, even more so than other large companies I had worked for beforehand.
The Google name still has a lot of prestige attached to it, especially outside of the Valley. But word is getting out in the Valley about what a mess the company really is, and it's only getting worse.
I would go with a smaller company. You'll learn a lot more.
Can you elaborate on what you mean to say here? Is it that PMs have a lot of influence compared to engineers?
With the right top level executive strategy, Product Management can be leveraged for the greater good and keep the company's products fresh and exciting. However, when left to their own devices, they often shift focus towards their own self-interests to the detriment of their company's overall success.
Microsoft is often the most cited example, largely because of how the culture changed after Bill Gates stepped down from the CEO role.
Despite Apple's propaganda otherwise, I get the feeling from some of the things my friends say that the engineers have more sway over product development than Google's do.
foobarqux I hope this answer's your question too.
Not really, Bill Gates rescued them.
> Not really, Bill Gates rescued them.
Microsoft unquestionably kept them from dying at that point by giving them $150M. And probably it was a call from Jobs to Gates so I suppose you can say "Gates" instead of "Microsoft".
But my point was that foolish management got Apple to that point and they replaced that with a smarter management approach (and replaced a bunch of people).
Microsoft's cash lifeline wouldn't have helped them if they hadn't debugged themselves. Instead it would have simply have delayed death.
Apple had $1.2B cash at the time. It was symbolic, not substantial, for either party.
So basically, how do you do it and keep sane?!
I've worked with many devs who think they can work those kind of schedules and be productive the whole time, but I've yet to work with one that actually was.
On the other hand, I've had to send people working for me home after getting pressured into having people work long hours to finish a project and having people snap or become so unproductive that it was a net drain on the team.
Mostly when people do crazy schedules and think it works they have lots of downtime they simply aren't paying attention to, e.g. drawn out morning rituals before they do any actual work; lots of breaks. And they'll simply just slow down and make more mistakes.
It looks like it "works" because people seem busy the entire time, and seem exhausted at the end of it, but being busy and feeling exhausted is not an indicator of being productive.
I'm not convinced that I wasn't insane there for a while. I am pretty sure that I've never drunk that much in my life.
On the bright side, the 45 hours a week I do now seems like a damn vacation.
Perspective is important.
> work 50-60 hrs per week
Those aren't incompatible. In fact, based on current and former Apple employees I know, you're both right. It's also worth pointing out the extreme compartmentalization at Apple. I imagine that makes it more difficult to get a handle on systems-level considerations that are so key for lean startup teams.
Many I know at Apple have had relationship issues with significant others and family due to the sometimes grueling pace and "CIA spy" level secrecy some teams are forced to have even with their spouses.
The secrecy is never an issue.
(Spoken from some experience; I did classified work at a DOE nuclear lab in the past.)
If you have a few train rides to blow, these are some super interesting looks into the internals of Apple:
That's funny because I've always considered Google a place where great people disappear and never come out except for a small number who start a company only to be aquihired by Google.
I could be wrong about that as well.
Any workplace can get old after a while for all kinds of reasons. Or perhaps they just couldn't figure out how to navigate the internal politics to end up on teams doing world-changing stuff (let's be honest, the vast majority of engineering going on at google is pretty boring maintenance and bug fixing like anywhere else).
That said, people actually working for Apple do seem to put in a lot of (and consequently inevitably) unhealthy and unproductive hours.
On the other hand, your described Apple culture sounds to me a heck of a lot more sustainable in the long run (I mean, Apple has now been around nearly 40 years now), especially since the "become a bazillionaire" part from Google really only works for founders and early employees with enough stock and only for very few selected unicorn companies.
I just spent the first 11 years of my career helping build a solid software organization (I was employee #14-ish, and I'm the most senior engineer whose job is primarily code-related) in Cleveland. It's now a well-oiled machine, but it's lost some of the spark and excitement of the first years I was there.
I decided to go with Google[x] because I'm looking for an organization where they are all about doing exciting and innovative things, with the stability and perks of a big corporation.
Sure some fanbois with advanced symptoms might possibly berate you publicly or even downvote your post/article and that's it. It really is okay to not love Apple. Or point out that Apple isn't perfect. It's even okay to not own any Apple products whatsoever. Full disclosure...I do own Apple products and OS X is my daily driver of choice. But I have no emotional attachment to Apple's products, I don't buy Apple products exclusively and I do not worship at the iAlter or have a man crush on Steve Jobs.
The over-the-top reverence for Apple even by people who are far from being fanatical iCult members really is extraordinary. If you find some of their products useful, great, if their products aren't a good fit for you, that's great too. Apple is not the mafia (yet) and you owe the company nothing.
Also: Be Inc., Palm/Handspring (Donna Dubinsky), General Magic, Eazel.
Oh, the article doesn't quantify what it means by "few." It just throws that idea out there for no reason and then pretends it's a thing.
They did. Wheather that data is accurate is another matter.
What does it matter if they were a division of lucasfilm when Steve Jobs became majority shareholder?
Jobs clearly got his money from Apple as well as polishing his stills. So, really if Nest qualifies then clearly Pixar does as well.
PS: IMO, it would be reasonable not to include Nest as an Apple startup, but if one qualifies then clearly the other does as well.
I think the problem is that the press will not write about some founder as "ex Apple engineer", "ex Oracle engineer", etc. It is not cool. The story will sell if founder are "ex-Google", "ex-Facebook", "ex-Dropbox", "Y-combinator", etc.
For example, if you are ex-Oracle, then you need to have significant revenue in order to be mentioned in the press as ex-Oracle fonder (PeopleSoft, Salesforce, Sibel, etc.). If you are ex-Google, you need to raise 100K seed and press will say ex-Google.
Search LinkedIn for title keyword "founder", past company Apple. I get 7668 hits.
Same search for Google, 7277 hits. For Yahoo, 4268.
Total amount of innovation (for the sake of argument, big) divided by number of employees (staggering) equals not innovative on average and even the outliers will also suffer.
Its a mindcrime to say it in public, but if some successful companies are innovative, and apple is successful, that doesn't logically follow that Apple is innovative. Rolex has a good reputation, makes nice watches that are very expensive; however they don't sell many cesium atomic clocks which are technologically far more innovative than a mechanical or quartz movement. A timekeeping startup could sell a GPSDO that sells for less than 50 cents, that would be impressive and innovative but not very Rolex-like. Perhaps Apple is the same.
For instance, Apple is immensely innovative in terms of designing manufacturing processes. Do you see the results? You might notice that Apple products have more fit and finish, but the results are measured in millimeters at most. The end result is not as earthshaking as a whole new product category would be.
Even more striking is any large web property. Any idiot could write a working version of Twitter, Amazon, StackExchange, or maybe even YouTube in a week. Scaling these to actually work at scale takes immense levels of innovation. But if you use these sites every week since they have been launched, you might not see any of that.
Instead, their ambition and motivation appears to be large enough to accept smaller salaries and benefits to start their own company.
Techies might care that you worked at Tesla, much of the rest of the world does not.
I don't know why you think Apple is special in any way when it comes to jobs. In fact, I heard they're worse, exactly because of the "status" that comes with it.
Apple's innovations have been primarily about hardware design. I would think there are many fewer hardware startups than software startups due to the amount of capital required to build hardware. It might be more apropos to compare the number of startups from other hardware companies (Intel, Nvidia, TI, HP, Sun).
- like to have a strong leader in front of them (or at least used to when Jobs was around).
- are engineers comfortable to be less at the center of product development than at other big tech companies.
Whereas an entrepreneurial-minded person is famously rather reluctant to subordination. Exceptions confirm the rule.