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Why Has Apple Spawned So Few Startups? (mercurynews.com)
155 points by JrobertsHstaff on June 7, 2015 | hide | past | web | favorite | 151 comments

Maybe another reason why Apple spawned comparatively few startups might be that some of the areas of expertise for Apple and their employees are harder to do in startup-sized companies; namely hardware engineering and mass manufacturing innovation.

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.

Erm... you can "rent" it from TSMC, you could before AWS existed, and in fact some of Apple chips are manufactured by TSMC (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apple_system_on_a_chip#Apple_A8...)

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.

> rent out a scalable 14nm chip fab from AWS

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.

You're probably better off using something like Samsung's Artik (https://www.artik.io/) that is basically cellphone-grade integration using existing high-density components.

There's a risk/flaw/gap with that plan. Modern consumer electronics depend on humongous volume discounts- 10x or even 100x- on parts, plus tremendous economies of scale on design & assembly.

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.

Wattage tried something similar but just recently shut down: https://medium.com/inside-wattage/well-we-failed-77e795e16ec...

At Plethora, we're building the mechanical pieces of this - starting with full-auto, on-demand CNC milling as fast as LuLu or similar, then adding more capabilities.

Happy to make some free parts for anyone's ideas on here!



Compare emachineshop.com. They have been doing that for years, and have a site with useful information instead of just pretty pictures.

Ha - yea, we're not the first machine shop, but we're doing something really new in regards to: instant pricing/feedback (inside your CAD), speed, and much more to come

Compare emachineshop.com. They have been doing that for years, and have a site with actual information instead of just pretty pictures.

(sorry about the duplicate - HN had a database timeout.)

> ...harder to do in startup-sized companies; namely hardware engineering and mass manufacturing innovation.

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.

Clearly hardware start ups aren't impossible, but we are talking about relative difficulty. The article is only comparing them to software companies (Google, Yahoo, Paypal).

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.

> Don't forget all the hardware companies you know today were once startups.

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.

Not only that, but software startups used to not be so cheap either. 15 years ago you need to raise millions just to buy servers. Granted that wasn't the case in the early days of software (Microsoft didn't need servers when they were a startup), but it's an interesting dynamic in the internet age.

Indeed. As the cost of software startups has come down dramatically, hardware startups have become relatively more expensive.

> Microsoft didn't need servers when they were a startup

Wrong. Gates and Allen used Harvard's University mainframe to do their first gig, then paid for other mainframe time:


That's a dev box not a server Mr. holier-than-though smartass.

You are wrong. At that time the whole universities had, if they were rich, a couple of mainframes for the whole institution, if they were poorer, one or none.

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."

Don't lecture at me, you are not giving me any new information. Yes, having access to a mainframe was incredibly expensive and difficult. Yes, Microsoft leveraged that access.

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.

The attempt to hang to the verbatim word "server" is at best anachronistic.

thou (you)

thanks, I was a little hasty in my typing homophones responding to https://twitter.com/karlvanhoet

Really? I get the strong impression (what with people throwing the word bubble around and making regular comparisons to the dotcom era) that VC's are far less picky today then they were 10 years ago.

The hardware companies you know today weren't founded in the 2000s. The golden age of hardware startups was the 70s/80s.

Well, lets tease this apart.

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.

While true that hardware companies were also once start ups, they were also startups at a different time. Please correct me if I'm wrong, but weren't they start ups when there were no existing hardware companies that operate at the same scale the current big hardware companies do?

you cannot exactly rent a scalable 14nm chip fab from AWS to try to build it on your own and sell it market.

To Amazon's credit, I can imagine Bezos reading your comment, frowning, and muttering, "Why the hell not?"

Taiwan? I mean, Motorola and even AMD have sold their FABs out to companies who then provide capacity out to the highest bidder. Now they do trail in process, so 14mm might not be available for a couple of years.

I thought Motorola spun out their chip division as Freescale, which just merged with NXP (Philips' chip spin off? Did Motorola retain some portion?

I am obviously not Jeff Bezos but I asked myself the same question.

Could such an extreme outsourcing service (not necessarily only fabricating chips) paired with the accessibility of AWS be viable? Does such a company exist?

To some extent, yes, and a few of those companies already exist, with names like Xilinx and Altera. Their FPGA products are available at 22 nm now. But they're not of much use when it comes to selling cheap commodity hardware in volume, of course.

True, and it’s telling that maybe the biggest break-out startup from Apple was Nest. And for that very reason, I’m surprised that there aren’t more creatively stifled Apple hardware engineers pursuing IoT startups.

> 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.

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.

(I really hope I don’t offend any Apple people saying this)

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.

> 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.”

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).

Working backbreaking hours with bad work/life balance is considered unGoogley. There are sometimes when people burn the midnight oil, but in general Googlers don't work 60hr weeks.

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.

I've worked at both Apple and Google, as a SWE. I found very few engineers at either company who are phoning it in. There is great passion in both organizations. I also found engineers to be very vocal internally at both companies, Apple at least as much as at Google. Apple engineers absolutely do not "fall in line" without a fight.

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'm curious which years you were at Google? The bottom-up culture has been dead for the past 2 years, and a deluge of projects were canned in the past 12-18 months. There's really zero chance now of starting your own project at G and building a team around it.

I left literally last week. I looked for other positions internally, and I did get the sense that there were lots of "startup opportunities" within Google. Cardboard is an example of new-ish team, in the process of ramping up.

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?

Perhaps that is part of it. I did work in the main repo. I was looking into some of the teams under the Android/Chrome org before I left, but none of it seemed too different to me despite seeing some new projects. They didn't seem like bottom-up initiatives though.

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 think that's true but scrap and pivot is generally what the startup experience is like, so if you aren't accustomed to failure and throwing away work and uncertainty as to whether you'll ship, you might not like the startup experience.

> It's frustrating to work on projects that are cancelled,

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.

I have 12 years of professional experience. In that time, most of what I worked on shipped. It would be a serious failure if we committed to a feature and were unable to deliver it. To be fair, I have tended to work on mature products, which have predictable lifecycle. Perhaps you've had a different experience because you've worked for startups or on early development?

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."

90% of startups fail, ergo if you're working in a startup and have a better-than-10% chance of your code shipping then you're doing it right.

Apple was famous for building multiple prototype versions of a product internally and then scrapping all but one pre launch.

I've worked at Apple and none of what you said rings true for me.

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.

(Throwaway account, because I work there)

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.

It's been a few years since I was there but I definitely knew of a lot of engineers who were flouting this rule. I just assumed it was contract boilerplate. Definitely understand you couldn't write an iOS app in your spare time however.

Open source contributions are in general acceptable, as long as it's not to a competitor's product. You should reach out to legal, they'll probably OK it.

This is extremely dependent on your org, and is subject to approval from marketing.

I recently left Google and I think your characterization of those two groups is accurate. There is a large group of engineers at lower levels working on mundane products who are not especially excited or empowered. I wouldn't recommend working there unless you are on a researchy project (eg. Brain), or you are focusing on things aside rom your career (eg. Many employees with families tolerate working there because of the good pay and benefits)

I absolutely agree. I left recently as well after more than 3 years. I would not recommend working there unless you 1) Are working on a cutting edge project. Which is unlikely, because those positions are reserved for exceptionally brilliant types, including industry renowned figures (think Sebastian Thrun). Or 2) You want some job security with a big paycheck so that you can manage to live in high-cost Silicon Valley. In return, you'll take remedial work in Java with your choice on any number of systems that Google needs to maintain.

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.

> Product managers have a lot of sway

Can you elaborate on what you mean to say here? Is it that PMs have a lot of influence compared to engineers?

In many companies, Product Managers act almost entirely towards their own self interests (launching innovative products, stamping their name on major initiatives, and generally one-upping each other along the way). Any leaders who push an agenda which would jeopardize their aspirations (like re-architecting cross-product infrastructure, addressing long standing technical issues, or improving customer experience) are quickly squashed by the cabal.

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.

PMs who have no technical, design or marketing skills have used their free time time monopolize the time of executives with process loops in order to arbitrage credit and "responsibility".

it's actually a funny statement given the definition of a product manager... it's like saying the CEO has a lot of sway over company policy. well, yeah.

Yes, it is funny but tsunamifury explained what I meant: at many companies, especially but hardly restricted to Microsoft and Google, the PMs are internally rather than externally focused and rarely have technical experience.

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.

PMs of old were supposed to be the smartest or most experienced people in the room. Now, mostly due to microsofts export of thousands of poorly trained politically savvy, they are infecting other companies.

IIRC, when Simonyi invented the term "product manager", he was referring to what is now called tech lead or architect.

which is the second cash cow?

I'm also scratching my head, Advertising and ? - Youtube, Gmail - really just advertising - Android - is it a cash cow, there's some lic fees I guess but not huge - Google Apps - is that big money?

Google Apps for Business is a big moneymaker.

It makes money, but it's not that big of a money-maker.

Maybe the Google Play store? I have no idea how much money it makes though.

They made 3 billion USD from Google Play in 2014. (30% cut on all sales)


What I've usually heard is AdWords and AdSense.

Indeed, I counted AdWords and AdSense separately.

> Apple went through that mode and was within a few weeks of dying. Luckily they debugged themselves.

Not really, Bill Gates rescued them.

>> Apple went through that mode and was within a few weeks of dying. Luckily they debugged themselves.

> 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.

> Microsoft unquestionably kept them from dying at that point by giving them $150M.

Apple had $1.2B cash at the time. It was symbolic, not substantial, for either party.

philwelch, it took me a bit of rummaging but in fact I was 100% wrong.

I'm tired of this urban legend. Microsoft agreeing to maintain release parity for the Mac and Windows versions of Office did more than the 150MM, but the company was already profitable again and had almost ten times that amount of cash in the bank anyway.

I've a number of friends on various teams, from WebKit, to iOS, to datacenter folks, to various app teams, and hardware teams and not one has ever consistently worked a 40hr work week. Most are easily averaging 50-60, with spurts close to or over 100 before launches. Consistently the message I've heard is people are expected to "work till its ready", so I'm not sure where you'd have heard this about Apple.

How do people do that? I'm fairly new in the game, but right after Christmas I had to work 3 weeks, about 70 hours each in a row. I was _exhausted_ after that. By the end of the third week, my head was just spinning and I went on a low morale and creative drought for 3 months... I could barely code deserialisation functions without losing focus..

So basically, how do you do it and keep sane?!

You don't. You put in the hours, but realistically beyond the first week at that kind of schedule, most people are so unproductive that they're just fooling themselves if they think it's helping.

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.

When I worked for a former employer we had mega pushes leading up to CES. There's one month, we called it Red October, where most of my team was doing 100+hr weeks for the full month. How did we do it? Combination of lots of Red Bull (as in buying it by the pallet), free meals, onsite shower, and an amazing QA team who would consistently find all the stupid bugs coded bleary eyed at 3:30am.

I'm confused, because it sounds like you're proud of that work.

I did 110 hour weeks at a market research startup in Chicago. Every week for about 8 months.

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.

You don't, it's just that cuz EVERYONE is doing no one sees the insanity.

> show up, do good work...

> 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.

You are definitely right, I focused more on the "go home to family" part.

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.

It's more the long hours / weekend work for months on end that causes problems.

The secrecy is never an issue.

Never is a rather bold word choice, especially as I know of a few examples that disprove it.

I wouldn't underestimate how much secrecy plays a role psychologically. Not being able to talk to friends, family, and loved ones about what you work on can be a real drain.

(Spoken from some experience; I did classified work at a DOE nuclear lab in the past.)

I must be odd, because I never talk about my work with my family even when I'm allowed to. None of them have the context to understand or care. It's a different compartment of my life entirely. Do normal people really do this?

Perhaps I'm the odd one then. Much of my family and most of my closest friends are perfectly capable of having informed discussions about technology when those discussions are rooted in basic physics. Actually, it goes beyond that: We all enjoy talking about those subjects.

Maybe Microsoft or Amazon, but talking with and listening to interviews with former Apple employees, that definitely doesn't seem to be the case. Nitin Ganatra (who I think was head of iPhone apps) had some super interesting interviews on the Debug podcast about the early software development of the iPhone, and those cats were clocking eighty hour weeks and certainly believed they were going to upend the technology industry. Don Melton also had some super interesting info on life at Apple.

If you have a few train rides to blow, these are some super interesting looks into the internals of Apple: http://www.imore.com/debug-47-melton-ganatra-episode-i-demoi... http://www.imore.com/debug-48-melton-ganatra-episode-ii-unde... http://www.imore.com/60-melton-ganatra-episode-iii-shipping-... http://www.imore.com/debug-39-nitin-ganatra-episode-i-system... http://www.imore.com/debug-40-nitin-ganatra-episode-ii-os-x-... http://www.imore.com/debug-41-nitin-ganatra-episode-iii-ipho...

the Google culture — which is more prone to eventually jumping ship and creating a startup.

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.

That's sort of Google's reputation in machine learning: if you're tired of the lower salaries and grant-chasing of academia (or just don't like teaching), or have had enough of the uncertainty of a startup, Google is a comfortable place to go, with a large and stable salary, good access to data & compute time, good benefits, etc. Seems more common for people to try out academia and/or startups first and then go to Google later, rather than the other way around. I haven't done any kind of proper count or survey, though.

I know or have met a ton of ex-Googlers, only a few ended up on the startup path.

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).

Apparently that's not true as their average tenure is only 1.1 years, at least according to


Highly misleading, for a number of potential reasons a) Google was undergoing tremendous growth at the time, so many employees had 0 or low tenure, b) they had just purchased Motorola and their 20k employees, who knows how that factored in, c) it doesn't say they exclude temporary contract workers of which Google has quite a lot, d) it's only employees they were able to survey, which is likely to have selection bias towards people switching jobs. A much better measure of employee loyalty would be attrition rate, and average tenure of people leaving (but that data would still be skewed by some of the biases I mentioned). From my observations the attrition rate at Google is extraordinarily low. Very few people I've worked with have left the company.

The first one sounds like a very healthy attitude, or at least inoffensive. I’m not sure why you would think you would offend anyone with that?

That said, people actually working for Apple do seem to put in a lot of (and consequently inevitably) unhealthy and unproductive hours.

I guess it could very well be that the mentality of Apple and Google employees could lean somewhat into those philosophies.

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.

Interviewed Apple EE last year-> BSEE from caltech and MSEE from UCB, so educated enough, but a rather narrow range of experience for a Sr Engr position. In fact, too narrow to be of any use to our small-potato company. So perhaps their organization is big and anonymous enough to find places that are well-hidden; that is, they find a comfortable niche, then just park it for a while.

In some ways it can be thought of, "This company is the apotheosis of tech. You can get the full experience of a startup, with the stability of a giant corporation. Why would you want to go anywhere else?"

Which company any are you referring to, Apple or Google? I am starting at Google[x] in two weeks for exactly that reason.

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.

both attitudes have their ups and downs i guess:)

Interesting, I only know one person who works at Apple. She's a copywriter and she says that it's definitely a 60 hour a week job.

At least.

Please...stop the madness! The trend of prefacing every criticism or, indeed, observation with an apology to the fanbois or a cheery positive "Apple is awesome, but.." statement has gone too far. It's actually quite amazing how many articles and comments follow this template. And it has to stop. The Cupertino Thought Police is not going to kick your door in and drag you to the Infinite Loop basement for a Think Different session. The Internet won't grind to a halt, you won't be named and shamed...everything will be okay!

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.

Chill, dude. His preface was to not insult fellow HNers who work at Apple.

Jesus dude I just didn't want to offend anyone

Article doesn't seem to give any evidence of this. Apple's been around forever and former Apple (and NeXT, if you stick to the logic it's some sort of Jobsian startup-suppression field) employees have been involved in zillions of startups over the years. EA, Danger/Android, Nest, Flipboard come to mind.

Exactly. Though technically, NeXT is "a startup that Apple spawned", I think?

Also: Be Inc., Palm/Handspring (Donna Dubinsky), General Magic, Eazel.

Also JLG's Be Inc (BeOS)

While reading the article I thought to myself, "I guess OQO is ancient history by now." I know at least two founders were Apple alums.

Few compared to what? Microsoft? Google? Facebook?

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.

"Although firm figures are hard to come by, Ganesan estimates Apple's tally of startups is about 50 percent smaller than companies such as Google, Yahoo and PayPal. (Coincidentally, smart thermostat maker Nest, the most prominent startup hatched by Apple alums, was acquired by Google last year.) "

They did. Wheather that data is accurate is another matter.

I would argue Pixar is a far more well known example outside of SV.

What are you talking about? Pixar didn't come from Apple. It came from folks who left Disney. Then Steve Jobs, as himself - not Apple - invested in Pixar.

This is not true. Pixar was originally Lucasfilm's computer graphics division lead by Ed Catmull. It was separated and sold to Steve Jobs.

True or False, the guys running Pixar were ex-disney cartoonists?

What does it matter if they were a division of lucasfilm when Steve Jobs became majority shareholder?

The central core of Pixar, when it originated at Lucasfilm, were people from NYIT led by Ed Catmull. John Lasseter didn't join until later, and he's the only prominent ex-Disney person I'm aware of.

It's a hell of a lot more complicated than that. The "founders" were not from Disney. John Lasseter who worked for the division that would be spun off from Lucasfilm was. But keep in mind for much of Pixar's life it was a hardware/software company producing tools for all kinds of high end imaging uses including animation. John Lasseter did cool demos and other projects to promote the hardware/software. The modern Pixar powerhouse of animation came to be more from accident/desperation than plan...

Pixar did not start up from a few random people leaving a company with a new idea. Jobs paid the company 5 million for the IP and then invested another 5 million to get things started. Granted, he sat on the board instead of being the CEO, but he was far from a hands off invester. Regularly investing more money and eventually becoming the CEO.

But you do understand Steve Jobs != Apple. In the argument about whether or not Apple has produced startups you said Pixar was an example, but that is not true. It's an example of Steve Jobs being entrepreneurial.

Sure, but if your going to use the Nest example as an Apple company when the only link is ex apple people + Apple Money then other companies with those sorts of links qualify.

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'd be interested to know what percentage of ex-Apple startups eventually produce actual goods or services which people pay money for, vs. what percentage of ex-Google/Facebook/etc. startups are just buzzword-bingo crap piles that collapse within the year due to not actually having any product or service.

IBM perhaps? Of course most everybody pales in comparison to IBM when it comes to startup children.

Seems like these guys were more focused on buying rather than fork new businesses.

Not sure if this is true - I would like to see some stats.

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.

I disagree entirely. Many of the Nest articles that I read were heavy on the "ex Apple" rhetoric.

Maybe because it was founded by former Senior VP and the "father" of iPod, not just some random Apple engineer?

Here's one minute of methodology to throw at this question.

Search LinkedIn for title keyword "founder", past company Apple. I get 7668 hits.

Same search for Google, 7277 hits. For Yahoo, 4268.

To add a bit of context: Apple is 39 years old. Google is 17 years old.

A non-techies idea of innovative might not match startup ideas of innovation. Or rephrased apple-scale innovation might not scale down to startup-scale innovation.

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.

Innovation in the context of big companies is a far different and more subtle thing than innovation in a startup context. A lot of the innovation large companies do is never really seen--not even in the sense that it isn't customer impacting, but rather in the sense that you never see the innovation that goes into simple functions that you take for granted.

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.

Summing up: Apple's good pay, benefits and soaring stock.

If anything, an employee could just move to a company with better perks.

Instead, their ambition and motivation appears to be large enough to accept smaller salaries and benefits to start their own company.

That's not really an answer. Many companies offer just that and more.

But with Apple there is the "aunt and your friends and family factor". Everybody has heard of Apple and a large swath of people would tend to be impressed by the fact that you worked there. It would also tend to be the type of place that obviously looks good on your resume if you need to get another job in the future so it offers that as additional security.

Techies might care that you worked at Tesla, much of the rest of the world does not.

There are many companies that offer just that "status" as well.

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.

You'd think so, but in my experience everyone, family or otherwise, warned to know secret information and were embarrassed and awkward when interacting with Android devices near me. The factor you allege was largely a wash for me.

Further summing up: It's a great career "statisfice".

Because Apple is not a webapp company, and webapps are the easiest and most common kind of startup.

Mobile app startups are a big #2 at the very least, and what with apple being a manufacturer of a very popular phone I'd expect more from there.

Apple doesn't have very many people working in software compared to hardware, sales, design, etc.

Younger companies spawn more startups because they have many employees who just experienced the hypergrowth phase of going from startup to known company. These employees have not only the right experience to start a company, they want to recreate the experience.

Like others, I'm not sure that Apple has spawned few startups. The evidence here is weak.

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).

Still, don't they employ something like 100k software engineers?

Not really, most of their workforce are "geniuses" and the like

Last I checked they had 50k total staff and a big chunk of that would be in sales.

Maybe it's because the company DNA attracts less entrepreneurial minded employees in the first place than for example Google. I think that people working for Apple:

- 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.

Because no one ever leaves!



For some reason the only Apple-spawned startups that come to my mind are the ones that ultimately failed, like Be, Inc.

Perhaps people with an innovative or entrepreneurial bent don't gravitate to Apple in the first place, even if they love Apple products.

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