Copyright 1997, 1998 by Mary Eisenhart and MicroTimes. All rights reserved.

This story first appeared in MicroTimes Issue #168

Fighting Back For Mac

Apple's Chief Evangelist Guy Kawasaki
By Mary Eisenhart

For once in his life, Guy Kawasaki's having a little trouble holding his audience. His valiant efforts to keep up a conversation are seriously undermined by 2-year-old son Noah, who, sensing the presence of potential fans, is regaling us with Buzz Lightyear renditions, introductions to toy trains, and earnest revelations that the creature portrayed on the living room wall is, in fact, a rhinoceros.

Beyond the world of giggly little kids, things are looking a bit less upbeat--indeed, we're visiting Kawasaki's house a few days after the ouster of erstwhile Apple chairman/CEO Gil Amelio, and the ensuing upheaval and rumor-mongering is enough to make even the irrepressible Kawasaki long for a little boredom for a change.

Particularly among those who actually use Macs and wish to continue to do so, Kawasaki is arguably the most powerful person in the Macintosh industry, largely for his well-developed ability to inspire and leverage fervor and zeal. His first book, The Macintosh Way, chronicles the dawn of Apple's life-changing computer, including the software evangelism program, and extrapolates therefrom the guerrilla marketing principles he's been developing in subsequent books (most recently, How To Drive Your Competition Crazy). Over the years he's headed one software company and been associated with others, written columns in outlets from MacUser to Forbes, and provided a rallying point for Macintosh lovers in good times and bad.

Currently Kawasaki is an Apple Fellow. Unlike other Apple Fellows of the past (e.g. Don Norman and Alan Kay), his efforts are not expended in R & D, they're expended in rallying the troops, most notably with EvangeList (, one of the liveliest examples of computer-facilitated collaboration yet devised.

Every day--sometimes several times a day--EvangeList subscribers receive a digest of press releases, action items, job offers, Bill Gates jokes, and calls for mutual assistance.

"Help!" a subscriber might say, "My office is about to switch to Windows if I can't find a Mac program that does yada-yada." Immediately helpful Mac-oids from all over the world email the beleaguered correspondent with advice about optimal Mac-based achievement of yada-yada.

And woe betide the journalist who bad-mouths the Mac or joins in the frequent orgies of Schadenfreude at Apple's expense. Said journalist immediately gets a lesson in two-way communication from impassioned EvangeListas.

All this tends to get Kawasaki classified as a loose cannon by the entrenched priesthoods of trade publishing, and exerts its influence with significant independence of corporate machinations in Cupertino. Perhaps for that very reason, he enjoys uniquely high trust ratings among Mac users, and many of the developers that were his first constituency.

So it's no surprise that in the post-Amelio What's NeXT? rumor-mongering, Kawasaki's name tended to head the popular short list of Apple CEO candidates, to the point where he told the EvangeListas:

"You can work your butt off anytime, but your kids are young only once. Thus, I made a decision to not take an operating role in a company so that I could be with my two kids and wife. I took the Apple fellowship because I love Apple, Macintosh, and our customers, and it was the only way to get a PowerBook right away, but it is a fellowship and not a 'job' per se.

"My decision is not going to change in the near future, and you know what? My kids don't care how the Mercury reported an Apple story, how the Wall Street Journal predicted our death, how the SPA forecasted a decline in Macintosh software sales using inexplicable math, or whether Apple's market share is 5%, .5%, .05%, or 5000%.

"All they care about is that I'm with them. And what job could possibly be more important than this?"

Meanwhile, the battle for Mac goes on.

As we go to press on the eve of Macworld Expo Boston, persistent rumor has returning founder Steve Jobs getting the nod for the Chairman position, while Jobs, now having a perfectly fine time as Chairman/CEO at Pixar, is telling his employees he's already refused the offer. Meanwhile, in his stated capacity of strategic advisor to Apple's board, he's slated to give the Macworld keynote address. Stay tuned for further developments.



What's it like working at Apple right now?

It's like being in Baghdad on the first night of Desert Storm, only you're the good guy. There are more people trying to build their reputation by predicting our death than there are nerds in Fry's.

What's it like to have Steve back?

It couldn't be more exciting. His sense of aesthetics and his demands for excellence are the stuff of legend. He will catalyze more change at Apple in the next sixty days than has occurred in the last six years.

Your name was being bandied about in numerous circles as a candidate for the CEO job. You even won one online poll as the people's choice for the job. Do you want the job?

Nope, and luckily, I won't be considered. You met Noah. I have another son and a wife. On a scale of 1-10, they mean 15 to me.

A few years ago I wrote a book called Hindsights which involved interviewing 130 people. They explained to me what they had learned about life and wanted to pass on to others. Not one person told me that he or she spent too little time working. On the other hand, many told me they spent too little time with their kids.

When 130 people tell you you're drunk, you catch a cab. When 130 people tell you to cherish the years you have with your kids, you don't apply to be the CEO of Apple.

I did, however, clip the newspaper article about winning the poll, so that one day I can tell my kids that I sacrificed my career at Apple in order to be with them. That ought to be good for a few lawn mowings.

What qualifications should the new CEO have? What qualities should he or she absolutely NOT have?

The CEO of Apple needs the chip speed of Bill Gates, the toughness of a Navy Seal, and the charisma of JFK. The quality that he or she should absolutely not have is the desire to change the culture of Apple. The CEO has to take the culture of Apple and focus it, hone it, purify it, but not substantially change it--which will only destroy it. Or destroy the CEO, as has been the case up to now.

What advice would you give the new CEO?

The first thing I'd do is clearly position the company and explain which markets we're interested in. My positioning statement would be, "Creative tools for creative people."

That's it. End of story. If you're doing something creative with a computer, buy a Macintosh. If you're not, a Windows machine will probably suffice. Or save a few bucks and buy a network computer running Java applications. But if your job involves creativity, you can't do it without a Macintosh.

What about the education market vis-a-vis this positioning?

What about the education market? Kids are the most creative users of computers in the world. Schools fit in perfectly with this positioning statement.

By the way, one of the ramifications of this positioning statement is that when a company standardizes on Windows, it is essentially telling employees that either they aren't creative or creativity isn't desired. Let's see those Intel guys in clean-room suits dance around this one.

Stipulating that from time to time Apple has done catastrophically stupid things, the business press (the Wall Street Journal, the San Jose Mercury on occasion, etc.) seems to derive actual glee from playing up Apple's misfortunes. Do you think this is so, and if so, how do you account for it?

I swear that the Mercury has a case of champagne all iced and ready to drink to celebrate the death of Apple. It's a good thing for them that champagne improves with age.

Why the bad press? Three reasons: First, we have done some dumb things which have led to problems. Mea culpa!

Second, when a company has problems, there's safety in predicting its downfall. Think about this: If you predict Apple's recovery and it dies, you look like a fool. If you predict its death and it doesn't die, you can proclaim a miracle. Thus, the safe and easy thing is to jump on the "Apple is dying" bandwagon.

Third, in some quarters the mere existence of Apple is offensive because it dares to be independent and different. Explain this paradox to me: The people who proclaimed that the Macintosh GUI was a silly, unnecessary fad are now the staunchest Windows supporters.

Aren't you being a little harsh? If nothing else, aren't you afraid of retaliation?

How much worse can our coverage get? Let me give you an example: When the prince bought 5% of Apple, the local paper ran a picture of him. Which picture did it use? Him and Michael Jackson. I'm sure the prince had other pictures. Why couldn't they crop out Michael? Were they out of razor blades that day?

Some members of the press claim that you incite email flames upon them. What's your response?

These reporters should focus on why thousands of our customers are willing, indeed eager, to write to them, not on why they are "victims." Sure, some of our customers get carried away, but why are they so passionate? Could it be, my God, that the press is wrong? And thin-skinned?

Let me give you an example: About six months ago the VP in charge of the advanced technology group at Apple left. He was in charge of a small, pure research group within R & D. A local paper ran a headline that our chief of R & D left. This was factually wrong. When I asked the reporter about this, her response was, "Sorry, I don't write the headlines." This newspaper wasn't just doing Apple a disservice, but their readership as well.

You're a child of the Sixties: During the Sixties, the political leaders exclaimed, "We need to stop these riots. They are attacks upon our society." Isn't that why there was a Watts and a Kent State? Isn't that why every protest against the status quo was treated as a life-or-death attack against the Republic?

This country could have avoided a lot of pain if the leaders focused on the real issue: "Why do hundreds of thousands of people (the vast majority of whom are not rioting) think the system is broken?" instead of, "How do we put down the insurrection?"

I write for Forbes. My name and email address are out there. I get hundreds of emails. It comes with the territory. If these journalists can't take the heat, tell them to write for Martha Stewart's magazine.

How many people are involved in putting together EvangeList at this point? Who's this Digital Guy?

Depending on how you count, two, three, four, or 44,000. There are two Apple employees who post all the messages: John Halbig (Digital Guy), and myself. Chuq Von Rospach is the listmaster who maintains the list. Then there's also Analog Guy, Michelle Sain; she handles visits, phone calls, and faxes for me, which enables me to focus on EvangeList.

But the real answer is 44,000, because it's the subscribers who send in most of the material or pointers to material. EvangeList, frankly, is not a mailing list, it's a state of mind.

How so?

The list is a state of mind that focuses on freedom of choice, courage to buck the herd, and an appreciation of excellence.

What's the current subscriber base? What's your favorite thing about the list to date?

As I said before, the list has 44,000 direct subscribers. We figure that there's another 300,000 readers because the messages are extensively forwarded and posted on bulletin boards.

My favorite thing about the list is the fanatical loyalty that the subscribers have to concepts such as choice, courage, excellence, and Macintosh.

In the guerrilla marketer's arsenal, where does something like EvangeList fit compared to, say, corporate PR?

In a guerrilla marketer's arsenal, it's the Stinger missile that shoots down the big, expensive, sophisticated, Soviet helicopters. Our PR department doesn't quite know what to do with me. I think they pretend I don't exist until there's a hostage situation.

Despite the gloom-and-doom, the stock seems to be going up. What does this mean in real life?

Heck if I know. Probably nothing. I maintain the romantic and naive perspective that a company's stock price should reflect the the level of satisfaction of the company's customers--not what someone sitting at a terminal in New York thinks.

Who are the real heroes of Apple Computer?

The rank-and-file employees who create great products, get them to market, and support them. Generally, this means anyone who didn't get a signing bonus or a golden parachute. There are also literally thousands of customers who are Apple heroes. These are the folks who saw a better way and were willing to fight for it.

Are you working on a new book?

I thought you'd never ask. I have a book coming out next year from Little, Brown called Rules for Revolutionaries. It's a capitalist version of Saul Alinsky's Rules for Radicals. It explains how to create and market revolutionary products and services.

What gives you hope in these trying times?

Honestly, there are times I get really depressed, and then someone out of the blue writes to me and tells me how their Macintosh changed their life. Maybe they were disabled and Macintosh opened up their world. Maybe their kid was uninterested in school until he got his hands on a Macintosh. Maybe it's someone who got laid off from a big company and started a successful business at home.

And if I don't get this kind of email, I can always go home to my kids. They don't care how Apple is doing.