Tale of the Tape
You printed program listings in the magazine and sold readers tapes so that they could load the programs automatically using a cassette tape player.
Yes. We had a wall of tape recorders so we could make the cassette tapes. We had wonderful business programs.
Then, in 1983, you sold everything to IDG. Why?
I needed something new to do, and there was nothing new there, just the same old, same old.
How much money did you have to work with after the IDG buyout?
It was $16 million. I just used that to build new businesses. IDG was holding the money, and I just spent it. [laughs]
After selling off the magazines, you seemed to stray from the technology field. You haven't been as involved with PCs or trends such as the rise of the Internet and the World Wide Web. Did your interests change?
I went on to compact discs. They had just been introduced in 1982, and the universal reaction of the music magazines and the hi-fi magazines was, "We don't need another technology." So I started CD Review and had the readers review every CD they bought for performance and sound quality. Within a year, it was the largest selling music magazine.
The major labels said, "We hate your magazine because you forced us to rebuild our studios and put in all new equipment, but your readers are spending $30 million a month and we can't ignore that."
How was it that you were so prescient at identifying the technology trends such as the microcomputer, cellular phone, the CD and the laptop revolution, to name a few? How were you able to see those things coming?
Well, I'm smart. And I have one other big plus: I don't believe in anything. Belief is a prison for the mind. In every science, in medicine, every new thought has been fought by the establishment.
I sat down with [Ken] Olsen at Digital [Equipment Corp.] I said, "Microcomputers are the way to go." He said, "No." I sat down with Edson deCastro at Data General. I said, "You've got to start adopting microcomputers." He said, "No. They're toys."
I sat down with An Wang and said, "You've got to start adapting to microcomputers." He said, "I know computers better than anybody else in the world, and [micros are] never going to be anything."
I had a vision of what was possible because I knew the technology. When anything comes in at one-tenth the price, it's going to clobber the competition, and it did.
Many of the folks who were entrepreneurs in those early days have retired or left the business. Bill Gates now runs a health care nonprofit. Has the age of the entrepreneurs passed?
We haven't got any big leaders in the field. The industry has slowed down a lot. Microsoft has not been a big help. They're dragging their heels all the time on technology. Apple isn't marvelous, but they're a hell of a lot better; they're out there first with everything.
You were friends with people such as Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, yet you chose a different path. How come you're not a retired billionaire today, or running another company as your second act, like Jobs, or cashing in your chips and running a health care nonprofit, like Gates?
Well, the main problem is that I've never been interested in making money. I always say, "Gee, somebody ought to do that. Oh, maybe it's me." [But then] I'm always on to the next thing. That's why I sold everything. I'd done that.
I've visited 146 countries. There's none I want to go back to. The ones I want to see are the ones I haven't been to yet. I like to do new things.