Yes, Even Apple Screws Up Sometimes

You might think everything Steve Jobs touches turns to gold. But even mighty Apple makes mistakes -- and one of its biggest provides some valuable lessons for entrepreneurs.

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What, me worry? Even Apple's Steve Jobs makes mistakes.When you are in business, mistakes will happen. Given that, one of your jobs is to make sure that you don't get burned by a really bad one, that you limit your risk and the downside potential in your various ventures. After that, you can only pray that what mistakes you do make are not crippling.

But mistakes do happen, even to the best of companies. Coca-Cola bet big on New Coke and we all know how that turned out. Ford famously flubbed the Edsel. But even so, it is hard to imagine that Apple has ever had anything but the golden touch. Today, between the iPad, iPod, and iPhone, you might forget that Apple was once just another computer maker (albeit one that has always had some cachet) but indeed it was. And it was when the company first swung for the fences that it struck out.

Apple was three years old back in 1979, and had shot out of the gate with the Apple II, one of the first computers built for the home. But like all computers at the time, even the Apple II was cumbersome -- you used it by inputting arcane computer code. But that was to change after Steve Jobs visited the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center, or PARC.

At PARC, Jobs was amazed by a prototype computer called the Alto. On the Alto, instead of typing boring code into a dull black screen, users manipulated a "mouse" that allowed users to point and click on things called "icons." Incredible. Soon Apple jumped head first into developing its own version of this revolutionary product, a computer it dubbed Lisa. The Lisa was to have, for its time, a large 12-inch screen, two floppy drives, plenty of memory and most amazingly, a mouse and icons.

Lisa was to become the first commercially available computer to use this new sort of interface and that is what made it an incredibly unique piece of technology. There was also a word processor and spreadsheet program, a "wastebasket," as well as pull-down menus. Icons could be moved by pointing and "dragging."

Lisa was the first modern computer.

One would think that it would be a winner. One would be wrong. All these bells and whistles came at a price. In 1983, the year of its debut, a Lisa cost a staggering $9,995. The computer also weighed 48 lbs. There were a couple of major obstacles to overcome.

The reason you probably have never heard of this amazing computer is that the Lisa was the opposite of a hit. It was a total flop -- too big, too heavy, too slow, too expensive. Compare the sales of the iPad (over 5 million sold) to the Lisa (about 10,000 sold) and you get the idea.

So Steve Jobs soon began a new secret project: A smaller, far less expensive version of the Lisa. That computer would not be a flop. It debuted in 1984 and you know its name. It was why 1984 wasn't going to be like 1984: That computer was the Macintosh.

And the Lisa? In 1989, the last few remaining ones were buried in a landfill.

The Lisa was one of the very few times that Apple bet big but bet wrong. The moral of the story for entrepreneurs is that even the best of products and plans can be bad if they don't serve the market for which they are intended. Some $10,000 for a home computer? That's a big mistake by any standards. Fortunately, it was not a fatal one.

Tags: Apple, Apple II, Apple Lisa, business mistakes, Business Trends, iPad, iPhone, iPod, New Coke, Steve Jobs, worst business mistakes

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