Rebecca Tyrrel: 'Ronald Wayne decided to get out just two weeks after Apple was registered for business'


Who knew that Apple – the technology firm, not the record label – had its very own fifth Beatle? The Stu Sutcliffe to Steve Jobs's Lennon and Steve Wozniak's McCartney is Ronald Wayne, now 78 and living alone in a bungalow in Nevada from where he supplements his social security payments by selling stamps and old coins.

Initially a colleague of Jobs at Atari, Ron co-founded what is now the world's most valuable company. That was back in 1976. Ronald even drew the first Apple logo (Isaac Newton beneath an apple tree, so much more beautiful than the ubiquitous bitten fruit). Like Ronald, however, it failed to stay the distance. After sinking his assets into the business, he became so worried that the project would bankrupt him that Ron decided to get out just two weeks after Apple was registered for business, and he sold his ten per cent stake to the others for $800. It isn't quite as bleak as it sounds, because he later accepted another $1,500 to relinquish all ownership rights, making his cut a far more impressive $2,300. Today, that holding would be worth about $60 billion.

After opening his Wayne's Philatelics shop in California, he moved to the suitably hi-tech, cutting-edge Pahrump, which had telephones installed as early as the 1960s. Apart from hosting the famous Chicken Ranch brothel and a massage parlour in the shape of a castle, the town has several casinos in which Ronald likes to play the slots.

But only mouldy lemons, not golden apples, have come up on the win line of Ron's life. Still, he does his heroic best to make lemonade. "I made the best decision with the information available to me at the time," he bravely explains. "I was getting too old… I was going to wind up the richest man in the cemetery." But Ronald, $60 billion? "I don't waste my time getting frustrated about things that didn't work out… Why should I go back and 'what-if' myself?"

Why indeed? Ronald, who did not own any Apple product until being given an iPad2 last year, did it his way. Regrets? Well, just a few. "Unfortunately, my whole life has been a day late," says the spiritual creator of that popular app WhatTheHellWasiThinking?, with the kind of British understatement too seldom heard in Nevada, "and a dollar short." Well, $59,999,999 short, to be pedantic. But, hey, who's counting?