Kirk Loevner began his career with VisiCorp in the early 1980s before moving to Apple, where he worked for the next ten years. Afterwards he worked at Silicon Graphics, as the CEO of Internet Shopping Network, and then founded PublishOne in November 1998. He then was the CEO and chairman of Pinnacor (ScreamingMedia) from December 2001 to January 2004.
SM: Kirk, take us back to where your story begins. Where are you from? Where did you grow up?
KL: I was born outside of Philadelphia in 1957. I ended up going to college in Boston, to Tufts, for a degree in computer science. It was one of the first computer science degrees available then. I was a software developer in banking for a couple of years and then went to Harvard for my MBA. I then decided I was interested in the PC revolution going on in the early ’80s.
I came out and worked for Personal Software, which was better known as VisiCorp. This was in 1982, and it was a tremendous learning experience for me. I was a product manager on a couple of their products and went to New York for a year to sell their products. VisiCalc was the first spreadsheet, and this was before Lotus.
The company did everything wrong you could possibly do. They were the first package software company and they did $20 million in revenue. That revolutionized the PC industry and helped it take off. They ultimately did the next generation product for the Apple 3 instead of the IBM, and they were at war with the original authors, which meant they could not agree on feature sets for the new products. When they finally came out with a product for the IBM, they overshot the platform. They came out with the VisiOn environment, which was essentially Microsoft Windows five years before Microsoft. Between Macintosh and VisiOn, Bill Gates was able to get his ideas for Windows.
They definitely overshot the platform, and the IBM did not have the horsepower to support it. Eventually the company made a lot of other bad decisions. In 1984 I went to Apple in Cupertino and was there for ten years.
SM: What role did you have at Apple?
KL: I started out in the dealer sales group putting together programs for computer land and dealer land for the dealers who sold computers. We had programs where you could go to the store, take out a Macintosh for a day and test out the system. I moved into product management, became a director of product marketing and launched a lot of products for Apple, including the LaserWriter and the Mac 2.
SM: How did Apple influence you?
KL: It was a tremendous experience. It really helped me understand what innovation and the user experience is all about. The user experience is built into the DNA of Apple. We used to videotape people who came into the store to buy a computer. We would videotape how they opened the box and unwrapped it. Apple was the first to put the little hole in the shrink wrap to make it easier to unwrap. They wrapped the tape around the cords differently. There were many subtle touches, and you see it now with the iPod and the iPhone.
I learned a lot there. My four years in the late ’80s to early ’90s I was the Chief Evangelist for Apple. I developed an organization that went all over the world to get software developers to write great applications for the Macintosh. In those days, all of the hot applications came out for the Mac. Later they would be ported to PCs. In the ’90s it changed over to the PC.