You may have read the story about how my interest in software creation led to my discovery of the need to protect said software. It’s a great story, and I’ll always be so thankful to my brother Joe for putting a tool in my hands that inspired my drive to invent and innovate. From those early days of software product activation and licensing, it was all smooth sailing. Success came easily for me, and all the coaches, consultants, and advisors just wanted to hop on my shooting star.
If this were a TV show, right about now is when you would hear the sound of a record scratch so that I can narrate you back into reality. You weren’t really buying that version of the story, were you?
Good, I didn’t think you would. It turns out that the rest of the story isn’t one of world domination. I’m actually really glad about that, because without the lessons learned, I wouldn’t be doing the exciting things I’m doing today. More on that later. But first, let’s go back to the early days so I can tell you more about what happened after I created the first software product activation and licensing toolkit.
Experience and Knowledge Without Creativity and Ambition Fall Flat
The Protection PLUS software product activation and licensing toolkit was a textbook example of invention. I recognized a need, believed I had a plausible solution, created that solution, tested it, and began generating sales. Like many inventors, I fell backwards into entrepreneurship after recognizing the marketability of my product. To my credit, I had a head for business, and I saw a future for my software product activation and licensing technology.
My first setback occurred when I visited a patent attorney to get my product invention on record. Remember, this was 1990, and software innovation was truly in its infancy. The attorney didn’t recognize that software had such huge potential to take off and was skeptical of both my product and my resources to guard a patent. Rather than asking tons of questions and making sure I had all the facts before proceeding, this attorney was dismissive and discouraging throughout our meeting. I left there with a list of things wrong with my idea and no encouragement to get it right.
This is the first lesson I’d like to teach anyone who is innovating new solutions today: always get a second, third, and fourth opinion! I thought that attorney must have known something I didn’t know. After all, I was barely an adult, and I was brand new to the business world. As it turns out, that attorney lacked imagination (seems like it should be a requirement for a patent attorney, no?), and I lacked the experience to understand that I had a great idea, just not a great advisor.
That attorney was unfortunately the first of many disappointing consultants who failed to understand my vision. That brings me quickly to my second lesson: interview your potential consultants, coaches, attorneys, and advisors to make sure they work with visionaries in your industry. Your supporters must have a capacity for vision, imagination, and innovation. If they can’t or aren’t willing to see the potential that you see, they will never push you to the next level. Good coaches and advisors will share your vision and ask questions to see what you see. Their job is to help you avoid pitfalls while simultaneously nurturing, guiding, and uplifting you.
Vindication Soothes the Ego, Not the Bottom Line
Not everyone was working against me. I had really great and profitable business relationships during those early years, too. My clients were incredibly happy with my Protection PLUS software product activation and licensing toolkit, and they continually inspired me to build new solutions. At that early time in my career, my clients were the encouragers I needed in order to boost my drive for innovation.
From the very beginning, my client relationships were always collaborative. I took ownership of both their goals and challenges, and we explored new ideas together. Once we found something that seemed to fit the need, I developed the code and we tested it together. My clients trusted me because I could see the situation from both the business side and the systems and processes side.
Therein lies the third lesson: innovation requires feedback and real-world applicability. When you have amazing ideas, remember that your clients have to be able to use those ideas in a way that makes them more effective, efficient, and profitable.
Having shifted my focus away from pursuing a patent and instead towards building great licensing applications for my clients, I was surprised to find out that the patent issue hadn’t forgotten about me. I was subpoenaed to be a witness in the Uniloc USA, Inc. v. Microsoft Corp. lawsuit, which may even arguably be considered the most prominent product activation patent lawsuit in the world! Why was I called as a witness? Because the defendant’s attorney needed me to testify that my Protection PLUS commercial product activation toolkit existed prior to the patent they were fighting.
It turns out that someone had a better patent attorney than I did. It was certainly satisfying to know that my product truly was innovative and ahead of its time, but it was also a big lesson about doing my homework before trusting someone just because they have more experience than I do. In the end, that lawsuit vindicated me as an inventor, and what I gained was experience and self-confidence.
Lesson number four is this: hindsight is worthless unless you apply it to your present goals. There was truly no reason for me to be upset about missing out on that patent. Okay, I definitely could have been upset, but how would that benefit me? It wouldn’t. Seeing a clear vision of how my story could have played out in an alternate universe simply motivated me to stay on my current path of innovation and invention that moves my clients forward in their goals.
Software Innovation is Still a Frontier for Exploration
So now you know the whole story of how I went from Mike Wozniak, software innovator, to Mike Wozniak – Software Innovator. I’ve had as many ups and downs over the past 30 years as anyone else, but I can say with 100% confidence that I’m proud of what I’ve done and how far I’ve come.
And I’m not finished! My brother Joe lived his life to the fullest, and he inspired me to do the same. Joe was an eternal optimist, even to the point of wanting to design a pulley system and make plans to go dancing just days before he passed away. Joe saw even the biggest challenges as minor obstacles to be overcome with a bit of positive thinking and creativity. Joe’s Muscular Dystrophy finally became more than his body could bear, which made me realize that unless something is actively killing me, I have no excuse to shy away from any obstacles.
When Covid-19 came along, it changed the world. It has devastated lives, economies, and industries, which makes it easy to go to a place of despair. But I had to think of Joe. How would Joe tell me to confront the obstacles created by this pandemic? I started thinking about the next innovations that could respond to all of these changes.
It’s no secret that we are in a new era of doing business. Businesses are under more strain than ever to deliver high quality and timely service, but they have to do that with insufficient staff, a tenuous supply chain, shortened hours, and more protocols. As customers, we want to have as normal an experience as possible while avoiding congested waiting areas and long wait times.
As I considered these new problems, I had to answer the question: what is the biggest obstacle in this scenario? The answer I came up with is flow. Service providers need every customer to show up exactly on time, and customers need to know that they will be served when they arrive.
How many restaurants have completely done away with the concept of reservations because of no-shows, last-minute cancellations, and late arrivals? At peak dining hours, this means extensive crowding and long waits resulting in grumpy diners, overwhelmed staff, and poor reviews. How often are salons and medical providers running way behind schedule due to longer-than-expected service times, creating wait-time bottlenecks for the rest of the day? What can I do to synchronize arrival and service management for both providers and customers without either one having to create another slowdown by calling each other on the phone?
What I can do is innovate with software. Not wanting to repeat any mistakes of the past, I have already filed the patent that will revolutionize automatic 2-way coordination in reservations, bookings, and appointments. Using AI and GPS, proximity-based arrival management will make scheduling systems work smarter for both providers and customers. Check out Floqque.com to see how it will work, and comment with your collaborative ideas!
That, my friends, brings me to my fifth and final lesson: never stop innovating, imagining, and creating. Your ideas have value, whether or not they can work in the real world in this moment. Keep working on them, surround yourself with people who inspire you to live without excuses, and solve just one problem every day.