recently published a book titled Meditating Entrepre-
neurs - Creating Success from the Stillness Within. It
is about fifteen entrepreneurs who created companies
starting from nothing in pre-internet rural Iowa. As one of
those entrepreneurs, I write about the founding of the small
publishing company that would one day become iPhone Life,
and how we traversed technological changes in mobile
computing and publishing.
In the book, I explore the core tenets behind each
company—the defining moments that not only led to success
but also shaped the character of the organization. Every company faces its fair share of difficult choices. Here, I’ll share
one such experience that established honesty as a core value
at iPhone Life.
In December 1985, my seven-month-old company, which
consisted of my wife Rita and me, mailed its first newsletter
about the new, ground-breaking Hewlett Packard laptop. Not
knowing anything about publishing or business, it took
extraordinary determination to navigate a maze of obstacles
as we created, edited, printed, and mailed the issue.
Incredibly, 20 percent of the 2,000 people we mailed to
sent in a $55 subscription payment. Both our customers
and HP liked the first issue a lot. However, 400 subscribers
was not enough to sustain our business. In the pre-internet,
pre-social media 1980s, we had to find a way to reach more
HP Portable users.
Before launching the HP newsletter and moving to Fairfield,
Iowa, I had worked at HP as a software engineer. A former
colleague loved my newsletter and understood the benefit of
the publication. I asked him if I could send a direct mail so-licitation to the thousands of people who called HP technical
support about their new HP Portable. Unfortunately, HP had a
strict company policy against giving away names and addresses of support callers, so his hands were tied.
I mentioned the dilemma to another former colleague who
worked in support at HP. About a week and a half later, a large
unmarked envelope arrived containing a printout of names
and addresses of over 9,000 HP Portable users. We were
buzzed! Not only would we benefit, but HP and HP customers
would be better off with a wide distribution of The Portable
Paper. More knowledgeable and enthusiastic HP laptop own-
ers would mean more word-of-mouth sales for HP.
However, my wife Rita and I hesitated even though sending
the mailing would mean prosperity for the business and the
ability to support ourselves and others in our small town of
Fairfield, Iowa. We wanted to feel good about the company
we had just begun. We didn’t want the business to be based
on a lack of integrity, even though it seemed that all parties
involved would benefit from more subscribers.
After much soul-searching, we built a small fire in a burn
barrel in the backyard of our modest two-bedroom home.
Then, taking turns, page by page, Rita and I threw the names
into the fire.
In my 27 years running the company, I consider “the burn-
ing” to be the most important action we took. It served as a
genesis of our company, one that is still successful 34 years
later. We felt deep down that burning those leads was the
right thing to do. We ignored common sense, a good ratio-
nale, and expediency to destroy the ill-gotten leads. Today,
I am proud that my partners and their team run iPhone Life
from these same high standards of integrity. �
The Entrepreneurial Spirit Behind iPhone Life
Hal, along with his wife Rita, founded iPhone Life’s original publishing company,
Thaddeus Computing, in 1985. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out
Hal’s new book at meditatingentrepreneur.com.