“Tom Williams, The Kid”
July 7, 2009 12:49 AM   Subscribe

Tom Williams: Hired by Apple at 14. His full story? — not quite… What he doesn't mention in his monologue is that his current project is reminiscent of GiveWell, with similar origins in high finance. He responds. (via)
posted by blasdelf (45 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
David Baines of the Vancouver Sun articles specializes in generating indignation for what he believes are scams, apparently.
posted by honest knave at 1:14 AM on July 7, 2009


If only I were less ethical and more confident, I could be a player too! Fascinating links, thanks blasdelf.
posted by orthogonality at 1:19 AM on July 7, 2009



From honest knave's link:

Given this history of conflict, it’s no surprise that Baines is also party to the largest libel award in B.C. history. The surprise is that, on this occasion, Baines was the plaintiff. Of the 18 suits filed against him, only three have made it as far as examination-for-discovery – and none has made it to court. The single suit that Baines filed against a detractor yielded a judgment, in Baines’s favour, of $825,000 and an ultimate settlement of $350,000.

Actually, it sounds like he does a pretty good job of calling bullshit on the historically corrupt VSE.

Interesting story with, as you note, similar threads of youthful narcissism married to cynical moneygrubbing as was seen in the Givewell/Holden Karnofsky fiasco.
posted by Rumple at 1:19 AM on July 7, 2009


Via the GiveMeaning FAQ:

What Happens to the Money?

posted by Nomiconic at 1:33 AM on July 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Um... the Vancouver Sun is toilet paper with words printed on it. (And a well-endowed girl on page 3). Just FYI.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 1:38 AM on July 7, 2009


Actually the Vancouver Sun is nothing like the Edmonton/Calgary/Toronto Sun newspapers and there are no well endowed girls on page 3. Just FYI. it is a sucky newspaper in its own right, but more sucky cheapo broadsheet National Post AP Wire regurgitation style

And I would never use it for toilet paper -- I hate cutting corners.
posted by Rumple at 1:47 AM on July 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


You know, you really can't trust a guy who talks about building his personal "brand". I mean, that just screams "I will steal your rent money and blow it all on coke".
posted by cmonkey at 1:58 AM on July 7, 2009 [12 favorites]


Oh my. Tom Williams. A company I used to work for in Vancouver, owned by a guy with far more money than sense hired Tom Williams to work on a project after his stint with Apple. Oh, the stories I could tell.... I guess the executive summary would be he was hired right at that perfect crossroads where he had everyone telling him what a genius he was (complete with the local paper running a 2 pager on him as he came to town) combined with hitting his late teens and all which that entails. He didn't last all that long, but the stories endure at that software house, a decade on...
posted by barc0001 at 2:34 AM on July 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


From reading that last link I would say that Tom needed to spend a little more time in English class and a little less time selling chocolate. Horribly unreadable due to grammar and organizational errors...
posted by flyinghamster at 2:59 AM on July 7, 2009


Even when I was interested in bird-watching, I had a newsletter and charged a subscription to family and friends. I was always constantly thinking about how to make money and generate revenue.

TOM WILLIAMS IS MY NEW ROLE MODEL
posted by Dr Dracator at 3:09 AM on July 7, 2009


Rags to riches stories are a great read except for the fact that guys like this are powerless to stop themselves from making stuff up.
posted by digsrus at 4:42 AM on July 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


This is exactly the kind of scrappy, confidant individual that makes me great.
posted by America


Hello, one note samba. Any chance you could learn a bolero or something?
posted by Wolof at 4:49 AM on July 7, 2009 [5 favorites]


Um, so his first experience making money by selling chocolate -- aren't those things supposed to be school fundraisers? He felt gypped because the profits went to the school/charity instead of him? And he preyed on his subsequent customers by operating under the guise of selling chocolate for a school fundraiser?

Huh.

What's he doing nowadays?

oh.
posted by FuManchu at 4:51 AM on July 7, 2009 [5 favorites]


Precocious mascot.

Confidence and ambition are only enough to make you a leader when your best friend is The Woz.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:51 AM on July 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Also, are there interim Baines articles that aren't linked here? Jumped from Jan '08 to Jun '09. Please, sir, may I have some more?
posted by FuManchu at 5:24 AM on July 7, 2009


This is exactly the kind of scrappy, confidant individual that makes me great.

This isn't hilarious. This is rubbish. Please stop doing it. Thanks.
posted by Hartham's Hugging Robots at 5:32 AM on July 7, 2009


I read John Sculley’s biography, who was Apple’s CEO at the time, and my hero.
And when I was a teenager, I read Steve Jobs' biography. This is, no doubt, part of the reason why Williams and I turned out differently.

Seriously, who the heck picks John Sculley as a role model?
posted by deanc at 5:47 AM on July 7, 2009 [9 favorites]


This isn't hilarious. This is rubbish. Please stop doing it. Thanks.

I know. Repeating lines after less than a week. Come on America! You can do better!
posted by mediareport at 6:00 AM on July 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


Hiring a young kid to do nothing is pretty good PR. Smart move, until the kid grows up to become a know-nothing, self-indulgent baffoon.
posted by anniecat at 7:02 AM on July 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


David Baines of the Vancouver Sun articles specializes in generating indignation for what he believes are scams, apparently.

Actually, David Baines does one hell of a job with his column exposing shysters, con men and crooks. Vancouver has a pretty sordid history in the realm of white collar crime: the Vancouver Stock Exchange was so corrupt, for example, that it was shut down by regulators about ten years ago.

I like the Van Sun, and usually buy it on Saturdays to read Vaughn Palmer and David Baines.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:40 AM on July 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Why do people write things like this? Is the idea that after reading a long, boring, and aimless story, I'll be so psychologically worn down that I'll succumb to whatever cult propaganda/sales pitch is waiting at the bottom of the article? God, it's incredibly frustrating and annoying. I'm physically reacting to it.

And what exactly is he selling? Donate to my charity and he'll pass the money on for you? Why don't I just give to the charity directly? And this kid is supposed to be so brilliant, and yet he runs a transparent con just to so he and his wife can pull a combined $120,000 salary? I've known carnival workers who've made more than that.

People need to stop being impressed by kids who can program computers. Lots of smart kids of his generation did it. Hell, Bill Gates started a software company when he was 15, and he runs a charity too. I'd rather give my money to Gates than this tool.
posted by Pastabagel at 7:57 AM on July 7, 2009 [5 favorites]


Wow, I think I am in love with Baines after reading that bio, honest knave,

He also looks with the skepticism of a moneylender. Calling on his banking skills, Baines got into the habit of asking the ‘character’ questions, which he says began politely enough – “Tell me about your track record” – but became increasingly belligerent – “Have you ever been associated with a profitable enterprise?” – and finally “Have you ever done anything worthwhile in your entire life?”

I can see now why he has a passion for Tom Willams.
posted by FuManchu at 8:17 AM on July 7, 2009


He and his wife are no longer taking a salary, according to his blog.

From one article:

"You were exposed to tremendous wealth at a relatively early age -- if not your own, then at least that of the corporate executives you advised. Why aren't you a dick?" Youmans asked.

"I think because I was a dick," Williams replied. "This path I'm on now is only something I arrived at after having fully explored my own dickiness."


I sort of don't hate him after reading this.
posted by mecran01 at 8:17 AM on July 7, 2009


Pastabagel -- You've known carnival workers?

Besides, there are tens of thousands in expenses, likely plenty of meals and travel for the CEO.

mecran01 -- That's what con men do, if they're good enough they can convince you against what's plainly in front of your face. It's clear he'd say anything to keep this party going.
posted by Napierzaza at 8:35 AM on July 7, 2009


Huh. Well on the one hand, the part about not earning the advanced commissions is rather dodgy, and if Baines is to be believed, his GiveMeaning project (which I have seen linked by other non-profit people online) is equally as dodgy.

But then you get stuff like what mecran01 quotes, and it may just be a case of ignorance rather than malice - idealism unrooted in maturity.

If he is as much of a git as some people here are making it out to be, then it's annoying: how do hustlers with no sense of ethics get ahead while people who stay humble and work hard behind the scenes still struggle? Does it take a snazzy soundbite to get anywhere? Are the "humble" ones actually really misguided? Is there a middle ground?
posted by divabat at 8:35 AM on July 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


If he is as much of a git as some people here are making it out to be, then it's annoying: how do hustlers with no sense of ethics get ahead while people who stay humble and work hard behind the scenes still struggle?

Well, to a certain extent life is not a meritocracy and often important positive traits like humbleness and the ability to work hard are not always directly rewarded with fame and fortune. But it's also not as easy as it seems for sleazy people to get ahead. For every nefarious CEO there's a dozen other similar scammers in jail, or trying to scrape by on some small-time hussle, or having a hard time finding a new job because they burned too many bridges. And a lot of people who succeed in life are actually kind, intelligent, and hard working people. Being an overall good person is not a guarantee of success or failure, and neither is being a bad person.
posted by burnmp3s at 8:55 AM on July 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


pull a combined $120,000 salary? I've known carnival workers who've made more than that.

Clearly my life has taken a drastically wrong turn somewhere.
posted by adamdschneider at 9:29 AM on July 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


I read John Sculley’s biography, who was Apple’s CEO at the time, and my hero. As other kids had sports stars or actors, he was my hero. I wanted to be him or be like him.
[He goes on to talk about meeting Sculley and how he became like a mentor, etc.]

Didn't this John Sculley guy he idolized basically destroy the company?
posted by delmoi at 9:46 AM on July 7, 2009


If he is as much of a git as some people here are making it out to be, then it's annoying: how do hustlers with no sense of ethics get ahead while people who stay humble and work hard behind the scenes still struggle? Does it take a snazzy soundbite to get anywhere? Are the "humble" ones actually really misguided? Is there a middle ground?

Part of it is just a risk/reward tradeoff. If you don't see the downsides and are willing to take a big risk, then it can pay off great or get you nowhere. So for every 100 people who risk everything and get their shot 90 end up with nothing, 10 end up moderately successful and 1 ends up a billionaire. But the median person like this could very well be worse off then the average middle class grinder. Imagine of no one at apple had wanted to talk to this kid. All his time would have been wasted. Being dishonest and ethics challenged probably tilts the risk reward curve even farther.
posted by delmoi at 9:51 AM on July 7, 2009


So for every 100 people who risk everything and get their shot 90 end up with nothing, 10 end up moderately successful and 1 ends up a billionaire.

I'm gonna hazard a guess that your arithmetic skills are what has held you back.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:21 AM on July 7, 2009 [8 favorites]


People need to stop being impressed by kids who can program computers.

He admits in the article to being a horrible programmer... in fact, I wasn't able to find any evidence that he was good at anything except being tenacious... which only gets you so far.
posted by Huck500 at 10:37 AM on July 7, 2009


He admits in the article to being a horrible programmer... in fact, I wasn't able to find any evidence that he was good at anything except being tenacious...

Usually it's heartening to read about the kid who maybe didn't succeed in conventional academic or work environments but had some talents that, once he worked really hard at developing them, made him successful. This guy, on the other hand, seemed to have no particular talent other than a willingness to talk to lots of people endlessly with only the hope of a possible distant payoff.

My understanding is that this is a very useful skill if you go into sales. But even he realized down the line that this was only the act of "creating a demand for things that people don't need," and probably found the possibility of joining a corporate sales force to be not nearly as sexy and exciting as hanging out with CEOs.
posted by deanc at 10:57 AM on July 7, 2009



Didn't this John Sculley guy he idolized basically destroy the company?


As Apple is still around, not literally, and its arguable that Sculley helped save the company from Steve Jobs at a time when Jobs wasn't the right person to run the company. (Jobs, at the time, was trying to push the Macintosh too hard as a replacement for the Apple ][ at a time when the Mac was still underpowered and overpriced and the ][ was still the company's cash cow. Jobs' next company, NeXT, was similarly unsuccessful in pushing cutting-edge, overpriced personal computer technology, although the NeXT OS would eventually become the core of Mac OS X.)

Sculley was probably an effective caretaker for Apple for the decade or so that he was CEO, but his problem was that he was a marketing guy (he created the Pepsi Challenge) who desperately wanted to be a computer visionary, which led to his backing the Newton well before that technology was mature.
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:00 AM on July 7, 2009


it's ^
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:00 AM on July 7, 2009


I'm gonna hazard a guess that your arithmetic skills are what has held you back.

That was just an illustrative example. Obviously you can't really come up with a ratio like that because for different people "risking everything" means different things.
posted by delmoi at 11:00 AM on July 7, 2009


90 + 10 + 1 ≠ 100.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:39 AM on July 7, 2009


There's a MeFi Wiki, awesome!

Been lurking / reading for a long time, but still don't know what the f*ck you all are going on about a good percentage of the time (even though you obviously find it hilarious). This should help -- thanks for the link blasdelf.
posted by tastydonuts at 11:51 AM on July 7, 2009


90 + 10 + 1 ≠ 100.

Oh heh. I meant more like "90% of the 10% who are successful would be wildly successful"
posted by delmoi at 12:02 PM on July 7, 2009


Didn't this John Sculley guy he idolized basically destroy the company?

To tell the truth, Sculley got a lot of undeserved criticism. He attracted the ire of a lot of Apple fanboys in the 80s (this would include me) because he was instrumental in sidelining Jobs. However, during the first half of Sculley's tenure, Apple went from selling hundreds of thousands of units to selling millions. The latter half, from about 1988 to 1993, he did run Apple into the ground in various ways, but it's not as though his beliefs were any different than those around him (like Gassée and Spindler). If anything, as Halloween Jack implies, Sculley's big mistake was not stepping aside when it was necessary and not grooming appropriate successors that would have been better visionaries than he was. Sculley's big failure was that he didn't have the modesty to realize that he needed to cultivate someone with talents similar to Jobs' -- talents Sculley didn't have--, and this led to a tough period for Apple for a long time until Jobs returned.

The thing is that this was quite clear in the 1990s when Tom Williams decided to become a disciple of Sculley. But then again, Tom Williams and John Sculley seem to both be more talented at selling things than doing things or thinking about things. What did Tom Williams do before he got Sculley's attention? He managed to convince people to buy lots of chocolate bars and spent a long time getting to know Sculley's assistant. Why should we be impressed? If he had become a disciple of a Managing Director of Bond Sales at JP Morgan and moved to NYC as a 14 year old to sell fixed-income instruments, we'd have never have heard of him (and he'd probably have become a lot more successful). But because he attracted the attention of a tech CEO, he's suddenly a hip wunderkind.
posted by deanc at 12:03 PM on July 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Hell, Bill Gates started a software company when he was 15, and he runs a charity too.

He wasn't so much of a programmer, so much as someone who bought other companies' works and resold them under the Microsoft name. Just sayin'
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:54 PM on July 7, 2009


Blazecock: That wasn't true in the early days — he wrote much of the code for TRAF-O-DATA with Paul Allen, with whom he then wrote Altair BASIC, which was the first commercial software as we think of it today.
posted by blasdelf at 1:26 PM on July 7, 2009


posted by mediareport Come on America! You can do better!

Yes He Can.
posted by mattdidthat at 1:36 PM on July 7, 2009


Hello, one note samba. Any chance you could learn a bolero or something?

I know. Repeating lines after less than a week. Come on America! You can do better!

Yes He Can.

Sorry about that (and sorry in general Hartham's Hugging Robots). Here is a better line:

Men like Tom Williams are the spark plugs in my econo-engine.
posted by America at 2:26 PM on July 7, 2009



Men like Tom Williams are the spark plugs in my econo-engine.


To bad he lives in Canada.
posted by delmoi at 9:33 PM on July 9, 2009


Blazecock: That wasn't true in the early days — he wrote much of the code for TRAF-O-DATA with Paul Allen, with whom he then wrote Altair BASIC, which was the first commercial software as we think of it today.

Well, for home PCs.
posted by delmoi at 9:36 PM on July 9, 2009


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