Wayne received 10 percent ownership, at least in part so he could serve as a tie-breaker if Jobs and Wozniak disagreed on certain decisions. Wayne, who later described himself as "the adult in the room" (he was in his 40s while Jobs was 21 and Woz 26), was considered by the two to be much more "balanced and reasonable."
But just 12 days later, Wayne decided he wanted out. Even though he later said he "felt the enterprise would be successful," he knew there could also be "bumps on the road" to that success.
And he knew the cost of business "bumps" could be high -- his slot machine business had failed a few years prior, causing him to spend two years digging out of a considerable financial hole.
As Wayne said in 2013:
Jobs and Woz didn't have two nickels to rub together. I had a house, I had a car, I had a checking account.
When [the partnership agreement] was drawn out, Jobs went out and did exactly what he was supposed to do. He got a contract with a place called The Byte Shop to sell them a certain number of computers. He did exactly what he was supposed to do and borrowed $15,000 for the materials necessary to fill the order. Perfectly appropriate.
The only problem was, as I heard, The Byte Shop had a terrible reputation for not paying their bills. If this thing blew up, how's that $15,000 going to get repaid? Do they [Jobs and Wozniak] have the money? No. Was I reachable? Yes.
And then there's this: "I was getting too old," Wayne said, "and those two were whirlwinds. It was like having a tiger by the tail, and I couldn't keep up with those guys."
So Wayne relinquished his stake in the company for $1,500.
Now Let's Do Some Math...
How costly was that decision? Founder's shares are naturally diluted by capital raises. By the time Apple went public in 1980, Jobs initial 45 percent ownership stake had become an 11 percent share. Had he held onto all of his shares, Wayne's initial 10 percent might have become a 2.5 percent ownership stake.
Since Apple currently has a market cap of approximately $3 trillion, that means Wayne's shares would be worth around $75 billion.
Granted, it's unlikely that Wayne wouldn't have at least partially cashed out along the way. It's even more likely that he would have left of his own volition. "The last thing I wanted to do was to spend the next 20 years of my life in a large backroom office shuffling papers," Wayne said.
Even so, Wayne doesn't regret his decision. Nor should he. Sure, in hindsight it seems like a mistake. But that's only in hindsight.
The information he had at the time? He had just teamed up with two inexperienced entrepreneurs to launch a venture at what would almost surely be the bleeding edge of a new industry. At least one of the founders was more than happy to borrow money to finance the business, and the partnership agreement meant Wayne would face unlimited personal liability for any debts incurred.
He didn't even like the work -- Wayne's passion was slot machines, not computers.
... and Avoid Hindsight Bias
As a result, "I have never had the slightest pangs of regret," Wayne said,
"because I made the best decision with the information available to me at the time. My contribution was not so great that I felt I have been [cheated] in any way."
In short, Wayne made the right decision, and decades later still feels that way.
That's the thing about decisions -- and regret.
Hindsight bias -- believing that after an event has occurred you knew what the outcome would be -- makes it easy to question your judgment. Looking back, it's easy to think you would have known Apple would succeed. After all, Apple had Steve Jobs.
But in 1976, Jobs wasn't Steve Jobs. He was just another guy with a dream.
And that's the real lesson of Ronald Wayne.
Looking back, we always think we knew more than we knew then. We always place more weight on something we considered and rejected at the time. Take gambling: If you thought about taking the Bengals and the points, when the Bengals covered...it's easy to say, "I knew it!"
But you didn't. Sure, you might have thought about it. Sure, it was an option you might have considered. But you didn't know.
Only now, in hindsight and after the fact, do you know.
As Mark Cuban says, "Life is half random. Being a billionaire requires a lot of luck and a lot of great timing."
The only thing any of us can do is make the best decisions we can with what we know today -- and then refuse to beat ourselves up if what we learn tomorrow causes us to rethink a decision.
Because we can't always know how things will turn out.
But we can choose to learn from every experience -- and keep trying to make the best decisions we can with what we know today.