The Founder Behind Silicon Valley’s Most Important Failure, General Magic

Interview with General Magic co-founder and visionary Marc Porat

Danielle Newnham

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“Every once in a while, a revolutionary product comes along that changes everything,” Steve Jobs excitedly announced at the iPhone launch in 2007. But few knew that two decades earlier Marc Porat had the very same idea and, with some of the best designers, engineers and marketers, he tried to build it. It was code-named Pocket Crystal and the company was General Magic.

I first learned about the General Magic story back in 2016 and have been fascinated with the story ever since — I even interviewed co-founder Andy Hertzfeld and engineer Megan Smith for my podcast. But there was still one person I knew there was more to learn from — the founder and visionary, Marc Porat. I could see the pain of what happened etched on his face when I watched the General Magic film so I wanted to dig deeper into his personal story — how he was able to see the future so clearly and to find out what he had learned about himself, and about the technical innovation, through the General Magic life cycle.

Marc rarely gives interviews — in fact, the General Magic film was the first time he had spoken publicly about what happened at General Magic back in the early 1990s. And there’s a reason for that. It was a period of time that almost destroyed him. It led to the end of his marriage and became a time of great reflection, for many of his fellow magicians also.

Marc has an incredible story to tell. General Magic is just one part of his life story — an important one, a pivotal one — but it’s not all of it. You see, Marc foresaw the future whilst at University in 1976. His PhD dissertation at Stanford was entitled The Information Economy: Definition and Measurement in which he described a connected world where the information sector played a pivotal role in our economy. His doctoral thesis predicted the transition from a manufacturing-based U.S. economy to one based on information, filled with knowledge workers. This was the 70s so way ahead of time and truly prophetic.

After Stanford, Marc went to the Aspen Institute, where he produced and hosted a film, The Information Society (PBS, 1979), exploring issues such as the…

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Danielle Newnham

Host of Danielle Newnham Podcast — interviews with tech founders and innovators. Writer. Author. Recovering Founder.