General Magic: The team who invented the future

Successful entrepreneur Emma Sinclair MBE, co-founder of EnterpriseAlumni, and the youngest ever person to IPO in the UK at the age of 29, reviews ‘General Magic’, a film about the most significant defunct Silicon Valley firm you should know about – and why. 

Heard of Steve Jobs? Bill Gates? Steve Wozniak? Marc Porat? Likely not the last on the list but that’s about to change.

Last week at the Tribeca film festival a documentary about the greatest company you’ve never heard of (yet!) made by my friends, UK tech entrepreneur and film maker Sarah Kerruish – and fellow director Matt Maude – was shown to huge acclaim.

Tickets sold out in 45 seconds. TimeOut listed it as one of their top 10 films of the festival. The Hollywood Reporter called it a “fascinating cautionary business tale” and Forbes called it “the most important dead company in Silicon Valley“. And for me, it was the most engaging and inspiring film I’ve ever seen.

Did you know that 98% of the world’s smartphone market can be traced back to two people who sat no more than 10 feet apart at a company called General Magic? That’s Tony Fadell and Andy Rubin, in case you were wondering.

So too in that office sat the founder of eBay Pierre Omidyar, the original Macintosh engineer Andy Hertzfeld, their head of marketing Joanna Hoffman (played by Kate Winslet in the Steve Jobs movie), Kevin Lynch aka the man behind the Apple Watch, the former CTO of the USA Megan Smith and a host of names who went on to great success and today are considered some of the best and brightest minds in business and technology.

A swathe of former ‘Magicians’, as they are affectionately known, reunited to see the documentary, a treasure chest of history with original footage of how their failure essentially defined the future – one where we all have smart phones.

The company IPO’d in 1995. Stock spectacularly soared and rapidly nosedived. They knew what was coming. They were just ahead of their time.

Watching footage of Marc Porat on screen, their visionary CEO, describe how we’d all one day be holding small devices which would combine a phone, fax and personal computer was mesmerising – and predicting that one day it would all be available on a watch, too. It was surreal; he knew exactly what was coming. Here was a man who saw the future and a team who came within a hair’s breadth of changing it at the time – and carved the path for the phones we all live and die by today.

I had a once in a lifetime opportunity to host the Q&A after the film – with the film makers plus Marc Porat, Megan Smith, Joanna Hoffman, Andy Hertzfeld and Tony Fadell. The audience revelled in the stories recounted by these heroes, many of whom they had never heard of – but will now not forget. And you too will get the opportunity soon when General Magic is released.

There aren’t many films that have a vein of business threading through their story. Wall Street and Working Girl are some of my favourites but they’re fiction. And 30 years old!

We often hear about the magic of films. Well this is true magic, on film.