The powerhouse that is Apple — the world’s most recognizable and iconic corporate brand and name — by far, the world’s most successful company, started simply with two guys in a garage and an idea. Many of the biggest companies in technology today were started by now Silicon Valley legends. Names including Jobs, Wozniak, Gates, Allen, Bosack, Dell, Moore, Noyce, Grove, Ellison … These scientists, engineers and businessmen created an entire industry that the world, at the time, didn’t realize they could not live without. In so doing, they created a golden opportunity for cottage-industry designers, programmers and engineers to work their craft.
One such humble and low-key engineer, who accomplished amazing feats of code, is Bill Kincaid. He may not be a household name, like his former boss, Steve Jobs, however, his manipulation of music — from analog to digital files — began a revolution that put Apple at the forefront of personal mobile technology that continues to this day. His contribution? The code that would become iTunes.
Beyond his passion and work in digital technology, Bill Kincaid’s hobby is cars and motor racing. He considers himself very fortunate to race cars that mesh well with his own personal history and passion. Currently in his stable is a BMW CSL 3.0 “Batmobile,” an ex-Diego Febles Porsche 934/5, and an open wheel Van Diemen Formula 2000. He has been racing for many years, and this has paralleled his career in and out of Apple — even his inspiration for development of the MP3 file came as he towed one of his cars home from a race.
“Wow!” say many. Overnight success. Luck … right? Silicon Valley has been at the forefront of ideas and innovation for nearly 40 years. Just like anywhere else, the cream that rises to the top continues to show devotion, hard work, passion and yes, a little luck. It was a long ride for Kincaid, who continues to work on innovative projects, including Apple Music at the powerhouse technology company. “Sometimes it’s just how the stars happen to align. I’m very thankful.”
Bill Kincaid was born to ex-pat parents in Peru and lived in Bolivia where his father worked for a heavy equipment manufacturer and later the family moved and Kincaid grew up in Puerto Rico. Like many Latin countries, Puerto Rico had a great deal of passion for cars and racing. There were three race tracks — consider this is an island 30 miles by 100 miles!
Kincaid explains, “Someone who is crazy about cars in Latin America is called a ‘Febru,’ (FEE-Brew) which means ‘somebody who is fevered.’ I have always been interested in how things work, mechanical stuff. I loved taking things apart, and at some point I could even put them back together. I built a lot of models — especially airplanes. When I was 10 years old, I was a complete expert on World War One planes. I built a model of a Ferrari 250LM, that particular car just grabbed me. From there it was a steady deviation from airplanes to cars.”
The racing hero in Puerto Rico was Diego Febles. Febles, by day, owned a chain of speed shops on the island and was well known by enthusiasts there. Interestingly, Febles had a long running agreement with Peter Gregg’s Brumos Porsche dealership in Florida: Each year when the Brumos Racing Team would finish the IMSA season, Febles would buy the racecar. He would then change the iconic number 59 and run the car in its unchanged Brumos livery — and naturally win races. Febles also ran LeMans with a Porsche 934/5 — which now resides in Kincaid’s Stable.
As a teen, Kincaid was a patron of Febles’ speed shops, “I was kind of intimidated by him. He had a chain of speed shops and I was busy hopping up my small fleet of FIATs — as those were the only cars I could afford when I was in high school with my summer jobs. His flagship shop was near my house, it always smelled like cigar smoke. Later I would realize what a genuinely nice person he was — but at the time I found him intimidating.”
Kincaid tinkered with his “fleet of FIATs”
Kincaid’s love of cars continued to grow with his first jobs on the island. “I had a job at the first BMW and Porsche dealer on the island (in the late 1960s) washing cars and changing oil. We got a number of very exotic cars beyond the Porsches and BMWs. It was the first time I ever saw a (Mercedes) 300SL Gullwing — I got to wash that car and go for a ride in it…”
Kincaid would leave Puerto Rico to attend school, in hopes of developing as a mechanical engineer — for a time. “It was my zig zag pattern through life.” Kincaid’s educational career started at Stanford. Both his parents had gone there, so it seemed a good idea at the time. However it proved to be not a good fit. “I was not ready, maturity-wise. I wasn’t happy and did not like the social scene.”
Home for a year: The ship where Kincaid was Chief Engineer
So after a year at Stanford, Kincaid decided to try something else, going to work on oil field supply boats as a chief engineer which was a “fantastic experience.” This was hazardous work, but for a young man seeking adventure, it proved exiting. However, an exceptionally dangerous situation had him reconsidering school. The boat had lost both engines in 30 foot seas and Bill was charged with dropping the anchors. Part of releasing the anchors meant keeping pressure on a chain-brake. While applying the prescribed pressure, an impact of one of the links, led to a broken thumb — which was a lucky escape to a potentially worse situation. He decided to return to Stanford for another year, and again was still not happy.
The supply ship’s engine room
At about this time, he had met and was involved in a long-distance relationship with the woman who would become Mrs. Kincaid. Not happy with the social scene and academics at Stanford and wanting to be closer to his girlfriend, who was going to school on the East Coast, Kincaid made a conscious decision. Having previously been accepted to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Kincaid inquired as to a transfer to the Ivy League engineering school, who admitted him to the mechanical engineering school.
“I was still nuts about racing and really wanted to do something racing or automotive related.” However, this changed as Kincaid had a personal epiphany. “Somehow, one day I woke up and said, ‘What are you thinking?’” He had discovered the pull of electronics. The microprocessor was in its infancy and Kincaid was fascinated with the new and blossoming world of possibilities that could exist. “At the tail end of my undergraduate degree, I discovered electronics. Microprocessors were brand new and they were super exciting to me. I had already become interested in control systems as a mechanical engineer. MIT was very gracious in letting me keep all my credits and finish in Electrical Engineering.”
Upon graduating, Kincaid was offered a job by a defense contractor who made intercontinental ballistic missiles. While perhaps a great opportunity for a recent engineering graduate, Kincaid felt a moral conflict about taking such a job, so he declined. At the same time, his father’s highly specialized business, spectroscopic analysis of oil, needed someone with his expertise. “My dad was smart enough not make the pitch to me, but his partner said, ‘why don’t you come work with us for a while and help sort out some of our problems.’”
Kincaid worked for them for three years. During that period he got married and found Puerto Rico “confining.” He left the company, returning to Stanford in pursuit of a Master’s degree — this time in business. The inspiration came from the circumstances of his dad’s business, which he felt was capable of so much more, but not applying the right sort of skills to it. He also felt it was tough to work in a family business, and figured business school would be the means to correct something like that.
“Right away, I felt the same way that I had when attending as an undergrad.” He did not relate to his fellow students. But he slugged through his first year in the MBA program but also felt the tug of engineering again. “After a year, I literally walked across the street and inquired about entering the Computer Science program.” Not only was he accepted to the program, but he also took a job as a teaching assistant. This provided free tuition and a stipend for living expenses. “It was a great deal for me.” He simultaneously continued the MBA while working on a Masters in Computer Science. During this period, they had their first child. A son.
Kincaid tries on the LeMans winning 917 for size
The more time he spent with computers, the greater the tug. Computers became Kincaid’s passion. “I wanted to do high tech. Personal Computers were very exciting to me. What can you do with microprocessors?”
As a teaching assistant, Kincaid participated in the Stanford Instructional Television Network (SITN). An early form of correspondence teaching. Companies in Silicon Valley would pay Stanford to have employees take classes via television. Both lectures and lab sessions would be televised. “It was terrifying at first, but I made sure I started each session with a joke — that would at least put me at ease.”
“One of the days, I had just come from a job interview. I did my session in a suit. Ten minutes after the broadcast ended, I got a call from a guy who said, ‘My name is Bill Caswell. I am one of your remote students.’ I said have we met? He said ‘no, but I saw you wearing a suit — are you looking for a job? I work at Apple.’ And I said as a matter of fact … and he said, well you gotta come talk to me.” So began Bill Kincaid’s first stint at Apple in the early 1980s. Right around the same time, Caswell hired another talented engineer named Andy Rubin. Rubin would go on to start Android. Numerous hiring decisions in those early years of Apple by Caswell produced numerous Silicon Valley superstars.
Apple headquarters in Cupertino, CA
Motor racing returned to Kincaid’s mindset because of a literal break given to him by Apple. “It was called a sabbatical. After five years of employment, you could take three months off — paid!” After about two weeks into his sabbatical, “I got grumpy. I just felt aimless.” Then he heard about the Jim Russell school doing a one day introductory course in driving at Laguna Seca (now Mazda Raceway). “It was a half day of classroom, which was interesting and in the afternoon we ran Van Diemen Formula Fords. Afterward I was totally hooked!” All his childhood dreams of racing came flooding back.
Experiences can sometimes be life changing. As Kincaid drove home from the track, he assessed the car he was driving: a 1972 Porsche 911T. “I really enjoyed this car, but I just got out of driving a Formula Car for two hours. So by the time I got home, I was going to sell the 911 — I had the pitch I was going to tell my wife all planned!” He sold the 911 and purchased an All American Racers Eagle Formula Ford, which he raced for many years. Then he stepped up to a 2.0 liter Formula Continental. “It was only after I got the Van Diemen that I realized what a difficult car the Eagle was to drive. He started running with SCCA in the semi-pro Pacific F2000 series. He would later step up to a Z-Tech powered F2000 car.
Steve Jobs, the visionary of Apple, resigned under pressure from the company he founded, in 1985. There was a power struggle at the top that involved then President and CEO John Sculley and the board of directors. Kincaid and a number of other personnel also left in exodus as the company seemed to be going through turbulent times. Jobs would immediately begin working on a new series of computers and operating system called NeXT. Over the subsequent nine years Jobs would create the future of Apple computers while not within the framework of the company. Kincaid too, would be developing one of the key elements of Apple’s future while also outside the fray.
Kincaid went to work with a startup, which is typical of Silicon Valley. He continued his racing as well. It was a broadcast of National Public Radio (NPR) to which Kincaid was tuned while towing his Eagle Formula Ford car home from Buttonwillow that would “seal his fate” as the saying goes. The NPR broadcast was about new music files developed by the Fraunhofer Institute — MP3 files. An audio file could be compressed into a digital format, allowing music files to be stored on a computer. Inspired by the concept, Kincaid began experimenting with the new type of code and with a couple of partners, developed software to create a library of a multitude of these files on a computer.
The software was developed to allow Mac computers to run the popular, pioneering “RIO” MP3 player, in concert with Diamond Media, who produced the RIO player, and Apple. This was done as a moonlighting project to bring support for the Rio to the Mac. “Both Apple and Diamond Media were excited to have us do this project as neither had allocated the resources to do this.” Right at the cusp of a digital music revolution, Kincaid and his partners continued to develop the software which went from simple connectivity to a fully featured music playing app.
SoundJam MP would be the precursor to iTunes
“We ended up boxing it and selling it as retail software. Remember when you could buy software at Fry’s? We made enough money from it that I was able to quit the start up.” Naturally, like all startups, the endgame was to get bought out. They shopped the software to Microsoft, HP, “and a number of companies that don’t exist any more, and one day we got a call from Apple. While Steve (Jobs) did not make the call, he instigated it. Things happened really fast. Within a month, we had sold the company. We all decided to stay on and joined Apple, and we are all still here today.”
It would be in 2001 that Steve Jobs would introduce the first iPod music player to the world—then subsequently, it’s supporting iTunes store where songs were sold for $0.99. Kincaid would be an internal part of the development throughout the lifespan of the service — all the way to the most recent Apple Music app. All the while, he has kept racing, but while he still occasionally runs Formula races with his F2000, his interests have turned toward historic racing.
The historic racing bug bit Kincaid only about six years ago. “I wasn’t doing the Formula racing as much as I wanted — and wasn’t having as much fun. I considered retiring, but then wondered how I would continue to scratch the car itch…” He was looking for an interesting road car and thought that the BMW 3.0 CSL would be a unique and fun car to drive. He recalled that his dad’s business partner back in Puerto Rico in the 1960s had owned one. In his research he found that they were quite rare, but had a “cool” community of enthusiasts who owned them. He also discovered that some of these rare and beautiful cars were not always just a source of cost, like most racecars — but one where money and profit can be recouped.
It started with the purchase of an “unrestored” CSL that he bought for $45,000. He wasn’t sure he wanted to do a restoration on the car as that would be further cost. As he pondered what to do with the car, the original seller came back to Kincaid and asked if he wanted to sell the car to a guy in Belgium? In less than a year, just sitting on the car, he made a profit of $30,000, selling the car for $75,000. Kincaid ended up partnering with with the broker and they have bought restored and sold four CSL “Batmobiles.” One of the buyers was former Indianapolis 500 Champion, Bobby Rahal.
One of the cars that he has kept for his own is the ex-Willi Martini 3.0 CSL — the last Batmobile built by Martini — that ran a number of races due to its close proximity to the Nurburgring. While not yet complete, Kincaid brought it to the Monterey Rolex Reunion last year, but did not race the car. He looks forward to a number of events in the future, however. As mentioned previously, Kincaid also has the Diego Febles Porsche 934/5. “The 934 is a huge kick to drive. It’s much more agile than its appearance would suggest. But the turbo boost is fearsome and you have to get the timing just right for getting on the power exiting a corner, because if you don’t you swap ends very quickly!”
On getting to the grid, Kincaid adds to what is becoming a trend in this space: “Do what you love doing — and chances are if you love it, you will be good at it and if you are good at it, success will come. Then you can indulge your other interests, whether racing, sailing or stamp collecting. Chasing money is a recipe for disaster, as you will end up doing something you hate and you are miserable everyday.”