Demma’s Notes: 9 Surprising Facts from Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

Steve Jobs is a hero of mine. Thanks to quarantine time, I finally got around to reading Steve Jobs, the epic authorized biography by Walter Isaacson. The beautifully written book chronicles the astounding story of Jobs’s life from his birth and adoption all the way through his untimely death in 2011.

Jobs’s passion lived at the intersection of technology and the humanities. He was a builder-artist who intuitively created technology that resonated like tuning-fork with mankind. The man is responsible for inventions that have impacted all of us. The odds that you are reading this post on a device that Jobs either directly invented or a descendant from one of Jobs’s inventions is essentially 100%. Here are Jobs’s most famous accomplishments.

iphone release
Introducing the iPhone, three revolutionary technologies in one.

Steve Jobs’s Well Known Accomplishments

    • Invented The Macintosh which kicked off the home computer revolution and popularized graphical user interfaces (GUI)
    • Created Pixar as we know it today, starting with getting Toy Story created and ultimately changing digital animation forever
    • Founded NeXT computers, which would go on to serve as the basis for mac OS and OSX, the operating systems for iPhone and iPad
    • Created Apple stores, a revolutionary brick-and-mortar experience that would become the highest revenue per square foot retail concept ever
    • Invented The iPod, a thousand songs in your pocket, which changed the way we all listen to music forever
    • Created the iTunes Store, which changed and perhaps saved the entire music industry
    • Invented the iPhone, three revolutionary devices in one, that changed smart phones forever
    • Invented the iPad,  which launched the tablet computing industry
    • Founded Apple itself, which became the most valuable company in the world and continues to create amazing technology products today

Even for a super-fanboi like me the book has so many wonderful details and surprises. I haven’t been this engrossed in a book for a long time. Here are some of my highlights for you.

9 Surprising Facts From Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

#1 Ronald Wayne, Apple’s Pete Best

You probably know that Apple Computer was co-founded by Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, but did you know they had a third partner? Ronald Wayne was brought in as a 10% partner right when Jobs and Woz were forming the organization. Wayne, 41 at the time, was to be the adult in the room, serving as the voice of reason from a business perspective, and to break any ties when it came to making decisions. Wayne, who had become risk-adverse after losing money in a prior business, immediately had second thoughts, and decided to back out of the partnership just 12 days after helping to form the new company. He sold his 10% stake back to Jobs and Woz for $2,300. If Wayne had held his shared just until Apple’s IPO in 1980 they would have been worth $100m. 

#2 Jobs and Woz designed games for Atari 

I didn’t know Steve Jobs worked at Atari, did you? Jobs got a job at Atari in the 70s as a technician. Jobs and Wozniak actually worked on their first tech project together at Atari. The company put out a cash bonus bounty for anyone who could reduce the chip count on a new game they were creating. Jobs tackled the challenge by offering to share the bounty with his buddy Woz, who was then working at H-P. At the time, the game required 100 chips to operate and Atari set an impossible goal of getting the chip count under 50. Woz did it in 4 days, getting the chip count down to 46. This format for their partnership, with Woz as the engineering expert and Jobs as the business mind, would echo through all of their early years together. 

steve jobs young with mac
Young Jobs with his Macintosh creation in the background

#3 Pixar is essentially a Skywalker

Did you know that Pixar spun off from the graphics group and computer animation wing of George Lucas’s Lucasfilm? During his hiatus from Apple, Jobs funded the Pixar spin-off after seeing the amazing work that Pixar was doing at the intersection of technology and art. Jobs immediately hit it off with John Lasseter, Pixar’s head of animation, who was developing a movie about toys. Toy Story, “sprang from the belief, which he and Jobs shared, that products have an essence to them, a purpose for which they were made. If the object were to have feelings, these would be based on its desire to fulfill its essence…. As for toys, their purpose is to be played with by kids, and thus their existential fear is of being discarded or upstaged by newer toys. So a buddy movie pairing an old favorite toy with a shiny new one would have an essential drama to it, especially when the action revolved around the toys’ being separated from their kid.”

This philosophy would also become core to Jobs’s approach to design when he would return Apple. Isaacson quotes job as saying that the purpose of design is, “to reflect the product’s essence. In most people’s vocabularies, design means veneer… but to me, nothing could be further from the meaning of design. Design is the fundamental soul of a man made creation that ends up expressing itself in successive outer layers.”

jobs and lassiter at pixar
Jobs and Lasseter at Pixar

#4 The master plan to rejoin Apple through the NeXT acquisition

When Jobs left Apple in 1986, he founded another computer company called NeXT, which focused on powerful computers for higher education and businesses. Jobs always missed Apple though, and he developed a plan to regain control of the company. In 1996, Jobs sold NeXT to Apple for $429 million on the premise that NeXT technology would form the basis for the new Mac OS and OS X. As part of the acquisition, Jobs rejoined Apple as an “advisor”. About a year later, the board ousted CEO Gil Amelio and appointed jobs interim CEO (iCEO). Soon thereafter, Jobs reestablished himself as Apple’s leader, convinced the entire board of directors (save one) to resign, and put in a new board that he controlled completely. His coup was complete. 

#5 From working for free to the highest paid CEO ever

When Jobs returned to Apple in 1996, he did so with a $1/year salary. At the time the company was struggling. Jobs wanted to show he cared about Apple. He also claimed he didn’t want to be motivated or to appear to be motivated by money. From 1996 to 2001 he made $2.50 (that’s two dollars and fifty cents), when he should have made $400m.

By 1999 the board was adamant that Jobs should take a new stock grant. Jobs, ever aware of his image and the optics of his pay, then switched from being the CEO who worked for free to insisting on the largest stock grant any CEO had ever received. Later on Apple would come under fire from the SEC for backdating and repricing stock grants, though Jobs was cleared of any wrongdoing and other Apple executives settled without admitting guilt.

#6 Black turtlenecks

Jobs’s signature work “uniform” was a pair of jeans and a black mock turtleneck. Ever wonder why he always wore the same outfit? In the early 80s, Jobs visited Sony’s (a company he admired very much at the time) headquartered in Japan. He noticed the employees wore uniforms and asked Sony’s chairman Akio Morita why. Morita responded, “after the war, no one had any clothes, and companies like Sony had to give their workers something to wear each day… Over the years the uniforms developed their own signature style , especially at companies such as Sony, and it became a way of bonding workers to the company.” Jobs decided he wanted that type of culture at Apple, but Apple employees hated the idea, so Jobs was the only one who wore the new uniform.

ipod
The iPod: a thousand songs in your pocket.

#7 Jobs vs. The Beatles

In 1978 the very young Apple Computer was sued by a company called Apple Corps for copyright infringement. It was a ridiculous lawsuit. Apple made computers. Apple Corps was the holding company that owned the rights to The Beatles music. The lawsuit was settled for $80,000 with an easy to abide by agreement. The Beatles won’t make computers, an Apple could never get into the the music business. This turned out to be a very good deal for the boys from Liverpool. This agreement led to many lawsuits throughout the 80s and 90s as Apple added music functionality to their computers, but the big settlement came in 2007. By then, Apple had launched the iPod and iTunes store, and they were revolutionizing the music industry. Apple Computer (by then Apple Inc.) purchased the Apple Corps trademarks for $500m and licensed them back to the music company. The Beatles were finally on iTunes!

#8 What came first, the iPhone or the iPad?

The story of the iPhone creation from the book was incredible. In the 2000s the iPod was Apple’s hottest product, generating roughly half of Apple’s sales and achieving 75% market share for music players. Jobs worried about the downside risk, as was his tendency to worry about how things could potentially go wrong. And Jobs was right to worry. At the time the addition of digital cameras to cell phones led to the destruction of the camera industry. Jobs hypothesized that if a camera-cell phone had a digital music player added to it then that device could destroy the iPod. That’s when Apple set out to get into the cell phone business.

The original idea for the iPhone was to evolve the iPod into a new type of phone. Jobs and head designer Johnny Ive insisted that the phone have no keyboard and no stylus. Apple needed a multi-touch enabled screen to achieve this, and as luck would have it, they had already been working on one. There were two secret projects already in the works at Apple. One multi-touch project was for the touchpad for the MacBook Pro laptop. The other was a clandestine effort to create the world’s best tablet computer, which would later become known as the iPad. These two secret projects were the key to creating the iPhone.

ipad incredibles
A tablet computer in Pixar’s 2004 The Incredibles suggests Jobs envisioned the iPad nearly a decade before its release.

#9 Jobs the person

I don’t think you get to achieve greatness by being normal. Jobs has posthumously become infamous for his personality. Jobs was controlling, manipulative, and blunt to the point of being cruel. He made serious mistakes with his family life that he regretted and tried to atone for before he died. People categorized him as a narcissist. Jobs has been quoted as admitting he could just be a plain old asshole. Isaacson quoted Jobs in the book saying, “This is who I am, and you can’t expect me to be someone I’m not.” 

I wasn’t surprised by the details on Jobs the person, but I was surprised that the story made me like and respect him even more. In fact, I now find it repulsive to hear others say things like, “sure he achieved some great things in business, but I can’t say I endorse him as a human being.” Saying something like that indicates a lack of understanding of what it means to be human. We’re all flawed. We all make mistakes. Our greatest weaknesses are often not the opposites of our strengths, but more often our weaknesses come from the very same traits that make us uniquely great. We humans come as a complete package, warts and all. And it’s hard to think of another human who has created more joy and inspiration through their art in our lifetime.

P.S.: I wrote this post back in 2011when the news of Jobs’s death first broke. memento mori

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