I first learned about Steve Jobs when I was in high school. I had read a book which was meant to be an unflattering biography of the man, called Accidental Millionaire. The author of the book argued that Jobs managed to become a millionaire only because he had hitched his wagon to Steve Wozniak (the “other” Steve at Apple). However, for me, the book showed me an inspirational figure and someone who had lessons to teach everyone about marketing.
Steve Wasn’t a Computer Genius
I wrote about Steve Jobs just a short while ago after he resigned from Apple. At the time, I mentioned that he had lessons to teach us about marketing. At the time, I focused on his unqualified success stories. However, his failures and bold ventures also have a lot to teach us.
The Apple II Gambit
One of my favorite stories about Mr. Jobs involves the beginnings of the Apple Computer story. According to the story, the first handful of Apple II computers had been prepared and polished by hand. The two Steves decided to bring their invention to a computer show.
However, what people didn’t know at the show was that the three computers on display were the only three Apple II computers in existence anywhere in the world at the time. Jobs gambled that he could get away with pre-selling the computer to consumers and build the new units after he had the orders in hand. This was typical of Jobs and his way of doing things – he took risks to make things happen and that’s why he became so wealthy.
Exile at NeXT
At the time that I first heard of Mr. Jobs, he was in exile at NeXT computer, the hardware company he started after he left Apple Computers, Inc. The NeXT computer was a technological marvel which made the more basic Macintosh and MS-DOS computers of the time look like a hunk of junk by comparison. However, the NeXT computer was ahead of its time and incredibly expensive. Ultimately, it was a technological marvel which was a commercial failure.
I’ll get back to NeXT computer in a moment, however I also want to mention another company that Jobs actually bought at this time. It was the hardware production arm of LucasFilm, which had been spun off to create a company called Pixar. Like NeXT, Pixar was initially a hardware company, but they didn’t do much business because their computers were so incredibly expensive. Steve bought the company for $5 million and added another $5 million for financing.
Steve Turns Them Around
Like he did at Apple later in life, Steve adapted at both NeXT and Pixar. In the case of NeXT, he jettisoned the hardware and focused on the software, which would later form the basis of the Macintosh OSX system we know today. At Pixar, he also jettisoned the hardware business and focused on film production using the hardware that he used to create.
NeXT was purchased by Apple when Jobs came back and I admit that at the time, I questioned the move – it seemed to me that Steve Jobs had negotiated a sweet deal for himself at the expense of Apple shareholders. However, he didn’t just hand them a bill of goods and today, I agree that it was a brilliant idea for Apple to purchase NeXT Computer.
As I said, Steve took the software he’d helped to develop at NeXT and turned it into a world class operating system for the Mac which is still the gold standard today (at the time, the old Mac operating system was starting to get a little “long in the tooth,” with Windows beginning to eclipse it as a better OS. OSX changed all that though).
As for Pixar, well, anyone who has seen movies like Toy Story or Cars knows how that turned out. Steve took his $10 million investment and turned it into $7.4 billion when he sold the company to Disney 11 years later.
What I Learned from Steve Jobs
Okay, so much for the history. I had a reason for mentioning all of this though. Aside from wanting to say goodbye to someone who was a childhood hero of mine, I also wanted to point out that there is an unbelievably valuable lesson that Steve’s initial failures can teach us (as opposed to his later unqualified successes like the iPod, iPhone and iPad which I wrote about in an earlier piece).
The lesson is that if you believe in what you’re doing and you have a real vision, you can accomplish great things, even when the deck seems stacked against you. Steve Jobs was truly our generation’s Thomas Edison. He’ll be missed by me and by billions of others around the world. Rest in peace Steve.