Notes by Nero Okwa
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Notes by Nero Okwa

#32. Steve Jobs ‘The Lost Interview’.

A Documentary Review

Source: Steve Jobs

Dear Reader,

Before we start, I have a confession to make. I have not read Steve Job’s biography 😊.

I know I should sometime, but this has provided me with a fresh pair of eyes when understanding his work for this article.

We seldom get the opportunity to hear an inspiring leader reflect on their story, career, and future, and then see what they do next. In this documentary, Steve Jobs does just that.

In this 1995 interview, a 40-year-old Steve Jobs candidly discusses his early years, computers, founding Apple, and career battles. Interestingly this was two years before he would go on to take control of Apple, bringing the company from the brinks of bankruptcy to the digital behemoth it is today.

This interview was part of a 1996 PBS documentary ‘Triumph of the Nerds’. Until recently the original tape was lost in shipping. After Steve Job’s death, the documentary’s director found a copy in his garage. Thanks to his good fortune.

My initial interest in this interview was in Steve Job’s approach to product development, but I came away with lessons in career, business, design, drive, and so much more.

Getting into computers

Steve got into computers at the age of 10. He was fascinated and quickly started ‘playing around’ with electronics. At the age of 12, he called Bill Hewlett, who was then the president of Hewlett-Packard (HP) to request electronics parts for a frequency counter he was building.

Impressed by his initiative, Bill Hewlett gave him the parts and offered Steve a summer job.

At HP’s research lab, Steve saw the 1st desktop computer HP 9100. It was the size of a small suitcase, and you could program it in Basic and APL, and get results. He was captivated.

“I would for hours get a ride up to HP and just hang around that machine and write programs for it”

– Steve Jobs

Around this time, he met Steve Wozniak, who was older and knew more about electronics. They immediately hit it off.

In Oct. 1971, they discovered an article by Esquire “Secrets of the Little Blue Box” which documented how young phone hackers such as Captain Crunch created ‘blue boxes’ that enabled them make free phone calls anywhere, by manipulating the tones of the international telephone systems.

Could this be real they thought. Then one day, at the back of a tech library they found the AT&T technical journal that listed the different calling tones needed.

Way in the bowels of their technical library, way down in the last bookshelf, in the corner bottom rack we found the AT&T technical journal that laid out the whole thing and when we saw this journal, we said my God it’s all real, and so we set out to build this device that made these tones

– Steve Jobs

After 3 weeks, they built a box that worked. They were able to call a payphone, Steve Wozniak’s uncle, and even a prank call to the pope impersonating Henry Kissinger.

Lesson Learnt:

What was so interesting is we were young, and what we learnt was we could build something ourselves that could control billions of dollars’ worth of infrastructure in the world. Us too we could build a little thing that can control a giant thing. That was interesting…I don’t think there ever would have been an Apple computer if there hadn’t been a blue box

– Steve Jobs

Source: Steve Wozniak using a Blue Box
Source: Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak in 1975 with a Blue Box

From Blue boxes to Personal Computers

Driven by Necessity

At that time there were ‘timesharing’ computers available for public use, but they needed a terminal to use it. Jobs and Wozniak could not afford one, so they designed and built their own. Their first computer: The Apple 1 was essentially a terminal with a microprocessor which they built from scavenged parts by hand.

A lot of their friends also wanted to build one but did not have the requisite skills, so they ended up helping them, but this took up all their time.

We though if we could make a printed circuit board that makes it easy to build a computer — we could sell it to most of our friends and we would get a life again, so we did that. We made some circuit boards and sold some to our friends

– Steve Jobs

Finally, they received a large order of 50 circuit boards from a computer shop which was great, but they had to be fully assembled computers.

Why not? they said.

Over the next weeks they reached out to electronic shops to get the necessary parts, to be paid for in 30days. They bought 100 parts (on credit), built the 50 assembled computers, got paid in 29 days, and paid the parts shop on the 30th day.

They were in business.

The only challenge was how to realize their profit from the 50 remaining computers. So, they called up some more computer shops.

From Blue boxes to Personal Computers

Driven by Necessity

At that time there were ‘timesharing’ computers available for public use, but they needed a terminal to use it. Jobs and Wozniak could not afford one, so they designed and built their own. Their first computer: The Apple 1 was essentially a terminal with a microprocessor which they built from scavenged parts by hand.

A lot of their friends also wanted to build one but did not have the requisite skills, so they ended up helping them, but this took up all their time.

We though if we could make a printed circuit board that makes it easy to build a computer — we could sell it to most of our friends and we would get a life again, so we did that. We made some circuit boards and sold some to our friends

– Steve Jobs

Finally, they received a large order of 50 circuit boards from a computer shop which was great, but they had to be fully assembled computers.

Why not? they said.

Over the next weeks they reached out to electronic shops to get the necessary parts, to be paid for in 30days. They bought 100 parts (on credit), built the 50 assembled computers, got paid in 29 days, and paid the parts shop on the 30th day.

They were in business.

The only challenge was how to realize their profit from the 50 remaining computers. So, they called up some more computer shops.

Source: The Apple 1

Apple 2: Building the Team

Riding the wave from the Apple 1, they were eager to design a follow up computer: The Apple 2.

For this Wozniak wanted to add color graphics. Jobs on the other hand noticed that ‘for every hardware hobbyist there were a 1000 software hobbyist that couldn’t do hardware stuff but wanted to program the computer’. His dream was to sell the first fully packaged personal computer for this audience.

Combining both dreams, they got a designer who designed the product and its ‘plastic’ packaging. But they needed funding to build and manufacture the product. So, they went looking for funding.

Luckily, they were introduced to Mike Markkula. Mike had recently retired at the age of 31 as a product manager from Intel, made millions from his stock options, and was looking for the next thing.

Mike said he would invest, we said we don’t want your money we want you

So, Mike put in money and joined us as an equal partner and we had the design done before and we went and did it, tooled it up, and announced it a few months later at the West Coast Computer Fair.

We had this fantastic booth and a projector television showing the Apple 2 and its graphics… We stole the show. A lot of dealers and distributors started lining up and we were off and running

– Steve Jobs

Lesson Learnt:

I believe the key lesson here were on Teamwork, Partnership and Expertise. Bringing Mike onboard as a partner was a masterstroke. It not only provided much needed capital, but also Mike’s technical skills and management experience. It also gave Apple credibility.

Apple 2: Building the Team

Riding the wave from the Apple 1, they were eager to design a follow up computer: The Apple 2.

For this Wozniak wanted to add color graphics. Jobs on the other hand noticed that ‘for every hardware hobbyist there were a 1000 software hobbyist that couldn’t do hardware stuff but wanted to program the computer’. His dream was to sell the first fully packaged personal computer for this audience.

Combining both dreams, they got a designer who designed the product and its ‘plastic’ packaging. But they needed funding to build and manufacture the product. So, they went looking for funding.

Luckily, they were introduced to Mike Markkula. Mike had recently retired at the age of 31 as a product manager from Intel, made millions from his stock options, and was looking for the next thing.

Mike said he would invest, we said we don’t want your money we want you

So, Mike put in money and joined us as an equal partner and we had the design done before and we went and did it, tooled it up, and announced it a few months later at the West Coast Computer Fair.

We had this fantastic booth and a projector television showing the Apple 2 and its graphics… We stole the show. A lot of dealers and distributors started lining up and we were off and running

– Steve Jobs

Lesson Learnt:

I believe the key lesson here were on Teamwork, Partnership and Expertise. Bringing Mike onboard as a partner was a masterstroke. It not only provided much needed capital, but also Mike’s technical skills and management experience. It also gave Apple credibility.

Source: The Apple II

Building Products

Idea Evolution and Craftsmanship

About 35mins into the interview Steve is asked about what is important to him in the development of a product. His response is absolutely gold.

He talks about what hurt Apple after he left which was that its leadership believed that a great idea is 90% of the work, that you just tell the team here is a great idea go and make it happen.

The problem with that is there is a tremendous amount of craftsmanship between a great idea and a great product.

As you evolve that great idea it changes and grows. You also find out that there is a lot of trade-offs you have to make. Designing a product is keeping 5000 things in your brain and you continue to fit them together in new and different ways to get what you want

Everyday you discover something new that is a new problem or opportunity to fit these things together. It is that process that is the magic

– Steve Jobs

Team Building

For most things in life the dynamic range between average and the best is at most 2:1. In software the different between the average and the best is 50:1 or 100:1 — so I have built a lot of my success of finding these truly gifted people and not settling for B and C players.”

When you get enough A players — they really like working with each other. They don’t want to work with B and C players. You build up these pockets of A players and it propagates. That’s what the Mac team was like, they were all A players.”

– Steve Jobs

Lesson Learnt:

These observations on the process of evolving an idea into a product and team building are invaluable when you consider the successful products that came later: the iPod, the iPad, the iPhone, and iTunes.

On the state of Apple in 1995 (just a year before he returned)

Apple’s dying a very painful death. It’s on a glide slope to die. The reason is, when I walked out the door at Apple, we had a 10-year lead on everybody else in the industry. The Macintosh was 10 years ahead. We watched Microsoft take 10 years to catch up with it. The reason they could catch up with it is because Apple stood still.

The understanding of how to create these new products somehow evaporated. Apple has fallen behind in many respects and most importantly their differentiation has been eroded.

It’s unfortunate and I don’t think it’s reversible at this point.”

– Steve Jobs

Conclusion

At the time of this interview, Jobs had been 10 years at NeXT, his latest software firm. This is a year before he sells the NeXT software system to Apple (which would become the heart of the Mac operating system Mac OS X) and becomes interim CEO of Apple.

He would then take Apple from 90 days of bankruptcy to become the most successful company in the world with a portfolio of very successful products, which would reinvent the music, computing, and mobile industries.

Steve Jobs: The Lost Interview’ is a chance to hear Steve Jobs provide a vivid account of his career up to 1995 and thinking on business, his exit from Apple, and vision for the future.

If you want to hear and learn more, I recommend you see the documentary.

You would not be disappointed.

Good luck!

Thanks for reading and see you next week.

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Nero

Racing Towards Excellence.

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Nero Okwa

Nero Okwa

61 Followers

Entrepreneur, Product Manager and StoryTeller. In love with Business, Technology, Travel and Africa.