Tag Archives: Apple

The Apple Revolution

I have not read (yet) Isaacson’ authorized biography of Steve Jobs but found (by pure accident) another recent, funny an really great book, The Apple Revolution. Interesting too and somewhat related to a previous blog I published on Robert Noyce and the culture of Silicon Valley. As important is the subtitle: Steve Jobs, the Counterculture and How the Crazy Ones Took Over the World.

Dormehl, the author, is convincing when he explains that Silicon Valley is the result of the counter-culture as much as the Midwest engineers coming to SV. Noyce might have agreed! “This ideological divide is not uncommon. Silicon Valley has long been defined by the innate tension between the technologist’s urge to share information and the industrialist’s incentive to profit. […] There were aspects of the counterculture that were staunchly anti-capitalists in their views. […] One of them was definitely Marxist and the other was largely apolitical.[..] “Do you own thing” easily translated into “Start your own business”. [Pages 61-63] “Only in Silicon Valley could starting a business be read as an act of rebellion.” [Page 169]

There are so many (unknown-to-me) anecdotes that I will only mention a few. For example, I did not know about Ron English, the guerrilla street artist who circumvented Apple’s billboards using murderer Charles Manson.

“The people who built Silicon Valley were engineers.” Jobs told wired in 1996. “They learned business, they learned a lot of different things, but they had a real belief that humans – if they worked hard with other creative, smart people,- could solve most of the humankind’s problems. I believe that very much.” [Pages 7-8]

At the same time, the counter-culture, the hacker culture has been critical [page 17]:
– Access to computers – and anything which might teach you something about the way the world works – should be unlimited and total;
– All information should be free;
– Mistrust authority – promote decentralization;
– Hackers should be judged by their hacking, not bogus criteria such as degrees, age, race, or position;
– You can create art and beauty on a computer;
– Computers can change your life for the better.

A funny anecdote is a woman going to the Homebrew Computer Club because nearly all the attendees were male. Her verdict: “the odds were good, but the goods were odd”. (Page 25)

You will learn about the history of the Apple logo [pages 85-90] and the first killer apps (word processing and spreadsheets). I did not know Paul Lutus and John Draper. And what about Apple first ad campaigns!


(Go to youtube at http://www.youtube.com/embed/J0Rs7d16jhU if you do not see the embedded frame!)


(Go to youtube at http://www.youtube.com/embed/HhsWzJo2sN4 if you do not see the embedded frame!)

You will obviously read about the mouse, about interactions with Xeroc PARC and also learn about the early days of the MacIntosh concept and its father, Jef Raskin who yanked sharply in the arm of a young developer when he saw his face and guessed his thinking, labeling as “wet-behind-the-ears marketing puke, dressed in a ridiculous chalk-pinstripe, complete with banker’s vest, shoes off, stinky feet up […] an abrasive punk in need of a slap” a Steve Jobs he had not recognized! [Page 189]

“The Macintosh project represented the first time – outside the Garage in which the Apple II had been built – that Apple would put together the kind of small, dedicated team that would produce some of the company’s greatest products in later years. Jobs referred to this company-within-a-company approach as returning to the “metaphorical garage”. The Macintosh team still had all the piss and vinegar of a start-up. “Innovation has nothing to do with how many R&D dollars you have” Jobs said. “When Apple came up with the Mac, IBM was spending at least one hundred times more on R&D. It’s not about money. It’s about the people you have, how you’re led, and how much you get it.” [Page 202]

You will also read about the legal issued Apple faced in the music field and the funny origin of the Sosumi. It’s not only about Apple, you will read about Next early team, Dan’l Lewin, Rich Page, George Crow, Bud Tribble Susan Barnes an Susan Care as well as Pixar’s founding team, Alvy Ray Smith, Edwin Earl Catmull and John Lasseter ; “Pundits even came up with a tongue-in-cheek name for the unlikely convergence of Silicon Valley technology and Hollywood moviemaking. They called it Sillywood.“ [Page 303] So you can comment my tentative cap. table of NeXT (see below) when acquired by Apple.

Another piece of video is Pixar first work, The adventures of Andre and Wally B. If Jobs did OK with Next, what about with Pixar. He got 70% for $10M then Smith and Catmull each had 4%. But jobs got 100% after putting $50M. [Pages 335-336] There is also the funny anecdote that the iMac could have been called the MacMan, sounding “like a cross between the video game Pac-Man and Sony’s handheld music player, the Walkman.” [Page 413]. There is also an analysis of intellectual property [Pages 430-431] “Whether or not a breakdown i traditional copyright laws odes, in fact, lead to a similar decline in creativity and innovation remains a hotly contested debate” adding that “Gates, typically referred as imaginative”, and having “never invented anything” is wrong. “Gates had invented the notion that Software (be it entire operating systems or simple files) could be sold. Jobs merely reframed the idea as a necessary protective measure for creativity.” Apparently Dormehl advises to read Lawrence Lessig’s  The Future of Ideas.

(Go to youtube at http://www.youtube.com/embed/W1rpE2c1Vco if you do not see the embedded frame!)

In the final chapters, Dormehl addresses the Apple paradox of the counterculture becoming mainstream. He quotes Norman Mailer [Page  384] “One is Hip or one is Square” and he adds [Page 408] that “no one better summarized the new ruling creative class of boomer bobos (that’s bourgeois bohemians) than Steve Jobs. […] They are prosperous without seeming greedy; they pleased their elders without seeming conformist; they have risen towards the top without too obviously looking down on those below; thy have achieved success without committing certain socially sanctioned affronts to the ideal of social equality; they have constructed a prosperous lifestyle while avoiding the old clichés of conspicuous consumption.”  Then [Page  456] Paul Lutus describes the App Store as a “classic marketer’s dream, with too many programmers with too many programs chasing too few buyer dollars, and the marketer in the middle the only really cashing in.” (Perfect capitalism, long if ever lost counterculture…) “Apple turning its back on its founding libertarian ideals.” […] “With the suggestion made that high-tech libertarianism apparently leans heavily towards the puritanical.” Still Jobs did not forget some elements of the start-up culture. “Jobs wanted the department to have only one hundred people, since that was the number of names he could remember.” “Apple was able to avoid unnecessary levels of bureaucracy. We’re the biggest start-up ion the planet Jobs proudly noted in 2010.” [Pages  462-463.] About innovation, “Gladwell’s suggestion (via economists Ralf Meisenzahl and Joel Mokyr) is that it is history’s tweakers – more so even than its inventors – who truly define the age:  The visionary starts with a clean sheet of paper, and re-imagines the world. The tweaker inherits things as they are, and has to push and pull them toward some more nearly perfect solution. that is not a lesser task. [Page  474] And as a near final quote from Norman Mailer again “One is a rebel or one conforms, one is a frontiersman in the Wild West  of American night life, or else a Square cell, trapped in the totalitarian tissues of American society, doomed willy-nilly to conform if one is to succeed.”  “It is for this reason that musicians like Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix who passed away at the age of twenty-seven, will forever be seen as young, idealistic rebels.” “The sheer scale of the current Apple makes it difficult to consider it any kind of rebel.”  [Page  502]  “Despite being declared moribund 59 times since 1995” [Page  495] , Apple is a formidable capitalist story as the next graph shows.

As a conclusion, let me quote Jobs again, and I discovered this on the Wikipedia page for Think Different:
“When you grow up you tend to get told the world is the way it is and your life is just to live your life inside the world. Try not to bash into the walls too much. Try to have a nice family life, have fun, save a little money.
That’s a very limited life. Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact, and that is – everything around you that you call life, was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use.
The minute that you understand that you can poke life and actually something will, you know if you push in, something will pop out the other side, that you can change it, you can mold it. That’s maybe the most important thing. It’s to shake off this erroneous notion that life is there and you’re just gonna live in it, versus embrace it, change it, improve it, make your mark upon it.
I think that’s very important and however you learn that, once you learn it, you’ll want to change life and make it better, cause it’s kind of messed up, in a lot of ways. Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.”


(Go to youtube at http://www.youtube.com/embed/4oAB83Z1ydE if you do not see the embedded frame!)

Andy Bechtolsheim talks at Stanford about the Process of Innovation

This morning, I got up at 4am for an unusual event, a talk by Andy Bechtolsheim back at Stanford University. And it was great! I took a couple of screenshots and notes. For those who would not know Andy, here is more below. And I should also add that Bechtoslheim is from Germany, I had mentioned him in a past article: Europeans and Silicon Valley. There should be the full video on Stanford Youtube in a few days…

More than 30 years ago as a Stanford graduate student, Andreas “Andy” Bechtolsheim designed a simple but powerful computer workstation that would help define the modern technology era and launch Sun Microsystems. He’s since founded three more startups, including cloud-networking company Arista Networks, where he is now chairman. His investing foresight is legendary. Not only was he the first major backer for Google, but he’s also been an early-stage investor in VMware, Brocade and others. Bechtolsheim will discuss the process of innovation and describe its importance to Silicon Valley.

Bechtolsheim began his talk with some historical background on innovation. If you want to only read about the lessons, jump to the end! (I am aware some of the screenshots are low-res…). Recent (I mean in the last 50 years) innovations have their roots in semiconductors, networking and the Internet and (Open-source) software as well as in an acceleration in technology development (including Moore’s law and a faster adoption cycle of products.) These are two slides about the semiconductor roadmap:

Then he showed how the Internet from Arpanet, to the browser and finally to social networking has accelerated the innovation cycle.

More importantly, he gave some clues about what innovation is about, and why start-ups have an advantage here. Innovation is not about R&D not even about marketing. It is about bringing a needed product to customers:

And he illustrated his arguments with the Apple case:

– Apple does not make a lot of R&D

– Apple does not really study customers

So how does innovation work. Here are some clues:

And very importantly, he finishes with the innovation culture at Apple, Google, Amazon and the lessons learnt:

In conclusion, Andy had great lessons:
– Innovation is not about R&D or customers, it is about products.
– Timing is critical, so focus.
– Big companies are about evolution not revolution.
Be the expert in your field and understand the market, both gives you (self-)confidence (to attract people.)
– Failure is not an issue in SV but fail fast. However outside of SV, you may have to hide for 30 years when you fail. In SV, not trying is the risk, not failing.
– He also discussed patenting, “a sore topic”.
– Following another question, he considered a major threat to innovation is the current weakness of venture capital (there is money, but the returns are not good and a lot of money goes in narrow fields – cleantech a few years ago, web2.0, etc)

Well the title was misleading. Innovation is not a process, it is a culture! If you like this, you have to watch the video…

The Dark Side of Innovation

If you read the Englsih version of my blog, you probably do not know the excellent, brilliant Philippe Meyer and his Chronicles on France Culture. He is usually funny, but when he talked last Friday about innovation (which does not happen often), it was tough to smile. You can listen to his mp3 file here.

Philippe Meyer is in fact refering to an article from the New York Times: How the U.S. Lost Out on iPhone Work. Meyer mentions the famous Titan Diner, where President Obama invited some of the Silicon Valley personalities. He talks about the price we pay to have our electronic gadgets, the price paid by the Chinese workers at Foxconn or by the American middle-class and its high level of unemployment.

I do not have any (good) answer to the question. But it is sometimes good to think about the dark side of innovation and economy in general. I am currently reading a biography of Schumpeter. Already, more than a hundred years ago, the problem was addressed by Keynes, Marx and the free-market economists. Have we make any progress? Is the situation worse?

Andy Grove had the same concern in 2010 when he wrote How America Can Create Jobs for Business Week. The Americans are nationalistic, Intel was known to produce almost exclusively in the USA and now Grove is worried. Again I do not have an answer.

Triumph of the Nerds

When I published Start-Up, a friend and colleague told me: “Why do you want to write something about high-tech entrepreneurship and start-ups. Nobody reads anymore. Make movies, videos!” He may have been right. Now that I heard about a new documentary about Silicon Valley and I will talk about this later in this post, it gave me the opportunity to look backwards. Triumph of the Nerds is a 3-episode (50 mns each) produced in 1996.

It is great, sometimes boring, often funny. Its author Robert X. Cringely is also the author of the related and very good book, Accidental Empires. You can watch the videos on YouTube and read the transcripts on PBS. I found Part I, the best. Part II about Microsoft and IBM is more serious, Part III about Apple is in-between.

First I found the best definition of a Nerd: “I think a nerd is a person who uses the telephone to talk to other people about telephones. And a computer nerd therefore is somebody who uses a computer in order to use a computer.”

Then about the semiconductor industry: “Intel not only invented the chip, they are responsible for the laid-back Silicon Valley working style. Everyone was on a first-name basis. There were no reserved parking places, no offices, only cubicles. It’s still true today. Here’s the chairman’s cubicle… Gordon Moore is one of the Intel founders worth $3 billion. With money like that, I’d have a door.” […] “Only Intel didn’t appreciate the brilliance of their own product, seeing it as useful mainly for powering calculators or traffic lights. Intel had all the elements necessary to invent the PC business, but they just didn’t get it.”

“What was needed was a version of some big computer language like BASIC, only modified for the PC. But it didn’t yet exist because the experts all thought that nothing would fit inside the tiny memory. Yet again the experts were wrong.” And here came … Microsoft … and Apple

Steve Jobs: “Remember that the Sixties happened in the early Seventies, right, so you have to remember that and that’s sort of when I came of age. So I saw a lot of this and to me the spark of that was that there was something beyond sort of what you see every day. It’s the same thing that causes people to want to be poets instead of bankers. And I think that’s a wonderful thing. And I think that that same spirit can be put into products, and those products can be manufactured and given to people and they can sense that spirit.”

Part III talks about how Xerox missed the high-tech revolution and Apple or Adobe used Xerox inventions. The output? “A software nerd is the richest man in the world.” We are in 1996. Gates: “You know, if you take the way the Internet is changing month by month, if somebody can predict what’s going to happen three months from now, nine months from now even today eh my hat’s off to them, I think we’ve got a phenomena here that is moving so rapidly that nobody knows exactly where it will go.”

Yes, it was an Accidental Empire.

There is another documentary Pirates of Silicon Valley but it looks very similar to Triumph of the Nerds, without the humour or Cringely. But the reason of this post, is the recent released of Something Ventured. This I will watch soon and hopefully show at EPFL to students and colleagues.

Here is the trailer: