Thursday, August 25, 2011

A thank you note to Steve Jobs

I was a shy nerd in school, bullied by the other kids. But I could bear it because of one thing: nerd power. I knew that I would follow in the footsteps of other nerds, like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, to start my own tech company, get rich, and overcome those people who bullied me in school. And I did just that, selling my company for $200 million in 2001.

Steve gave me more than just the self confidence to start my own company. He taught, by example, how to have "vision", how to do great things that changed the world.

I remember in 1984 during a shopping trip with my dad. While he was in the grocery store, I wandered over to the computer store next door. The new Macintosh was on display. I sat down, played with the mouse, opened windows, and so on. (Remember, before this, computers did not have a mouse.) I had an epiphany: this is the way computers were supposed to work, all other computers were wrong. Adults behind me were debating this new computer, mostly poo-pooing it. I was astonished. What was wrong with these people that they could not see the future? Why could they not see what was so obvious to me?

Steve didn't invent the mouse. Or windows. Or anything, really. None of this was his idea. His skill wasn't invention, but this thing I'm calling "vision": the ability to recognize the right answer when he sees it, the ability to see the future.

Another part of this "vision" is love. When you pick up an Apple product, you can tell that somebody loved it. You can tell that it wasn't designed by committee.

Grab the Apple power cables. Everyone else's cables feel the same, Apple's feel different. Up until last year, they were soft and cuddly – as if they were filled with cotton rather than copper. This year, they've gone the other direction, feeling like they are filled with stiff rubber. They aren't cuddly anymore, but when you mix them up with other cables, they don't get tangled. Nor do they get bent, which causes the copper inside to fracture. Either way, they are better than normal cables.

Imagine Apple's competitors. A committee gets together, looks at marketing studies, and tries to figure out how many more units they can ship with better cables, or how much more they can charge. They come up with the obvious answer: zero. So, they just shove any old cable in the box.

That's why they can't compete against Apple. Hard or soft cables, it doesn't matter. What matters if that if somebody doesn't love it, Apple doesn't put it in the box.

I'm a nerd. When I created my company, I built a product for other nerds. I looked into the future, and created the first "intrusion prevention system" or "IPS", now a common anti-hacker tool on networks. I saw the "right" answer to difficult problems, such as the "fail open bypass unit", still a highly debated feature. But most of all, I loved my product. This love was evident when you put my product next to my competitors. It was so more advanced than the product of my biggest competitor, and worked so well, that their sales fell off a cliff, forcing them to buy out my company.

Steve, everyone else is going to thank you for repeatedly changing the world (Apple ][, Mac, Pixar, NeXTstep, iPod, iPhone, iPad). But wanted to thank you for changing me, giving me the self confidence as a child that I, too, could do great things, and more importantly, showing me how.

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