I got to know Steve Jobs during a period when success eluded him. When he’d left Apple, and founded NeXT Computer, Inc. In 1989, a few friends and I started a software company, Lighthouse Design, that devoted itself to the NeXT platform. Whether any of us admitted it at the time, Lighthouse was built by a group of people for whom Steve Jobs was the gravitational center of the universe.
At Carnegie Mellon University in 1984, we’d all drained our savings (in my case, my parents’) to buy the first Macintoshes available. We followed every product launch, Steve’s departure from Apple, the founding of NeXT, the Pixar purchase. Two years out of college, I remember being at a friend’s house planning our startup, looking at the early NeXT product collateral – like the machines he’d just unveiled, the printed collateral was exquisite. The blackest black you can imagine, a perfect square. Like the engineering, it was artwork.
Where Steve went, we, and a small legion of others – employees at NeXT, as well as software developers and a very patient Japanese investor – would follow. He had an ease about him, his self-confidence was captivating. Quit your job and join the future? Why not.
When Steve made his first call to my office, I figured it was my friend Ray, pulling a prank. It wasn’t. Once Steve had my direct line (and then my home number), he freely dispensed opinions about everything we did, from product features to naming and pricing. He was a passionate user. At all hours of the day and night.
Not all the calls were pleasant. I remember one in particular, when Steve learned how we were going to price a new presentation product, $995/user. He barked that we were blowing it, we’d never get to millions of copies sold at that price. I agreed, but the problem wasn’t Lighthouse reaching millions of copies, it was NeXT’s – if you weren’t running NeXTSTEP, we couldn’t sell to you. And NeXTSTEP was selling in the thousands of units, so perhaps he should lower his pricing. We didn’t always agree.
He was remarkably loyal and supportive. I remember the day he told me how proud he was of his friend Larry, whose company had just eclipsed a billion dollars in revenue. On our walks around NeXT’s offices, Steve dispensed personal advice as freely as pricing strategy. He demonstrated the same confident ease in his personal reflections as he did in his professional perspectives. I have never met a more principled man.
Principled people are often difficult.
When the internet bubble began inflating, Lighthouse was approached by acquirers, and Steve didn’t hesitate to offer his guidance. I was disappointed we weren’t going to be joining NeXT – he wasn’t certain whether NeXT would survive. He was frustrated, but understood our choice. We spoke only seldomly thereafter.
Perhaps I’m biased by age or experience, but I don’t think my social graph is the only one to see Steve as a gravitational force. Every startup aspires to be an Apple of their field.
And every CEO I know aspires to so effectively captivate their audience -and their shareholders (and board).
For Silicon Valley, he has, in many ways, been the star around which we all orbit. His absence is disorienting. I can’t think of a better way of describing it.
Rest in peace, Steve, thank you from the bottom of our hearts.