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How Steve Jobs Became a Billionaire (fortune.com)
344 points by prostoalex on Nov 3, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 217 comments

He won the sociopath lottery; he was able to take enormous risks because they didn't particularly faze him. Most people who do that fail horribly, but if you work backwards from a list of highly successful people, you may find that pattern of behavior occasionally bears fruit. The same is true of playing the lottery, but it would be wrong to assume that the secret to success is to play it.

Truly, for a bunch of very smart people, you'd think the tech community would be more aware of the dangers of working backwards from a pool of successful people, hoping to find a magic ingredient. Work from the broad population forward, not from the narrow population, back.

Almost every business book and online article about how $BUSINESS or $ENTREPRENEUR became successful does this. It's infuriating. "Let's wait to see which of the 7 billion people on the planet become billionaires, and then look back and see what they did, ignoring all those who did similar things and did not become billionaires." Totally flawed, yet the public eats it up like candy.

Go read Good To Great and prepare to barf. Business schools adore this book. Look at the description on Jim Collins's web site [1]: "Start with 1,435 good companies. Examine their performance over 40 years. Find the 11 companies that became great. Now here's how you can do it too." That's literally Survivorship Bias.

1: http://www.jimcollins.com/article_topics/articles/good-to-gr...

A great book on this is "The Halo Effect". It specifically calls out "Good to Great" as an example of really poorly done research that does nothing but call out coincidences.

The one part I loved about the book is when it provides tips on how to identify these "empty" claims. Things like "we spent 3 years putting this analysis together!", which does nothing to support their claims, but just creates the impression that "wow! this must be true!".


I wish identifying crap was a more widespread skill. I think if I ever became a millionaire (doubtless by reading business self-help books), I'd "give back" by volunteering at a High School to teach kids skepticism and bullshit detection.

No sir, you must give back today, every day, whenever you get a chance. A tree does not dream about a time when it is a certain size, at which point it will bear fruit. It simply bears whatever fruit it has, when it has it.

That is a great quote! Thanks for sharing.

I like this enough to re-use it... Are you quoting something I can cite, or did that spawn from your own gray matter?

Best as I can determine, this is original writing. I like it very much.

gray matter... and the spaces in between :)

Are you suggesting that high-school students wouldn't take an unknown lecturer seriously if they aren't a millionaire ? And that being a millionaire somehow implies you are authoritative on topics of logic and reason ?

Or are you saying that without a million dollars you can't afford to "give back" an occasional one-hour lecture on skepticism ? That seems ironic.

Edits: rant

Read that as, "When I can afford to not work..."

If you're serious about teaching I can highly recommend trying to do it even if you're busy with work. I've been actively (or as actively as possible) coaching people who wanted to go into web development and it's played a big role in making me a happier person. One of them recently got a job as a developer and knowing I played a role in that made me happy in a way that few things do. I can highly recommend it!

>I wish identifying crap was a more widespread skill. I think if I ever became a millionaire (doubtless by >>selling<< business self-help books), I'd "give back" by volunteering at a High School to teach kids skepticism and bullshit detection.

It's called a History degree.

And yet Carly Fiorina has an MA in History, and look at what she did to Hewlett Packard.

Since when do degrees imply knowledge? Most degrees are only tangentially related to actual education.

Judging by her campaign and how she ran HP, I don't see a sign she's critically open in the way you need to learn from history.

Personally, I'd say knowledge of history is a very, very thin bullshit detector. It simply allows you to see more patterns; not how to evaluate them when they compose.

Reminds me of a simple stock scam:

1. Send e-mails to a bunch of people claiming to have a great stock pick. Tell half of them to buy and half to sell short.

2. Wait a week. If the stock went up, do the same thing but send your new pick only to the half that got your buy recommendation, and if it went down, send it to the other half. Anyone who saw your incorrect prediction never hears from you again.

3. Repeat a couple more times.

4. Now ask the people on your list to pay you to continue getting your stock picks -- after all, at least as far as they've seen, you've been 100% right on every pick you made.

Yes, this scam is live and well in the sports betting world. There is even a CNBC reality TV show called "Money Talks" that documents and encourages this; as documented by the show: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0xiiv-s-DRs http://www.vipsportslasvegas.com/

The recipe is:

1. Cold call people on a lead sheet for people indicate interest on placing bets on sports games.

2. Sell interested folks with a "two week package" for $250; seems pricey, but the name of the game is to filter out the minnows catch gullible whales. You want folks who are "vested" on this and prove they have the cash to be scammed. Double-side your bets or smarter yet, side your bets by the probability implied by the Vegas oddsmakers (50% Team One Wins, 50% Team Two Wins or 70% Team One Wins, 30% Team two if spread is that way).

3. After a couple of weeks pass, call up the people who have won 4 or 5 games in a row, inevitable happenstance by sheer probability. Upsell them on a "weekend Vegas package" where they can gamble on higher stakes preferably $50K-$75K; because you're seem now as a infallible genius by the marks, you charge them a 35%-50% commission on their wins.

4. Doesn't matter if your client wins or lose. Take home the 50% commission on their churn and move onto the next one. Rinse and repeat.

The show is highly entertaining and enlightening not because of the extreme doucheness of the head scammer and his salesmen, but the marks who delude themselves as they lose game after game and gets scammed - all followed by the camera-men of CNBC and the spin-motivational commentary of the scammers.

Fascinating that this scam was exposed on the Simpsons in 2005 and people still fall for it.


Derren Brown made an entertaining episode on this scam: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1173484/

But how did the final bet work?!

It didn't, the final participant lost in the final bet.

Everyone wants to be successful, and no one wants to believe that it's not something they could control if they just knew the "secret". Add that to the fact that no one ever sold a self-help book entitled, "Getting Lucky", and it starts to make sense how we've arrived at this point.

Great link by the way.

We've all done that exercise in school where the professor tells everyone ahead of time to bring a coin to class. Then he has everyone stand up and flip a coin. Everyone who flips tails sits down. Those remaining standing flip it again, those flipping tails sit down, repeat until there is one person standing.

Then interview that last person and ask her what her technique was, how could she possibly flip heads 6 times in a row? What hard work and practice did she do ahead of time to make her such a good coin flipper? What daily habits produced this proficiency? This is essentially what we do when we try to be successful simply by asking successful people what they did.

I was the winner of that in my class. They asked me how I won, and I said, "eh, it's nothing." 13 years ago, with no brain, head, arms, or legs, I beat out several million peers to fertilize The Egg. This is just the afterglow of that awesomeness.

A lot of those millions of peers actually play support roles so that the speedsters like you can make it to the egg (especially before any rival mates sperm makes it there).

Just thought I'd point that out given how there are some parallels to how many people play support roles within society while only a few make it to the pinnacle. Yet we still say that those at the pinnacle 'beat' all their peers.

Of course the person who chose to not flip their coin at all...didn't end up being the person to flip the most heads in a row.

So the truth lies somewhere between "it's entirely chance" and "it's entirely hard work/intelligence/participation".

Or, in my case in that school exercise: "I cheated." And so did the other finalist. But he was a known scoundrel, and I was the 'nice kid.' The last coin flip was the only one that was monitored. I won, and it was hailed and a just result. So, it's not all luck.

The problem is that no one is reading Steve Jobs' memoirs to find out that the secret to winning, is that you have to play... they want some secret to win the game.

>We've all done that exercise in school

Ha! I have not, but that's a great exercise. I'd be interested in hearing the "winner's" responses to the questions.

If we had all done that exercise in school, more people would be better at managing their money. This analogy only works if "success" or whatever is a random walk (like I believe picking stocks is).

Yea, totally relevant exercise when you want to explain to students the phenomenon of the "superstar mutual fund manager".

Yep. Logically speaking, what is the probability of billionaire regaining his wealth if he's stripped off his fortune and contacts? 0.000000001 (almost like the rest of us).

Haven't seen that but wish I had, that's an awesome exercise.

Well, not for nothing but it's a GREAT title for a self-help book :> Getting Lucky - Embracing the randomness of luck for a definite success.

Many self help books try to make you think about luck as setting yourself up to take advantage of opportunities that show up frequently around you, but you might not normally notice them, or be prepared to act on them.

I can't think of any specific citations, since it's such a general observation.

Richard Wiseman of 59 Seconds face actually has a book called "The Luck Factor".

One case study is a woman who wins lots of newspaper contests - the point being that she wins lots because she puts in for lots.

Another point is perspective. You fall and break your arm. You can either perceive it as bad luck, you broke your arm, or as good luck since it could have been your neck.

I think there are plenty of books available on getting lucky. :)

That's not necessarily survivorship bias. Survivorship bias would be "Here's 10 successful companies, do what they do". If you analyze a pool of random companies and then consider what the successful companies do differently then that would be decent scientific method (though you should form hypotheses first, really).

For example, if "risk-takers" both sometimes do very well and also often fail then you expect to capture the failed risk-takers in your initial sample, so you're not just biased by the successful risk-takers (said survivorship bias).

I'm not familiar with the book, but the snippet you reference describes something much closer to proper scientific method than most of the examples of this phenomena.

You have to identify something specific and then look at that specific factor across the entire population of companies.

If you survey all CEO's of the Fortune 500 you might find that they are all workaholics. Do you conclude that being a workaholic will make you a CEO? Of course not. Did you look at how many workaholics there are that don't become CEO? That is survivorship bias.

You also need to look at cause and effect. Is it that you must be a workaholic to become CEO? Or is it that as you climb the ladder you end up working hard and harder because that is a requirement of each position. Maybe being a workaholic is an effect of climbing high.

No, you can't just analyze the 11 successful companies. You need to consider multiple variables, then see if they correlate with success over the entire population.

It's perfectly possible some traits of all 11 successful companies are also shared by most of the unsuccessful ones, too.

I always the ask the questions why doesn't the writer become a billionaire if he knows how to? Why doesn't the psychic win the lottery?

well, I have to admit, most people who tell you online about how to become rich, are, in fact, rich.

But they still fail to find out about what made them rich in the first place.

For example, there is a German real estate millionair, who does online courses to tell people how he got so rich.

He talks hours of hours about how he learned the right trade and how he invested his money in flats he bought and improved etc.

In his first lessen he talks a bit about his past and says "The only thing you got to do is to buy a flat and get someone to rent it! I did it like this, I simply put in 50k€ of insurance money I got from an accident."

The whole thing is done with this. I mean he literally told the audience "You simply need 50k to get rich!"

Buying real estate and renting it out might actually be the most reliable way to build wealth. You need to be in a market with steady growth, which is true of many desirable cities. You need some starting capital, which most people could earn through a few years of steady work and frugal living (probably have to hold off on having a family unless you have high income).

It's not a "get rich quick" scheme by any means, though, and managing properties is still work. I know more than one retiree who has built up 8-figure wealth this way. Of course, it took them a lifetime.

Most people who tell you online how to get rich got rich by scamming people into buying their "Insider tips on how to get rich for the life you deserve" content.

For someone with a talent for online marketing, it's almost the easiest money there is.

Right - and the wider context is that he started doing this at a time when banks flooded the world with credit and lots of other factors saw huge land price inflation.

You get this in the UK all the time, property shows where people "do up" a dilapidated property over 6 months, then relist it. And guess what? It's gone up! It's gone up by labour cost + materials + background land price inflation. But they see it as a wise "investment".

> guess what? It's gone up! It's gone up by labour cost + materials + background land price inflation. But they see it as a wise "investment".

If you put your own capital and work into something, and its value increases... that's what an investment is.

No they are adding zero value, they are riding off the corrupt system and taking labour from others.

Also in most casts they are not putting capital in, they are borrowing from a bank who create the debt. They are little more than outsourced debt collectors.

You specifically state that they are adding value. Going up by labor and materials means value has been added.

Yes but my main point is that the primary gain was on the land due to govt policy. These people are typically amateurs who basically paint a wall. Unskilled labour plus a few $K in materials == not much. Yet the gains are significant.

While I agree with the sentiment, part of me wonders if this isn't this the same as asking why the top NFL coach doesn't make all the touchdowns himself?

Often they used to, or at least, played the game at a high level. In other cases the answer is that they lacked the physical ability. There is no such barrier to making money.

Well you could say there's an intelligence (Social/emotional/IQ) barrier to making lots of money. Those with the growth mindset will say that there's nothing innate about intelligence and it's pure effort, but I'm not completely sold on that.

Devil's advocate: if you find a trait common to all the survivors, which those who died did not have, then you have found something that might be necessary to survive that far (though it may not be sufficient). Some organisms possess immunity to certain pathogens.

Of course you can't just expect to follow Pixar's bets (or Apple's, or Google's, or ...) and expect to win big. But understanding the way they played is important, if you're playing the game too.

(As you touch on too, tempering the natural tendency to give credit for success rather than chalking it up to chance is also important. But I can't believe that Jobs' success is survivorship bias alone.)

Sure, if you find a trait common to survivors that those who died did not have--but to do that, you have to look at those who died, too.


This is similar to $BIGCOMPANY passed on $BIGIDEA see how they sucked and passed up a great opportunity!

Without knowing the thousands of other ideas that they passed on that never made it anywhere.

A small example is perhaps HP not taking Wozniak seriously. (Also assumes the presentation and pitch was done right and all of that...)

This SMBC comic makes the same point on survivorship bias. http://www.smbc-comics.com/comic/path-of-a-hero

That isn't a very good synopsis. In all his books, he compares a "great" company to its closest, best competitor and look at what they do differently across many industries. That is pretty interesting and can give clues on what makes a company successful. I don't remember ever reading "do these specific things and your company will become successful guaranteed" in his books. I agree most business books are like that, but Jim Collins books are not.

See also "Outliers".

My take on it is that people really really want to believe there isn't a measure of luck there.

<spoiler>That book lost me when it started going on about how the executives of Marlboro were great because they were so passionate about their 'mission' vs. other tobacco companies.</spoiler>

The book was not totally useless but the above moment caused me to lose interest very rapidly.

I just wanted to point out that business schools DO NOT adore this book or really any popular business book. I spent my early career reading a huge number of popular business books (like Good to Great) and was somewhat shocked when during my MBA program we didn't read, care about or otherwise mention them at all.

Since when is having an opinion a bad thing? If we all delayed putting out theories (like Good to Great does in explaining commonalities of companies that made it huge) until all existing theories like Survivorship Bias were covered then no new theories put out.

Survivorship Bias has a place but it is not the be-all-end-all.

These aren't theories... they aren't even hypotheses. I would even argue that they fail the low standards of the "WAG".

How's that survivalship bias? It's taking X companies, looking forward Y years, and then contrasting the qualities of the successful ones to the rest. But, the sample doesn't change midstream, does it? (not familiar with the book, but the quote implies that)

No, what he's doing is taking X successful companies (and X' similar but unsuccessful companies), looking BACK for Y years, and looking at the Z things that the X companies did differently than the X' companies, attributing a causal relationship between those activities and success. The flaw, of course, is he ignores other companies that ALSO did Z but were not successful.

another book by Jim is "Built to last". In the "startup" frenzy, it is difficult to focus on things which matter. We are hammered with news and the general knowledge that it takes a brilliant person a great idea to start the next Google.

In Built to last, they have compared what great companies had done different from their companion companies which went defunct. Of course, it neglects few aspects like luck, but it does explain a lot of things which are notably absent from folklore of "create a great app, disrupt a market and go count the number of 0's in your bank account", except that it rarely happens like this!

> He won the sociopath lottery; he was able to take enormous risks because they didn't particularly faze him.

I'm not so sure about that. Having been around during the period when he was canned from Apple, founded NeXT/Pixar, and subsequently came back to Apple Jobs had changed considerably.

I think that (and he has stated) that getting canned from Apple was a bit piece of humble pie for him, that he was lost and had to do a lot of self-examination before he picked himself up and founded new companies.

Acknowledging his weaknesses and mistakes doesn't strike me as sociopathic, or as being an unfazed man. What he shared with the public regarding his personal struggles is a whole different story. He was never particularly public, especially after the Great Firing.

Your other points regarding survivorship bias are point on.

> I'm not so sure about that. Having been around during the period when he was canned from Apple, founded NeXT/Pixar, and subsequently came back to Apple Jobs had changed considerably.

This is what makes me most sad about Isaacson's biography. He left out the one period that I was most interested in. The time at NeXT, combined with the developments in his 'family situation' seemed to have really changed him for the better (or at least better at running a company). I was so curious about that, and instead I got stuff I mostly knew about and too-frequent descriptions of Jobs' tantrums/meltdowns. Such a shame.

(btw, if anyone can recommend material on this period of his life, I'd love to know!)

He left Apple as a loose canon, a renegade who kept sabotaging his own projects, often losing touch with reality.

NeXT brought him back to Earth, both in terms of being able to produce a product people wanted, and in terms of managing a team without being a total tyrant. It wasn't a smooth progression, NeXT did start out pretty out-there, but in the end it was more pragmatic. OpenSTEP and other efforts demonstrated that.

The Isaacson biography isn't worth the paper it's printed on. It's utter garbage. I can't believe someone has that level of access and churns out a book that's basically the Cliff's Notes version of all other books about Jobs already published.

Becoming Steve Jobs is more focussed on that period: https://www.amazon.com/Becoming-Steve-Jobs-Evolution-Visiona...

Awesome! Thanks for the recommendation.

>(btw, if anyone can recommend material on this period of his life, I'd love to know!)

I recommend you this book to read. https://www.amazon.com/Becoming-Steve-Jobs-Evolution-Visiona...

I was also hoping for more insights in this period. Perhaps one of the other biographies done on him has this?

That term "sociopath" gets thrown around a lot, but it's so far off base, real sociopaths are starting to feel sorry for Steve Jobs.

As revealed recently, he denied Tim Cook's offer of a partial liver transplant. Something that can only be explained with empathy, a lack of which is the primary indication of what's called "sociopathy".

To name just a few more of the signs of sociopath that Steve Jobs didn't fit: inability to plan ahead, lower intelligence, delinquency, violence, financial irresponsibility,...

Basically, what people mean is "he could, at times, be a bit of an asshole". I'm not even sure about your assertion about risk-taking because I can't think of any events that deviate significantly from the risk-taking of similar companies.

It's also hard to say how much his "being an asshole" contributed to Apple's success. Getting people to work 80+ may be a strategy to lower costs, but I don't see how it helps, for example, with the iPhone, created at a time where money wasn't the limiting factor at Apple.

He chose homeopathic remedies when first diagnosed with cancer rather than the known and proven effective treatments.

By the time he realized it wasn't a joke the effective treatments were too late.

He used his wealth and influence to get on organ transplant lists in numerous states. At the time doctors were publicly confused because the organ could no longer save his life, only extend it. This action likely cost another person their life.

With his final days he designed and built a super-expensive yacht...

Steve Jobs may not have been sociopathic but he wasn't someone that cared about the well-being of others. He was the first member in the cult of his own ego.

> He chose homeopathic remedies when first diagnosed with cancer rather than the known and proven effective treatments.

That strikes me as stupid / naïve more than sociopathic.

> He used his wealth and influence to get on organ transplant lists in numerous states. At the time doctors were publicly confused because the organ could no longer save his life, only extend it. This action likely cost another person their life.

That's selfish, true, but I could see myself doing something similar when faced with the fear of death. It's human. Not admirable, but human.

> Steve Jobs may not have been sociopathic but he wasn't someone that cared about the well-being of others. He was the first member in the cult of his own ego.

I'm not sure he was introspective enough to be a member of the cult of his own ego, but yeah, he wasn't a nice man. No argument there.

> I'm not sure he was introspective enough to be a member of the cult of his own ego

I'm not sure that I agree. I think he was very introspective but, because of being put for adoption and other traumatic experiences in his childhood, he focused on things that are atypical (hence the accusations of sociopathy).

You know that he was neither stupid, nor naive... so... what's your next best guess on that one?

Smart people can do stupid things.

I feel like that's Silicon Valley's motto at times.

As do I...

Denying his own child was his is way up there too

I forgot about that one. It just makes me feel bad for his daughter.

As someone with two kids, it makes me feel sorry for him too. The early years are a lot to miss out on.

good lord, just because the man did some selfish things does NOT mean he didn't care "about the well-being of others".

> inability to plan ahead, lower intelligence, delinquency, violence, financial irresponsibility

These are not traits of (all) sociopaths. A highly functional sociopath could be defined as:

"People with sociopath traits that also happen to have a very high intelligence quotient. They are likely to be highly successful in the field they endeavor (politics, business, etc.). They plan very meticulously and the presence of sociopathic traits like lack of empathy, lack of remorse, deceptiveness, shallow emotions, etc. makes it very difficult for "normal" people to compete with them."

That self destructive lack of forethought though was clearly there for him, as evinced by his avoidable death.

If anything, and if we're doing arm-chair psychoanalysis, narcissism (in the clinical/professional sense) seems more applicable.

To be fair though, Steve basically did it three times, once with Pixar, once with apple computers, and a third time with rejuvenating apple with mobile tech like the ipod and ipad. There has got to be something to it when someone can pull it off repeatedly. I remember Ellison once called it an experiment, you tried Apple without Steve and it failed, you brought Steve back and watched it succeed, that combined with the success of pixar suggests that Steve is either doing something right or he was chosen as tech emissary by God.

> There has got to be something to it when someone can pull it off repeatedly

Not necessarily - after all, there was a man who was struck by lightning 7 times[1] through no effort on his part. You will never hear about the almost-Jobs who fail to succeed on their subsequent come-back attempts.

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roy_Sullivan

But using the coin flip analogy, I would say that each successful company requires hundreds of "coin flips", with the outcome "heads" a majority of the time. A few bad flips could sink a company. I think it's much more than getting lucky 3 times -- more like mostly "lucky" hundreds of times.

He failed hard with NeXT. 3 out of 4 ain't bad I guess.

Well, except that NeXT bought apple.

(Look at the board/exec composition pre/post acquisition)

Failed hard by selling a company for a couple hundred million?

Over 400 invested. Ask Ross Perot about the success of NeXT.

There's the business end of things; Ross Perot himself "only" invested $20 million and got just shy of $70 million out of it when it was finally sold.

Total failure. If you squint hard enough with VC eyes, they can almost convince you that $70 million is a terrible amount of money.

And then ask Apple where OS X comes from. Ask any iOS developer about Objective-C (though not invented by NeXT, it certainly helped popularize it). Ask the wider world about object oriented programming.

If you can see past the bottom of the balance sheet and beyond the next quarter, NeXT lives on, despite not achieving commercial success.

Actually - much more:



Apple paid $429 million in cash, which went to the initial investors and 1.5 million Apple shares, which went to Steve Jobs, who was deliberately not given cash for his part in the deal.


> Steve basically did it three times

Yes but the 2nd time he had the advantage of having the first success. That would mean he was taken more seriously and would be able to hire and influence better than if he was not famous. And of course in the current culture having even a large failure is enough to put you on the map to get more attention for the 2nd time around. This is not the way business used to be by the way. Used to be if you failed you failed and nobody would touch you with a ten foot pole.

I hate how you're getting static for this. In my personal life I became a lot more successful when I stopped giving a shit about other people as much. I now have a much more fluid morality without being a "bad guy." There's something to be said about how society teaches us to be team players and to not be the squeaky wheel, yet its the non-team players and the squeakers who often win out in life.

I think its okay to be sociopath-lite. I believe guys like Jobs were like this. I don't think he remotely was a full blown sociopath. He genuinely cared about the experience of his users. I also this we downplay the sociopathic tendancies of techies who may be on the autism spectrum like Woz. Woz is brilliant, but I don't think he could relate with non-techies. I don't think he ever really understood the benefits of usability while at Apple. He was all about code and hardware and gave no shits about grandmas who didn't want to learn basic or type in archaic commands. Jobs on the other hand cared about usability, but also gave no shits about people in his way.

I think there's a wonderful, dare I say, synergy between aspie indifference and leadership sociopathy. They're 80% on the same page and compatible personalities who can work together, but that last 20% is different and focuses on different but important problem domains. Gates/Ballmer is another good example. Or Jobs/Hertzfeld during the Mac years. Or Newell/Lynch at Valve. Or Page-Brin/Schmidt.

Thank you. Survivorship bias. I sound like a drone when I talk about this in my social circles. Either I do a poor job explaining this or some people are just never going to be able to wrap their heads around this. This and the 'if I only had a good idea I'd be a successful startup' meme are two peeves I try and argue against in vain..

Like many biases Hindsight/Survivorship really really feels right to many people, especially if they're not terribly aware of logical and cognitive biases. By contrast what you're saying to them requires them to think in a new way, and maybe let go of some deeply held beliefs.

Besides, who wants to believe that we know so much less than we like to pretend, and in fact the books they might have read and loved are just... bull?

Yeah, Steve spent much of his Apple fortune on NeXT and Pixar. Both could have easily failed.

So Jobs was a billionaire in 1995. I wonder what would have happened if Microsoft hadn't invested $150 million in Apple in 1997?

NeXT did fail by most standards. It didn't turn profit and went out of business after a generation or so of products that failed to penetrate the market.

They ended up being the foundation of OS X and the box on which the web was invented. Even if NeXT failed as a company they're still a historic milestone.

NeXT was cheaper than BeOS, wasn't that a key thing?

Apple paid $429 million for NeXT. Be was offered $125 million but wanted $300 million.

if you've ever coded for iOS, the NS in all those objects and methods? it stands for NeXTStep

NeXT was bought by Apple for $400 million dollars and today NeXTStep is running on a billion Apple devices.

As some wag put it, NeXT bought Apple for $-400 million dollars.

(Assuming that's the figure, I don't remember myself.)

Without jobs, would it stilll happen?

No. Apple was completely lost before Jobs returned.

The hardware was a marketing mess, and the software was stuck in R&D hell with no prospect of escape.

There were some interesting ideas, but execution and management were all over the place.

I don't think Jobs is an example of survivor bias. I think Jobs was an extremely talented marketer with an unusual aesthetic sense.

Sociopaths are more likely to kill their companies than make them grow. They love drama, abuse, and terror for their own sake.

Jobs was more of a narcissist. He lacked empathy, but he wasn't constantly trying to destroy other people because he enjoyed it.

It was more that he knew what he wanted - his own vision of himself as a guru of consumer technology, aesthetics, and creativity - and he didn't care what it cost to get it.

Personal and business relationships were all disposable. The vision wasn't.

Unknown, but it's overstated how much of that $150 million cash injection actually helped.

It's more likely the undisclosed sum (well higher) that kept Apple from the brink of bankruptcy.

"I wonder what would have happened if Microsoft hadn't invested $150 million in Apple in 1997?"

But this was't completely luck. It was negotiated by Jobs.

They also provided office/IE for Mac at a time when that was really important.

I have the same 'issue' with other professions. Before the tech-industry was big, you had the occasional CEO saying: "I started in the mailroom!", implying that you too can be a CEO one day. That's reversed reasoning gone wrong: the chance that a CEO worked in the mailroom is a million times bigger than that a mailroom employee is bound to be a CEO.

Same holds for famous artists: talk to their parents and they probably say that he/she was always singing with a fake microphone in front of a mirror. 90% of the kids do that...

20 years ago, my grandfather kept telling me that if I wanted to "get into computers" I should get a job as a cleaner, because if I worked hard as a cleaner the boss would notice me and promote me.

Didn't listen when I told him that cleaning was all contracted out and the "boss" would never see me working hard as a cleaner.

If you are in silicon valley you can sample from everyone that took a seed round or everyone that quit their job to work full-time on a startup.

In my sample of people I know or know of, the people who took risks created more wealth.

If you don't play, you can't win, but that's such a basic, entry-level observation that it can't sell books or seminars. People don't want to know the obvious, that if you don't try you can't succeed, they want to know how to select for success.

I'm not sure about that.

The choice is between getting a seed round and going and working at Google making 200k entry level in total comp.

I doubt many startup founders beat "just go and work for Google full time"

I agree and LOL to "Sociopath Lottery" ... well said. I think using Jobs name in this article is kind of clickbait'ish... the real story here is a dedicated group of talented people with a loving culture made something amazing. Steve didn't do that, he funded that.

I think most people realize that there is no secret to success. However it is useful to occasionally ask the question. A successful person might say this is how _I_ did it. Two people are not the same and their situations are not identical but sometimes its worth narrowing the gap so that you have less variables. Certainly luck plays a huge role and most people recognize this, but then again trying to emulate (non shitty) aspects of someone's personality/habits/environment is very common, even in the tech industry. "Which editor do you use", "What is your vim config", "Which laptop does Linus Torvalds use", "What music does X listen to while coding", etc etc.

I don't think you can attribute his success to luck. Yes he did take risk and yes he was a sociopath in that he didn't care much about how much he had to emotionally torment others to get what he wanted. However if you want to compare what he did to winning the lottery, it would be like he bought lottery tickets and then flew down to the loterry operator and did everything he could to fix the game so that he would win. just like how Warren buffet bought over companies and then made sure they run it his way.

There was luck in being in the right place at the right time, and in meeting Wozniak.

Sure but lots of other people had that luck too. I mean, they all went to computer club meetings and spoke openly about what they were working on. How many other people at those club meetings founded transformational computer companies that survive today, let alone as one of the most valuable companies in the world?

Even within Apple there are stories of guys like Mike Scott, who was the 2nd CEO and took Apple public. He was there at the beginning, got super rich, but what was his long-term impact [1]? Have you ever even heard of him, outside of a Steve Jobs bio?

[1] He has arguably had a longer-term impact on the mineralogy of gems than in computing.

It's not pure luck. It's not pure talent/drive/etc. It's the mixture of the two.

And yes, I had heard of Mike Scott, but I'm an old geek who's a Bay Area native.

> It's not pure luck. It's not pure talent/drive/etc. It's the mixture of the two.

I agree with that. I interpreted your comment above as over-emphasizing luck; perhaps a misinterpretation.

A lot of other people met Woz too. HP turned Woz's idea down. I think it was Woz's luck he met Jobs.

Working backwards or forwards, the result is the same. If one in four American billionaires are sociopaths, the likelihood of a sociopath being a billionaire jumps from 1.7e-6 for the general public to 4.25e-5 (all other things being equal). The random sociopath is still unlikely to be a billionaire, but is 25 times more likely to be a billionaire than the random person.

That doesn't make it a recipe for success or a magic ingredient, but it's still interesting.

So tired of this garbage meme about public figures being sociopaths. Please show me the study where a trained professional did an actual clinical diagnosis of any of these people.

I can't point to such a study.

But - based on life experience - I believe the meme.

The lottery example is fantastic to explain the misplaced expectation of startups. Indeed if we take a results of lottery winners (Jobs, Gates, Musk etc.) and work backwards on how they got rich, it will point to, "aggressively play lottery".

Right, but at the same time every lottery winner purchased a lottery ticket. If you just say "survivorship bias" and never buy a lottery ticket then you will never win the lottery. My personal goal in life is to play the (metaphorical) lottery as much as I can, within reason. E.g. I'm not mortgaging my house to throw money after my buddy's 'Uber for Planting trees' idea.

Play the lottery, but accept that you could do so for thousands of lifetimes before you win, and unfortunately, you only get the one lifetime.

100% what I wanted to say, but much better expressed that I could have! :)

Steve Jobs is portrayed as Savior of Apple but isn't it true that he was the man who actually drove Apple into ground in the first place by pushing Lisa over Macintosh.

In many ways he was lucky enough to return at a time computing power had caught up to realize the dreams cooking into his head.

In addition to this he didn't had a formidable competition as Microsoft didn't had the right leadership after Bill left. I remember Microsoft demoed Surface back in 2001 but then lost to mobile war completely.

Apple's market failure came in the mid-90's, the Lisa/Mac debacle was ancient history by then.

Nonetheless, some analysis could be done. 1) Identify the variables you believe would count. 2) Identify both the winners and a large population, that could be assumed as the control group. 3) For each variable, calculate a chi^2 (or a t test). 4) Keep the variables where there is a difference in frequency among the two groups (that reach statistical significance, es p < .05). 5) Write the next "how to become billionare" book

If you haven't seen this, you need to: https://xkcd.com/882/

I don't even get how you come to your conclusion. Can you link it somehow to the story? What I see is 150 talented people putting in nearly 20 years of hard work and a lot of money. If you look who did this your "broad population" may be quite small and, I suspect, very closely related to the population of "highly successful people".

Quite right. The best description I've seen of this is Darius Kazemi's talk at XOXO 2014: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l_F9jxsfGCw

"...it would be wrong to assume that the secret to success is to play it."

But not playing obviously results in not winning. And in the minds of the lottery-playing population, at least when you play, there's a chance of winning.

Well there's always my plan: wait for some one else to win the lottery and then sue them.

I figure the chances of winning a frivolous lawsuit are huge compared to winning the lottery.

The most likely outcome is losing your money and winning nothing, while there are other ways to make that money which don't involve throwing good after bad.

Any other ideas of making 250MM by investing $1 ? Even if odds are super-low ???

You'd have better odds with committing serious crimes and getting away with it, so there's that. You could take out lightning strike insurance and wait.

Pretty much anything really; the lottery is just a tax on people who can't math.

As others have mentioned, what you've described is survivorship bias and it's prevalent in many places. I found the following to be an excellent and very readable article on the topic.


That is incredibly accurate. Well said.

Well your opinion is a popular one for sure. It's very important to a certain set of people to ascribe all success to luck and psychiatric issues. Not a terribly useful or interesting conversation, but definitely popular in a certain crowd.

If there was an award for passive-aggression, you'd win it. I'm not sure if you had much more of a point to make than to single out people you assume to be (I'm guessing here) embittered, but if you did I'd encourage you to make it clearly, and lose the implications.

I'm not the person who opined that Steve Jobs became a billionaire because he won the sociopath lottery.

I'm not sure what was passive or aggressive about my reply. Feel free to explain it to me.

Jobs didn't do Pixar. Ed Catmull did Pixar. Jobs was the investor.

The real payoff for Jobs with Pixar was that it made the iPod possible. Others had done MP3 players, but nobody had a good deal with the music industry. Jobs was able to do that for a Hollywood reason - as a studio owner, he outranked the music execs, and they had to take his calls. Hollywood is very hierarchical like that.[1] At the time, Apple was a nobody in the music industry, had no consumer electronics products, and was not doing all that well in desktop computers. It was heading Pixar that got him in the door at Warner, Sony, and Universal.

[1] http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/itunes-10th-anniversa...

He was more than an investor. He believed in the computer graphics work that they were doing and became the sole owner of Pixar when they were on the brink of disbanding. He bought the company outright and moved them from the eastcoast to the westcoast. That's huge. Nobody does that as an investor. You have to really believe in that on a core, personal level to do that.

> Nobody does that as an investor.

Private equity investors that specialize in turnarounds and restructurings do that on a daily basis.

While I think Steve Jobs was a huge dick and doesn't deserve all the praise he gets, I do think that his one quality was to be harsh about things in an honest way.

When an engineer spent a week overworking to be able to boot a system, he is the one guy that will say it is not enough and needs to go faster. That he had no respect for others, and considered his will the only important things probably helped quite a bit in enforcing his vision.

Couldn't this be said about most founders of most failed startups?

In revisionist history, if the founder was persistent and the product achieved a product-market fit, it was a vision. If the founder was persistent, and the product did not achieve product-market fit, it was a delusion and toxic work environment.

I think there's a bit of a false dichotomy there. Some engineers are willing to work in a harsh, toxic environment if they think the founder isn't delusional and is actually onto something. I presume that's how Apple employees felt.

People are willing to put up with authoritarian assholes if they think their vision is worth implementing.

> If the founder was persistent, and the product did not achieve product-market fit, it was a delusion and toxic work environment.

survivor bias.

One thing I've noticed in my life is that people first look at the conclusion and then come up with an explanation.

The explanation is just a story, not an actual prediction.

It's an entirely different story for companies like Microsoft. Microsoft is more of a nerds/engineers company. When I start my powershell, it takes 15+ seconds and regularly crashes. I don't think Steve Jobs would be too fond of it.

Yeap. This right here.

It probably did, but that same pattern of behavior, minus the luck (and people like Wozniak) would just be a story of personal failings. They only seem like the active ingredients to success because we're examining them in hindsight, and want to believe that we can reduce the very complex to the very simple.

He was also harsh in a dishonest way, picking the pockets of his business partners and employees.

Far down in this article, Apple co-founder Rod Holt explains what he thought it was about Steve Jobs that put him into the vanguard.


Particularly the part where he talks about commodities and products, and the process and relations of production at early Apple.

I think what much of what Holt says will go over the heads of people not in the milieu of Holt, Proyect etc. Not all of it will though.

One reason I find the Holt piece interesting is everyone else seems to come at the question from the same angle. Holt does not, but more importantly Jobs did not. Also Holt was there when Apple was incorporated, and had a very thoughtful sociological Weltanschauung back then.

You can tell everyone comes at it from the same angle by the OP title. How Steve Jobs became a billionaire. People who start from that point, a desire to get insanely rich and spend money and be admired, will probably never get to be be billionaire. I don't think that they'll get it either.

Most people like Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Page etc. don't seem to be focused on wealth. Even someone like Larry Ellison who seems to be focused on wealth gets more stirred up talking about engineering one of the first usable relational databases than he does about his billions.

The US is in such a homogeneous ideological fog that it is easy to miss the forest for the trees. Holt was around when Apple started, but was not a participant in what C. Wright Mills called the great American celebration, so I find his viewpoint interesting, and in my opinion, more insightful than any other I've heard.

Luck = more successful than me

Lazy = less successful than me

Not useful words, regardless of if it is true or not. There is no formula despite our brain desparately seeking one. My experiences with surfing the internet, sugar and other things suggest that seeking != the right metric for utility to you now or in the future.

Ed Catmull talks about the Pixar IPO in the book (below)

Before Toy Story came out, when Ed was not even sure they would even get a film out the door, Jobs started planning the IPO. Catmull disagreed, but Jobs pushed it through, and Pixar IPO'd a month or two after the barn-stomrning success of Pixar. The IPO made Jobs a billionaire, and put pIxar on the finanical footing to its current success.

Jobs knew how to, and took risks that even a fantastic business-builder like Catmull was afraid too.

Its a skill, and a personality that is rare and it built the foundation for two world class businesses on the same IPO. Don't knock him ... too much.

I think with n=1 it's pretty hard to call it a skill. He made a call and was lucky. And it wasn't a hard call for him to make - if Toy Story had flopped, at least he wouldn't be out of pocket for the ongoing expenses of the studio. He took a punt on win-big-or-quit when he was planning on quitting anyway. The only downside to the call was for the people working for him, and his track record on that front speaks for itself.

This is the problem with all the success stories like Jobs and other billionaire. They all took incredible amount of risk and it paid of.

You never hear about the thousands (millions?) that took similar level of risk and didn't make it. Actually billionaire stories are almost typical example of reckless behaviour. There is a bit a cognitive dissonance in society to strongly reject billionaire behaviour except when it all works out and your behaviour become instead aspirational stories to be emulated.

What you're describing reminds me of survivor bias - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Survivorship_bias

That's pretty much what any successful business story is. It's not like a market springs up, and the eventual dominators of that market immediately own it. There is lots of competition and failed ventures and aquisitions etc. Then we hear about the literal survivors that dominate in the end.

Few gamers of today recall VooDoo or SGI, for instance. And most consumers have no idea what a Tandy is (was?).

Oh man, you mention Tandy. Dick Smith (which was basically Tandy in Australia) finally went tits up a couple of months ago. They'd been bought out by some mob that wanted them to be the next Harvey Norman, and the pivot did not go well. Happily Altronics and Jaycar seem to have picked up the slack between them and we still have someone to turn when we want to buy misc. parts.

Thanks for this, was interesting to read about all the Dick Smith clones of American computers back in the day.

Precisely. It's a perfect example of survivor bias.

SJ's track record was actually n=3.

Apple made him the youngest tech multi-millionaire. Pixar a billionaire. Apple, again, where he built the world's most valuable company and insane profits.

More n than most billionaires, no? Only Buffet has a real n>5.

I could see a case being made that iTunes with its disruption of the music industry should count as a success on its own. Same for the iPhone and App Store. Same possibly in the future for Apple TV (we'll see), although obviously Steve's participation in thst one was limited to the envisioning phase. But you might get me on a technicality by saying that n represents actual successful IPOs. In that case take this comment as not being about n, but more about simply business successes.

You're absolutely right, I was keeping it simple to stay out of SJ fanboy derailments.

Key is he was not a one-trick pony. Real data to prove it.

Right now I'd put Bezos in that category with an n=2 (ecommerce, AWS).

To show a counterexample, Brin/Page have an n=1 - ads. Rest is cool tech, but not significant business and yes, I am adding Youtube into the ads business idea.

Same with Zuckerberg, both Instagram and WhatsApp were about adding eyeballs to the same business model - super ideas, but additive. If Facebook Workplace takes off as a paid-for business, he will have n=2.

How about Elon Musk? He would rate n=3, don't you think?

now that one is interesting.

Does PayPal count? How much relied on the others? I don't know.

Tesla, Solarcity and SpaceX are all on the verge, but not quite there yet.

5 years from now he either has a n=3+ or is known as a massive flameout. but yeah, good shot at being a SJ 2.0.

Well Apple had something of an inside track there, as they were already a household name in the creative industries.

Shai Agassi of Better Place comes to mind: https://www.fastcompany.com/3028159/a-broken-place-better-pl...

Except it's not N=1. He did it with Apple (arguably twice). He did it with Pixar. He sort of did it with NeXT. He arguably did it 2-3 times with Apple with the iPod, iTunes, and iPhone.

I'm not a big fan, but calling Steve Jobs a one-trick-pony with one good call is inaccurate.

Every time someone succeeds, people call it out for good luck.

In the case of Steve Jobs, that takes a lot of good luck. Good luck repeated reliably over the course of his life.

It's funny how good luck falls more on people often who work hard...

But that's exactly what survivor bias IS. Jobs took some very long shots, and hit the bullseye on each of them. (He also missed a couple cough NeXT cough.) How long would you say the odds of him making the right call all those times? A million to one?

There were at least a million other people who started in about the same situation, and worked just as hard, and made similarly risky calls. They didn't get heads all the way, and now you're not reading their autobiography or talking about them on HN.

Don't discard your priors.

Do you think with the first time he pushed out of Apple (1985) and then his failures at NeXT, he found some kind of formula he employed to suddenly be able to hit the bulls eye more consistently?

It would seem Apple had several low level failures (Lisa, iMac mouse, G4 cube), but his big bets (iTunes, iPad, iPhone) always seemed to pay off.

Other than the iPhone none of that would look like a big bet if they had failed or not taken off.

Attributing a causal relationship between hard work and success ignores the millions who work hard and are not successful.

Hard work in itself doesn't matter. You also have to work in a smart way. Most people work hard, but not smart.

The wealthy boss will always sell you on hard work being responsible for being where he is today. But who gains most from a hard working employee - the employee or the boss?

The boss, obviously. Most wealthy people I know with net worths over $100m (maybe some tech founders excluding) aren't really hard working.. they're strategic thinkers and deal makers, and they know how to get stuff done, but I would not consider them hard working. They tend to live relatively relaxed lifestyles but are smart about how to achieve results when required. And when required, that might mean once a year.

If hard work was all it took donkeys would be very successful.

I think the point is that even if you're 100x as "lucky" if you work hard, if x << 1, then it's also true that 100x << 1.

Agreed. Reminds me of my favorite quote.

"Chance favors only the prepared mind." Louis Pasteur

"Never forget to put out your nets!" - Clonio, Prydain.

> barn-storming success of Toy Story

yes thats what I meant thank you

there is a book called "creativity inc." by ed-catmull which also is pretty good. it is more of an exposition of management style at pixar than anything else though. might not suit everyone's fancy :)

edit: but if you like that kind of thing, then it's the kind of thing that you would like.

Jason Calacanis interviewed Ed Catmull on this week in startups:

Part 1: http://thisweekinstartups.com/ed-catmull-pixar-disney-pt1/

Part 2: http://thisweekinstartups.com/ed-catmull-pixar-disney-pt2/

> Jason Calacanis interviewed Ed Catmull on this week in startups

this is very cool ! thank you :)

While it is about management I would definitely recommend it to anyone who is interested in Pixar's history. The Audiobook is also very well done.

That book is 2 years old

I'm actually curious as to what your point was?

Is the book too old? Not old enough? Why is the age of the book relevant here?

The author built up huge empathy for the employees in the article, but then decided not to let us know how they came out. Too bad. Still, great article.

>Excerpted from “To Pixar and Beyond: My Unlikely Journey With Steve Jobs to Make Entertainment History,”

He likely covers it in the book.

My math may be off, but if Pixar traded at 39 (at its highest) that would value it at ~ 1.4 billion. The employees that had stock split 20% ~= 280 million

These comments are so focused on the negative side of Jobs, I have to think there's at least a bit of envy there... A bit of the thought "oh, he was more successful than me, so he must have been worse in other ways"

I might be envious of his success, but I don't think that's the source of the negativity. There's quite a bit of documentation of him behaving in ways that I don't think are acceptable (your opinion may vary). Here's an article from a quick google search. http://www.businessinsider.com/steve-jobs-jerk-2011-10

It looks like this article came out a week after his death. Sometimes it amazes me how tasteless and low these writers can be.

I'm not sure about the motivation, but I do agree that the comments are very judgmental and critical of Jobs as a whole. This is unfortunate, because this reflection isn't objective, and furthermore, probably isn't based on first-hand knowledge.

to understand if jobs was exceptional, we need only ask if WE were given an identical set of circumstances could WE have accomplished the same or similar.

i know i couldn't. what's your answer?

No follow up on the employee share issue? Did they feel compensated fairly? Kind of a sloppy article.

Yes I read to the end to find the answer to that. I guess you have to buy the book.

Luck. Mostly.

He made billions because he had millions to gamble with.

He had millions to gamble with because he started out soldering computers in a garage and selling them to people.

Stealing Alan Kay.

Spoiler: Pixar.

Steve Jobs, aka the visionary genius, everyone.

I think what the article missed is that content creation is the most profitable business model. Jobs' first billion was due to a creative invention whose equity did not end on opening night, foreign distribution and DVD sales but rather through trademarks, copyrights and of course the conquest of different markets such as toys, books and clothing.

I've often thought about what it says that it took a pretty horrible person like Steve Jobs to recognize and motivate talent to create great products.

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