Hacker News new | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
What I Learned Negotiating With Steve Jobs (heidiroizen.tumblr.com)
373 points by whbk on Mar 22, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 146 comments

Every time I read something about Jobs I'm struck by how similar he is to various assholes I've worked for over the years.

This scenario, pretty much every nasty behavior described in the Isaacson biography, the recent salary-fixing emails - I've witnessed them all repeated.

It might seem crazy to entertain, but having seen first-hand that these folks can consistently climb and succeed while being what most decent people would consider scumbags - I have to wonder if Steve was just alpha-scum in the right place at the right time.

I can attest to that. I met Steve in the summer of 1976 when he was a barefoot hippie who'd just started a computer company with his buddy, and we got to talking about some software they needed, a 6502 disassembler. I told him I could do that and it was right up my alley.

We exchanged phone numbers and shook hands on a "deal" - no money involved yet but it just seemed like an interesting side project to do for the fun of it.

Steve called me back a couple of days later and chewed me out: "Mike, I've thought about this, and I've decided you couldn't possibly do this project. This is a microcomputer. It's nothing at all like the mainframes you've worked with. It's completely different, and you couldn't possibly do this project. So forget it."

I tried to persuade him that my eight years of experience in machine language programming in a variety of architectures just might mean that I could tackle a simple instruction set like the 6502. But no, he knew I simply couldn't do it.

Of course he wasn't a programmer and had no idea. But he did know for certain that a mainframe programmer like me couldn't possibly understand microcomputers.

The sad part for me (besides the possible billions of dollars I might have made!) is that I didn't get a chance to meet Woz before Steve dissed me. A few friends have told me that we probably would have gotten along famously - if I could have somehow gotten past the doorkeeper. But so it goes; you can't second-guess history.

I told a longer version of this story, with a few links to interesting stuff from the old days, here:


Had I gotten that call from Steve, I probably would've laughed in his face. Hard. For close to a minute.

When I was calmed down enough, I'd have been like, "Well, Steve, I was just reading through the instruction set, interesting how it does X, Y, Z, seems like that would make it easy for it to do that thing you said wanted in a disassembler, I was just about to borrow a little simulator time to test out my theories, knock up a quick and dirty proof of concept, but since it looks like you think I can't do it, I'll just go ahead and toss these pages of notes I wrote up away because they're obviously useless." Then shut up and wait for him to crack. You have to talk to people in a language they understand.

Oh man, I wish I'd had the presence of mind to do that.

Instead, after we got off the phone, I went ahead and wrote enough of the disassembler to have a good proof of concept. Then, since the phone call with Steve hadn't gone so well, I decided to go show him the code in person.

I looked up the address of Apple Computer - 770 Welch Road in Palo Alto - and dropped in to show Steve the code. When I walked in I didn't see anything computer-related, just a row of telephone switchboards.

I told the nearest operator that I was looking for Apple Computer. She hesitated a bit and said "uh, this is their answering service."

So I walked out and told myself, "Those guys are flakes. They're never going to make it."

I think I like your idea better! :-)

edit: I just remembered a strange coincidence. I was reading Michael Moritz's Return to the Little Kingdom last year and ran across this:

> At first there was great uncertainty at the Regis McKenna Agency about Apple’s prospects. The account executive, Frank Burge, explained, “People who knew Markkula and Apple wondered whether they would make it. We kept saying ‘These guys are flakes. They’re never going to make it.’”

Nah, your solution was not so bad really!

But of course nobody expects an answering service in place of the real thing.

I'm surprised that no one seems to have considered that was exactly the outcome Jobs was after. You do the work for free just to prove him wrong, then he says "OK fine.." and offers some minimal amount. You take it, because you've done the work already.

Who wins there exactly?

In terms of who would have won and who would have lost, it's far worse than you might suspect.

I actually would have given Steve the disassembler for free, just to see where it might lead. It wasn't that much work, not much more than some of the coding tests companies ask for these days.

Or maybe I would have asked for a few hundred bucks. Not much difference one way or the other.

Suppose Steve then asked me to join up with him and Woz. I'd just read some crazy business book that said people shouldn't have stock in companies because you can't really influence the outcome of the whole company. Instead you should just get paid what you're worth, and the best way to do that was to be a contractor instead of an employee.

How exciting that would have been - I could have been Apple's first contractor!

> I'd just read some crazy business book that said people shouldn't have stock in companies because you can't really influence the outcome of the whole company.

Oh man, if only you'd have read about Standard Oil.

Back in Rockefeller's day, there was this event that was later called the "Cleveland Massacre". John was borrowing enormous sums of cash and buying out local refiners.

He had this routine. You'd get invited to sit down with him at his office, he'd have his checkbook with him. Very cool and refined-like, he told you you'd have no chance remaining in business and you had two choices, sell to him or get crushed. You could choose a check or stock in Standard Oil. "I suggest you take the stock."

Anyone who took stock at that time and held onto it would have gotten wildly rich. Most of them didn't. John had to scramble to ensure he kept enough cash on hand to continue his shopping spree. He had an unusual relationship with banks, they trusted him and were willing to extend credit to him that they wouldn't to anyone else. It wound up being his biggest trump card in those early days.

That is an amazing story, and a lesson to all of us. Thanks for sharing it!

You don't have to take it at all. You can walk away, putting Steve in the position of having an already working solution slip through his fingers and having to find someone else to do it. You considered it a fun side project, maybe you'd have done it even without someone like Jobs asking for it.

And you also now have something that somebody wanted, so there's a good bet someone else wanted it too. You don't have to sell to Jobs to get paid. Just sell it to someone else.

That does sound like Jobs. He might have been an asshole but he knew how to handle engineers.

Indeed - Paul Allen, using a PDP-10, actually wrote an entire 8080 emulator that Gates/Allen used to develop the original Altair Basic.

Writing a disassembler at that time would have been trivial in comparison.

> Then shut up and wait for him to crack.

I don't know if this is what would happen. We don't know whether Jobs believed what he was saying about the fellow who programmed mainframes. But I suspect that Jobs was also playing upon the fellow's desire to do the project in order to better his own bargaining position.

I'm pretty sure Steve wasn't bargaining. He was simply so certain of his own opinion that mainframes and microcomputers were totally unlike each other, that it was inconceivable that someone who was an expert at one could ever bridge the gap to the other.

There was some evidence for his position if you knew anything about the computing culture in the Cupertino area in those days, especially at Tymshare where I was working at the time.

Tymshare had a profitable business going, selling dial-up access to their mainframes for $30/hour. They knew about these newfangled microcomputers, but one thing they definitely knew was that they didn't want to get involved in them. Because if they did, the microcomputers could turn into a threat to their mainframe business.

And you know, it turned out they were right! The microcomputers were a threat to their business, but they didn't get in on it.

Tymshare wasn't the only company like this. There were several little timesharing companies in the Bay Area, and they all must have looked like dinosaurs to anyone who was playing around with microprocessors.

I had told Steve in our first conversation that I was working at Tymshare, so really the most straightforward explanation is not that he was negotiating, but that he thought I was just one of those dinosaurs.

You should still meet Woz. From the likes of it, you probably would get along swimmingly.

Thank you for saying that, and I think you're right, we probably would. Woz just seems like a really nice guy, personable and interesting and fun to be around.

I've bumped into him once or twice over the years, most recently at the Homebrew Computer Club reunion, where he gave a great talk full of enthusiasm.

Woz was a breath of fresh air after Ted Nelson's keynote-of-sorts, which was interesting enough but so sad and bitter! (Anyone who was there will know what I'm talking about.) I suppose I can relate to that, as someone who's never had the kind of success I could have imagined for myself.

But Woz reminded me that no matter what happens in your life, stay cheerful and enthusiastic and never let yourself become a bitter old person.

I was a huge Ted Nelson fan before that reunion, and his keynote was the main reason I attended (wasn't expecting Woz to make it). Still am a huge fan but his talk was not what I expected at all, and was a bit hard to listen to.

Fortunately, Woz had me walking out in high spirits. Woz is an awesome, awesome engineer and creator for all engineers and creators everywhere.

I am trying to find a way to go meet up with that Wizard Woz myself right now, since I didn't get a chance to talk to him at the reunion.

I wish more engineers were like Woz, in that he builds technology but isn't blind sided by its effects. He stops when he doesn't think it is right. It does have consequences in how it is used and we are part of that. I had a huge falling out with a friend of mine, he has a completely amoral philosophy when it comes to technology creation, that it is the users responsibility, the engineers just make tools and don't need to think about the application.

Yes, I see this two from end users in my company. They us as just a code monkey.

They think they know the best way to do something, not realizing the fact that as someone creating the code, you have probably seen similar problems numerous times, and have a far better way of solving the problem.

I am constantly asked for a new excel to upload data. I refuse these days, (they are far too error prone). Instead I build a web form instead, with JavaScript emulating whatever usability features they required Excel for (usually just a bit of copy pasting). Last time I did showed the user what I had come up with the response was "this is shit". I asked her what it was missing, sorted the JavaScript, and two days later she asked if I could replace another of her Excels with a similar form.

I myself, agree with you on the principle of being principled. At the same time, I can see how your friend's side (but perhaps not his reasoning), could be argued in some cases.

If you are working at a very high level of abstraction (compilers, programming languages, protocols), there is infinite potential for your work, and its purpose is going to be determined by the principles of its users. Their principles may be different from your own, possibly even evil.

I do think standing for principles that are for the good of humanity is something worth doing as an individual, regardless of the technological abstraction you work on. And if you can build or promote your technology using those principles, then the both will be stronger for it.

I have to wonder if Steve was just alpha-scum in the right place at the right time.

In the short term, luck can make anyone look like a fool or a genius, even though the reality is usually somewhere in between. However, Steve was highly successful over a number of decades. He ultimately created one of the most valuable enterprises in the history of the world. It seems that he was an unrepentant asshole, but I don't think that all of his success came down to just being in the right place at the right time.

The "luck" over the long term is, as you say, more than just the equivalent of finding a quarter on the street.

Nearly everyone I've observed with long-term "luck" has been mostly successful at recognizing and acting on opportunities.

The a-hole contingent merely has another tool to widen the funnel of opportunities. By eliminating compromise and being willing to divest others of their benefits, one can increase the likelihood of eventual success.

It just takes timing to stumble on one gold-making opportunity. It takes an approach to repeat it with consistency.

I had a conversation with a drill instructor who encapsulated (hah) the role by asking if I thought he really had that level of anger over untied bootlaces.

Many a-holes use every opportunity to send the message that not following their way will lead to dire consequences. It doesn't have to appear rational in the moment, but it is generally intended to achieve end results that the a-hole is unwilling to communicate.

>"It seems that he was an unrepentant asshole, but I don't think that all of his success came down to just being in the right place at the right time."


Again relating this more to what I've experienced than any desire to try and peg exactly what Jobs was or wasn't - I don't think these people are living on luck. I think it's quite the opposite, they're absolutely deliberate in siphoning the talents everyone in their sphere of influence to their own ends. Like other comment here laid out so clearly they're able to take maximum personal advantage of every opportunity.

What being in the right place at the right time would do is present historically unique opportunities and possibly people to pursue/exploit, leading to a bigger sphere encompassing more opportunities.

You don't have be a good guy to become successful. Just look at all the politicians and religious leaders, at least in my country they are highly corrupted but have a massive following. If you can deceiving exploit people then its usually good enough.

"It might seem crazy to entertain, but having seen first-hand that these folks can consistently climb and succeed while being what most decent people would consider scumbags..."

One of my best friends is a psychiatrist at a large academic hospital. He works with "corporate leaders" and top athletes (college level and above). He says in his 5 years of practice, he has not yet seen a "successful" person who does not exhibit a significant degree of sociopathic behavior. He goes as far as saying that being sociopathic is an asset if you are trying to be successful in any hyper competitive human endeavor (politics, business, sports etc).

I think Bill Gates is a good counterexample. Microsoft was not the nicest company around, but as a boss he seems pretty normal, even good. And I'd say he's just as successful as Jobs, if not more. (Also difficult to imagine a sociopath being a philanthropist like Gates).

Bill Gates' first act could qualify as intense to say the least [1] [2], and second act is indeed saintly.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_Gates#Management_style

[2] No judgement on him because not everyone can pull off a Microsoft.

Bill Gates' reviews were notoriously difficult - http://www.joelonsoftware.com/items/2006/06/16.html. I wouldn't call him a "normal" boss either.

I guess I meant normal as in not-a-sociopath. As another commenter said, Gates was definitely intense. But then a lot of other people can be similarly described (maybe not to the same degree, but someone like Linus is not exactly known for being mild mannered[1], but he's definitely not a sociopath).

But thanks for the link though, I'll check it out. I must've suppressed all my Gates-criticism for all the good he's doing now.

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=5107495

Well, for one he also tried to push his co-founder out of the company while he was sick in hospital. If he wasn't a sociopath at the time, he sure acted like one.

A difficult review is not a bad thing, especially when it is a software review.

Do you really need to bean arsehole whilst doing said difficult review?

Gates had a change of heart, and a matching change of public image.

Gates got older. And realized his mortality. And he was smart enough to act on it.

And perhaps the fact that when you die, people will remember not just the billions you made but the asshole you were as well. Once you are gone, your material success won't be worth squat to you anymore. But your legacy will forever echo the dick you were to others (who now write your history for posterity).

Look, Steve Jobs, despite his accomplishments (and I don't mean to belittle them at all) is a gnat in history. Like the rest of us.

He had marketing brilliance, and was a trend-setting and trend-guesser. But he didn't truly change the world. He didn't better our lives. He (Apple) produce(s) high quality, high price hardware. Simple as that. But in America, right now, we measure wealth to be greatness. It's sad really. Wealth means nothing unless you spread it around. Which Job's never did. As a rule.

Steve Jobs was not a generous man. Not at all. And he also wasn't a kind man. Maybe to his family and close friends - the personal Steve Jobs - I don't know. But everyone else was a tool to be used. Even Woz. Hell, especially Woz.

Despite us turning him into a Saint, in 100 years he'll be forgotten. Bill Gates might not be though.

There may be an aspect of confirmation bias at hand. I would suspect that sociopaths--being narcissists--need validation and seek to advertise their success much more than successful non-sociopaths.

Pehaps it's more that the ones that make themselves visible are like that? I've known a couple of people in that social group that were quite ethical and concerned people. They didn't spend a lot of their time drawing attention to themselves, though. Not to say the the 'quiet' ones are all like that, just that perhaps there's something in pandering to the media that correlates with the 'public, sociopath' ones.

I don't really move in those circles though, so it's not like the people I do know are necessarily representative.

Relevant reading for those that are interested:

Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work - http://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/0061147893?pc_redir=1395239748...

> he has not yet seen a "successful" person who does not exhibit a significant degree of sociopathic behavior.

This is such a weak argument, you can subscribe some sociopathic behavious to any regular person if you want.

A psychiatrist cannot differentiate between "any regular person" and "significant degree of sociopathic behavior"?

Maybe not as simple as you think: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xYemnKEKx0c

A psychiatrist cannot differentiate between "any regular person" and "significant degree of sociopathic behavior"?

No they can't. Psychiatric opinions are too mailable. It's not an easy assessment like diagnosing someone else's professional qualifications in a field unrelated to yours using a 2nd hand anecdote posted on the Internet. Now there's an analysis you can take to the bank.

Any evidence to back up the claim "No they can't."?

Their opinions seem to carry weight in courts. I'm not saying that is evidence, but that could be an indicator that psychiatrists might know what they're talking about (and its not just voodoo science).

It was heavy sarcasm.

That's a really dangerous takeaway. I've wondered, too, if being an asshole is a business advantage. Here's what I've learned:

1. This approach only amplifies whatever ideas you feed it. With the right vision behind it, you may end up becoming a force to be reckoned with. And people will endure your tantrums because you deliver them success.

2. But if your contributions aren't good—really, really good—this will only amplify your failure. And no one will endure you.

3. Most importantly, being an asshole may help great ideas get powered through, but it's not the only way. The people I most admire have found success while still being amazing human beings to work beside.

I would add #4 - it is hard to leave a functioning structure for when you aren't around if progress depends on your force of will.

If this were anyone but Jobs -- let's say your startup -- and I told you some Stanford MBA wanted to license the software you developed in order to market and support it and keep 85% of the proceeds for themselves, wouldn't you would say the MBA is the one being a huge asshole?

Eighty-five percent???? That would in fact be ridiculous, right?

This is the usual double-standard trope about Jobs/Apple. What's normal and even admirable business practice for a startup -- negotiating a fair deal -- is cast as evil and nefarious when it's Steve Jobs.

When was the last time you heard WhatsApp leadership referred to as "assholes" because they negotiated a high valuation? How about Instagram? Or any other startup that negotiated for a high valuation / better deal?

Never, right?

And let's keep something in perspective: Jobs/NeXT owned the IP in question.

How the heck does negotiating for 50% share of IP you're licensing to someone else to sell and support constitute being an "asshole"?

(Granted, tearing up the contract was a bit theatrical.)

15% of gross receipts is not atypical for a publisher that takes on the responsibility of support, packaging, distribution, sales and maintenance.

Honestly, as the owner of the IP, I would much rather have 15% of gross receipts than 50% of net. Taking a cut of net just encourages the publisher to beef up their costs, which are difficult for you to precisely track.

I've had to negotiate these in the past - and the "rational" approach, in which you sit across from a lawyer, and walk down the various details (usually it's a staged agreement, with certain levels of return for certain levels of sales) - can be painful. I'm not saying that I would enjoy Steve's hysterics, but, it would be refreshingly to the point.

A Lot of Steve Jobs success came from him eliminating the days, weeks, hell months of guidance/direction/management, and just saying let's get this f#%$cking thing done.

It might not be pretty, you really don't like the person doing it - but it can be effective. Alternatively, it can also be incredibly destructive. Very fine line to walk.

Thanks, but do you have a source for "15% gross receipts" as typical?

Quick search brings up this study, "PROFITABILITY AND ROYALTY RATES ACROSS INDUSTRIES: SOME PRELIMINARY EVIDENCE": "For software and content licensing, it could be as high as 50%"... "defined as a fixed percentage rate of sales" [1]

Which would make Jobs' ask more typical.

[Edit: on second look I think the paper's 50% figure may refer to gross margins not receipts.. but anyway, that would still cast the final deal as a completely typical software deal.]

[1] http://law.unh.edu/assets/images/uploads/pages/ipmanagement-...

A report from 10 years ago reflects a different economy from 30 years ago.

1980's software distribution was as complicated as making a manufacturing physical product. There was the manufacturing cost of the diskettes, packaging, manuals, telephone support, and marketing. Guess wrong about sales and you have a lot of worthless SKUs on you hand.

So yes, as I recall from being a software developer back then, 15% seems about right.

If this was a pure-play licensing deal, then agreed 15% is low, but the story made it clear that this wasn't a licensing deal, but a publishing deal in which the publisher had to hire developers to do ongoing development, provide support, etc...

I.E. They'd receive a hairy-ball-of-code and have to provide a soup-nuts package to customers, including bug-fixes, phone-support, etc... in return for the 85%.

15% actually seems low. Today Apple takes 30% gross receipts for anything that goes through the app store. A lot of developers seem to find that acceptable.

I could see a case where distribution (printing, deals with retailers, etc.) and ongoing support (over the lifetime of the product) adds up to over 50% of the price of the software. In that case, 50% of the profit is quite fair, but 50% of the revenue is definitely not, because that would require the writer's company to operate at a loss.

Everyone wants to maximize his/her profits. Nothing wrong in that. Insulting people, tearing contracts, talking rudely to them, deliberately making them wait (Steve Jobs was famous for that. He even made Bill Gates wait for an hour to meet, even when he was clearly seen by his engineers doing nothing in his cubicle) - all this made him the 'a' word, one of the biggest I've read about.

I think the asshole part might be necessary but not sufficient for that level of success. He had greatness too. One of the downsides of his legacy is cargo-cult asshole-ness where people think that if they act like the kind of uber-jerk Steve was, they'll be successful like Steve.

> One of the downsides of his legacy is cargo-cult asshole-ness where people think that if they act like the kind of uber-jerk Steve was, they'll be successful like Steve.

Luckily, it would appear that Tim Cook is not one of the people who believe this, from what I can tell.

For all of Tim Cook's great success in the jobs he has held and the one he holds today, no one thinks he could have founded an Apple.

But he was only at one position behind Job, and at that point he was still more successful than many a-holes.

Unless we are only scoping the discussion to "a-hole being successful in business founding".

How do you know that?

I think being a person with what we'll call 'vision' can be extremely successful regardless of temperament. Being an asshole is somewhat both a cause and symptom of extreme success, but it only represents the easiest path to success and, what's important to add, was only part of what made Jobs a success. Certainly he wasn't so ruthless 100% of the time and the takeaway from his success should not be to emulate only or put undue focus on this part of his character.

I agree 1000x. The worship of this guy in tech circles astonishes me; he comes across as the prototypical managerial leech while Wozniak comes across as the selfless genius. I bought and read the Isaacson bio to see if I missed anything, only to confirm what I thought: he is a classic bullshitting asshole that climbed to the top on taking credit for other peoples talent(Woz, Ives, etc). The best parts of that book were the people who cut through the bullshit RDF and called him on it: Wozniaks dad: "you havent done shit!" Bill Gates, re: NEXT (paraphrasing) "This is an overpriced piece of shit, Im not developing for it." The CEO of Corning, when Jobs tried to tell him, of all people, how glass is made: "Are you ready to shut up and listen to some science?"

That wasnt enough to keep me from throwing the book in the trash, however.

I really hope the Aaron Sorkin movie cuts through the reality distortion field and distills just exactly what entrepreneurs really should be emulating about Jobs.

Also of note: http://www.kevinoleary.com/kevin-oleary-steve-jobs-was-the-t...

Sorkin is deeply conventional. He will almost certainly replicate the pre-existing myth, in an edgy way and with glib zingers.

Also keep in mind that Jobs and Sorkin seemed to be on pretty friendly terms: http://qr.ae/nS6or

Thats not his job, he is not a historian. His job is to tell an entertaining story and there is a high probability you will be disappointed.

Dan'l Lewin mentioned in the article comes across as a pretty decent fellow in this video, and has done pretty well for himself.


I think every time the issue of Steve's maniacal side comes up I feel obliged to bring this up:

Wozniak on Jobs:

   I was inspired by Stanford intellectuals like 
   Jim Warren talking this way at the club. Lee 
   Felsenstein wanted computers to help in things 
   like the antiwar marches he'd orchestrated in 
   Oakland and I was inspired by the fact that 
   these machines could help stop wars. Others in 
   the club had working models of this computer 
   before Jobs knew it existed. He came down one 
   week and I took him to show him the club, not 
   the reverse. He saw it as a businessman. It as 
   I who told Jobs the good things these machines 
   could do for humanity, not the reverse. I 
   begged Steve that we donate the first Apple I 
   to a woman who took computers into elementary 
   schools but he made me buy it and donate it 
   myself. [1]
The contrast in the personalities of Jobs and Wozniak could not be more clearer.

However I agree with first part of what toddmorey has said below:

  3. Most importantly, being an asshole may help 
  great ideas get powered through, but it's not 
  the only way. 
The latter part, I'm unsure and circumspect about:

  The people I most admire have found
  success while still being amazing human beings
  to work beside.
In the valley and elsewhere, I think this is increasingly not the case.

I think we should stop telling kids that life rewards the passionate and the skilled. By rewards I certainly do not mean some inner calm or contentment coming from indulging in what you love.

I mean the conventional rewards of recognition, admiration and remuneration.

Life is rigged in favor of the opportunists.

The schemers, hustlers and the witty-talkers.

But certainly not the plainspoken and the adept.

This is what many kids who have grown up on the stories of Steve Jobs and the valley lore surrounding many other iconic founders, will take away as their guiding principles.

They will grow up thinking, "Life rewards the unabashedly ravenous, merciless and ruthless blokes among us. Life does not spare the dignified, the pleasant or the mild-mannered."

There is nothing to suggest otherwise.

No matter how you dice it, your conscience tells you that this is more than a bit disenchanting if not unfair.




What would make the story even better would be to have learned that Steve sent the guy out to suggest the "fix".

That would show Jobs to be... stupid and capricious. If he wanted 50% inked on paper, he could just say so.

Funnily enough, the story still shows him as capricious and stupid. She pretty much gave him the same contract, he looks for 50%, he approves it. Genius businessman.

Personally, I wish Tim Cook would actually fix some of the problems. For example, the Google and Samsung attacks.

...with the right friends :)

"good artists copy great artists steal"

People are saying that Jobs was being an asshole. I don't know much about the man, but what he's doing here is intelligent negotiation, plain and simple. The bravado of shredding the paper and loudly announcing the desired figure is a dead giveaway that (1) the other details of the contract don't mean much to him, and (2) the 50% figure means an awful lot to whoever else was supposed to hear it.

You have to keep in mind what Jobs is trying to accomplish here. It's like a kid loudly putting stuff away when their mom walks by, "yea mom, just cleaning my room!"

The ruthless part is that Jobs would have no problem if she didn't pick up on that and came back with the same contract and the 50% rate. I think that the lessons in this post are valuable for negotiating with intelligent people.

> A bunch of people here are saying that Jobs was being an asshole.

Well ... he was.

> I don't know much about the man, but what he's doing here is intelligent negotiation, plain and simple.

Jobs had the destructive habit of tearing people down for no reason, preventing them from liking either themselves or him. I knew him personally and I saw this behavior any number of times, behavior that had no possible positive outcome.

In this case, Jobs could simply have said, "This is completely unacceptable, but I'm sure you'll find a way to meet my legitimate requirements. I'm available next Thursday if you think we can come to an agreement." You know -- like a normal person.

In the Isaacson book, Jobs is accurately described as a clinical narcissist, and I can confirm than from personal experience.

To those who think Jobs accomplished what he did because of his behavior, I say he accomplished what he did in spite of his behavior. Obviously we will never know, this cannot be science, but Jobs went through life burning everyone down, filtering out everyone who wasn't a born narcissistic enabler.

"Jobs had the destructive habit of tearing people down for no reason, preventing them from liking either themselves or him. I knew him personally and I saw this behavior any number of times, behavior that had no possible positive outcome."

Well it did have a positive outcome for Steve and the users of his products though. It obviously didn't have a positive outcome for any of the recipients.

"In this case, Jobs could simply have said, "This is completely unacceptable, but I'm sure you'll find a way to meet my legitimate requirements. I'm available next Thursday if you think we can come to an agreement." You know -- like a normal person."

Are you saying "normal person" or "normal businessperson"? Forgetting for a second whether it even matters different people have different styles. What works for one person may not work for someone else.

Business is a game. This is the way Steve played the game. I've been in business for a long long time. Specifically involved in many negotiations. I've see many of these games. And I would have smelled it a mile away. And acted accordingly to my advantage. Not only that but there is opportunity with "assholes" like Steve. Because he turns people off the ones that can take the punishment (and deliver) stand to gain greatly. In the game of business that is. Which is what it is.

> filtering out everyone who wasn't a born narcissistic enabler.

Do you mean that there instances where he really listened or liked/respected/etc someone because they had similar narcissistic tendencies? I was under the impression that people like him tend to hate people like themselves -- a narcissist who thinks he's the best is at greatest odds with another narcissist who thinks he's the best.

> a narcissist who thinks he's the best is at greatest odds to another narcissist who thinks he's the best.

Only if both have very literal, wide-reaching interpretations of 'the best'.

Arrogance and narcissism are often contextual, and I've met many self-absorbed, but ultimately capable people who value a similar imbalance in others.

Who am I kidding, I'm talking about myself.

lutusp means the archetypal 'yes-man', the person who openly admires anything you do and only ever agrees with you, reinforcing your self-esteem, 'enabling' your 'narcissism'.

Ah, okay, I get it now. I completely misunderstood lutusp's sentence.

> Do you mean that there instances where he really listened or liked/respected/etc someone because they had similar narcissistic tendencies?

Narcissists and enablers aren't the same personality type, even though one can become the other over time. More here:


It's interesting - I see a lot of narcissistic traits in the few iPhone holdouts in my life.

You can see the narcissism in almost anyone living a 1st world Americanized lifestyle.

What's really interesting is that you chose to single out the iPhone holdout camp in a discussion about whether or not Jobs was a narcissist. Those two groups are so disparate it's borders on entirely irrelevant to the conversation.

Nevermind, I lied for affect. It's not actually interesting either. You're so invested in your phone as a status symbol that you perceive an unflattering analysis of it's creator as an attack and lash out against people that don't value your status symbol.

As I said, it's easy to find narcissism.

It's interesting that this has been the most negatively rated comment I think I've ever made. It clearly struck a nerve :)

I'm not invested in my phone as a status symbol at all. I'm not sure where you got that from. I'm actually quite uninterested in status symbols, since I don't socialize much outside a fixed group of people, and least of all my phone, which currently has a bunch of cracks at the bottom of the screen from an early drop. I don't have much opportunity to use it for signalling. I'd say I use vocabulary and phrasing for general social signalling, and otherwise I prefer unbranded products. The fact that the Nexus line doesn't have any brand names on the front of the devices appeals to me, but not because it means they're Nexus devices, but rather that I am less of a walking billboard.

The connection I saw was that Apple seems to make products that have particular affinity for narcissists - they make products that, for the people who choose them, think they are choosing something excellent, something that makes them feel good about themselves. More than that, they think it represents a kind of excellence that makes them superior in taste and lifestyle to own.

I wouldn't be surprised if many Apple products were specifically designed to appeal to narcissists. It would explain a lot of common personality traits in their owners.

PS: I don't know what an Americanized lifestyle is either. There's not a lot in common between the lifestyle I had when I worked in Scotts Valley and the lifestyle I have here in London.

Yawn. (I don't have an iPhone by the way)

I think that the lessons in this post are valuable for negotiating with intelligent people.

The lesson in this post is "Have someone who works closely with the person you're negotiating with, who is willing to chase after you and tell you how to get around such a silly restriction". If the author didn't have the information that that was specifically what Jobs was looking for, then (in a slightly different world) she could have returned with exactly the same contract as she did, but Jobs may instead have taken extreme offense that she was fiddling the numbers, and that he meant 'actually 50%'.

Most hagglers see this whole process as coming to an agreed percentage ("no, how about 20? 25? 25 and a free holiday?"), not "cook the numbers so that the same amount of money has a cosmetically different appearance". You start with a ridiculous number and work your way to something reasonable-but-favourable. Hagglers generally don't start with a ridiculous number and peacock about getting it even through a lie.

Also, being intelligent (as the layman defines it) does not mean you're a shrewd negotiator and vice versa. There are plenty of successful businesspeople with shrewd negotiation skills that don't even understand the basics of their own business.

"The bravado of shredding the paper and loudly announcing the desired figure is a dead giveaway"

You are right based on my many many years negotiating.

Noting also that Steve used this with Heidi Roizen.

While he may have also used it with a "Carl Icahn" (someone like Carl, not Carl) I somehow doubt it. It's pure bluster and it telegraphs a lot. [1]

One more important point (perhaps someone else has mentioned this). The "friend" could have been part of the act. Quite possibly. Negotiating is part acting and role playing (at least the way I have seen it done and practice myself). As a result it's similar to when the government doesn't officially release info but manages to get someone to "off record" to get something in the press. They call it "absence of malice" or similar (I think don't remember the exact phrase..)

[1] I've had cases negotiating where I know in advance that I will shake my head up and down "no" even if the number is good just to send a message.

> People are saying that Jobs was being an asshole.

You say this, and then you say a bunch of fancy words that boil down to "he's an asshole."

I feel like this is a big part of the problem with...hell, with capitalism and corporatism in general. You people have gotten the idea that being an asshole doesn't count as being an asshole if you GET RESULTS. No, that's not right. An asshole who gets results is still just an asshole. That's not a good thing.

At first I did not understand Steve’s needs

Yes, because he didn't bother to explain them. He could have been the one to explain the need for the magic 50% - just think how that could have made their meeting productive and useful - but he didn't. It was only through her contact that this was discovered. Basically, Steve Jobs was being an asshole.

I don't generally defend Jobs (he was apparently a world-class asshole in general), but the implication in the story seems to be that part of the reason he acted the way he did is because he knew other people in the company—possibly including the two people he had promised 50% to—were potentially listening to the conversation (remember, it was in a cubicle).

In other words, Steve's behavior was at least in part a performance intended to to demonstrate that he was holding up his end of the deal he had made with the developers.

[Of course, the manner he did it in was obviously still pretty obnoxious—he could easily have been much more gracious while still insisting on that number. I'm just saying there did seem to be a concrete reason underlying his actions, it wasn't just him being a jerk... ^^; ]

Seems like he could have easily had the meeting in a private conference room, where no one would be eavesdropping. Then he could have quickly and calmly explained the situation to her.

They might have been in it together. If he got fifty percent gross, that was great for him. If she almost got away, then the other guy goes after her and gets the face-saving fall-back position.

Indeed, Steve may have sent him to deliver the message that it needed to "look" like 50%. However, If you read Panic's experience with Steve, you'll see he was generally an asshole when it came to negotiation.

Problem is, that's exactly what Apple needed to deal with the music industry and exactly what it needed to deal with the wireless industry and exactly what it needs now to deal with the cable industry.

Except... he's not here to fight the good fight against the cable industry, and based on the rumors I've heard Apple is having troubles nailing down good terms with the content providers.

Good cop bad cop?

By doing things Steve's way there was a chance that he actually would get 50%. It would certainly be within Steve's personality to not care whether or not the deal actually went through.

Explaining that he wanted a fake 50% would not cast the impression that he had on people (Reality Distortion Field, they called it). That as far as we know, might very well be a key factor in his success.

The last item on the list:

>Understand the needs of the other person

Is a really important part of negotiation. Nothing to do with Jobs specifically. Don't assume that needs and desires are symmetrical in a negotiation. Sometimes they basically are. But when they aren't, it opens the possibility for win-win scenarios.

And oldies but goodie (and short) book, "Getting to Yes" talks about this. Well worth the read. (And, when I say short, I really do mean very short.)

"Getting to Yes" is researched based and, yes, a quick read. It was one of the required texts for a college class I had on "Negotiating and Conflict and Management." The other was "The Mind and Heart of the Negotiator." It is also research based but much meatier. I highly recommend both.

The world is full of assholes and yet there is only one Steve Jobs. If you are thinking of emulating him, I say stick to his better sides: understanding the industry, positioning, marketing, branding, public speaking and of course product design.

Wholeheartedly agree. After the Isaacson book came out I read story after story of "entrepreneurs" who had decided to emulate him in all the wrong ways. They chose to ignore the fact that in addition to being a complete dick a goodly part of the time he also had the ability to inspire fierce loyalty in people and I'm sure it wasn't by being a dick. If he saw you as valuable (e.g.; Jony Ive) then you got treated better.

That said, in my experience, you'll get WAY more out of people if you treat everyone with respect if and until they do something to cause you to lose that respect. And even then you're better off having a polite but firm attitude.

"Make it look like fifty percent." That one sentence made all the difference. In one instant, Heidi immediately understood what she had that the other side wanted. In her case, it was an initial app on a new platform. More than the money itself, it was being able to deliver on a previous promise to get a 50-50 split.

It can be difficult to understand your negotiating partner's reasons but having an ally sure helped in this case.

so what i learned from this is that the developers did not actually get 50% but something that sounded like 50%.

i know a dev at a startup who was employee number 2 and wanted a certain % of the company ( like 2 or 5 or something like that ). anyhoo, he was haggling with the founder about this and the founder didnt want to give him what he wanted but finally relented. later, when signing paperwork, he found that the % the founder relented to was actually a % of a newly created employee pool, and not the whole company.

needless to say, the dev was pissed and had little trust in the relationship from that point forward.

I obviously don't know the details there, but I'd say there's a big difference: Job's developers got the 50% they wanted (and Jobs cut a fair deal with the other company), while the guy you know agreed on something and then got something else. The latter is something that I believe is unethical, as it's changing the cards on the table after making a deal, and not even telling the other party.

but that was my point -- It doesn't sound like the developers got the 50% they wanted at all - the post goes through the math of how it was made to look like 50%.

yeah, but my point was that in this case Jobs didn't change the cards on the table like saying "we agreed on 50% of the revenues, now it is 50% of the profits after tax" (I'm making a random example, hope to make my point), while in the case of the other dev they changed the percentage of the equity to a percentage of the pool of shares for the employees... to me it's kinda different at least ethically

Only in the business world is this behavior not only acceptable but lauded as commendable, and then some businesspeople wonder why their industry gets such a bad rap. Speaking ss a business owner, this is not how I do business, and my experience is if the stakes are not perceived as extremely high, most business people (especially at the mid-level tiers) do not engage in these "sharp dealings" either. The probabilities of running into this behavior go up very rapidly however, when the value perception goes up.

That being said however, I do see this behavior creeping even into settings where I didn't notice it 2-3 decades ago. This tactic only works as long as there is some sink to offload the negative externalities to; that is, everyone else who does not negotiate this way. Developers who are made aware of this "negotiation" style on the other side should make every requirement request an adversarial minimax engagement where they seek to do the least amount of coding for the most profit.

Even today, if you pull similar stunts during negotiations where you perform Clintonian-grade-gyrations through the attorneys, or even more minor shady acts, in my small part of the industry people remember that for a long, LONG time. Word gets around. It follows you from employer to employer now, with the better sales tracking we have these days. And where other customers get cut a lot of slack just for being nice, you're going to be fighting for every micrometer of delivered support. Just because once you set a precedent, no one will to want to get caught on the other side of one of your "gotchas". Good on ya if you have the energy for doing that all the time, but I'd rather be using the time more productively myself.

Coase's theory of the firm and its subsequent expansions by other researchers would find that when everyone engages in this style of negotiation, transactional costs skyrocket. I've had one customer who was particularly enthusiastic about this style of dealing with vendors. We dumped that account onto a competitor.

That venture deals book is about founders negotiating with VCs, and probably mentions the "rookie mistake" of the founders getting stuck with paying for the option pool.

We're talking about something different here - a potential hire joining a company and asking for "X% of the company". If the company agrees to this, then the legal document better not say you got X% of the employee option pool. That kind of shit is obviously going to ruin your employee's trust, because it's extremely fucking shady. I would immediately get the impression that the company/founders are big scammers.

The book is about VC period. Authors switch sides in perspective throughout. The rookie mistake, covered at length in the book, was not knowing the difference between the cap table, employee options pool, and fully diluted shares. See, e.g., Appendix A.

no doubt. ...ive been meaning to read venture deals myself. my impression of brad feld and jason mendelson is a very positive. Even better I've heard founder devs speak very highly of them.

Are there any known allegations or just flat-out known instances of Steve Jobs getting physically abusive with any of his employees or in the workplace environment?

It's obvious he was verbally and emotionally abusive person and he was generally an all-around asshole, but I've never heard of him getting physical, and that sort of surprises me.

Physical and psychological abuse are morally equivalent.

Morals tend to come from a body of ethics. It seems like what you're saying is "I think they should be considered equivalent" and therefore if you were to propose a set of morals that some society would adhere to, being mean to people would constitute property damage or something. Of course, that's bonkers, but you should distinguish between what you think should be the case and what is.

Downplaying emotional abuse as "being mean" is disingenuous.

I don't think so, it's all mental and non-physical. That's the point.

It makes you wonder how good his reality distortion field would have been without the vast dick-mitigation cloud that bubbled around it. Jobs owes a lot of his success to some very nice people.

Pretty much the MO for dealing with anyone with an inflated ego.

Make them feel like they're right and make them feel like they always get exactly what they want.

And then?

F*ck them in the year (c)


in the ear

> What I Learned Negotiating With Steve Jobs

I read the headline and thought, "that he's an asshole?"

Then I read the article. I was right!

That wasn't a negotiation, that was a demand. Dan'l did the negotiation. "People are not often as clear as Steve was" - he wasn't clear at all. He put on a performance for the developers, and Dan'l was the person who had to clarify what Steve wanted.

Great lesson here in how to deal with face. If done well this can provide the party unconcerned with saving face a real advantage in the negotiation process.

Some people enjoy throwing their weight around and winning even relatively meaningless concessions, which marks them as high status. This can make it easier to win meaningful concessions at the margin, or to turn "not asking for concessions" into "you owe me one".

Robert Ringer has some pretty apt descriptions of this type & how to deal with them in a couple of his more popular books.

With all due respect, I think you and others are missing the point here. This wasn't so much about Jobs "throwing his weight around" (abrasive style notwithstanding) but about him having an externally committed number that it was important to him and to others at the company to have met. Structuring the deal in such a way that this objective could be achieved opened a path to a negotiation that could satisfy both sides.

You're right, the point of the article was to reflect on her, not on Jobs. But that doesn't mean we can't analyze his behavior.

Presumably the number was "important" in an absolute sense because a number that high represented a fair amount of money, or at least taking margin from the publisher, because of the super-high quality of the software (remember, he made the promise trying to flatter the development team). Instead, the deal was structured strictly worse (less transparent revenue stream, same amount of money - and I'd be surprised if it was actually the same amount of money). Because he made a grand gesture as a status move, first to his team, and then to his vendors.

There's no way in which "make an outrageous promise, make an outrageous demand to fulfil that promise, accept a strictly worse settlement that saves face" reflects well on his end of the negotiation.

"He wanted to be able to tell everyone he got what he wanted."

This article has another story from Heidi Roizen which may offer some perspective (seventh story „A Friend In Need“):


Is it just me or does it seem like the new cool thing to do is talk about how much of a prick Steve was and how amazing Woz is?

No one is perfect.

> Is it just me or does it seem like the new cool thing to do is talk about how much of a prick Steve was and how amazing Woz is?

It's now new for me -- I've been saying it for years. After a brief exposure to Jobs in the late 1970s when Apple was a new company, I refused to work with him thereafter. I turned down a number of job offers from Apple over the years because I knew I would have to work with Jobs, or near him, or some approximation thereof. Unacceptable.

Some people found it possible to work with him, but IMHO that marked them as born narcissistic enablers.

Oh. Well that's fair. You actually met him. So you can make a judgment. I'm sorry to hear that.

I just find it a bit annoying how people that never met him find it cool to dog him. I've found that among people that actually met him they either looked up to him and saw him as a bold and charismatic character or they hated him with a passion.

> I've found that among people that actually met him they either looked up to him and saw him as a bold and charismatic character or they hated him with a passion.

That's a common description of how people react to a narcissist. Consider Jim Jones (the French Guyana Jim Jones, the poisoned Kool-Aid Jim Jones) -- his followers thought he was the greatest, and it seemed as though they would die for him. Oh, wait, they did die for him. But others saw him as dangerous.

Consider David Koresh. Same blind devotion among his followers and complete disgust elsewhere.

My point is that a narcissistic enabler is as deeply twisted as a narcissist, but with a different focus.

More here: http://arachnoid.com/ChildrenOfNarcissus

Not saying you're not correct, it sounds like from your, and many other stories this is generally pretty accurate.

However, for this particular story? I honestly would have loved to work with/for someone who would just cut the bullshit, stop with the nice words, and just tell you exactly where you stand. If that means tearing up a contract and swearing at me, that sounds wonderful - it would not hurt my feelings in the least. If it did, I'd quickly get over it unless it was obviously personal vs. business.

Can that be done without being an asshole? Yes, of course. However, I haven't really seen it in action. I've generally either been around 'assholes' who seem to get things done via a blunt style I enjoy, or 'nice guys' who get steamrolled and thus churn out a shit product as they are more concerned with feelings than results.

> I just find it a bit annoying how people that never met him find it cool to dog him.

I don't need to talk to an asshole personally to know that they're an asshole. If it quacks like a duck...etc.

If you don't talk to someone personally, aren't you relying on a third-party(known or unknown) to provide insight? That you are willing to believe someone you've never met is an asshole based solely on somebody else telling you it's true doesn't seem very fair.

That's true of pretty much any knowledge you don't gather first-hand, though.

It's not a binary thing, it's a spectrum. I don't have any first-hand knowledge that black holes exist, but there's a great deal of evidence that pushes me into the "95% sure they exist" column.

Similarly if multiple people tell me someone is an asshole, that pushes my needle on the spectrum to "66% sure this person is an asshole."

You can, and should, maintain skepticism about any conclusions you draw. But that doesn't mean you can't draw conclusions at all until you verify the information yourself and are 99% sure of something.

People have been saying that for decades, but there does seem to be a huge uptick in people basically parroting that view without going any deeper, and making it sound like this was something they recently learned that was surprising to them and assuming that other people aren't aware of it.

Maybe that's true? When he passed away there was a lot of press about him for a while, not to mention the Isaacson book and the movie(s). So maybe this really is just a bunch of college-age or younger people who just read the Isaacson book, and the #1 shocker to them was, "OMG guys, Jobs was an asshole and Woz is so nice! I had no idea!"

It's kind of annoying because, well, everyone already knew that so who cares, and I think what's really interesting about Jobs and Woz aren't those qualities but their accomplishments and philosophies. So many comments on places like HN are so binary and reductive, ignoring the actual enlightening things that can be learned from studying and thinking about the decisions that Jobs made (good and bad).

I don't think there's as much to learn from Woz as far as succeeding in the tech industry goes, but he's a great example of someone succeeding in life. Woz is absolutely someone to be emulated in terms of his fundamental decency, enthusiasm, interests and generosity, just not necessarily his business leadership (which he would probably agree with).

Wow, I'd forgotten how bad the economics of boxed software were.

The irony here is that Steve would eventually go on to put the final nail in the coffin of the boxed software world with the App Store. Sure people were starting to use web based software and yes other stores existed before the app store but he created the tipping point.

This is slightly revisionist. The App Store is really just a centralized portal for software purchase and download. People were purchasing software online and downloading it well before the App Store.

IIRC, it had become the standard for high-end, engineering, server, unix software by around 2002, but App Store really did do a pretty good job of replacing boxed software in the $20-300 range outside gaming (which Steam probably did first).

You mean "App Store did a really good job copying a standard practice in the software world to a specific domain that Steam was doing a really good job in already, and though brand and lock-in, managed to survive where on pure merit, it wouldn't have".

No, Steam was never doing a good job of selling apps outside gaming, and still doesn't.

I think with Lion they even added support to the Mac firmware to boot directly from Apple's servers.

I had to make the business make sense financially. I just needed to make my 15% look like his 50%. To do so, I reduced the nut to split by first deducting the cost of packaging, of technical support, the salaries for some developers on my side of the business to implement fixes, and when I still couldn’t get the math to pencil out, I added a $6 per unit

Out of curiosity, is there an example contract text that demonstrates how to do this? Is it as simple as saying "You get 50% of the gross, but I'll deduct this, this and that from your share"?

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact