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Monday, February 24, 2020

5 Amazing stories about what it was like to deliver a presentation to Steve Jobs

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Steve Jobs has an intimidating character and practically all his employees or subordinates knew that. Whats more is that he always carried that “superior” charisma around him, making people cower at his presence.


A question was asked on Quora about how it was to deliver a presentation to him, here are the best answers from people who once worked with him.

1. “Are you smart? Do you know what you are talking about? Are you going to waste my time?”
I worked at Apple, and had to present to Steve every now and then.

The first time we met, he walked into the room, looked around, realized that I was new, walked up to me and asked (all in one breath), “Are you smart? Do you know what you are talking about? Are you going to waste my time?”

Instead of responding right away, I decided to consider what if anything I was going to say. But since I did not respond right away, Steve said, “Good, let’s get started.” I wonder how that meeting would have gone if I had tried to say something instead…

I presented new technology to him a number of times. Sometimes it was my ideas, and sometimes it was the work my team did (My team always did exceptional work. The people that reported to me were outstanding, and it was an honor to manage them.).

We were in a meeting one time, and Steve commented on how much he hated the ‘wart’ that was the external iSight camera. I said, “I can make it internal.” Steve asked how long it would take to have a prototype ready. My team worked on it (with many other teams both software and hardware), and we developed a prototype. We had the demo set up and ready to go for the next day. The only ‘glitch’ we had not anticipated was one of the software guys upgraded the OS on the machine AFTER we had run through the demo and felt it was ready. So the next day when we showed it to Steve, there was a color shift in the video we had not seen the day before. He asked why, and the software engineer spoke up and said he had updated the OS and it probably changed the gamma settings. Steve I think was more amused, and just said, “Get things right, and show it to me again.”

Another time, I was presenting a feature for Motion I came up with. Real-time, green-screen, high-definition chroma-keying in software. Steve asked me in the presentation if another company could come up with this feature. I said, “Well, since I thought of it, I imagine someone else could come up with the idea, but it is rather unlikely that they could solve it the same way I did.” (By the way, the ‘peanut gallery’ of VPs and Directors standing behind Steve tried to tell me how to answer Steve’s question. The problem was, half of them were nodding yes, and the other half were shaking their heads no.) Steve decided that since it was hard to duplicate, that instead of going for a patent on it, we were going to keep it a trade secret. And as far as I know, no one has been able to duplicate the real-time, green-screen, high-definition chroma-keying feature in software… (the key being real-time).

Over the years, I (and members of my team) did dozens of presentations for Steve. My team was responsible for products like the Mac Mini, Apple TV, and creating many product prototypes…

Steve was wicked smart. I was always amazed at how sharp he was and how quickly he could focus on what was important. I don’t know ANYONE that even comes close to how good he was at being able to do that. –  Brett Bilbrey


2. Scary, but also kind of cool.
Scary, but also kind of cool. I was an outsider pitching a product (there were 3 of us) and he just savaged his own team in front of me. At one point in the meeting he asked me what my name was and then when I told  him, he said “Paul Weinstein is the only guy here who knows what the fuck he is talking about” and then left. He had a very specific detail in mind he wanted clarified and the rest he couldn’t have cared less about.

Didn’t see him for years after that and then a few months before he died, I ran into him having lunch at Evvia in Palo Alto and he stopped and said hello and asked what I was up to….

In Palo Alto that’s kind of like Bono or Bill Clinton stopping by your table to say hello! – Paul Weinstein

3. Interesting, frustrating, cool.
Despite all the stories of Steve berating people, our meeting was very polite and positive.  He had come to see a new version of some software we were working on at Apple (he had been really happy with the previous version), and we were showing him early mockups.  He liked parts of it and he also had a lot of ideas for ways to change it.

Some of those ideas were frustrating, because they put the aesthetics of the UI ahead of the actual usability, which is an annoyance I find today with the iPhone and its growing number of cryptic gestures that you have to know about (like swiping in from the top or bottom, double-tapping — but not double-clicking! — the TouchID button to slide the screen down on the big phones, etc).

Although I didn’t agree with some of the stuff he wanted to do, you could definitely tell that this was a really smart and passionate guy, really engaged with the discussion.

But the thing that has always stood out clearly in my memory of that meeting was the absolute clarity and certainty he had in his mind about what the customer cared about.  And he said it right up front.  We talked about some element or feature, and he just said, “people don’t care about that”, and then talked about what they did care about.

The details are long gone for me at this point (I think this meeting was in 1998) but that total clarity with which he saw the market has stuck with me.  I think a lot of the success that Steve brought to Apple came from that perception of what was important to people, and by extension, what they would love to buy from Apple. – Mike Kobb

4. “I’m smarter than you, I’m better than you and we both know it.”
This was 1992.  I was selling an ODBMS (object database) to them as a component of the NeXT OS.  My VP of  Sales was in complete awe of him, I was not.  I knew he’d been fired at Apple, that Pixar was flailing and I thought NeXT was a pipe dream and there was no way in h** that the education market would pay 7x for a cool computer.  I considered him a charismatic but idealistic founder who lacked good business sense (Keep in mind what he did at Apple was after 20 years of failing up but I digress) But he had that presence that said, “I’m smarter than you, I’m better than you and we both know it.”  I tried to ignore it but it was intimidating.  Which was his goal.  He wouldn’t be in the room if his VP of Engineering hadn’t made the recommendation.  I knew that.  He leaned back and listened, asked a few questions and then got to it–he wanted it for nothing.  Then the negotiations began.  They went on for a month.   I could go on about the ins and outs of it but the most interesting moment was once when he leaned into me and said, “you just don’t get it, do you?” and I replied, “I do.  We’re negotiating.”  After that, funnily enough, he focused on grinding down the VP — Kat Makinney

5. “…gave me his undivided attention , actually patted me on the back and complimented my work”
In the mid 80s when he was “between jobs,” Steve Jobs was hired as a consultant by a VC for an all-day meeting to evaluate the AI development tool technology of the now defunct startup company I worked for, as the company was seeking yet another round of VC financing.


I had just prototyped a new UI for the AI dev tool and, impromptu mind you, Jobs was brought right into my office to watch over my shoulder as I demonstrated my new design. I was around 20 years old at the time and actually knew little about UI design, so it t was a bit nerve-wracking, but Jobs soon put me at ease with his calm but intense manner, gave me his undivided attention , actually patted me on the back and complimented my work, and made some suggestions that I ended up incorporating into the product.  I recall him asking “Why do you need save?   Just always save automatically.”  That was a radical idea at the time, but very familiar today.

Jobs may have been at his most mellow at that time, having just been fired from Apple, so it was good timing for me. – Arthur Applegate


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