I’m sure my friends who work at Apple will have better Steve Jobs stories than this one, but this the one I’ve got, and this is the day to tell it.
Back in August of 1996, I helped found a company called Intraware. We started the company on the basic idea of being a reseller of web software to corporations. We also wanted to eat our own dog food — to use the web software we were selling to run our business efficiently.
The problem was, back in late 1996, all this software sucked. I was looking for some software, any software, that I could use as a platform to program our corporate web site with, and I literally could not find anything that I could actually get to do what I wanted it to do.
So during this process of searching for a functioning web programming environment, I went to a conference at the Moscone Center in San Francisco. I don’t even remember what the conference was, but I do remember there were a ton of web software companies there with booths and stuff.
And at some point during this conference, Steve Jobs was giving a presentation. This was during the Jobs’ wilderness years away from Apple. He was presenting the latest stuff that his company at the time, NeXT Computers, was working on.
I decided, what the hell, I’ll check out. I had already given NeXT’s WebObjects a look-see and rejected it. I thought it was way too complicated with too big a learning curve for our needs, plus their code generated the longest, ugliest damn URLs I had ever seen. (Which was odd, since Jobs’ companies otherwise never made anything ugly.) But maybe I’d learn something new.
Ten years later, whenever Steve Jobs gave a presentation, it was the hottest ticket in town. But back in 1996, I just showed up to his presentation, wandered in, and found a seat somewhere around the third row, and sat down to enjoy the show.
I honestly can’t remember a damn thing he presented. I do remember his stage presence, though. And then this: about 3/4 of the way through the presentation, he stopped to give an aside. “By the way,” he said (I’m paraphrasing it from memory here), “we’re looking for distributors for our products. So if you know anyone interested in distributing our stuff, please contact us.”
Looking back on that, it’s pretty funny. Can you imagine Apple begging for distributors? But that’s where NeXT was at the time, having trouble getting their foot in the door of corporate America.
And, as it so happens, the problem that NeXT was having was exactly the problem that Intraware was founded to solve. So when I got back to the office, I told our people, and they contacted Jobs’ people, and meetings started to happen. And then, not too long after that, there was an agreement.
Part of the agreement was that in exchange for selling NeXT products, we would get free use their software, and free training. So for a week in early December of 1996, I spent a week at NeXT headquarters, taking classes in how to program using WebObjects. I remember getting a tour of their very nice offices. We walked by Jobs’ office at one point. He wasn’t there.
So anyway, everything was ready and lined up for Intraware to start selling NeXT products after the new year except crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s on the final contract.
And then, on December 20, 1996, Apple bought NeXT. Steve Jobs returned to Apple.
And NeXT didn’t need no steenkin’ distributors anymore. Sorry, guys, deal’s off.
So we never sold any NeXT products, and we never used any either. Well, except the ones that later became part the MacOS. All I had left to show for that week I spent at NeXT was this little story.
But hell, if Intraware had to get shafted so that the rest of the world could enjoy the fruits of Steve Jobs’ labors at Apple over the following fifteen years, it was worth it. I’d happily offer up that sacrifice all over again. Rest in peace, Mr. Jobs. You were an inspiration.