Steve Jobs Authorized Biography Book Review

Three words come to mind when recalling the life of Steve as described in his authorized biography:


He was a deeply disturbed individual. Seemingly incapable of showing remorse or sensitivity to others feelings. He was also incredibly driven to create and achieve things that lived up to his ideal vision of how the world ought to be.

This book is a remarkable read. I had no idea Steve was so influenced by his explorations in Indian and Zen Buddhist training. I did know that he was vegan for a time, but was surprised by how much of his life was impacted by his dietary tendencies.

I was also amazed by how emotional a person he was, apt to break into tears when things didn’t go his way. He was a master of harnessing his emotions to create change.

I was also given a glimpse into how he built his company. His relentless focus on doing a few things exceptionally well. His commitment to building a team of only A players (since A players don’t like working with Bs and Cs). Most importantly, his belief in taking responsibility for all aspects of the product experience. From retail to packaging to the chips running Apple device, he demanded control over everything to ensure that customers got something remarkable (or at least his definition of remarkable!).

The most impressive thing to me was how he kept focus on the company even through his painful battles with cancer. His dedication to his vision of the future was unwavering. Most humans would have passed the torch well before he did. He was driven by far more than money or fame.

If you are even remotely interested in technology, and especially if you use Apple products, it’s worth reading this inside look at what made Steve tick.

Remembering Steve Jobs

My first direct experience with a computer was in using an Apple IIC plus in my dad’s den.

I was not even 10 years old, but playing games on that computer would occupy entire weekends! When my neighbor got an Apple IIGS with a color monitor I was really in heaven – wasting even more time  in his basement playing games such as Bard’s Tale:).

It was these PCs that made me interested in technology at young age – and really opened up my imagination to a whole new world of possibilities for what I could be when I grew up.

Fast forward 20+ years and I’ve been working at Microsoft for over a decade, but have also continued to use and enjoy Apple products over the years and have incredible respect for Steve Jobs, and how he was able to make his visions real and bring so many remarkable to products to market.

He will truly be missed.


Today was a big day.

I don’t talk about my work on this blog but I was proud to a Microsoft Employee today and happy to see the world get a glimpse of what I’ve been up to for the past several years.

We’ve got a long road ahead but so far the feedback has been positive and I’m looking forward to delivering something that I’m proud to use myself, and proud to tell me my friends and family to use (even those of you with Macs and iPads!).


Technology and Frustration vs Freedom

I’m sitting here trying to type a short blog post and my internet connection keeps dropping.

Not sure what it is causing the problem. Sometimes when the weather is really bright and sunny in Seattle (which is rare), this happens. Might be some issue with my CLEAR 4G router and solar interference..I don’t know.

Anyway it has me thinking of the dependency I have on being connected to the net and using technology in general.

Coming home from work this evening, I tried playing some music on my computer but Spotify wouldn’t play since it’s all on their servers and my connection was flaky. I tried looking up directions for a bike route and that was busted too…so I had to use my phone (which still worked). Even my triathlon training plan is updated using connections to a remote server. Luckily, the workouts are saved locally in a client app so I was able to see training had to be done.

I then hopped on my bike only to see that my Power Meter (fancy cycle computer that measure power output) was out of battery, so I had to wait for that to charge. Again, waiting for technology. One more thing to manage. After my ride I went for a run, and luckily my Garmin still had a charge so I could track my pace.

I think there is a wonderful thing about all this technology that connects us with each other and to information. It’s also striking to my just how much I depend on it. Even more than that is how much it affects me (at a very deep physical level) when it doesn’t work. The frustration of trying to get an email sent when your internet connection is down and you are late for something else is absolutely maddening.

I think that is the heart of the issue. Not the dependence on or the independence from technology. But one’s ability to not let the technology interfere with your experience of your life…especially in situations where the technology isn’t working.

Pandora Town Hall Meeting Notes

Pandora Town Hall (photo courtesy of ashwinrao1)

Last week I went to a Pandora user talk at the Seattle Library. Pandora founder Time Westergren has been doing these since 2007 (I actually went to one of the first ones back then – check out my notes) and he’s done over 250 since. He shared some stats about the service, and spent most of the Q&A with the audience.

Pandora has almost gone out of business several times (first during the dot-com bust and then due to licensing litigation), but is now doing well in terms of user growth (unclear about profitability, but looks close to it). Their core asset is their music genome, where they hire trained musicians to laboriously score songs along 400 dimensions (takes 20-30mins per song!). This asset is then used to build custom “stations” and target on-air advertisements based on user feedback.

I’m amazed at how they’ve built such a passionate fan-base in short order (the talk was overflowing yesterday, and they are packed in every city). They have strong conversion/engagement on their website (1 in four songs are “thumbed up or down”) and great breadth across connected devices (Pandora is available across cars – through Ford Sync, radios, PCs, iPhones, TVs, etc.). Also, they are laser focused on simplicity. They have seen first-hand that adding features lowers overall site engagement. In fact, their lead designer used to make exhibits for a children’s museum ?, that’s how much they care about simple UI.

Tim’s personal story is also quite amazing. He spent 10 years touring the country as a struggling musician, and brought Pandora back from the brink on several occasions to make it what it is today, quite a household name. There is something to be said for endurance and sticking with something you truly believe in. Since some of you are probably Pandora fans (like me), wanted to pass along my notes from the town hall meeting:

  • Launched Pandora 4 years ago as a streaming radio station, before that the Music Genome Project was active from 2000.
  • $50m in revenue and pays $30m in royalties for music
  • Almost went bust a few times! (dot com bust and then licensing litigation)
  • 50M registered listeners
  • 2M new users join the service every month
  • 180 employees
  • Genome started in 2000 – started online streaming in 2004
  • Hires 20 musicians to classify songs along 400 attributes
  • 5Billion thumbs so far, 1 out of 4 songs are thumbed!
  • 750K songs in their genome adding 10k new songs a month
  • Songs are played in 3-4 song sets within a given station
  • 70% of artists not on major label – goal is to help the underdog
  • Half of their music not on major label compared to 5% of radio being not on major label
  • Big challenge is to not be too repetitive – that is their challenge
  • Their lead designer’s previous job was to make exhibits for a children’s museum! They care that much about simple UI ?
  • “Disocverometer” is one dial they think of adding (choose how much you want to hear new stuff vs stuff you know)
  • When u add extra options, u lose more than u gain – it’s been proven for them…..less features is best
  • iTunes and amazon are fulfillment methods for buying songs you like, when they added a third fulfillment method the overall conversion drops!
  • Pandora sells more music on amazon and iTunes than anyone else and most of their stuff is ranked 100k (long tail artists)
  • Commission they get is in single digit percentages
  • They get commissioned on entire shopping cart from amazon – so if you click to buy a song and then buy a TV…they get a cut of that!
  • 80% of stations launched from typing in artist names
  • Audience mirrors population of US
  • Vision is to build infrastructure to enable matching musicians and people, to help live acts find and serve their audience
  • Pandora is 1% of all of radio – they want to be more of that!
  • Only serves US market
  • No prereqs for new artists, just need to be avail on amazon – they have a submission process
  • They pay $.02/hour in licensing costs
  • No API anytime soon – otherwise monetization would be tough since small changes in the interface have large impacts on conversion
  • iPhone is a huge success, 35K users a day are added on iPhone added
  • Half of radio listened in-car – they see huge potential there
  • Pandora is on over a 100 devices, from cars to TVs
  • Game consoles are big target incl Xbox – they want to get in that market

Related posts:

  1. Pandora…the best music site on the internet!

Heading home from CES

Heading home from the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Plenty of cool stuff to see, some useful (some great mini-laptop devices and eReaders) and plenty of nonsense (the hype over 3D tv was ridiculous, it has a long way to go before it hits primetime).

The biggest value in these shows is not in the products, it’s the chance to talk with lots of folks in the industry. Most of the big exhibitors have set armies of product managers to staff their booths. After a few dozen conversations with different companies you get a good perspective on the market.

After walking miles through the convention center every day I’m ready to be heading home. Can really go for a good yoga class right now.

Samsung’s over the top booth with a ginormorous cathedral like sculpture plastered with TVs (this pic is about 1/4 th of the whole thing)