October 06, 2011

two minutes with steve

In 2008, my colleague Ray Marshall and I had the privilege of being able to demo TypePad's iPhone app onstage during the keynote of Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference. It was a career highlight for me, not only for the opportunity to step up on what's arguably the biggest stage in tech, but for the glimpse it gave me into the culture of excellence that Steve Jobs created at Apple.

That year about a dozen third party app developers were given two minutes each to present their apps and demonstrate what was possible with the iPhone SDK. While from the seats or the web stream those two minutes may seem quick, each of those segments were the result of 40-50 hours of preparation and coaching from the team at Apple.

It started a week before the keynote, when we arrived at 1 Infinite Loop with our app and two minute demo script. We thought we were ready. We weren’t. They worked with us non-stop that week to refine our app, shape our story and polish our script. We rehearsed hundreds and hundreds of times ("Better. Now do it again," was a constant refrain), and presented to dozens of different people inside Apple.

Including Steve.

On the Wednesday afternoon before the Monday keynote we were to present in the theater on Apple’s campus to Steve, Scott Forstall and Phil Schiller; they’d have the final word on whether we’d make it to the big stage at Moscone. The wait outside the theater was torture, the walk down the aisle was nerve wracking, and the two minute demo we gave went by in a blur. I’m pretty sure I rushed it.

But Steve smiled. He said he liked it, that we had done a great job. And then gave us advice. Move a line up, emphasize this particular point, fix that button on the app. Coming from him it was all obvious stuff -- we felt foolish for not seeing those flaws earlier. And then he cocked his head and asked if those were stock photos that we were using. Which, of course, they were. "Don’t worry," he said. "We can get you photos. We have great photos. Thanks guys." And with that we were done. By the weekend’s rehearsals, the demo iPhones were loaded with a few of Apple’s beautiful in-house photos. And on that Monday the whole thing went off without a hitch.

When Jobs resigned in August, John Gruber wrote "Jobs’s greatest creation isn’t any Apple product. It is Apple itself." I couldn’t agree more. While I'm lucky to have been able to have received both product and demo advice from the man, I'm privileged to have had even the briefest experience with the culture of Apple that he helped create. Excellence, quality, passion, attention to detail -- those aren’t just attributes of Apple products, they’re attributes of how people at Apple work.

Over the next few days and weeks, we’ll hear a lot about what Jobs did at Apple over the last ten years. While he may be impossible to replace, I have to believe that the senior team at Apple knows that their most important job, and the best way to honor his memory, is to continue the culture he created at Apple. Based on what I saw three years ago -- and the products they’ve introduced since -- I’m bullish.

Rest in peace, Steve.