Founders and CEOs

I watched the Steve Jobs movie with Ashton Kutcher last night on the flight to Salt Lake City. It wasn't great to be honest but the board room scences with Jobs, Markkula, and Arthur Rock (and later on John Sculley) were pretty compelling. 

Having been through some of that myself over the years, I winced when Arthur Rock came down hard on Jobs and was depicted as a patronizing father figure. Mike Markkula got much better treatment and came across as the good guy who tried to to the right thing by Jobs. 

The pivotal scene in which Sculley decides he can't do the CEO job effectively with Steve Jobs in the company and asks for a board vote to choose between the two of them, which goes his way, is painful to watch. 

One wonders what would have happened had Jobs stayed in the company, worked with Sculley for a while, and then ascended to the CEO job when he developed to maturity and managerial instincts for the job. The story of Google, with Eric Schmidt in the Sculley role, and Larry Page in the Jobs role, is instructive here.

Did Jobs' personality make that impossible? Was Sculley guilty of not trying hard enough to build a functional partnership wtih Jobs? Was the board guilty of not trying harder to make the situation work?

I've read the Jobs book as well and it seems that this was a very tense and emotionally packed situation. In situations like that Boards really struggle to get things right. Ultimatums are made and Boards are asked to make a decision. 

One thing I know is companies are better off when their founders remain involved in the business, even if they are not the right person to run it. That is not always possible and sometimes a scenario like what happened to Steve Jobs plays out. But it's not the ideal way to resolve these conflicts.

#VC & Technology

Comments (Archived):

  1. William Mougayar

    These are good questions. Another thought is,- had Steve Jobs not left Apple, he might have not matured, learned and developed the way he did, which allowed him to return and know *exactly* what he needed to do, in order to turn around Apple.Sometimes, leaving the mothership for a while teaches you things you can’t learn from the inside.

    1. falicon

      I’ve had to experience many mistakes and challenges first hand to really appreciate the pain and clarify just what I don’t want…and in every case so far, I’ve been able to use that experience to figure out what I really *do* want and make a much bigger win out of it.You can learn a lot by watching, listening, and reading…but you still learn way more by doing (even if in that doing you mess up).

      1. William Mougayar

        Yes. Sometimes you’ll appreciate something a lot more after it’s taken away from you.

        1. falicon

          …or you’ll figure out that what you had wasn’t right for you anyway.I’m happily married now in part because I spent 4+ years in an earlier relationship learning a lot about what I *really* don’t want in a relationship…once I got out of it, and get some distance, I was able to identify all the things that were really important and meaningful to me and my long term happiness…

          1. LE

            One of my favorite pastimes is to read the NY Times wedding announcements with my wife and try to predict the relationships that have a chance of succeeding or failing.

          2. LE

            Oh yeah. One point I forgot to make which totally dovetails (like a fine wood-worked and sanded joint) to your point is that I’ve always felt that relationships are made or broken not on the good times, but on how the bad times and negatives are handled and to what extent they even exist. So for example when you remove “what you don’t want” you have removed the potential for negative and possible conflict. As opposed to focusing on what you do want and ignoring points of potential conflict.So a women who marries a man who works all the time and isn’t happy with that will end up having plenty of negatives to deal with that will result in relationship problems. Or a man who marries a woman who wants to socialize when he would rather just stay at home with a movie.

          3. Lucifer999

            You are lucky it only took you 4+ years. It took me a lot longer, but the results are similar. My ex-wife and I are both much happier in our new relationships – and with each other. Our amazing kids allow us to rationalize our former marriage as a productive exercise in learning about ourselves, not wasted years.

          4. falicon

            Luckily my situation was only a dating thing…the first 2+ years were good; the last two were me mostly waking up to having different goals and struggling with how to properly move on…this coincided with the period I was *most* broke in my entire life so that of course added to the stress/emotions…but still from day-to-day, I *thought* was happy enough and knew I *could* make it work if I really wanted to (but also knew I didn’t really want to). Kids would have made the decisions all that much harder…but I like to think I would have still done things about the same. :-)Glad to hear that you are also in a better place (emotionally) now…makes such a difference in all phases of life…

          5. Lucifer999

            “…waking up to having different goals…”Bingo. That applies to the relationships we’ve been describing… and everything to do with startups… founders, boards, investors, …

    2. ShanaC

      This is impossible to know. Also his situation was really unusual in that he came back to his own company. I can’t think of another situation where that happened.I’m curious what would have happened to him has Apple not bought out nExt and he grew Pixar. For all we know, he could have ascended to be Disney’s CEO.

      1. William Mougayar

        But you can tell where his heart was. Being an entrepreneur, he had to do something new. But maybe he would re-invented the film industry instead of the consumer tech one.

        1. JamesHRH

          All reports are that he had almost no impact on Pixar.John Lassiter has said in interviews that he added next to nothing to BoD meetings. I think he just knew that Animation was due for a quantum leap and lucked out.Lassiter has an anecdote where the original senior Pixar team goes to lunch, comes up w 7 or 8 story ideas. They are the first 7 movies, which gross $4B or some idiotic number (with 100% success rate).#atypicalstartup

      2. Lucifer999


    3. awaldstein

      Smart people learn from experience no doubt. Dramatic events are invariably formative for sure.But–and I’ve said this before–Jobs is a rarified example.In my opinion a true genius and the most natural and effective consumer brand marketer the world has seen to date.

      1. Richard

        Sony’s founder wasn’t too shabby either.

        1. LE

          Or Henry Ford. Even if he only made the car available in one color.

        2. awaldstein

          Sony–they make the Walkman?

          1. Richard

            First foreign company to really understand the American youth.

          2. awaldstein

            True, they didThey don’t any longer.

    4. fredwilson

      Marc Andreessen made that point to me this morning

      1. LE

        My point in answer to William. Who you have access to changes the game.

        1. Timothy Meade

          On point. By the way, is there some way I could email you about something? I miss Engagio PMs

          1. LE

            Just don’t call me Shirley. (You’re replying to LE not William of engagio fame..)

          2. Timothy Meade

            ha ha, yes I know I’m replying to LE.If you send me an email at info at I’ll reply.

      2. Aaron Klein

        #ThingsFewPeopleSay Enjoy your Christmas break, Fred.

      3. Michael  McCarthy

        Hi Fred, I’m a newbie here; noticed you have quite a gathering of luminaries on your forum. My first post was yesterday, elsewhere on this thread. Comments re Steve Jobs as a Founder at NeXT pulled me in.Hope you don’t mind if I tweeted to my peeps…that you’re a “VC legend.” Since you’ve made more than 40K Disqus comments, it seems a fair assessment 😉

        1. fredwilson

          Well not a legend like Jobs!

          1. Michael  McCarthy

            Yes, if we include the once-in-a-lifetime visionary, then all of us mere mortals will fall short.Your forum is quite insightful, Fred; very impressive!Be well . . .

    5. SubstrateUndertow

      NeXT gave Job’s the opportunity to start fresh and go full bore on NeXTStep which was NeXT’s object-oriented multi-tasking OS.The NeXTStep-OS then led to the development of the “openstep” object-oriented APIs that made it possible to bolt on NeXTStep’s object-oriented programming environment to other underlying OSs.That legacy of OS flexibility still hugely benefits Apple today!It is hard to see how Jobs would have had the degrees of freedom required to develop that had he stayed at Apple ?

      1. Michael  McCarthy

        Well said, SubstrateUndertow; I missed the start of this thread, but your comments are fully on target re Steve Jobs and his tenure at NeXT.As a Founder, he had a passion to make NeXT work. The hardware was always too pricey. It was the software team he built and brought back to Apple which made a huge difference.Mac OS X was released for public sale in 2001, when Apple’s OS 9 was buggy and prone to crashing with Extension Conflicts. Some of the code for the Chooser went back to the birth of the Mac in 1984.It’s hard to believe, but the NeXT software built by Team Steve Jobs has evolved into parts of the current Mac OS 10.9 and iOS 7. Quite remarkable!

    6. LE

      learned and developed the way he didAnother way that people like “Jobs” develop over time is by who they get to associate with and have access to that regular people don’t.They get to mix with, in general, a higher level of expert advice and help than is available to someone who is not in their position, as famous or as successful.And those people share with them things that they will not say publicly. So despite the fact that today we have bloggers who might appear to be and are transparent to varying degrees there is still information that is passed between people, advice, and contacts that is very valuable (and exclusive) in terms of making business decisions.Jobs for example was a close friend of Larry Ellison. (I just tried to find out how long and came up with 25 years). So he had access to all the things that Ellison knew and Ellison of course had his compiled wisdom and knowledge from his sources as well. That a really big advantage in terms of decision making.

      1. Richard

        Huge Comment.

      2. JamesHRH

        Environment matters, to true.Hence, YPO & VC firm CEO circles.

    7. sigmaalgebra

      Are you straining to say that the Board wascorrect? Do we want to know what thereality was or just suck up to power?Maybe, maybe, Jobs before NeXT wasnot good, but from Sculley, Amelio, etc.there’s no doubt about the Board.At a good research university, Ph.D. levelacademics tries to see good work done;a huge fraction of civilization’s bestwork is a result; but the techniques of’sponsoring’ or ‘supervising’ the work ismuch different than in business. Basicallythe professors help if they can, but it isunderstood that it’s the student’s work andthat the goal is something really good thatno one, not even the professors, knew before. So, really, the professors are thereto evaluate the final work product and notto ‘supervise’ its creation. If Jobs didsomething obviously and seriously wrong.then maybe get him some coaching. Otherwise wait for the main, real results and evaluate those. But don’t try to’supervise’ him.

      1. JamesHRH

        Have you ever read Dealers of Lightning or the Alchemy of Growth?Both are on point here re: managing the 3 stages of innovation.

        1. sigmaalgebra

          Today was mud wrestling again with Microsoft’s SQLServer. Yes, once again connection strings. I’mreusing some old code that worked fine but nowdoesn’t work, that is, my program can’t get aconnection to SQL Server.So, I confirmed that SQL Server is running as a’service’ — it should be and is. Next I usedMicrosoft’s SQL Server Management Studio andconfirmed that the database and its tables are wherethey belong and can be found buy SQL Server. Nextfrom some file dates I noticed that a few days ago Ihad good connections from the code in some of my Webpages that use SQL Server. Then I ran some oldT-SQL scripts using Microsoft’s utility sqlcmd.exeand some logic of my own and confirmed that theystill all worked.So, once again mud wrestling with SQL Server. You’dthink that we should give up on a cure for cancerand, instead, work on something much harder –cleaning up the SQL Server connection string mess.From your post, I just looked at’Dealers of Lightning’.Okay, that’s about Xerox PARC. The authors set up astraw man to knock down.Then I looked at’Alchemy of Growth?’Okay, some McKinsey guys who believe that growth issomething obscure. I don’t.My view of Xerox PARC is my standard view ofinnovation in large organizations: They don’t wantto do it. If they are forced to offer somethinginnovative, then they buy it from outside. E.g.,four feet to the left of me is a Xerox daisy wheelprinter, rock solid device, that I’ve had since theywere fairly new. I use it where my Brother laserprinter is not promising, e.g., typing mailinglabels and USPS Express Mail forms. Xerox bought itfrom Diablo.Why no innovation? For nearly everyone involved,lots of downside and nearly no upside.Why? Bottom level guy Joe has no authority to startor fund a project and no ability to ‘transfer’ theproject results to manufacturing or marketing. AlsoJoe is regarded as just a cog in a big wheel anddoes not have innovation in his job description.Mid level guy Tom has his job description and getsevaluated on that, and the description does notinclude innovating. Instead his job descriptioncomes from his manager Harry who has some assignedresponsibilities and has his subordinate Tom do someof those.Innovation is not in Harry’s job description either.Suppose Joe, Tom, and/or Harry try to innovate,i.e., start a project.If the project flops, then there will be plentypeople around screaming “waste!” as an excuse tofire Joe, Tom, and/or Harry and take theirresponsibilities and budgets.However, if the project is successful, then nearlyeveryone else in the company will feel threatenedand want to see Joe, Tom, and/or Harry fired.Yes, I know; I know: The company can have aResearch Division. But that doesn’t mean thatanyone in production or marketing has to listen toany of “the exciting projects coming out ofresearch”. Indeed, anyone in R&D trying a SteveBlank “lean launchpad” by “testing hypotheses” by”getting out of the building and talking tocustomers” will likely find marketing screamingbloody murder to the CEO who then screams the sameto the head of Research who then fires Joe anddemotes Tom and Harry.Innovation? Can get fired for trying to do that.Never get fired for not trying to do that. So,knowing this, what would you do?E.g., it was what, Woz who, while working at HP, didsome work in his garage, as he was supposed to dowent to HP and offered the work to them; and, nosurprise, they turned it down. See: A big companydoesn’t want innovation even if someone tries togive it to them for free.In a big organization, there is at least one bird inthe hand. Then the effort is to ‘manage’ that birdand not look for more birds in the bush.Usually it is possible for a CEO (and essentiallyonly the CEO) to sponsor some innovation, but mostCEOs are not good at that or don’t want to bother.There are also some accounting reasons for a bigcompany not to pursue research although I have notgone over the details in years.When the Xerox PARC people went to Stamford to showtheir work, they got laughed at for the mouse.Basically Stamford didn’t much want anything new andmuch preferred to laugh. Really, the guys inStamford had just what they wanted, and, no matterwhat PARC had, Stamford didn’t much want it. Aboutthe most value Stamford could see in PARC was a wayto have, on office machines, electronic push buttonson a touch screen instead of electro-mechanicalbuttons.There are many other examples of companies beingthrown the innovation ball, dropping the ball,tripping over the ball, falling on the ball, andlosing the ball. Some of these companies stayed inthe mud while someone else recovered the ball andgot a wild success.Thankfully for US national security, the US DoD hasdone much better at innovation for 70 or so years.Indeed, current ‘information technology’, especiallySilicon Valley, is a byproduct.E.g., the time I saved FedEx by writing software toschedule the fleet, I wrote the software in IBM’sprogramming language PL/I (Tom, Jr. did permit someinnovation) that I had learned at the Johns HopkinsUniversity Applied Physics Laboratory (JHU/APL)while working on data processing of data frompassive sonar. FedEx got a lot of benefit from thattime I spent at JHU/APL.Some other parts of our society are good at parts ofinnovation.Generally, though, only an innovator wantsinnovation. Before the innovation is successful inthe market, business calls the innovator a crackpot. After success, he is a god. Really, all hedid was some innovation. Did I mention, only aninnovator wants innovation?Boards? If an innovation is successful, then theCEO gets most of the fame. In case of failure, theBoard can get shareholder lawsuits for wastingmoney. So, what would you do if you were on aBoard? Did I mention, only an innovator wantsinnovation?To me, innovation is straightforward stuff — theproblems are all from the outside, e.g., people whocall an innovator a crack pot or mud wrestling withSQL Server connection strings, a file systemdirectory that won’t delete, bad documentation forMicrosoft’s GUIDs and SqlGuids, and more.Straightforward:(1) Pick a problem. Want a problem where a good newor much better solution will be eagerly embraced byenough users for enough revenue per user to make anice fortune.(2) Get a solution quickly that is cheap to deliverbut has a good barrier to entry. Here do some’innovations’, maybe some ‘applied research’. Ifhave trouble here, then return to step (1) and tryagain.(3) Deliver the solution and take the money to thebank.Something obscure here? Well, yes, there’sMicrosoft’s SQL Server connection strings …!

          1. JamesHRH

            Your prior comment described the one key take away from ‘Dealers’ – that the leader of PARC used peer pressure to bring out research breakthroughs. Everyone was totally unsupervised but also had to present to their PARC peers, who were highly opposable binary thinkers (‘that is stupid, you are a moron…..Oh, I get it’ – no apology forthcoming).The McKinsey folks came to a similar but broader conclusion: breakthrough innovation requires the PARC style culture / leadership (little supervision, long deadlines with singular deliverables); commercialization requires a inclusive / risk for reward culture with a focus on independent / quasi-distributed leadership; and mature line management culture should be short term goal based with short term incentives and centralized leadership.You are right that, in a vacuum, innovation is straightforward. Adoption does not occur in a vacuum, however, which is how the phrase ‘it is simple, but not easy’ came to be.

          2. sigmaalgebra

            Yes, thanks: There are some okay similaritiesbetween what I said about Ph.D. research and whatyou said about PARC and some of what you said aboutthe McKinsey paper.Yes, as you described, PARC borrowed from ‘academicresearch culture’; and PARC did some good work: So,yes, they did and/or helped Ethernet and alsoPostScript and the Xerox Dover laser printer.Knuth, there at Stanford close to PARC, saw theDover and, thus, concluded that he had a feasibleprinter for his mathematical typesetting languageTeX. With some of my memory, Google confirmed rightaway that PARC took their object-oriented SmallTalkand graphical user interface (GUI) and mouse ideasall the way to an impressive ‘personal computer’,the Alto, based on a Data General Novamini-computer.The Alto was impressive enough to indicate a greatbusiness opportunity: Just assume, as technologyprojections of the time predicted, wheremicroprocessor technology would be in 10 years, setup a smallish project to polish up the Alto and getit ready for much cheaper and more powerfulhardware, and go to market, i.e., the Gates goal ofa PC on every desk for ‘document preparation’, aboutthe time the projections said that the hardwarewould be ready. Alas, such a project was too muchfor business: E.g., the project would nearlyrequire combining the three organization types of’Dealers’ and the McKinsey paper.To me the core of the tragedy of innovation inbusiness is what I wrote about Xerox Stamford thatthey just didn’t want innovation. For PARC to dogood work is not enough; with the bottleneck inStamford, the PARC work would never make it tomarket and, thus, was essentially just intellectualself-abuse.In my last post with “straightforward”, I gave justthree steps from first idea to money in the bank.Yes, could spread this work over threeorganizations, but I’m not seeing just why oneshould and can see big reasons why one should not.E.g., in my project, I’m perfectly willing to thinkabout everything important from the first idea tomoney in the bank — yes, along the way have to domud wrestling with connection strings! E.g., mygoal is money, the green kind, in the bank, and theresearch ideas are just means to that end. E.g., Ihave zip, zilch, and zero desire to publish theideas and get ‘academic prestige’. Did I mentionthat my goal was the ‘green’ kind, money in thebank?Yes, there was Xerox PARC, the AT&T Bell Labs, IBM’sWatson lab at Yorktown Heights, also in Almaden andZurich, a GE lab outside of Albany, a GM researchlab in Detroit, and several more labs in DoD work –Raytheon, Lockheed, etc.For such labs, a common remark was that the lab doeswork and “throws it over the wall” to the rest ofthe company which usually lets the work fall intothe mud, “splat”. Why? Because, as I wrote, forcontinuing with such a project, the rest of thecompany sees for them little upside and a lot ofdownside.There was a model, maybe still in effect, at, of allplaces, WestVaco paper, then a family owned company.They were big in ‘specialty papers’, e.g., milkcartons and kitchen counter tops. They had papermills and related production facilities in forests,jungles, etc. around the world. Heavily theirproduction ‘culture’ was from holders of Ph.D.degrees in chemical engineering.Their research division was in MD, not far fromwhere I long was.As I recall (for more accurate details I could do akeyword search of about 40 GB and find some oldnotes but now have an idea how to solve the SQLServer connection string problem and want to getback to that — my rough memory will be good enoughfor the main points), each year the head of researchwent to company HQ in NYC to get his budgetapproved, and always HQ wanted to increase thebudget, and the head of research resisted — everhear of such a thing in business before?But there was an ‘R&D model’ in place: Research wasfree to visit the rest of the company, from thepaper mills to marketing, etc. No one told researchwhat to do; research picked their own projects. Aproject typically ran from six months to threeyears.When research thought that they had a good projectready for deployment, they went to the relevant partof the rest of the company and made a pitch.Usually they were pitching to a chemical engineerPh.D. The decision to deploy was that of the partof the rest of the company. In case of adeployment, an accounting was made of the costs andgains/losses. For the first three years, researchand the production part of the company split thegains 50-50. After three years, the production partgot all the gains.With this accounting, research returned to thecompany $3 for each $1 in their budget. We’retalking good ROI here!So, research was a big success; HQ knew this andwanted more; but research also wanted the ROI anddidn’t see how to get such an ROI from a largerbudget so didn’t want a larger budget.That’s not the only way to proceed.At FedEx, after I saved the company the first timewith my fleet scheduling software, I kept going onsome larger issues of scheduling and operationalcost savings and got started on some betterscheduling, vertical flight planning, and fuelbuying.The CEO Fred Smith supported my efforts, but no oneelse was thrilled — instead they felt threatened.But I reported to the SVP of Planning; my office wasacross the hall from the Planning guy and, thus,next to Fred’s. Really I had written my own jobdescription and sold it to Fred and asked to reportto the SVP. The SVP knew nothing about what I wasdoing; Fred with his long background in aviationknew some and could see the value quickly; so,really, I was reporting to Fred although had nointention of talking to him more often than onceeach 3-6 months.But Fred (Smith) was not thrilled enough to dosomething about the stock I’d been promised in “twoweeks” and that was 18 months late. My wife was inher Ph.D. program and was delayed. So, I wanted todo the work in my living room in MD (gee, save onFedEx office space expense) where I’d written thescheduling software that saved the company.But, I wanted a valuable piece of paper no one couldtake away from me, either FedEx stock or a Ph.D. So,I went for the Ph.D.But, my work for FedEx, both what I did and what Iproposed, was from some research all the way tobenefit for the company — in one stroke. I neversaw anything wrong with the one stroke approach;splitting the work into three parts across threeorganizations, each managed quite differently, asyou described, seems too clumsy to me, maybe only10% as effective and about 100 times more expensive.Similarly for my present project.I don’t see that the work should be split apart.The goal is the money in the bank, and that ‘carrot’on a stick out in front should be coveted andplainly visible all the way from looking for a goodproblem to delivering a good, and successful,solution. A hope is that a guy who worked hardenough to get a good Ph.D. is also smart enough towant to make the money he needs to be a good breadwinner for his family.

    8. JamesHRH

      I will go you one better.Given Jobs’ personality, getting thrown out of Apple was instrumental.He was of the Mastery personality. Nothing tells you that you have not mastered something (that you founded) like getting thrown out on your can.Many founders suffer from a lack of maturity and the best thing (for Co & Person) is to throw them out. The really worthwhile ones will thank you.

    9. Donna Brewington White

      The making of brilliance is a tough business.

  2. Semil Shah

    On the last paragraph…earlier this year Bill Gurley gave an interview where he admitted the majority of “CEO searches” end in failure. I don’t know the stats, but he was drawing from experience. I paused because while it sounds plausible, I hadn’t heard it said so bluntly before. This may track back all the way to someone like PG drilling into the composition and chemistry of the founding team, and all the risk associated with that. Perhaps cliche, but the technology and design and market aside, it all comes down to the principal actors.

    1. John Revay

      I don’t know Bill Gurley…just watched several interviews that he did…he sounds like a great guy to work w/.

      1. fredwilson

        One of my favorite people in VC

    2. fredwilson

      Yeah but if the CEO was a partner to the founder instead of a replacement I wonder if the stats would be different

      1. Maria Thomas

        Perhaps so Fred, though founder/CEO partnerships need to go both ways. Founder must genuinely want to partner. Joe Kennedy (who stepped down earlier this year) and Tim Westergren at Pandora are a good example of how partnership can work. Noam Wasserman at Harvard has published interesting research on this topic:

      2. Donna Brewington White

        Have you seen that work?

        1. fredwilson

          Yes. When it works it works great

          1. Donna Brewington White

            Do you have an example? It would be great to see this modeled?

          2. JamesHRH

            Twitter may come up here.

    3. JamesHRH

      If you are a truly capable CEO, joining a startup makes no sense.You are already in demand @ large businesses with existing impact & the compensation cannot be matched, on a risk assessment basis.CEO searches in startupland end in failure because they go looking for CEOs, not people who could be CEOs. Dick Costelo is a perfect example of betting on the come on someone.

  3. Jorge M. Torres

    Arthur Rock is one of my professional heroes. This film definitely did not portray him in a flattering light. I wonder what founders and CEOs of his day would say about his bedside manner.

    1. ShanaC

      why is he one of your heros?

      1. Jorge M. Torres

        He pioneered the modern VC industry, invested in iconic tech companies, etc. But what I find most compelling is the story of how he put the money together for Fairchild. That deal was innovative in the way that it used equity to incent performance and allowed the founders to maintain control, things we take for granted today. Also, the deal was a huge risk to bet on the “Traitorous Eight,” which was essentially a bet against Nobel laureate Shockley. No one wanted to touch it, yet somehow Rock put the money together. It paid off well, and Fairchild spawned a number of companies like Intel and others.BTW, some of this history is covered in my favorite venture capital movie, Something Ventured. ; ) You should check it out if you haven’t already seen it.

        1. pointsnfigures

          that’s an awesome movie. so many lessons outside of venture in that movie.

          1. LE

            Movies are entertainment and fiction. Some parts possibly true some obviously not true.The problem is you don’t know which parts are true. Even the screenwriter doesn’t know. Stories can be spun any number of ways even by someone who knows exactly what happens. And even that is ephemeral based on memory and bias. I can tell the story of how I got into my first business perhaps 6 different ways. My cousin can be a villain or a hero depending on how I want to tell the story or how it fits in with the narrative.Of course as motivation and inspiration they have value no doubt.Small example. I’ve watched practically all the shows on the Kennedy assassination that were recently broadcast. (And I’ve watched all of them over the years as well).What amazes me is how people form opinions on what they think might have happened which of course is based on what they have heard or read which is only based on facts that we know.And assumes those facts “gun could fire gun couldn’t fire” are even correct (how many experts determined that and what are their qualifications?)What we don’t know though could change any conclusion that someone comes to. Leave out one important fact or one detail getting changed and the conclusion changes.So while it’s interesting to watch I don’t really think anyone can seriously think they are in a position to determine what exactly happened that day.

          2. pointsnfigures

            Documentaries are always told from a point of view. Something Ventured doesn’t have lessons for VC only. It has excellent life lessons that are great.

        2. Matt Zagaja

          Adding that one to my list of movies to watch. 🙂

  4. btrautsc

    From a founders’ perspective, even imagining a situation where your board, who’ve you asked (probably at one point begged) to be a part of your company, have a meeting where they tell you they want someone else to run the company.our team (at Ambition & previously) has always been a strong proponent of being a three-headed monster. 1 founder can be overwhelmed by the work/ responsibilities, 2 will eventually find a reason to disagree on X, Y, or Z and become a stalemate, 3 always have a tie-breaking opinion and one person can moderate the evolving differences in opinions…Each can overlap but specialize in their own disciplines, and as we like to say, become a venn diagram of badassery…

  5. Richard

    Sculley at a recent fireside chat; (Steve just needed more runway)After Mac sales disappointed…. “Steve went into a deep depression,” Sculley said. As a result, “Steve came to me and he said, ‘I want to drop the price of the Macintosh and I want to move the advertising, shift a large portion of it away from the Apple 2 over to the Mac.””I said, ‘Steve, it’s not going to make any difference. The reason the Mac is not selling has nothing to do with the price or with the advertising. If you do that, we risk throwing the company into a loss.’ And he just totally disagreed with me.””And so I said, “Well, I’m gonna go to the board. And he said, ‘I don’t believe you’ll do it. And I said: Watch me.”Scullery harbors no prejudice against Steve, he referred to him as the greatest CEO ever.Sculley said he didn’t have the business expertise at the time to fully understand what visionary leadership was. “What would have happened if we hadn’t have had that showdown?…I did not have the breadth of experience at that time to really appreciate just how different leadership is when you are shaping an industry,” Sculley said, “as Bill Gates did or Steve Jobs did, versus when you’re a competitor in an industry, in a public company, where you don’t make mistakes because if you lose, you’re out.”

    1. fredwilson

      I think Jobs was right about that. They should have forward priced the Mac

      1. SubstrateUndertow

        Yup!In 1986 I bought my first Mac, the original Mac II with(wait for it) 1 meg of Ram. It cost me $9800 Canadian dollars due to a weak Canadian dollar at the time and a larger Apple markup when sold in Canada.(I must have been nuts, I guess nothings changed there)It would have cost even more had I not bought it without the hard drive and added an after market Rodine hard drive! That 100 Mega bite Rodine hard drive accounted for $2200 of the total cost.But I must say Apple gave you good service support back then!About 3 or 4 years later I upgraded to 32 bit and was trying to up grade my Ram to multiple Megs of Ram. The OS would always crash immediately after booting.Apple support was baffled so they told me to bring the computer to a local Vancouver dealer and they paid to have it shipped back to Apple in Toronto. They promptly call after they identified the problem. The after market Rodine drive had firmware that was not 32 bit clean.I don’t remember how but they sent the unit back fixed at no charge to me.Now that’s service!

        1. Richard

          Cool story, definitely reserved for those with $$$, You and Lockheed Martin.

          1. SubstrateUndertow

            And that is why I said (I must have been nuts!) because I really didn’t have that much money at the time I had to borrow it from my mother.

        2. Lucifer999

          I worked for BNR (Nortel R&D) when Macs came out. The whole company converted from IBM mainframe terminals to Macs and Sun Sparc workstations. It was fantastic and we were Apple’s largest corporate customer.All was good until Windows Office surpassed Mac versions. Instead of feeling ahead of the curve, we felt years behind. All Macs were replaced with Dell laptops.Content matters.

      2. Richard

        Sculley didn’t understand moore’s law.

      3. LE

        That’s certainly possible.But I have to say that going through that time period and buying an early first mac, and using it hooked up to an expensive laser typesetter (linotronic)) that it was a very niche product.And expensive. The adoption rate even in the community that could really use it (graphics and printing) was not all that good. I mean we needed a multi user unix system to do ordinary business functions with multiple users.And businesses at that time who did buy computers (this was the mid 80’s) really had no utility in such a small screen and that assumes the mac had the software that they needed. But it didn’t. IBM had all the accounting packages, databases and all of that. IIRC.Nobody can take away from what Jobs achieved but remember he did arrive back at Apple when not only computing power had increased, and prices had dropped, but also as the internet and connectivity also created some really unique advantages [1] that didn’t exist in the mid 80’s (obviously).[1] Think about just software updates. A day doesn’t go by where I’m not prompted to update software over the net. People forget back in the early days you had to ship better stuff because there was no way to patch things on the fly as is currently done. (Of course stuff was less complex but that only explains part of it. The other part is they couldn’t afford to be sloppy.).

    2. Lucifer999

      “The reason the Mac is not selling has nothing to do with the price or with the advertising.”I’d be interested to know what Scully thought the reason was, if not pricing and/or promotion. He was not a technical guy, so it couldn’t have been specs. I wonder…

  6. Richard

    If steve was the greatest tech visionary ux founder, the second greatest tech might be ….

    1. LE

      Anyone who didn’t grow up during the golden age of Sony won’t understand that. Buying Sony was like the equivalent of never getting fired for buying IBM.Sony has had a much longer history of being relevant and profitable than Apple has. And definitely a way broader business line.

      1. Jack Lelane

        yep, there was a tv and then there was the Sony Trinitron. There waa a AM/FM receiver and then there was the Sony Receiver. There was a cd player and then there was a Sony Walkman.

        1. Lucifer999

          Well… not really. Sony cornered the high end of the market for color TVs for many years. They also had a hit with the Walkman for about the same time that the iPhone has been the dominant smart phone… but what else?Receivers? No, Sony was average. Speakers? No, Advent, Bose, Tannoy, etc. were always considered better. VCRs? Sony VCRs were great, but they ended up like the Linux of VCRs.Now having said all this, I will say two things:1. SONY was indeed the Apple of it’s day. Superior design AND quality.2. If a gun was put to my head and I was forced to purchase a non-Mac laptop today, it would be a SONY ultralight.SONY is coming back. They have a ways to go, but I hear and feel the drum beat.

      2. jason wright

        yes, in my mind ‘walkman’ was more iconic a brand than ‘iphone’ will ever be.

        1. Lucifer999

          Wow, I sure disagree with that, and yes, I’ve been around for both.

    2. Dave Pinsen

      Sony was the Apple, Inc. of the ’80s.

    3. SubstrateUndertow

      But he has no turtle neck ?

  7. ShanaC

    I’ve read the Jobs book as well and it seems that this was a very tense and emotionally packed situation. In situations like that Boards really struggle to get things right. Ultimatums are made and Boards are asked to make a decision. This sounds like a relationship gone sour.

  8. JimHirshfield

    I haven’t been interested in seeing this movie. I read the Isaacson book… really enjoyed it. Don’t want a Hollywood-ization of it.

  9. pointsnfigures

    “companies are better off when founders remain involved”-interesting given how many times VC’s remove founders to install their own cadre of people. I am thinking of the classic Cisco case. One of the questions founders usually wonder about is if they will be out of a job soon after taking VC money. It’s important to know what your strengths and weaknesses are. The initiator of the idea isn’t always the person to take it to the next level. Managing that transition can be really really tricky.some people are great with 0-100 companies. others aren’t. Dick Costelo strikes me as a fantastic CEO for companies that are larger that are starting to scale. I don’t know if he is a good founder CEO. (just an impression, no data around that statement)On the flip side, I know people that are awesome with early stage, but as soon as the company goes 100+ employees they hate it and have no interest.

    1. Richard

      Yep, particularly today.

    2. PhilipSugar

      This is very true. It is the difference between loving doing/building and managing/organizing.I would argue a couple of points. The title of CEO is an interesting one. Because you can be the CEO and have somebody do the managing/organizing. You can also be the CEO and have somebody doing the building.The only other point I would make is that in general outsiders love replacing the CEO if things are not going well. The big issue is understanding why the are not going well. Is it the market, is it the product, is it that the company is not well managed, or some other reason.In my limited experience not well managed is usually the least of a struggling companies problems. Yes a struggling company is not usually well managed but does that mean that is the root cause. Because I can tell you when you are hitting the cover off the ball with sales, everybody says wow that guy is just a great CEO. You were the same person when sales were struggling.That is a long winded post to say that just replacing the CEO with a grey haired gal who has done it before is not going to bring success.

      1. LE

        This is very true. It is the difference between loving doing/building and managing/organizing.What I would call “the right tool for the job”.There is a condo that I own that used to be managed by a woman that was a simple good building manager. The right tool.After the Sandy storm they had a lot of damage and a man who lived in the building (he was a retired or out of work engineer) got involved and one of the board members had the idea to have him be the full time manager and fire the woman (not “fire” but “let go”).The engineer was really good with all the storm related repairs and did many good things.They he started to get creative. He bought a used 500KV generator that came from a hospital (apparently hospitals in California throw out perfectly good 5 year old generators) and installed it so that we can run the whole +-100 unit building if the power goes out.Then he brought in some bikes that we can use at the building and started to do other creative things that we never had before. When I last talked to him on the phone he was telling me how he was going to bring wifi in the building and we could all save money instead of paying comcast or verizon. Also how they were now making money off doing repairs that we used to have to hire contractors for.All sounds great, right?Except for one thing. I can never get him on the phone and all the finances are in shambles (books don’t balance) and he doesn’t return messages etc. Really annoying. Nice guy of course.My point is that he isn’t the right tool for the job.We don’t need someone creative to run the day to day condo. We need someone who is a simple manager and does that job well.The fact that this guy just wants to have fun doing these little projects (like buying a big generator) shows that he is bored with the day to day. But the day to day is what we need for that job.I mean everyone wants to wash the suds off the car, right? That’s the easy and fun part.

  10. Elia Freedman

    When Steve Jobs died it seems we heard from everyone but John Scully. He has remained mostly quiet as Apple recovered and then Jobs dying. I wonder what he thinks? For some reason his silence leaves me with respect for him, although I’m not certain why.

    1. Dave Pinsen

      Scully was on Bloomberg a few times. If memory serves, he made a couple of points, one was that Jobs was offered another role with the company and that it was Jobs’s decision to leave Apple. His other point was that part of the problem was that the tech simply didn’t exist at the time to effectively implement Jobs’s product idea for the computer he was working on them.

  11. Nikita Tovstoles

    And/or perhaps “the board” was not a good fit

    1. William Mougayar

      Yup. Boards could be the source of the problem sometimes.

  12. Proficio

    For a bit more insight into Jobs’ relationship with Sculley I highly recommend “Steve Jobs: The Last Interview”, which was recorded in 1995 just before Steve sold Nexxt to Apple and then rejoined the company. An all-too-brief portrait of a fascinating and brilliant mind. (Available on Netflix)

  13. Kirsten Lambertsen

    Too bad it’s not a great movie. Ashton Kutcher seems like he was born to play Steve Jobs.I was re-watching Jason Calacanis’s interview with Dave McClure, and Dave said Apple should make Jack Dorsey its CEO (he gave the caveat that he knows it will never happen). That would be perfect, wouldn’t it?

    1. LE

      “Apple should make Jack Dorsey its CEO”Why did he think that was a good idea? What am I missing?

      1. Kirsten Lambertsen

        Ha! That’s interesting. It made sense to me immediately.I’m thinking of one word. Just one word. Can you guess what it is?

        1. LE


          1. Kirsten Lambertsen


          2. LE

            Apple is a big company with a lot of things going on. I don’t think that Dorsey (from what I know about him) has anywhere near the breadth of experience and knowledge to run that company.Design is one skill that is important obviously but not to the exclusion of other things that are also important.By the way none of this is anything new. Many people talk the same game. Getting that game to happen in a big company like Apple is a whole nother story. While trying to balance all the other factors that are important in a business. It’s like me going into General Motors and telling them that if they design cars like BMW or Porsche that’s the answer and they will sell more cars. As if they don’t know that already. Just higher better car designers, what’s the big deal?For refererence:Dorsey also talked about his obsession with design and craftsmanship in creating products. He cited San Francisco-based Sightglass, a boutique coffee company that he supports, which focuses fanatically on details of its coffee and its cafe. “This builds business loyalty, devotion and love. When you start discovering small details that people obsess over, people fall in love even more.” Dorsey cited the Japanese design philosophy of “wabi sabi” as a model, which he says balances the ideas of sleek modernism with rustic “ zen-like chaos.” Another company he praised in this mold is New York-based Ernest Sewn jeans companyCalacanis and Mcclue are essentially pundits. They could be right but it’s not apparent to me what their particular knowledge is of what it takes to run a company like Apple.

          3. Kirsten Lambertsen

            Sure, maybe he wouldn’t literally run the entire operations of the company (‘CEO’ means different things at different companies). But he could possibly provide the vision and fanaticism that Jobs did. I believe Dave said he thought it would be “magic.” I guess he doesn’t think Jack would just tell them to ‘make cars like BMW.’Part of the mystique and allure with Apple was Jobs, himself – their customers’ faith in his personal, fanatical dedication to great user design. Dorsey seems like one logical person to carry that particular torch. No doubt people could think of others.

          4. LE

            Having lived through that whole period of when Jobs became Jobs and having read much about him prior to his 2nd coming (the 90’s) I somehow don’t think that Dorsey really comes close to the reality distortion field that Jobs had to bend people to his will. Nor his skill level.Jobs was very well known and famous in the general public at that time among normals. That star power went a long way. In who he was able to associate with and how he was able to hire great people and work them to death.Jobs developed a product and a company that had cult like devotion even back at the start. Twitter for sure has a big following obviously but for a different reason.By the way noting that on stripe’s home page what I see front and center is:”A set of unified APIs and tolls that instantly enable businesses to accept and manage online payments”.One thing Dorsey is missing is the puny brain. If he had that (Jobs was able to think like a “normal”, right?) he would realize right off the bat that 97% of business people have no clue what an “API” is. And that using marketing language like that is a non starter.

          5. Kirsten Lambertsen

            Not to split hairs, but Stripe isn’t Jack Dorsey’s company.Despite my deceptively young looks 😉 I was around for the rebirth of Apple, too. I have one of the original “Think Different” posters I swiped from Mac World that year (Pablo Picaso).

          6. LE

            Obviously meant square. My mistake. Shows the problems with names that are so similar.Screen grabs obviously aren’t relevant! In my haste to prove my point and all of that.My other points still stands. Not to mention the people running stripe need to do some work as well.As far as your young looks I tend to associate “kirsten” with a younger type female!

          7. Kirsten Lambertsen

            And, as if on cue:…Ha! I think McClure mentioned Disney and Dorsey during that Calacanis interview, as well.

    2. Lucifer999

      I get it. JD as CEO with a solid COO like Tim Cook would be a step up from the current arrangement. The problem is likely Sir Ive. He would probably balk at taking direction from JD.

  14. AlexHammer

    I agree.Sometimes changes need to be made, and should be made, but this can be done in a way that doesn’t dehumanize or punish people unnecessarily.It’s good to be tough, but it’s equally or more important to be smart.Maturity (from all participants) plays a big role there.

  15. jason wright

    Dick Costolo said it well in his interview with Sarah Lacy, that the founder is forever the founder, even if at some future point they’re no longer with the company, whereas the CEO will always be a transitional figure no matter how long they’re in position. Being a founder has gravitas.To lose a founder is like a company having a heart transplant.

    1. JLM

      .Well played. Excellent insight.JLM.

    2. Aaron Klein

      Could not agree more.

    3. Richard

      When the heart stops working, you may just need it.

    4. JamesHRH

      If heart malfunctioning, heart should come out.

  16. Tom Labus

    What made Jobs a great CEO when he came back was complete and total desperation. They had limited cash left and nothing to protect product wise which let him be as wild and creative as possible. Sometimes it works sometimes you tank.

    1. Donna Brewington White

      Last week I found a solution to a problem that I may not have found if I had not become desperate in this particular situation. Once again was reminded how valuable desperation can be in opening the door to a new reality..

  17. dwhistler

    After reading Hatching Twitter, I can’t help but feel that this post (intentionally or unintentionally) is actually about the Twitter founders. According to the book, you played something like the Arthur Rock role with both Ev and Jack.

    1. fredwilson

      not really. i was more the messenger than the hatchet man.

  18. sigmaalgebra

    When you’ve got Michelangelo to paint theceiling, you don’t have him fight witha street vendor or report to a bunchof house painters.For ‘conflict resolution’, if Jobs was reallyseriously immature, then use some goodparenting/coaching techniques.But, right: So, let’s see, Apple’s productsare bought by consumers, they also buysoft drinks, so, presto, brilliant insight,let’s have Apple run by a street vendor!Once I took a long limo ride to the airportwith chit-chat with the driver who explainedabout a certain street vendor he had driven around — not good.Nearly all the financial value of Apple is dueto the fact that it is an exceptional company.Things so exceptional are rare, and amongthings so rare essentially all are from the workof some one person, not a committee. So,just how is it that a committee of house painterscan do well supervising someone working to do something rare and exceptional?In such a case, the house painters would do bestwith their ‘fiduciary responsibilities’ by retiringto a coffee shop and then going home.”Measure twice, saw once.” If can’t measure,then don’t saw. Better to do nothing than to make things worse. Simple stuff.

  19. EmpireJones

    Your narrator had a better review of Jobs than you; “it was great to be honest” 🙂

  20. george

    All in all, appears everything worked out for the best – both Steve and John each gained from new experiences and nurtured new areas of personal development. Hanging around trying to work things out, sometimes minimizes your ability to stretch and expand thinking – I’m sure the Pixar experience was invaluable to Steve.I do agree that founders should remain in the business, they hold so many intangible assets and it’s always great to have someone provide the right measure of depth, perspective and counsel.Going through grad school several years back, I can only tell you – the Apple/Steve Jobs era provided so many key lessons covered over several course studies, extending from strategies to organizational development – it was redefining!The best approach is the one that leaves the company stronger and more capable in the end, looks like everything worked out well for all.

  21. jasoncalacanis

    The same things that make founders great are the same things that kill companies: conviction & stubbornness; drive, passion & emotion; and focusing to a level that means you ignore everyone & everything to reach greatness.Most smart folks believe if Jobs had stayed at Apple he probably would have driven it into the ground, ran out of money and lost everything. as horrible as being driven out into the wildnesses was, Jobs got to build Apple over at NEXT and then come back and build it again a THIRD time with the iPod/iMac/iPhone version of Apple.What makes founders great is also what kills us sometimes… I know I’ve done it to myself over and over. It’s hard to know when you’re ignoring everyone’s advice because they “don’t get it” vs “you actually got it wrong.”Plus life is so random…. timing, luck and forces outside your control play massive roles in your outcome.happy holidays everyone.

    1. Kirsten Lambertsen

      Insightful and soulful, as expected 🙂 Do you think Jack Dorsey would be great for Apple? (Remember that comment by Dave Mc. on your show?)

    2. Donna Brewington White

      It’s hard to know when you’re ignoring everyone’s advice because they “don’t get it” vs “you actually got it wrong.”Oh this is so, so true. And it really could go either way based on the situation. Would save a lot of heartache sometimes to know which.

    3. Jeffrey Hartmann

      I actually think that building something multiple times and not quite hitting the mark can be so very instructive. I think this really refined what Jobs built in the end. If he didn’t try and fail, I don’t think he could have built the things that finally ended up making Apple succeed.I’ve been working on a few things that didn’t quite hit the mark, and I think I have something really special now. The stuff I worked on before shaped my thought process. While the jury is out on if I will be successful just yet, I truly believe that the lumps I took and the things that I built and failed at have really shaped how I view the world. I think all founders experience that, even if it is all at one company and the company is a success.Everything we do as founders/leaders will not succeed, sometimes it is the pain we experience in failure that gives us the foresight to know when something is right. For some of us it takes doubling down and a train wreck to wake us up, some of us can smell failure and know when to take our money off the table. All of us fail at something we do, but I think what makes us entrepreneurs is that we don’t let failure keep us from the task of building something lasting. Even if we are bloody or bruised, we will keep building. That is why we eventually win.

  22. vruz

    You can fire a person, but you should never fire a vision.The problem for Apple was that they fired both.

  23. OurielOhayon

    Fredi have no idea how you managed to stay that long in the movie. I stopped after 20 min. could not handle it anymore.

    1. Lucifer999

      Why? I didn’t find it that bad. Bad choice of actor for Woz IMHO, but it’s just a movie. Perhaps your expectations were too high.

    2. fredwilson

      i was on a plane and kind of sick. it was the easiest thing to do.

  24. jason wright

    there’s something very unnatural about a company hiring its founder.

  25. Cynthia Schames

    Terrible movie but instructive and fascinating to ponder.I actually believe that Jobs getting pushed out was the best thing that could have happened to him–and to Apple. He needed to fail. He needed to grow up.

  26. Jeremy Robinson

    CEO Succession, even though most Board members tell you it’s the most important topic for a Board to discuss, is underrated as a topic. Too often Board members find it too uncomfortable personally and keep hands off. Even for start-ups, there should be ongoing discussions and plans RE CEO Succession. Its also not a bad idea to get an experienced leadership coach involved in the CEO succession/ transition process. Yeah, I know it’s a self-serving comment but…been there, done that and have also seen what Boards try doing as Board members jump in and coach the CEO successor/CEO incumbent. From where I sit, the business side of that coaching is good but the coaching part of it has the finger prints of a beginner coach or consultant coach who can’t help inserting his own frame of reference on darn-near everything.

  27. Richard

    With all the negative reviews, I waited to see the movie. What’s not to like? Measuring it against other movies of this genre and with a stellar performance by Kutcher, I give it 3.5 Apples.PS Just finished Issacson’s book, the script could have been better.