Fresh out of Stanford Business School, I started a software company, T/Maker, with my brother Peter. He was the software architect and I was, well, everything else. Our little company was among the first to ship software for the Macintosh, and we developed a positive reputation among the members of the nascent developer community, which led us to expanding our business by publishing software for other independent developers. Two of our developers, Randy Adams and William Parkhurst, went to work for Steve Jobs at his new company, NeXT, and that’s how I ended up head to head with Steve Jobs.
Turns out, Steve had a problem and Randy and William thought I could be the solution. Steve had done an “acquihire” of the developers who had written the Mac word processor MacAuthor. In order to make the deal economics work, Steve had promised to publish MacAuthor and pay royalties to the developers. But now, with the world’s attention on his new startup, how would it look to have NeXT’s first product be a word processor for the Mac? Randy and William suggested to Steve that if I were to be the publisher, the problem would be solved. Steve liked the idea, and invited me in to talk about it.
My first meeting with Steve lasted well over an hour. He grilled me about packaging, channels, distribution, product positioning and the like. I must have passed the test, as he invited me back to negotiate a publishing deal. I spent the next three weeks preparing detailed timelines, package mockups and drafting a very specific contract based on our experience with the other developers we had already published.
On the appointed day, after waiting in the lobby for 45 minutes (this, I would come to learn, was par for the course for meetings with Steve), I was called up to Steve’s cubicle. I remember to this day how completely nervous I felt. But I had my contract in hand and I knew my numbers cold.
Shortly into my pitch, Steve took the contract from me and scanned down to the key term, the royalty rate. I had pitched 15%, our standard. Steve pointed at it and said,