In my opinion, the most interesting part of the book discusses Jobs' early career. Jobs was characterized as a bit of a misfit as a young man. I suppose this is not a major surprise; however, it is instructional, nonetheless.
In light of the backdating stock options scandal that Jobs was involved in recently, it was interesting to read that Jobs was involved in some criminal behavior early on. In school, Jobs was known as a "phreak"—not because he was an outcast of sorts but because he and others developed and sold a machine that could trick long-distance phone companies and get people free telephone calls. According to the book,
Jobs, with the gift of persuasion, convinced Woz that they should start selling the units. With Jobs using his nose for bargains buying the parts, their out-of-pocket costs for the first box were $40 apiece. Woz, now attending the University of California at Berkeley, did the assembly work in his dorm room; Steve sold the units through the buildings on campus. They charged $150 per unit but sweetened the deal with a guarantee of free parts should any problems arise. As the machines became more and more popular, Jobs demanded as much as $300 from people who looked like they could afford it.With these first machines, Jobs also tapped into the fact that none of the phreaks buying them considered the free phone calls stolen; the only loser was the phone company, a representative of "the establishment." What, they reasoned, could be more honorable than outwitting a large corporation? Learning that there was an antiestablishment feel to the work Jobs was doing early on was also very interesting because Jobs would end up challenging the establishment throughout his career.
Personally, I found this section of the book very instructive because it demonstrated the level of interest in business and technology that Jobs had at an early age. In addition, it showed Jobs' inventiveness and the methods by which he was able to convince others to purchase his products.
At the time, the boxes that Jobs was selling were very revolutionary, just like the Macintoshes, the iPod, and other products yet to come. Something the authors note later in the book that deserves a mention here is that Jobs has always had an interest in boxes and selling his goods in this form. Jobs' early fascination with boxes would continue throughout his career.
Jobs' first job was at Atari, which in the mid 1970s was one of the hottest companies in Silicon Valley. The story of how Jobs got this position is quite instructional and reveals the steadfastness and persistence that probably have a lot to do with Jobs' incredible success:
One day, the personnel director came by and told Alcorn, "We've got this weird guy here. He says he won't leave until we hire him. We either call the cops or we hire him."Jobs began his career at Atari. In Jobs' early days, he also became very interested in Zen, fasting, and other pursuits that were considered "alternative" at the time. Jobs' determination at an early age, his inventiveness, and his need to go against the establishment are qualities that have defined his career.
Alcorn replied, "Bring him in."
Jobs was brought in, dressed in rags, basically, hippie stuff. An eighteen-year-old drop-out of Reed College. I don't know why I hired him, except that he was determined to have the job and there was some spark. I really saw the spark in that man, some inner energy, an attitude that he was going to get it done. And he had a vision, too. You know, the definition of visionary is "someone with an inner vision not supported by external facts." He had those great ideas without much to back them up. Except that he believed in them.
iCon is an excellent chronicle of Jobs' experiences as he left Apple, started the failed NeXT company, and eventually got involved with Pixar, returned to Apple, and launched the iPod. I was most impressed with the book's treatment of Jobs' various failures, such as NeXT, and his early lack of success at Pixar. Reading about Jobs laying people off and the problems he caused and went through was very interesting because Jobs has historically been portrayed as an icon by the modern media.
Ultimately, the lesson of the book is that Jobs has consistently followed a strategy of doing what the public wants and needs and what the establishment may not support. For example, while Jobs did not invent the MP3, he was the one who was able to make the idea of portable MP3 players popular by introducing the iPod and iTunes. Pixar's computer-animated films were also popularized by Jobs.
iCon is a well-written and interesting book. I would highly recommend iCon to anyone interested in learning about the history of Steve Jobs and understanding what makes a truly great entrepreneur.