It’s not exactly breaking news to say that Steve Jobs was a great salesman. An hilarious anecdote from Adam Fisher’s recent oral history of Silicon Valley, Valley of Genius, gives one great example of this.
Want to know how Steve was able to persuade a product marketing expert from Microsoft to join his company NeXT? It turns out that it involved little more than a bit of patented Steve Jobs charm — and a helping hand from a local Italian restaurant menu.
According to Mike Slade, he was working at Microsoft around 1990, and Steve was trying to recruit him to NeXT. (Bear in mind that Microsoft was only a few years from launching its mega-hit Windows 95, while NeXT was struggling to sell computers.)
During a conversation with Slade, Jobs said that he would find himself wasted in Seattle, while Silicon Valley was a hub of excitement and activity. Jobs then launched into a spontaneous, impassioned speech, describing Palo Alto as a “special place” and likening it to Florence during the Renaissance. There was so much talent in the area, Jobs said, that you could walk down the street and bump into a scholar one moment, an astronaut the next.
Slade was bowled over by Jobs’ off-the-cuff description of the place. It was his own version of the famous pitch to John Sculley, concerning whether Pepsi CEO Sculley wanted to sell sugar water his whole life, or join Apple and change the world. Slade agreed to pack up his stuff and move to Palo Alto.
Jump forward a year, and Slade and his wife were eating in Il Fornaio, an Italian chain restaurant on University Avenue, Palo Alto.
“We were sitting there, in early 91, and I’m reading the menu,” Slade recalled. “And on the back of the menu at Il Fornaio it says, ‘Palo Alto is like Florence in the Renaissance…’ And it goes through the whole spiel! The f*cking guy sold me a line from the menu! From a chain restaurant!! Bad ad copy from Il Fornaio, which was his favorite restaurant, right? Such a shameless bullsh*tter!”
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