As iPod turns 20, its inventor talks crazy risks and the secret to success
As iPod turns 20, its inventor talks crazy risks and the secret to success
15:49

As iPod turns 20, its inventor talks crazy risks and the secret to success

Tech Industry
Speaker 1: So first off, I actually didn't realize apple still sells an iPod, an iPod touch on its store, iPod touch. Yeah. Yeah. And so in an industry that's constantly evolving and constantly changing and embracing the new, how does it feel knowing that the 20 year old iPod is somehow still alive and kicking? Speaker 2: Oh, I it's great. It it's really great. You know, the Mac has been around since the eighties. Right. So, and it's still alive and kicking. So having iPods still around, um, you know, still marks, [00:00:30] you know, 20 years ago when this all started. And so it's great, you know, the, company's a very different company from, you know, those 20 years, most people maybe, you know, maybe a lot of the, the listeners and viewers don't even know that iPods existed, cuz they've grown up without them. You know, a lot of them, they grew up with only their iPhone as their first product. I know my kids did. Right. And so, so it's just really amazing how much change can happen. Um, in, in 20 years or even 10 years, you know, let's just go back 10 [00:01:00] years after the iPod as well. So, uh, it's, it's truly astounding and could never have imagined it turned all the way into this. And now Apple's the, the most valuable company in the world and has been for a while now. Speaker 1: Right. And curious if, what your thoughts are on, on why the iPod has endured for so long? Speaker 2: Well, I think the iPod, you know, it's kind of walk point, oh, if you grew up and you ever, you know, I was a teenager when the Walkman came out of 12 or 13, something like that. And it was like, [00:01:30] it rocked your world and you always went back and it was such an emotional attachment to something because it was, it empowered you to have your music the way you wanted it, take it anywhere with you. And it was yours. You're not sharing it with your brothers and sisters and your parents, they all screaming about this over the home stereo, it was yours. Right. And so if you think of fast forward, what we did was we were able to do that again for a different generation and give them that same emotional suit and as emotional and superpower for music, [00:02:00] uh, with the iPod. Speaker 2: And that to me is just, it's just, it's wonderful to know that we were able to continue that and it was such a touchstone for not just kids of that generation, but for, for all kinds of people, all ages, you know, fashionistas and sports stars and Hollywood movie stars and you know, all around the world, you know, you saw the white headphones coming out of their, all around the, around the globe. And, and so to imagine, um, [00:02:30] you know, imagine that at the time when we were building an IPO, I could have never seen it, but then to see it actually happen and take root that's what's. So, you know, it, it feels really good. And I think, you know, a lot of people's, you know, still remember those iPod days, like it was, I was truly a superpower. Yes. And now the white, white headphones and, uh, continue with the iPhone and even in the AirPods as well. So, uh, just, uh, you know, it's pretty neat to see, but Speaker 1: The scroll will, all of it was just, it kind of blew [00:03:00] my mind, just scrolling through the wheel, like listening to music and really just scrolling through the wheel. Cuz it just seemed like such a, a cool, tactile thing. Yeah. It's Speaker 2: A visceral feeling. It's like, oh, we could have just had buttons. We could have had all that, but that wheel set it apart. Most people, when they saw the face of the device, they were like, is that a speaker? Like they didn't even know what that thing was, especially in the early ones. And you know, it just set it apart from all the myriad of gadgets that were all black and buttons and screens and they were all kind of, they looked all [00:03:30] about the same. This really stood out and caught your attention and said, Hey, it's this is something new, check it out. Speaker 1: I I'm curious. Do you, do you still use an iPod, uh, Speaker 2: From time to time? Yeah. Uh, you know, I've, I've gotten used to, I love to do it because it's still like a window of time of my music library. And so you leave it that way and you know, we have 'em in cars or whatever. So it's like you kind of Jack in and you're like, I'm just right back to early two thousands music and the music before that, on those certain time, when you wanna [00:04:00] go back, it's nostalgia. It's kinda like a really great mix tape. Speaker 1: That that's a great segue cuz I do wanna take us back past that original October 23rd, 2001 launch date. Uh, I I'm curious if you share a couple stories about really what it was like putting this thing together and really what was like presenting this idea to see jobs for the first time Speaker 2: You have to know that the iPod would've never existed without iTunes, iTunes started it. All right. And Jeff Robin and his team was, [00:04:30] were purchased. I think it was called sound jam was purchased by apple. iTunes was, was it for apple at the time on the IMAX, you know, the candy colored IMAX. And uh, then they were, they were really trying to figure out how to get MP3 players. Like the ones you mentioned, you know, to hook up to iTunes. So you could just take the music everywhere. You didn't have to burn CDs. Uh, if people out there in this world know what that means, all of the things were failing and that's when I got a call and it was to consult. Um, because [00:05:00] I had been doing all kinds of handheld at the time. And, and for the last 10 years of my career, actually, and I had a startup doing music products, digital music products. Speaker 2: And so I got a call saying, Hey, would you come and consult at apple? And uh, I was like, ah, and it was a really tough time to get funding and all that stuff cuz the internet crunch of 2000. So there was no more money, especially for hardware, startups, hardware, software, digital startups, and Silicon valley. It was all about saving the internet 1.0 companies. So I was like, okay, [00:05:30] I'm gonna go there. I'm gonna consult. I'll make some money. And we'll keep the, my, my company going well, what turned out to be, you know, very quickly after the first meeting was okay, we're thinking, what would an, what would an apple version of a MP3 player look like? And then over course of literally six weeks, six, seven weeks went out and took all the research I had from my startup. Few systems took all that research plus updated, refreshed it with a few more things and threw together a, [00:06:00] a, a whole smorgasboard of different options and narrowed it down with the right pricing, size battery life, all of those things to really three options. Speaker 2: That's when I presented with Stan and Stan was the product manager at the time and great guy, luckily Stan at Ben, a few of these, right? Cause he had been at apple and I was just a consultant. And I had known, I met Steve a couple of times before and I heard a lot of stories about him from the company I worked with previously was general magic. I'm going in. I'm like nervous and what have you, you know? And it [00:06:30] stands like we got the slide deck, don't worry. And so we start the, you know, hand out the hand out the papers, the presentations, cuz there were no projectors or keynote or any of that stuff at the time. So you handed out the papers and then Steve went and went and furiously looked through it and then he goes, tossed it aside and said, okay, here's what I wanna do. Speaker 2: Like, oh I'm like, oh, here we go. Now the whole presentation's been thrown out, where are we gonna go with this? Right. But no, literally we ran, we, we, we went [00:07:00] right into the presentation and went through things and he turned back and picked up the slides and we walked through it. And um, at the end of the meeting, uh, you know, as Stan had coached me the first one, make sure you put your worst model first, your second one a little bit better. And your third one's the one you wanna show. That's the right one. And I made a styrofoam model of it, weighted it with my grandfather's fishing weights, all that stuff and had it there and Steve was picked it up and he is like, we're building this and you're now gonna join us to build it. And I was [00:07:30] like, whoa. Speaker 2: I was like, wait a second. You know, this what, remember we have to remember apple wasn't like it was today back then. Right? So to go to apple, you had to be pretty nuts. Cuz apple was very much in debt. It was barely break even quarter to quarter and had barely a 2% market share in the us for max. So to join apple and say, I'm gonna go do this. After 10 years of building devices in Silicon valley, seeing very limited success to [00:08:00] tell you, I'm like, why am I gonna go through this again? And so that took some time and two weeks went by three weeks, went by negotiations and figuring it all out. And then I, I joined the team and, and uh, and, and ran and built the, the team. And then we, we ran very quickly to, uh, you know, the end of October over for, for the, the launch. Speaker 2: And then the first ship was the next week. So it was a crazy, crazy time to do that much work in nine [00:08:30] months, depending on how you count. Cause we really didn't get started turning the cranks until may. Like how, what, what was that sprint like getting that prog under the finish line, cuz that that is, well, it was, it was, it was just hoping for the best and doing risk mitigation all the way. Right. So first was okay, well we got this hard drive now. Cause luckily the Shiba hard drive showed up. Right, exactly. At the time. So, okay. It's a, she behind hard now. It's like, okay, you're gonna put hard drive in your pocket and if you're gonna drop it [00:09:00] from time to time, you're gonna set it down on a desk. We have a hard drive here. People what is going to happen to this hard drive right through all. Speaker 2: So we're like, okay, build an extra margin, but we didn't know, we could test as much as we want, but we didn't know. So we're like, okay, Hey, we think we did a good engineering job audit. Then it was how you interface the hard drive into this system that was not built for it at all. Okay. How do you and fire wire too? So how do you get fire wire in, how do you get, so that was a whole nother thing. Then there was a whole new software stack for [00:09:30] UI and a whole nother new chip set that had never even been yet. It was just coming out of the Foundry. So it was just a new hard drive. It was a new lithium ion pack. We were the first ones to, you know, uh, to, to, to actually make a device that would last like for a day, you know, 24 hours. Speaker 2: And, and so we had all of these things that we were packing in. And so it was like, okay, we had to be very conservative on every, so we just layered and, and made extra space and you know, and just [00:10:00] to be able to get that done. But there were a lot of like, holy [inaudible] this gonna work kind of moment, you know, because we really didn't know, but you have to remember Christmas was coming. And I had been in enough large companies and seen enough projects get killed. And I know that and apple wasn't doing really well. So I was like, wait a second, we gotta ship. We gotta make this happen. Even though they didn't believe we could make it happen. So it was all because I didn't want one number one to get canceled. I didn't wanna get [00:10:30] scooped by Sony cuz Sony was the number one audio in every single audio category and they were number one across the board. And so we all just worked really hard and nine 11 also hit right in the middle. Oh geez. Right. Was right. Absolutely nuts. And we had to bring the whole team in for more or less outside of apple. We got very few people from inside of app. So it was, it was a crazy, crazy time. And it was nonstop seven days a week. Claire cares Speaker 1: How you felt by the time like after this sprint jobs unveiled this thing, uh, and as usual [00:11:00] jobs flourish, like how did, how did it feel to finally get that product out there in the public after all that, that, that massive work to put it together? Speaker 2: To me, it was just, it was absolutely amazing. But at the same time I had had so many failures along the route, you know, around the 10 years in Silicon valley, especially with general magic, um, you just kind of get tempered and you are hopeful that you're gonna be a success, but you know, you better not celebrate or say like you took the hill and you won. [00:11:30] In fact, we had another two and a half years of not a lot of success with the iPod till it actually took off. So we had a lot of work to do even after the first one to actually make it become the iPod phenomenon. As we look back and know it today. I mean, that's, Speaker 1: It's easy to look back and, and just sort of point to the, this being such a huge success story. But back then, it was to your note, to your point, it was a big risk for apple, right? Like I'm just curious how, how much of that risk you had personally absorbed or, or how much you were feeling, but in terms of the stakes [00:12:00] of the situation when that thing launched? Speaker 2: Well, I, you know, when, when I was contemplating, even joining apple after, after the pitch to Steve, I said, Steve, I've done, I've gone and built all kinds of device. I know we can build devices, but what I've learned is is can we sell them? Are we gonna actually have the right capacity and the money and the marketing, like Apple's only got a certain thing you're trying to sell max, all these things. I said, what about Sony? You know? And so we had a heart to heart discussion for about [00:12:30] an hour or so just before I accept to the job, it was all about what are you gonna do about this because, and, and I've seen, and are we gonna go the distance because at Phillips and these other things, even if you ship it, they usually cancel it six, nine months later because they don't want to invest in the next one. And it takes three versions of anything to really get the ball rolling. And he just said, very clearly, look, I'm gonna throw all them marketing dollars on it. This iPod is gonna be it. We're gonna pull 'em from the Mac. This is going to be our thing for, [00:13:00] you know, if you deliver for many quarters into the future. Right. And that's really, and he, you know, obviously we brought, you know, held up our side of the bargain and he held up his and, and you know, the rest is history. Speaker 1: Yeah. And the, and look, it's, uh, it's clearly a success, uh, as you sort of said, it took a couple of generations, took a couple years for it to really blow up, but then it, when it did it, you know, it dramatically changed the, the music market. It blew up CDs event eventually. Uh, did you see, [00:13:30] I mean, did you anticipate it having that kind of impact? Like what were your early aspirations for, for this cuz you, you know, you sort of talked about finishing that journey and, and, and really continuing through with this product evolution. Like what were your, your aspirations for the iPod? Speaker 2: You know, I just wanted to be succ. I wanted to work well and I wanted people to have an amazing experience with that was the first and foremost thing. Cuz if you do that, then word of mouth and everything happens. And the iPod and phenomenon was aided by marketing and all these other cultural things. [00:14:00] But it really all stemmed from iTunes and iPod and making them work incredibly seamlessly, well, easy to use and then adding a little bit of capability each year. So we didn't overwhelm the users, start with music ads and photos and podcast and you know, uh, videos then games, those kinds of things. So keep layering on and, and giving them something new. Right. And so, and the other one is, is that it wasn't for sure that we're gonna win. Right. So we [00:14:30] always had to leapfrog ourselves. It was amazing that we, at some years, in some quarters we were 85% of the market share of all digital music players in the world. Speaker 2: Like that's like, you're lucky, you know, you know, if you're cell 15% cell phones today, 20%, wow, that's crazy. But 85%, no one even came close to competing with her. So, and so we were always pushing ourselves and the team to, to, to be able to take this, [00:15:00] take this tiger by the tail and make it run all the way and see where we're going. You know, we never got, we never rested on our laurels. We never did. We always made sure every two, 12 months and we had this cycle, this heartbeat, that's just bam BA we're gonna hit it. We're gonna hit it. And we made some really big, uh, took some really big risks along the way to hit it again and again and again, you know, so that was, we were playing it safe. Tony, thank you for your time. Really appreciate this, this walk down memory lane. Well thank you, Roger. This [00:15:30] is is great. As you know, amazing time and geez, just look what happened in 20 years of apple. I hope that what I look you look back 20 years from now. We can look back at the whole globe and hope the globe all reels up to fix all of our issues like apple fix it. It's one, one can only hope one can, we can only hope we need it. We.

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