The conventional wisdom is that after he was fired from Apple because he was too immature to run a company, Steve Jobs went off and learned a lot from failing at his next company, NeXT.NeXT built high-end computers and tried to sell them to institutions of higher learning. It didn’t sell many.
This failure that taught him so much that he was finally able to be a great CEO he was when he came back to Apple in the late 1990s.
The problem with this theory is that NeXT was not a failure.
In fact, NeXT was a huge success.
The technology and technologists behind its high-end computers and software were so good that an incumbent in the space, which just happened to be Apple, bet the future of the company on them – despite no proof of a product/market fit.
Through that sale, NeXT equity was turned into Apple equity, and that equity did pretty well, thanks mostly to work done by former NeXT employees – Steve Jobs and the designer of OS X, Avie Tevenian.
NeXT wasn’t a success at finding a market for its product, but it did prove that startup investors can get away with betting on companies built on great people and advanced technology.
A good modern example of this kind success disguised as a failure would be Summize, which was acquired for Twitter stock early on. That equity is now worth many times what it was. FriendFeed, which was acquired for Facebook stock after failing as a consumer product, has a similar story.
Summize, FriendFeed, and NeXT are no longer around, so you could call them a failure, but clearly, the decision to start those companies were smart and profitable.
They are the kind of failure the rest of us would love to have on our resume – and influencing our bank accounts.
It’s the kind of fate Chris Dixon has to hope for his startup Hunch, which was today acquired for $80 million by eBay after struggling for years to apply it’s brilliant recommendation technology and smart engineers to a product consumers would adopt.