What It Was Like To Hang With Tech's Biggest Stars During The Golden Days Of Silicon Valley

The 1980s and 1990s were a pivotal time for innovation in Silicon Valley. In 1981, shortly after Apple released the Apple 1, IBM introduced the first PC. A few years later, the World Wide Web would be born.

Documentary photographer Doug Menuez happened to be in Silicon Valley at the time. He had done freelance work with major publications like Fortune and TIME, but he found that tech companies were difficult to crack.

“I would go to Silicon Valley occasionally, and it was terrible. There was this massive PR bubble keeping you from getting any access,” Menuez told Business Insider. “You knew these people were going to change the world, but no one knew anything about them.”

In 1985, shortly after Steve Jobs was ousted from Apple, Menuez asked if he could document the Apple founder’s new venture, a personal computing company he called NeXT.

To his surprise, Jobs agreed.

“He knew he was a historical figure,” Menuez said. “I just showed up at the right place at the right time.”

Menuez spent the next three years documenting what was happening inside the young company. Life magazine would underwrite and publish the photos.

“At NeXT, they were constantly hiring absolutely brilliant people. Steve was constantly challenging, prodding people to work above their abilities,” Menuez said. “Steve had a lot at risk here. The stakes were high. He wanted revenge. He was becoming a symbol of a whole new generation coming into the Valley.”

Once word got out that the notoriously private Jobs had granted Menuez access to his fledgling company, other Silicon Valley leaders followed suit. Over the next 15 years, Menuez would spend time photographing intimate scenes at some of the most influential tech companies in the world.

Menuez has assembled his work from that period in a book called “Fearless Genius: The Digital Revolution in Silicon Valley,” which Atria Books published in June.

“Fearless Genius” features stark, black-and-white photos that capture influential personalities.

In 1990, Menuez photographed then-Apple CEO John Sculley before a press event in 1990. Sculley was shy, and he seemed withdrawn to reporters.

“After forcing Steve out, John grew Apple from $US800 million to $US8 billion a year in revenue,” Menuez wrote in the below photo’s caption. “Despite this significant achievement, he was often dismissed in the Valley as the man who fired Steve and, unfairly, as a technology lightweight without vision.”

“He didn’t get credit for a lot of important things he did,” Menuez told Business Insider.

Here, Sculley and Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak check out an early Nintendo Game Boy backstage at a 1991 Apple product announcement.

Adobe was another favourite project of Menuez’s. He was there when Photoshop was released in 1990.

“As digital technology grew more powerful, Silicon Valley became an expected crossroads of culture. Artists arrived from all over the world, eager to experiment,” he writes in “Fearless Genius.”

He continues: “Here, painter David Hockney, holding one of his beloved dachshunds, attends Russell Brown’s first Adobe Photoshop Invitational, where he learned how to use the first release version of Photoshop, happily smoking in the computer room and playing with his dogs on breaks.”

Backstage at the Agenda ’92 conference, Bill Gates debated cheap content and delayed vaporware upgrades to Windows.

Menuez met Jeff Bezos during Kleiner Perkins’ annual Aspen Summit in 1995.

“He was wearing this shirt that said ‘Amazon’ on it. My wife is Brazilian, so she said, ‘Let’s go talk to him,'” Menuez said to Business Insider. “He gave us the whole pitch for Amazon, and it was amazing. Some things you hear and you just know it’s going to work.”

Menuez captured Marc Andreessen and his publicist during a phone interview at the Netscape offices.

“[He] was exhausted and riding a monstrous wave of digital global change he helped precipitate,” Menuez writes in the photo’s caption. “The press had been pleading for interviews with him ever since the Netscape Navigator browser was released, making internet access easy and fast for the masses.”

Menuez had the opportunity to meet many notable figures, but he says it was Jobs who had the biggest impact on his life.

“Steve was the most inspiring person I ever met. As a photojournalist, I like to hide behind my lens and capture other people’s moments,” Menuez said. “He forced me to confront my own motivations, who I was. I wasn’t trying to be his friend, but just being in the room was amazing.”

Some may wonder why the photos are just being published now, two decades after they were taken.

After Menuez had finished his work with NeXT, Jobs decided Life magazine just wasn’t cool anymore. Menuez put the photos away in boxes and completely forgot about them.

“By 2000, I had burned out on the topic. There had been this crazy gold rush, and it all just burst,” Menuez said.

Stanford later acquired his archives, and Menuez started going back through the notes to help with the scanning process.

Those scans would eventually become “Fearless Genius,” which Menuez says is an imperfect history of the Valley at a pivotal time. He hopes to turn the project into a full digital experience, with a documentary, web series, educational program, and conference hopefully on the way.

“I really want this book to reach young entrepreneurs to show how hard it was. The sacrifice isn’t really understood,” he said. “There are many lessons to be learned there.”

Disclosure: Jeff Bezos is an investor in Business Insider through his personal investment company Bezos Expeditions.

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