An Interview with Daniel Kottke, the Man Who Built Some of Steve Jobs’ First Macintoshes (and Witness to the Last Steve Jobs Reality Distortion Field)

Another startup? You don’t give up.

Once you’ve been bitten by that bug, it’s hard to find a cure. If you want to succeed as an entrepreneur, you need to be persistent. Steve taught me one last lesson in this area in 2010. Shortly after the iPad was released, I went to the local Apple store in Palo Alto to pick one up. Steve was also in the store, spotted me, and invited me to meet Laurene and his daughter Eve. I’d never met them before and it was very pleasant.

Steve Jobs wanted you to buy this case

Then he tried to upsell me on buying the expensive Jony Ive case for my new iPad.

Did you ask him for any Apple stock?

Hah! No, that’s really ancient history.

Did you buy the case?

I did. Rather overpriced at $40 though!

Another example of the Steve Jobs Reality Distortion Field in action. This may be the last recorded case!

You could say that, although being an ardent salesman is the good type of RDF. And I do often think of Steve in persevering through obstacles in the startup I’m working on now.

Can you tell us more?

During 2010-2014, I was the co-owner of the Hoberg’s Resort on Cobb Mtn. in Lake County, CA. It was a 120-year-old historic resort with 90 buildings, 160 rooms, and 75 cabins on 50 acres, just eight miles from the very popular Harbin Hot Springs in Middletown. It has an interesting “pop” history. because in the 70s, the place was bought by the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi of the Beatles fame. It was known as the Maharishi International University. The giant auditorium still had dozens of thick foam pads that the meditators used to use when practicing their ‘levitation’ meditation! We failed to find construction funding and sold it for cost in 2014. Unfortunately, both places burnt to the ground in the September 2015 wildfires.

We were planning to revive the resort as a corporate and health retreat. As the ‘engineer’ on the team, I was very focused on coming up with solutions for the card-key system, access, security, power monitoring, as well as working on a solar/thermal hot tub pilot.

After we sold the project, I began to envision a “smarthome solutions” startup idea based on an open platform server such as the Raspberry Pi or possibly openHAB (as in Home Automation Bus, AKA Eclipse Smarthome). The original idea was to provide solutions aimed at the multi-tenant/shared housing sector, including a solar/thermal water system, greywater recycling, and hydro/aquaponics—all of which could use the same controller. At present, we’re a little more focused on solutions for the elder care/senior ambient living sector, starting with solutions for calls-for-assistance and tracking. It’s been frustrating getting started, but we’re working hard to bring an actual product offering to the market.

I have to ask you about Sorkin’s recent Steve Jobs movie. Did you like it?

I did, as a cinematic experience at least! As long as I could disengage all my memories of actual people and events. As I said in another interview, I liked seeing Lisa made such a central, sympathetic character in the film.

I had a serious problem with the fact that the movie took almost complete liberties with the space-time continuum. For example, I started making gobbling sounds in my throat in the film’s third act when Jobs and Wozniak are arguing about laying off the Apple II engineers before the launch of the iMac. That was ridiculous because the first iMac was launched in 1998, and the last Apple II line was shut down in 1993, while John Sculley was still CEO.

Did you disturb the people around you when you were making the gobbling sounds?

I hope not. The theater was pretty empty.

I think when Sorkin made the film he made a red pill/blue pill choice. He could have decided to work off the historical record and biographies, like the previous Jobs film with Ashton Kutcher–which tried hard to be accurate but was slammed for the things they got wrong. Instead, Aaron decided to build his film around the archetypes in the storyline and just made up all the scenes.

Myth-making right before our eyes. I found his approach very interesting. I’m sure Steve would’ve been disgusted, but it’s the price one pays for being a public figure.


No complaining. No one forced you to go see the film. And Selling Steve Jobs’ Liver is another type of myth making. You of all people should be sympathetic to the film.

I guess so.

And if anyone wants to know the actual facts about Steve and his life, there’s plenty of reading material to work with.

Good point. One last question. I’ve read reports over the years that Jobs may have developed his cancer from exposure to toxins generated by soldering Apple I/II components and assembling systems. You were there; what’s your opinion of this theory?

Steve did very little soldering and assembling during that period, so I don’t think that was it.

Daniel, thank you and please let us know how your next startup goes.


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