Selling Steve Jobs Liver: A Story of Startups, Innovation, and Connectivity in the Clouds
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Synopsis: Selling Steve Jobs Liver: A Story
of Startups, Innovation, and Connectivity in the Clouds
Follow the adventures of serial-failure entrepreneurs Nate Pennington and Ignacio Loehman who through an accident of fate obtain Steve Jobs’ liver (the 1.0 version removed from his body in 2009’s transplant operation). Inspired by their good fortune, they begin their quest to establish a new company whose mission is to death and change the world. Assisted by Nate’s pregnant fiancé Angie Song, Russian “venture capitalist” Illarion Samsonov, and his brilliant (but very lonely) programming genius nephew Boris, our crew pursues to pursue their dream as they:
- Ideate a brilliant sales and marketing plan.
- Innovate new technical solutions to monetize Steve Jobs’ liver.
- Inspire out-of-the box thinking to overcome challenges and opposition to their business model.
Selling Steve Jobs’ Liver: A Story of Startups, Innovation, and Connectivity in the Clouds is a must read for anyone who’s dreamed of pursuing their passion, communicating great ideas, and putting a dent in the universe.
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Slide Excerpts from the Reliqueree Pitch Deck.
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Some Liver Slices
The West Side traffic brought the limo to a standstill, leaving me, Ignacio, my partner and co-founder of Reliqueree, and Sheridan, the firm’s PR head, stranded in a long line of idling cars. After a couple of minutes, I decided to put the wasted time to good use. I pulled out my iPhone and checked our social media dashboard. “uLivv,” “TransLivvient” and “Reliqueree” were all trending on Twitter. The media coverage of the grand opening of our first store had generated almost a million more likes on our Facebook page. The CEO of HP had asked to connect with me on LinkedIn yesterday. Traffic on our Pinterest and Instagram sites was going to explode once video and pictures of the gala event hit the Cloud and the blogs.
Next I accessed our accounting system and compared December’s sales against November. I smiled as the numbers displayed onscreen. We’d killed it. And even though the holidays were over, January sales were projected to exceed December’s by 200 percent. Hmm. We’d calculated we had enough stock in reserve for years, but even I hadn’t forecast this level of demand.
“Call Michael,” I instructed the phone. Michael was my fiancé’s brother and also responsible for our important processing operations. He’d left early for the store with Angie to enjoy a private tour of the store. He answered.
“Hi,” he said. “Where are you?”
“Stuck in traffic just a few blocks away.” I knocked on the Plexiglas window behind the driver. It rolled down.
“Yes, Mr. Pennington?” he said.
“How long before we clear this? Should we just get out and walk? I’m from New York. I know where I am.”
“GPS says we should work through this in about 20 minutes. That enough time?” the driver said.
“Yes.” I’d given us an hour to reach the store and was ready to stop the limo and lead everyone on foot to 14th Street if need be. As I’d told the driver, I was native stock, nobility so far as the rest of the region was concerned. New Yorkers were arguing Thomas Paine when the hillbillies from New Jersey and Connecticut were still making their mark.
I resumed my conversation with Michael. “Have you seen the sales figures?” I said.
“I did. I had my doubts about this whole thing earlier, but it’s amazing how it’s taking off and…”
I interrupted him. “I’m worried about inventory. Are you sure we’ll be able to meet demand?”
“Relax. We have enough material to stretch from the Earth to the Sun two times and back. And that’s factoring in the estimated wastage. Years of sales.”
“Yes, but 25 percent is ‘dark matter.’”
“Still more than enough. And aren’t you planning a ‘Plus’ Edition?”
“Yes. It should be a killer if it’s positioned and marketed properly.”
“Angie says ‘Into the Blue’ orders are flooding in,” Michael said. “The platform is growing. I know I’m not a marketer, but I’ve learned a few things watching you in action. People are buying into the company’s vision. I’m not sure you’ll need the rest of the inventory.”
He was right, but I worry a lot. It’s because I care. Steve Jobs cared.
If you’re an entrepreneur, your middle name is “Worry.”
“What’s the turnout like?”
“The place is packed,” he said. “Every press invite was picked up half an hour ago. Pogue, Mossberg and Alison are here.”
“Terrific. How about Boris? Has anyone heard more about May?”
“Angie spoke to Illarion. He says it appears ICE screwed up. O’Connell is working on it. Should only be a couple more days. She spoke to Boris and he said he’d be there on time. She said he sounded fine.”
“Excellent.” With May gone, Boris’ stress levels had gone stratospheric, but with everyone’s help, he seemed to be coping. Once she was back, I was sure he’d calm down. “We should be there soon. Talk more then.”
“Wait, Angie wants to speak to you. She wants to know…”
Another call came in. I looked at the number. Todd Birnbaum. Amazon’s top biz dev guy. I hadn’t thought this day could become any better, but apparently I was wrong.
“Tell her I’ll see her in a few minutes. Amazon just called. I’ll fill her in when I get there.”
“OK,” he said. I disconnected and took the call.
“Nate Pennington. How’s it going, Todd.”
“Hi, Nate. Look, Jeff wants to discuss purchasing. And I want to clear up any misunderstanding from DEMO.”
The last DEMO had been held in September in Phoenix. Both Bezos and Birnbaum walked out on our presentation a couple of minutes after it began.
“Tell him not to worry about it. I’m sorry we didn’t communicate our vision to you more effectively. By the way, Forbes just moved Reliqueree into the number 15 spot in their top international brands list. I’ll bet we crack the top 10 within six months.”
“What’s wholesale going to look like?” Todd said.
I’d been looking forward to this moment for months. “I’m sorry, Todd. We’re not doing straight wholesale. We’re going wholesale plus MAP. We’ll be reasonable on the discounts. No problem with the non-disclosure agreement. But we control our pricing and brand equity.”
In the MAP model, the manufacturer controls and set their pricing. In straight wholesale, the retailer. Amazon enjoys controlling pricing models and regards MAP as a Tool of Satan. Only companies with strong brands and sky-high demand can insist on MAP.
“Amazon doesn’t buy under MAP. You know that, Nate. We buy straight wholesale.”
All Apple products are sold to Amazon under strict MAP agreements. The reason is if you can’t buy an iPhone from Amazon, the customer will go somewhere else. And then keep returning to that somewhere else to buy other stuff.
“Yes, Todd. You know, there’s an industry rumor going around that your boss and Tim Cook crossed paths at a TED talk in Vancouver and Jeff muttered the words ‘straight wholesale’ where Tim could hear it. The next day, Jeff gets a phone call and after it’s over, leaps on a plane to Cupertino, takes a taxi to One Infinite Loop, changes into a wetsuit, and is escorted up to Tim’s office where he sits in a chair and balances a colored rubber ball on his nose while clapping his hands together going ‘arf,’ ‘arf,’ ‘arf.’ But I’m sure it’s just idle buzz.”
There was a long pause on the line, then Birnbaum said, “Uh, yes. Let’s connect tomorrow and resume our talk. We’re going to be looking for 40 points. Good luck with the store opening.”
“Thanks, Todd. Talk to you.”
I disconnected and looked across the seat opposite me at Sheridan Bettar. A native New Yorker like myself, Sheridan was of Irish/Lebanese extraction and very attractive, with long silky black hair, blue eyes, and an excellent figure. She was a top-level PR operative, with a strong background in high-tech and excellent knowledge of where the industry was trending. When she contacted someone in the industry, they answered back.
“Have you heard anything from The Woz yet?” I said.
“Yes. I’ve heard back from Mr. Wozniak.”
“And I warned you to let it go. He’s not a fan. We’re fortunate he’s been quiet during the launch. One of the first rules of effective PR is that when a rattlesnake bares its fangs at you and you hear a ‘skritcha, skrticha, skritcha’ sound, you don’t ask its motivations. Be grateful it’s allowed you to back away without being bitten.”
“What did he say?”
She pulled out her phablet and read. “Please inform Mr. Pennington I’m not interested in participating in or commenting on his company and product. Inform him that I believe he represents what is evil about technology today. He is a ghoul and his product a travesty. And do not send me anymore uLivvs.”
I leaned back, disappointed. Since the launch, I’d been trying to persuade The Woz to engage with us and give the uLivv a chance. It just seemed right to virtually reunite the Two Steves, but right now the second wasn’t interested. I pushed the whole issue out of my head until tomorrow. I wasn’t going to let it spoil today.
The limo remained stuck in traffic and I began to mentally review my “to do” list for the next several weeks. There were three major tradeshows Reliqueree would be at exhibiting at in January and February. I was scheduled to visit Shenzen in a couple of weeks to look at prototypes for the next generation uLivv. After my discussion with Todd Birnbaum, a trip to Seattle also needed to be added to my itinerary.
And in March, the wedding.
I looked to my right at Ignacio, who was typing on his laptop. After several seconds, he felt my eyes on him.
“What are you working on?” I said.
“Running some tests of Boris’ latest code and analyzing the emulator results. So far, no problems.”
“Good.” I paused, then said, “Ignacio, I need to ask you. Am I doing the right thing by marrying Angie? Am I being fair to her and our child? Doesn’t she deserve better?”
“I’m not sure what you mean.”
“Reliqueree’s growing fast. You’ve seen the sales figures. You know that for the next several years, I’m going to have to play the role of hard-charging, high-tech startup CEO. Long hours on the road, more hours spent on marketing, social media, pitching the IPO, leading the team. I don’t want to be a phantom husband and a stranger to my child. After Lisa was born, Steve Jobs didn’t have time to be a good father to her for years.”
“Didn’t he claim he was sterile and that she wasn’t his kid?” Ignacio gave me a friendly punch on the shoulder. “Not going to work today. They didn’t have DNA testing in the 70’s.”
“Aren’t they going to induce next week if she doesn’t go into labor?” Sheridan said. “‘Fair’ isn’t relevant anymore. From Angie’s perspective, ‘long overdue’ and ‘I’ve been more than patient waiting for you to do the right thing’ are more germane.”
“Besides,” Ignacio said, “this is the 21st century. No need for you to be a phantom anything. You can work anywhere productively, including home. We can set up Zoom conferencing, server access, file synchronization, anything you need from any location.”
“I prefer a more hands on management style.”
“You don’t have to compromise,” Sheridan said. “You can video conference and pitch in with diaper changing. That’s as ‘hands on’ as it gets. Besides, if you try to back out of the wedding, her uncle will be upset and this is a bad time to anger your primary supplier.”
She made sense. On our last trip to Shenzen to inspect the first uLivv prototypes and discuss the manufacturing schedule, Tony Song had met us at Hong Kong Airport, taken a close look at his niece’s swelling baby bump, flashed me a genial smile, and personally driven us to SongTech HQ. From a business standpoint, the trip was a huge success. At the factory, a uLivv planning and implementation team was waiting to work with us on quality control and fulfillment. From the first decisions on the early prototype through final production, we’d enjoyed nothing but fast turnarounds and flawless execution from our Middle Kingdom partners. Family matters in China.
Tony had made his point about Angie’s impending motherhood before we’d boarded our flight back to the U.S. At the airport, he’d presented me with a lovely personal gift, a custom-bound, richly illustrated hardcover history of China. Bookmarks had been placed in the sections dealing with the importance of marriage and “face” in Chinese culture. Another was placed in the chapter describing the Chinese justice system and the execution of malefactors via the traditional “death by a thousand cuts.” Formally known as “slow slicing” (“lingchi” in Chinese), the process involves tying a person to a wooden frame and cutting the flesh from their body a chunk at a time until they die. Lingchi was banned in China in 1905, though periodically a revival of the practice is recommended in the case of telemarketers, spammers, and Jehovah’s Witnesses.
“You’re both right,” I said. “After all, 40 is rushing up on me. It’s probably time I settled down and embraced new challenges and responsibilities.”
I looked out the window to see a leggy young girl stride by on the sidewalk wearing jeans, boots, and a stylish jacket draped over a very attractive figure. She appeared to be in her early twenties, her profile sharp against the crisp winter air, honey-brown hair glinting as the weak afternoon sun caught the highlights. Internally, I sighed.
Finally, traffic began to move and five minutes later we were pulling up in front of the store, one of dozens planned over the next 36 months. Reporters, cameras, and news trucks were camped around the entrance. Buyers were lined up several blocks down both sides of 14th Street. After the vaccines had cleared the Wuhan Plague from the city, the inhabitants had quickly fallen back into their habit of cramming themselves closely together when it seemed opportune. Camera drones buzzed above capturing aerial views of the scene. New York may be the Big Apple, but when it comes to technology, it’s small chips in comparison with the Left Coast and the Valley. Reliqueree was the biggest high-tech news to hit the City in decades.
Sheridan had worked hard to ensure the Mayor would attend the grand opening and as I watched, His Honor’s limo drove up to the front of the store and he stepped out. The press and cameramen rushed over and cut him off momentarily from our view. It was a good opportunity for me and my retinue to slip quietly past the crowd and inside. The security guard scanned our passes and we were in.
The inside, as Michael had said, was packed, with the invitees wandering about gazing at the uLivvs on display, picking up various accessories, scanning the software kiosks, and inspecting the “Into the Blue Bistro.” A microphone and podium were placed in front of the Bistro and a symbolic yellow ribbon stretched across the main cashier’s station. I spotted Angie surrounded by several reporters, who seemed fascinated by what she was saying. Either that, or they were trapped in the gravitational field she exerted on nearby objects as she came to the end of her ninth-plus month. We briefly made eye contact, and I moved on.
I also picked Gruezén out from the crowd, scanning the interior with an expression of faint dissatisfaction. Designing and merchandising our first store had been a rush job and we’d had to cut more corners than he’d liked. He pulled out his phone and took voice notes as he threaded his way through the aisles.
A group had made their way to the rear of the store and was staring upwards. What drew their gaze was “Digital Remembrance,” a majestic oil mural being projected onto the ceiling at Retina resolution. It was a tableau rendition of Steve Jobs surrounded by other famous figures in high tech and sure to be widely discussed and streamed.
The lawyers and I had tussled over the use of Jobs’ likeness, even though I’d reminded them repeatedly New York does not recognize a right of publicity after a celebrity’s death. When you care about something deeply, you fight for it. After all, Steve Jobs had cared so deeply about creating a great company called Apple that when he named it Apple, there was already a great company named Apple founded by The Beatles. And even though Apple (Steve’s) promised Apple (The Beatles) it would stay out of the music business, that didn’t stop Apple (Sculley’s) from adding a music synthesizer to its computers in 1986. Apple (The Beatles) sued. In 1991 (Apple, The Beatles), sued Apple (still Sculley’s) again over the issue of packaging music with the Macintosh. Then, in 2001, Apple (Steve’s again) released the iPod. I’m pretty sure Apple (The Beatles) sued over that as well, but I’ve lost track. If you find this difficult to follow, imagine what the attorneys on both sides of the cases had to endure.
But the important lesson is the one Steve Jobs taught us all. “Your time is limited,” he wrote. “Don’t let the noise of other opinions drown out your own inner voice.” I was following Steve’s sage advice and not allowing legal lemmings to prevent me from listening to my inner voice. And given the uLivv’s sales and the outcome of our recent legal battle, I thought it a good bet Jobs’ estate would eventually be open to a licensing deal.
I checked my phone. 12:55 pm. The whole event was scheduled to kick off in five minutes. I went over to Sheridan.
“Everything on track? Any problems? Have you seen Boris?”
“No, but Michael told me he’s here,” she said. “It’s all going off like clockwork. At 1 pm the Mayor’s going to speak for a few minutes, then hand the podium off to you. There’s an iPad with a teleprompter app loaded with your remarks. You’re scheduled for five minutes. Don’t go overtime. Then the Mayor and you will cut the yellow ribbon, we’ll let the general public into the store, and you’ll be available for on camera and streaming interviews for the next 30 minutes. After that, we’re done. By the way, Illarion’s just arrived.”
Illarion Antakov was Reliqueree’s principal (well, only) investor. His varied business interests led to him keeping a low social profile and he’d been noncommittal when I’d invited him to the grand opening, but it was gratifying he’d shown up. Illarion was a tall man and dressed in his usual expensive white suit and silk tie, he stood out among the attendees. He saw me as I stood surveying the crowd and nodded and smiled.
“Excellent.” I continued looking out at the store floor and did some press spotting. After a few seconds, I identified Farhad Manjoo, the Time’s chief technology columnist, who’d written several uncomplimentary articles about Reliqueree and the uLivv. He’d somehow managed to get his hands on some early interior photos of the store and had referred to the Into the Blue Bistro as the “Sepulcher Strip.” To my tremendous joy, he was skulking around with a uLivv draped around his neck. Not that he had a choice. The grand opening units had been placed in a special case with a metal loop to which we locked the attendees’ ID lanyards. Security was under strict instructions to toss out anyone not wearing the ensemble. We’d unlock the units at the end of the ceremony.
I pulled out my phone and snapped a couple of pictures of Manjoo before he could hide behind someone. Sheridan would post the pictures on our corporate blog, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest before the day was over. PR gold such as this is only valuable when it’s mined instantly.
The clock showed 1 pm and the Mayor stepped up to the mike and began to talk. I didn’t pay any attention to the brief speech, just watched the store’s digital display and waited for His Honor to relinquish the floor. At 1:08 pm he was done and I stepped up to the microphone.
“Thank you, Your Honor. First, let me say what a privilege it is to have you appear and speak. I grew up in Riverdale and if you’d told me when I was a kid that one day I’d be welcoming New York’s Mayor to the grand opening of Reliqueree’s first retail store, I’d have said you were dreaming.”
I paused a second to allow everyone to chuckle politely at this standard banality, then continued.
“As you all know, Reliqueree is built around a singular passion, a new vision of remembrance, connectivity, and interactivity with those who have departed and moved on to the post life. Some in the media and blogosphere have criticized our vision, but today the market is speaking with a different voice. Why? We believe the answer is found in a question every one of us has asked, first as small children to our parents, later to the universe at large as adults. This query is ‘When we depart this world, is that all there is? Will we one day be forgotten and vanish forever into time?’
“Prior to Reliqueree, millions have found the answers provided by current systems and processes dispiriting and unsatisfactory. There is a tremendous desire for new technologies and better answers. Reliqueree’s success is proof we are satisfying that desire and providing those better answers.”
Out of the corner of my eye, I glimpsed Boris, our chief programmer, at the rear of the room. Ignacio was standing next to him, using his phone to stream live video out to his social network. Boris had a faint smile on his face and looked more relaxed than I’d seen him in weeks. Angie and Sheridan were seated in the front row to my left, with other Reliqueree employees scattered around the store and in the audience. I looked for Boris again, but he’d moved and I’d lost him. For a second, I contemplated asking him to step up to the microphone or at least give him a call out, but decided against it. We were on a tight schedule. I glanced back down at the iPad and resumed.
“The uLivv has been described by some as an extended monument to Steve Jobs, but that’s a cramped and narrow view. Our goal is to honor one of history’s great entrepreneurial spirits and open up new channels of communication and companionship with anyone who has touched your life. We were fortunate to be able to take advantage of a unique opportunity to bring Steve directly back into the lives and hearts of millions of people worldwide. Doing this has been an immense privilege.
“But this is only the beginning. Today, I’m happy to report that over 100 thousand subscribers have signed up for our new TransLivvient ‘Into the Blue’ service. These sales reflect our passion and commitment, the same type of passion and commitment that inspired Steve Jobs to build iPods, iPhones, and tablets thousands of people were willing to line up for days in advance to purchase at full retail regardless of cold, snow, and rain. The same type of passion enabling me to tell you that since the uLivv first went on sale only three month ago, the Reliqueree Team has sold over eight million units.”
I paused to allow the crowd to react to the applause line, and looked up. Boris was now standing directly in front of me, smiling broadly. He reached into his jacket, pulled out a small pistol, pointed it at me and fired. There was a loud bang and I felt the bullet plow into my left shoulder with a wet splatting sound. Stunned, I took a couple of steps back. Several women screamed. Simultaneously, every member of the press stampeded towards the door or dived for the cover of the counters. Ignacio disappeared under the tide heading for the exit. Angie tried to run towards me, but tripped over Sheridan, who was scrambling madly over the back of her chair in an attempt to escape the mayhem.
Bois pulled the trigger again but the gun misfired. I stared at him in disbelief.
“Boris,” I said. My voice was a croak. “What are you doing? You’re ruining the grand opening. I thought you believed in Reliqueree.”
“I do believe in it,” he said. “That is why I am doing this. You are demons. Steve Jobs has ordered me to kill you all.” He aimed at me again, but before he could pull the trigger, Michael, trapped in place by the press horde struggling to escape, grabbed one of the faux marble busts of Steve Jobs we’d placed around the store and launched it at Boris.
Michael’s aim was true, but as the statue caromed off my attacker’s hairy head, I realized I’d fallen short of the master. Jobs had always incorporated first-class materials into his products and business operations. Who could forget his heroic insistence on using magnesium for the case of the first NeXT when anyone else would have settled for steel? The MacBook’s solid aluminum chassis? The stunning glass walls of the Apple stores?
Several pounds of highly-polished crystallized ancient sea bed impacting against Boris’ skull would have knocked him out, but when buying the busts, I’d opted for the terra cotta model over Gruezén’s vehement opposition, and the best a cheap ceramic could do was stun him for a moment. (In my defense, the busts had looked exactly like marble and we were over budget and running out of time.) He wobbled in place and turned towards Angie, who had struggled to a sitting position and was looking up at him in shocked disbelief, her arms wrapped protectively (well, not around — her wingspan couldn’t encompass the circumference, but the tips of the fingers of each hand definitely touched) in front of her stomach.
I’d read some time ago that when someone you love is threatened, time freezes and you see past, present, and future with perfect clarity. This is true. As Boris raised his gun at Angie, the past and present flashed bright neon signs in my forebrain. They weren’t terribly relevant to the situation, so I skipped past them to the future.
It was disorienting. I seemed to be writhing slowly on a white expanse stretching out around me to the horizon. The lower part of my body felt as if it was on fire, while my head was cool, though I kept gasping for air. As I considered my predicament, the scowling face of Uncle Tony Song loomed above me. Reaching down with a pair of chopsticks, he tore a chunk of fried flesh from my lower body and ate it in front me with evident relish. I realized what was happening. Somehow, Uncle Tony, via Chinese black magic, had transformed me into a ying yang yu, a dish consisting of a fish whose bottom half is fried alive for consumption while the head lives on for as long as half an hour. I was receiving a strong spiritual warning my and Angie’s continued survival were interlinked.
And besides, the petite Chinese snow globe about to be assassinated was carrying my son. That counted for something.
I threw myself on my knees in front of Angie. Boris pulled the trigger. I felt a huge hammer hit my chest, and then I didn’t feel anything at all.
The rebirth was abortive.
“I’m late,” was the first thing Angie said when I walked through the door of our apartment. “I kept trying to contact you. Why didn’t you answer your phone? Or at least message me back?”
“I had the ringer and notifications off and didn’t check my phone. And what do you mean you’re ‘late?’ We don’t have anything on our calendar.”
“I thought you said you didn’t check your phone,” she said.
“I checked it in the morning. Early. What are we late for?”
“Not you. Me.” She pointed to her stomach.
Oh. Oh. Uh, oh. She was “late.”
“Do you mean…”
“Five weeks.” There was a long, significant pause. “Daddy.”
I felt the blood begin to drain from my head and my cheeks whiten. Of all the times for her to pull a stunt like this.
“Aren’t you happy?” she said.
Under these circumstances, this is the most dangerous question a man can be asked. An answer other than “Yes” courts homicide.
“Of course I’m happy, tim sam, but I’m a bit surprised.” (Tim sam means “darling” in Cantonese. If you date a girl from Shenzen, you must learn this word.) “Aren’t we on birth control? How did this happen?”
“We are not on birth control. You don’t like to use condoms. I’m the one who’s been on the pill. It makes me feel fat. As for how it happened, I can buy you a picture book if you need. Well?”
“Well, then, I’m not sure how you became pregnant.”
“The pill failed. Well?”
Right. The birth control “failed.” The pill doesn’t “fail.” What had failed was Angie’s patience. A wave of indignation swept over me. What an underhanded thing to do to a man.
“Well, I’m happy, but the timing is bad. brightstart shut down theTogetherHood today. As of this moment, we’re out of business.”
“What?? What happened?”
I narrated the day’s events. When I was finished, I told her, “But the news isn’t all bad.”
“What’s not bad about any of this? This is your third failure, I’m pregnant, and the baby and I need money. I have to eat properly if our son is going to have a proper start in life.”
“Why do you say it’s a boy? Isn’t it too early to know?”
“It’s a boy,” she said. Angie was mainland Chinese. After several years in the U.S., she was fairly Americanized and had grown up learning English as a second language from U.K. tutors hired in Hong Kong. She spoke as well as I did, and I thought the light British accent and occasional mix-up of American and English idioms cute. But she wasn’t that acculturated. In China, it’s still a boy’s world. Yes, the powers that be have relaxed the one child regime (the program had led to a serious shortage of brides for China’s Brave Young Men to marry), but no one trusted the government on this one. And god-forbid you had two daughters. The cost of buying a shot at that son was too high to bear thinking about.
I went on. “Here’s what’s not so bad. Ignacio can restore the site in a few days. Other than the one unhappy beta, feedback on the system is positive. If you can talk to your uncle and the right contacts in Shenzen and tell them about the opportunity, I bet they’ll be willing to help us out with an investment. And Ignacio and I both think the Chinese market will be open to the value proposition of theTogeth…”
“No,” she said.
“It would be nice if you’d let me finish my sentence. And what do you mean ‘no?’ You’re pregnant, must eat to grow a better male, and we need money. Our son needs the money. And we’re so close to turning theTogetherHood into a major success. I’ve been through the numbers with Ignacio.”
“I mean ‘No.’ You need to find a job.” She put her hand on her stomach. “We need money.”
“And I’m trying to make it. We’re so close that…”
“No. theTogetherHood is dead. How are you going to explain to your betas why you dropped offline so suddenly? And why brightstart withdrew funding? Within a few days, the entire Valley will know you were tossed out. You’re lepers. I’ve met Seth. He has a big mouth and I’ll bet he’s already added theTogtherHood to one of those ‘Lessons I’ve Learned’ slides he’s always bringing to Meetup groups.”
“He said brightstart wanted to keep this quiet.”
“It won’t matter what anyone thinks about brightstart. You need to find a job.”
“I have a job. I’m the CEO of GateIconic.”
“You’re an ex-CEO. Go find a job as a product manager. I can help you there. My uncle says a Chinese company is opening an office in South San Francisco. A new line of battery accessories for the iPhone and Android. A Shenzen company is the prime contractor.”
I groaned. “Those accessory companies don’t have real product managers. What they do is hire a few Americans to go to tradeshows as demo dollies and try to close sales.”
“Isn’t that what you did?”
“I inspired a product team. In Chinese firms, American management is a front for tax purposes. The company stuffs the back office with their mainland friends and relatives who want to work in or live in America.”
“My uncle said the CEO is an American.”
“They always hire an American to be the ‘CEO.’ The CFO is Chinese, right?”
“Good to know who the CEO really is. I’m not interested.”
“Then you need to find a job on your own. When are we getting married?”
“Angie, how can I discuss marriage when I’ve just lost my company and you won’t help me?”
“I can discuss it because I invested in all three of your startups, have no expectations of seeing any return, am pregnant with your son, and am not turning 30 with a child and no husband. I’m sorry about what happened with tTH, but we’ve been discussing our marriage forever. You’ll find a job, we’ll marry, I won’t lose face in front of my family, and we’ll climb back on our feet financially. And I still have my job with the bank. After the baby is born, let’s move to Shenzen. Uncle Tony will hire you. Your Cantonese isn’t any good, but you can learn. Then Mandarin. When are we getting married?”
Right. Move to China. We’ve all heard the statement, marry the girl, marry the family, but the Chinese mean it. Angie’s parents were dead, but she had a brother and plenty of leftover cousins, aunt, uncles, and at least two grandparents extant, a substantial number of whom would inevitably be moving in with us. I was not moving to China. That’s the equivalent of an American mallard visiting Chinatown’s Hakksan restaurant to announce it’s there for the Peking Duck.
Hi. What’s up?” I said.
“I wanted to let you know. Someone from one of our investors is probably going to be contacting you. They kicked in for the demo rounds. Gennady was the one we dealt with directly. A VC firm called ‘Sunrise.’ With a ‘z.’”
“Yes, I met with a gentleman named Illarion today. He runs Sunrize and several other things.”
“That was fast. And?”
“And I think that if he’d thought we’d ripped him off, I’d currently be swimming with the Hudson River sturgeons.”
“Sturgeons? I thought they only lived in Russia.”
“The Hudson River sturgeons beg to differ.”
“Oh. Are they still interested in investing?”
“Doesn’t look like it. At the moment, we’re as popular as a Microsoft Surface in Cupertino.”
“Oh. Too bad.”
“Yes,” I said. “Anything else?”
“As a matter of fact, there is. I received a strange email this afternoon and wanted to discuss it with you.”
“What was it?”
“Ah…hmmm. I need to set the stage. I received an email at the contact address on Deadland.com yesterday from ‘L’ telling me he had a business proposition for me.
“L. I have no idea if it’s a man or a woman, though 90 percent of my site traffic is male.”
“Somehow, I guessed.”
“Yeah. Anyway, I receive that sort of stuff almost daily, but L has spent serious time on the site. For instance, he’s read the Dead Snow 2 review carefully and spotted several inaccuracies in the zombies’ Nazi uniforms. For instance, in one scene the zombie Nazi SS officer’s hat has the Death’s Head emblem looking to the left, but it actually always looked right. I hadn’t even noticed. It’s the attention to detail separating the poseurs from the true fans.”
“How true. It might be a good idea if for Deadsnow 3, the producers use one of those WWII reenactment groups as a reference source to ensure the historical accuracy of zombie Nazi uniforms.”
“That is an idea. In any event, I emailed him back suggesting he text me and we began to discuss his proposal.
“Ignacio, this sounds like an elaborate spamming campaign or a scam.”
“Could be. But hold on. The story gets better. So we begin to text back and forth. L asks me if I’m the guy who actually runs the site. I tell him I am. We discuss the site. L then asks me questions about my background and I realize I’m being vetted. I apparently pass.
“Were you able to track his location?”
“No. He was using one of those send and vanish services. In any event, while we’re talking, he asks me if I’m interested in ‘rare collectibles’ of a ‘physical’ nature. I tell him it depends on the collectible. Then L asks if the collectible was a one-of-a-kind object and had played an important role in the history of high tech, would I be more interested. I tell L yes, but if he’s referring to an Apple I, Altair, or similar item, I can’t afford it and couldn’t properly store it in any event. L says the collectible is much, much rarer and can be easily stored for long periods of time at minimal cost. So I ask L what the collectible is.”
Ignacio paused and the line was silent for several seconds.
“OK,” I said. “You’ve set the hook and I’ll bite. What is the collectible?”
“Steve Jobs’ liver.”
“Steve Jobs’ liver.”
“I’m sorry. Steve Jobs is dead. He’s been dead since 2011. If his grave had been desecrated, it would make national news. Anyone associated with grave-robbing would be facing serious jail time. And after several years underground, I don’t think there’s much left of Steve Jobs to recover. Not that I have the slightest interest in doing this.”
“I’m not talking about the 2.0 version of his liver. I’m talking the 1.0 version. The original.”
“Oh.” I remembered. In 2009, Jobs had undergone a liver transplant because the cancer that eventually killed him had spread to the organ.
“So what do you think?” he said.
“I don’t know. How could this person have gotten hold of Steve Jobs’ liver? Doesn’t Steve Jobs still own his liver?”
“Steve Jobs is dead. I don’t think he can own anything.”
“What about his family?”
“I’m not sure. Have you ever heard of anyone taking home their diseased liver? Or a failed kidney? A ruptured spleen? People sometimes take home their relative’s ashes, but that’s not the same thing.”
“No, it’s not.” I thought for a moment. A puzzle was assembling itself in my head, but I didn’t quite know how the pieces fit or what it would look like when completed. But a small voice whispered to me the puzzle might be worth finishing.
“Nate?” Ignacio’s voice broke my train of thought. “What do you think? Is this strange or what? Do you think there’s anything here worth pursuing, or should I just tell this ghoul to get lost?”
“I’m not sure. Let me ask you. Did L mention a price? Describe how he intended to…uh…deliver the liver?”
“We didn’t go that far. I told L I needed to consult with a colleague on the matter and would follow up.”
“Uh, huh. What do you think?” I said.
“I don’t know. I mean, we are discussing Steve Jobs’ liver. He’s on every top 100 influential-people-of all-time list I’ve seen recently. The guy’s a Valley saint. I know people who still won’t sell their iPods and become choked up every time they’re applying scratch polish. It has to have some value.”
“You would imagine,” I said. “Another thing. How do we know this is the real thing? That L isn’t a cannibal? Or he didn’t buy a liver on E-bay from someone in Bangladesh or New Jersey?”
“I don’t think they let you sell human organs on E-bay.”
“What about Amazon?”
“Not sure. I’ve heard the buyers there will sell their mothers to get best price. Don’t think it’s the same thing. The moms are still alive. Probably.”
That afternoon, I called Illarion and arranged to meet with him at his offices.
“I want to verify the item,” he said.
“No problem. When do you want me there?”
“Be at the office at 10 am. Someone will be there to handle things. I will see you at 11.”
During the trip down, messages began arriving from Angie. I ignored them. This was the wrong time to argue about domestic living arrangements.
When I arrived at Illarion’s, I was led to the conference room. Waiting inside was an unsmiling gentleman who looked to be in his 40’s. He opened the liver’s container, carefully removed and inspected it, then took out a biopsy needle and plunged it into the organ at three separate locations.
“Hey,” I said. “That’s original stock. It’s valuable.”
The man ignored me and walked out of the room. While I waited, I took out my iPad and resumed work on the project management framework I’d created after our first meeting.
At 11 am, Illarion walked into the conference room.
“Congratulations. You have Steve Jobs’ liver.”
“I wasn’t going to show up with something from Gristedes or the meat counter at Zabars.”
He shrugged. “Due diligence. You understand.”
“I do. Can we review the business plan?”
“Please go ahead.”
“I’ve updated the spreadsheets and created a project management timeline. Notice our scheduled launch is October 15th. This will be a ‘preview’ edition of the unit designed to generate excitement and drive holiday sales and backorders. This is highly aggressive, but it can be done if everyone executes.
“Initially, we’re going to distribute direct to the public. This is a new product and concept. I’m not going to waste time chasing Best Buy, Walmart, Staples and the rest. There’s no reason. A few of them, particularly Best Buy, will take a presentation and a demo, but nothing goes on a pallet until they see sales and proven demand generation. I’ve projected an initial run of 30 thousand units with the COG still at $50 per unit.”
“Thirty thousand seems high,” he said. “An initial investment of close to $2 million. Why not be more conservative and start with twenty thousand?”
“Several reasons. One is every 10 thousand units built pushes the COG lower. The second is selling out a run of 30 thousand is more impressive than twenty and will generate more market momentum. And the more people who own a uLivv, the more word of mouth and buzz we’ll build for phase two of the launch.
“And phase two is?”
“Build on our momentum and make sure everyone knows about our growing mountain of backorders. We’ll use our early cash flow to develop targeted web-based advertising, generate PR, obtain product reviews, engage with key influencers, and start to build out our services infrastructure. At that point we may want to talk to selected retailers about carrying the product line.”
“What is your unit forecast for phase two?”
“I’m pegging it at 250 thousand. We need to be in a position to take advantage of the holiday season.”
“Very aggressive. You’ll need another, say, $15 million to build the necessary inventory.”
“I’ll be honest. I think the 250 number is conservative. If we can reach one million in orders, assuming a ridiculously low 2.5-to-1 stock evaluation against sales, we’ll have a seat-of-the-pants market cap of $1 billion. That’s what the industry wants to see nowadays and the news will drive more interest and revenue.”
“I assume you will have enough DNA to cover anticipated demand?”
“A conservative estimate is we’ll have between 200 to 300 million units available,” I said. “Enough to fulfill orders for years to come.
But remember. We’re using Steve Jobs’ liver as a branding exercise to establish our core values and product differentiation. For Reliqueree to grow and reach its full potential, we need to reach beyond Jobs’ acolytes and admirers. We have to communicate to the world how we’re reshaping the post-life experience and interaction with the departed. The first generation uLivv is the vanguard of a new paradigm.”
The room was quiet as Illarion contemplated the numbers and the schedule. He reached out and pulled the liver’s container in front of him. “Do you mind if I look?”
“Be my guest. Not too long, though. If the liver defrosts, the DNA will begin to degrade.”
“I understand.” He lifted off the cover. For a second, his face was obscured by the cloud of vapor rising off the organ. He reached out gingerly with an expensive-looking pen to lift the plastic wrap protecting the liver, looked at it a long moment, then replaced the lid.
“It is not much to see, is it.”
“When I look at it, I don’t see the organ,” I said. “I see the beauty of Steve Jobs’ DNA and how it enabled him to achieve so many extraordinary things. And that molecule’s work isn’t done yet. Being dead doesn’t have to mean not being productive. When we launch, the world will realize Steve Jobs is not finished changing the world.”
The next day, Ignacio invited me to attend the debut of “Section Five.” I followed them into the conference room, where the projection system was displaying a black background with the title “Persona Project” in the middle of the screen.
“Have you ever heard of ‘Tamagotchis?’” Ignacio said.
“Um.” I rummaged back through my childhood memories and grabbed a short entry from my life’s database. “Yes. Vaguely. They were a kind of Japanese digital ‘pet’ that was popular with many of my friend’s younger sisters when I was in college. You had to buy a cheap plastic gizmo and periodically push buttons to keep the thing inside ‘alive.’ I never paid much attention to them. The fad died out years ago.”
“Not in Japan,” Ignacio said. “They’re still making them. My sister owned one, and I can tell you for a couple of years the thing dominated her and her friend’s lives. ‘Was the Tamagotchi fed?’ ‘Was its litter box clean?’ ‘Did I tuck it in properly last night?’ Etc. When we were developing the content list for the uLivv, I slipped in the idea based on my sister and her experience with those toys.”
“OK. I’ve played a few rounds on ‘The Sims.’ So what?”
“The ‘what’ is no one’s attempted to create a virtual human based on an existing genome. Did you read a while ago about a new facial recognition system that renders mugshots using your DNA? And another that predicts your personality type?”
“Yes. But I don’t see…”
“Extend the technology out to more of the genome. Particularly the brain. It was actually Boris’ idea. When he saw my note about creating a Tamagotchi Steve, he asked me what I meant and we began to brainstorm.”
I stared at Ignacio. It clicked. “You’re going to use Steve Jobs’ DNA to grow his brain online?”
“In a sense, but you start on the uLivv,” he said. “Boris has built a library of predictive algorithms simulating how DNA builds a human brain. Science is still learning about the process, but as more information is released we can slipstream it into our code. But Boris does a fairly good job already.”
“How does it work?”
“You start the process by using the app to create what we call a ‘persona’ to ‘grow.’ It develops differently every time, so you’re never quite sure what you’re going to get. You can execute the process as many times as you want and keep only the persona you think is the most promising. Then, you teach it new things. It has full access to Steveopedia, the quotes database, and all the other uLivv information, so it already ‘knows’ a great deal about Jobs.”
I looked at Boris, “You never told us you were interested in AI.”
“I was lonely as a boy. One day, I tell myself ‘Boris, if you do not have a friend, you should make one.’ I tried many things and studied the brain and genes, but the computers were not good and Uncle Illarion was not so rich back then. When I was older, I studied AI at Moscow University but there is not much money in it unless you work for the government. At the university, the military recruited me to do work on making weapons ‘smart.’ I do not want a nuclear missile for a friend. The government is shit. I say to them if they do not leave me alone, I would make a missile that would track down Putin and blow him up. After this, they did not recruit me anymore and I had to leave MU.”
“Russia’s loss is Reliqueree’s gain. How do you train the brain?”
“Persona,” Ignacio said. “We’re avoiding using the word ‘brain.’ Too many unfortunate associations in popular culture. ‘Brain in a jar,’ that sort of thing. To answer your question, you can train the persona by running it through a series of pre-canned scenarios we provide or create your own. We think creating scenarios is going to be a major activity on TransLivvient.
“We’ve added a simple, self-extending rules database and AI language framework we’re calling PALS to enable true AI geeks to customize and extend their personas. It’s a modified version of Prolog. We’re also adding a recursive neural net plug-in, but it needs more memory than we can pack into the Ulivv. You’ll need online access to do much with it. But, the real standout feature is you can interact with a persona directly.”
“What does PALS stand for?”
“Persona Application Language System,” he said. “It’s time you met our first Steve persona.” He tapped the uLivv and a floating, almost photo-realistic 3D head of Steve Jobs circa the mid-2000’s appeared on the screen. I leaned forward to take a closer look and the persona’s eyes widened and the head recoiled noticeably.
“He can see me?” I said
“Yes. We have a small camera mounted onto the projection screen streaming images to the program and a two-way sound system.”