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From Steve Jobs’s Soulmate To Founder Of Fotopedia: Jean-Marie Hullot (Part 1)

Posted on Sunday, Aug 15th 2010

Jean-Marie Hullot was the CTO of NeXT and a close associate of Steve Jobs. He is also the the founder of Fotopedia, a photo encyclopedia that lets photographers and enthusiasts collaborate on, curate, and share high-quality photography over the Internet. TechCrunch has given the social photo site and its iPhone and iPad apps a rave review. Robert Scoble has also provided an enthusiastic endorsement on Scobleizer. Fotopedia Heritage, a collection of photographs and information about UNESCO World Heritage sites, was released to the Apple App Store on August 10 and is a top New and Noteworthy app. Detailed information can be found at In this interview, Jean-Marie shared stories of his close encounters with death, Jobs, and entrepreneurship.

SM: Jean-Marie, let’s go back to where your story begins. Where are you from?

JH: I was born in Paris, France, but I grew up in western France. I did all of my studies through high school in the west of France before moving to Paris. I did my preparation work for two years, took exams, and then studied mathematics for my primary university education. Afterward I went to the University of Paris at Orsay [a suburb of Paris], where I earned a PhD in computer science. During that time I also did a lot of traveling.

SM: Where did you travel?

JH: I traveled throughout Asia, Southeast Asia, and Nepal. That was a strong foundation in my life. I love discovering new cultures.

SM: Did you travel only in Asia, or did you go to other parts of the world?

JH: I have gone to other places. In fact, my very first trip alone was to South America. I was not even eighteen at the time.

SM: Where did you go in South America?

JH: I started in Peru and was planning on doing a lot more. However, Peru was unstable politically, so after I visited Machu Picchu I decided to go to Bolivia. I was at Lake Titicaca [on the border of Bolivia and Peru] waiting for a boat when some local older schoolchildren arrived. There were several gringos waiting for the boat, and the children started taunting us and throwing stones.

I was hit by a large stone on the left side of my head. I collapsed and lost consciousness, and when I woke up I realized that my right hand was not working properly. The other tourists who were waiting had helped me to regain consciousness. One of them was a doctor, and it was he who told me that I was hit on the left side of my head. He considered it a bad sign that I had problems with my right hand.

They tried to take me to the hospital, but I did not want to go. At some point I started having difficulty speaking, so I finally agreed to go to the hospital. The hospital was a catastrophe. They just put me in a bed where I was surrounded by sick people. The entire place was extremely dirty. I remember that when the German doctor [who was working there] left, he told his staff that I had a good chance of dying during the night.

That night my head started to hurt quite a lot. I tried to get some help, but it was very hard because there was no buzzer or ringer. Even when they finally heard me they had a hard time understanding me. They gave me some morphine, which I thought was an interesting solution since they knew I might die during the night. Fortunately, the next morning I was still alive.

The tourists who had helped me made a point to continue coming back to check on me. The upper half of my arm was paralyzed, and it took three days before the hospital did an X- ray. At that point I decided I did not want to stay there any longer, and I asked one of my visitors to help me escape from the hospital. I just ran out. The main difficulty is that during the three days I was there I was unable to talk because my jaw would not move.

SM: Were you well enough to leave the hospital?

JH: I had lots of energy, and I knew nothing positive would happen there. I wanted to go back to France where I could get proper care. When I got to the airport, I found that all the planes were full and I was not able to get priority status to get on any flight. I went back to Lima by truck, which took a week. My entire right arm was limp, and I was out of cash. Once I arrived in Lima I went to the French embassy, and they told me they could not really help me. The only thing they could do was go with me to the bank to assert my identity since I was unable to sign anything that allowed me to get money.

I had insurance, so I called the insurance company. The first question they asked me was, “When did this happen?” When I told them it was ten days ago, they told me that I had only five days to notify them and that they could not assist me. I did not want to tell my parents because I did not want them to be scared, so I waited in Lima until I could get a guaranteed flight to Paris. Things started getting better, and I was able to start speaking again by the time I got back to France. When I landed, my parents were on vacation, so I went to my girlfriend’s place and met her father in the street. He went to shake my hand and I had to tell him that my arm was paralyzed, and he got very scared. Her parents convinced me to go to the hospital.

The next day I went to the hospital. They were not sure what to do with me because it was the weekend. They told me to stay a couple of days until the specialists arrived on Monday. I did not want to stay, so they gave me some sleeping medicine which prevented me from leaving. On Monday, they started to do some tests and told me my condition was likely to be very serious. I ended up having surgery to remove a hematoma [a collection of blood outside a blood vessel] about 2.5 centimeters in size from the left side of my head.

After the surgery, everything seemed to be working again. I was able to leave the hospital early. I had told my girlfriend to send my mother a letter saying that I was back in France, that everything was OK, but that I had had a small accident on my moto and was unable to write. My mother did not believe it at all and called my girlfriend’s house on Tuesday morning, but my girlfriend was at the hospital where I was being operated on. My girlfriend’s mother told my mother what had really happened.

The next trip I decided to go to Asia. Asia was so pleasant that I went there a lot. I have gone other places as well, including Central America, but I have not gone back to South America. Asia is the place where I feel well and safe.

This segment is part 1 in the series : From Steve Jobs's Soulmate To Founder Of Fotopedia: Jean-Marie Hullot
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