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From Steve Jobs’s Soulmate To Founder Of Fotopedia: Jean-Marie Hullot (Part 4)

Posted on Wednesday, Aug 18th 2010

SM: From 1987 through the early 1990s, what were your thoughts about the future?

JH: At that time I did not really foresee anything. It was the very beginning of NeXT. We had to get an operating system and the interface out the door. We knew where we were going and we were aware what was going on around us, but we had to shape all of that confusion into something that made sense, which was difficult. It was also a lot of fun.

We did that for four years. We used a lot of imagination to envision future trends. In a way we saw the Internet as a potential even though it did not yet exist. That was good, because it was the next big thing. When the first prototype of NeXT came out, it was used to write what ultimately became the Internet. I understood what was going on, but I honestly did not understand all of the implications.

SM: There was something happening at NeXT at that time that was not happening anywhere else, which was a commitment to beauty.

JH: That was one of the things that drew me there. We had a commitment to beauty and work that was done well.

SM: At that time, Steve was the only person in the entire computer industry who cared about that. Now, a lot of people care about it. Would it be fair to say that is what brought you and Steve together?

JH: Clearly, we had a common interest. Steve and I understood each other. When you are working with Steve, you have to remember the end goal and remember that you are working with something he invented himself. The key to be successful is to go through a process in which you refine your ideas and innovations so that it can go through his mind and meet his goal. After he has had time to mentally digest your concepts, he will come back with his thoughts and refinements. It may be started in your mind, but it will be digested in the mind of someone else who had a bigger vision.

SM: The European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) used NeXT computers when Tim Berners-Lee proposed hypertext. You and Steve saw what was going on at the time but did not necessarily foresee the bigger implication of what was happening at CERN?

JH: Something interesting was happening, but we did not see all of the implications. The Internet became very important as soon as it appeared. We knew that. We had a database that was working, and one of our engineers had the idea to transform the interface to the database. His idea was essentially a Web front end to the database with our framework. It became a product.

It was not the best time, because in the beginning we started as a hardware company. The success of the NeXT computer was great when it came to people loving it, but it was too expensive and ahead of its time. We then became a software company and the major focus was the framework, not even the operating systems. It was still fun for me because I was grasping the Internet direction. The company itself was becoming less interesting. It essentially became an enterprise software company. Enterprise and beauty did not go together in my mind.

SM: What did you do?

JH: I continued doing my work, and Steve started getting more involved with Pixar. I ultimately decided to leave at a time that ended up being three months before NeXT was acquired by Apple.

SM: Where did you go?

JH: Nowhere. I went home and did some traveling through Thailand. We had adopted a child, so it was a perfect time to take a step back. The acquisition happened in December 1997. When I left, I had three months to exercise my options. It was not clear to me if they would have any value, so I forgot about them. One night in the middle of the night I got a telephone call, which is typical of Steve.

He told me that he had very good news and that he wanted me to hear it from him directly and not the press. He told me that the next day NeXT was going to be acquired by Apple and that my options would be worth a lot. It was a bit tricky because I was in France, but I was able to get everything taken care of in time.

This segment is part 4 in the series : From Steve Jobs's Soulmate To Founder Of Fotopedia: Jean-Marie Hullot
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