writes: Selling Steve Jobs’ Liver: A Story of Startups, Innovation, and Connectivity in the Clouds is a wickedly funny and
satirical look at the high-tech industry and the cult of the entrepreneur. Just released, I’ve never read anything like it and once you pick the book up and start reading, you’ll find it hard to put down. I devoured it in one go.
Author Merrill Chapman is no stranger to the Slashdot
community. Both editions of his cult classic, In
Search of Stupidity: Over 20 Years of High-Tech Marketing Disasters ,
were reviewed on Slashdot. Liver
is very much written in Stupidity’s subversive tone, sending up Steve Jobs, Steve
Wozniak, startups, Y Combinator, China, CES, the Catholic Church, Apple, DEMO,
hedge funds, packaging, Silicon Valley, zombies, the IoT, PowerPoint, and
probably a dozen other topics I’ve omitted.
Let’s sweep any metaphor questions out of the way. Selling
Steve Jobs Liver is indeed a contemporary tale of two
Silicon Valley wantrepreneurs, Nate Pennington and Ignacio Loehman, who are
contacted by a modern day ghoul and purchase the late Apple CEO’s original
liver, removed from his body during his 2009 transplant operation (the book
refers to it as the “1.0 version”).
Using the organ to create a “compelling
value proposition,” the pair launch Reliqueree, a cloud startup whose mission
is to “reposition” the market’s current perception of death and dying.
The new company’s first product is the uLivv, a device that
upon launch contains a sample of Jobs’ DNA extracted from his liver, a complete
map of his genome (Jobs was one of the first people in the world to have his
genome completely sequenced as part of his cancer treatment), and an
interactive Steve Jobs persona, an “iBrain” built on top of his genome that can
be trained to advise and guide business dreamers on how to be just like Steve.
Also part of the package is an extensive bundle of Jobs-based services such as Codex
Steve, “(A day-by-day compilation of the life of Steve Jobs), The
Steve Jobs Diet Cookbook, (The ultimate cookbook for people who don’t
like to cook), and even exciting games such as Interview with Steve Jobs:
“Enjoy this brain twisting, mind-blowing game of knowledge
and problem solving. Visit Steve in his office for a job interview and find out if you have what it takes to join Apple’s ‘A’ Team. Will he find you an
“insanely excellent” hire or write you off as Team Bozo? Or even worse, subject you to a “Smelly Feet” dismissal?”
Of course, any self-respecting device requires a platform
and development environment and the uLivv has both, the IoDT (Internet of
Departed Things) and TransLivvient, respectively.
Liver is told in the first person
through the eyes of Nate Pennington, who is clearly an alternate universe
version of Steve Jobs. Nate is a cheerful monster, burning with the desire to
disrupt markets, change the world, fail upwards, and drive Reliqueree to a
successful monetization event. Almost completely amoral, he’s a high-tech cross
between Candide and Sammy Glick. Oddly enough, he often does the right thing, though
invariably for the wrong reason, and moves through his entrepreneurial existence
guided by a cloud of auto-generated aphorisms such as “Strong startup CEO
leadership is marked by the ability to blend effective micromanagement with
selective amnesia.” Like many other entrepreneurs, Nate hasn’t drunk the
Kool-Aid--he is the Kool-Aid.
When we first meet him and Ignacio, they’ve just hit
entrepreneurial rock bottom, having guided three startups from inception to
gruesome failure. Their last company, which drains them of their cash,
optimism, and membership in San Francisco’s most prestigious high-tech
incubator, is theTogetherhood. Pitched to the local VC community as a risk
management system enabling towns and villages to protect themselves against
financial downturns and liabilities, the product is actually an online hedge
system that manages dead pools where the citizenry can “invest” in such things
as local pet and citizenry mortality rates, or, in the words of the appalled
incubator director, “monetize municipal evil.”
Making things worse is Nate’s discovery that his Chinese girl
friend, Angie, is pregnant and determined that Nate make an honest woman of her,
a turn of events which pleases him not all (and reminds us of a famous
Cupertino entrepreneur who once upon a time was in a similar position).
Despondent, Nate returns home to New York City (where most of the novel’s
action takes place) to visit his intolerant, on-the-edge-of senility mother who
is sure of only one thing and that is her son should not be marrying a woman
whose proper place in life is either to process laundry or perhaps work the
takeout counter at the local Peking Garden. Nonetheless, the trip turns
out to be inspirational as a meeting with a mysterious Russian “investor,” a
visit to his father’s funeral urn, and a chance encounter with a long dead
Catholic saint all prime Nate to be ready to ideate a new business paradigm
when Steve Jobs’ liver appears for sale on the human spare-parts market.
Now, this is all completely off the wall, but Liver’s narrative is completely deadpan and the story moves at a crackling and
hilarious pace. Chapman’s technology background and accurate use of industry
sales and marketing buzzwords and jargon helps create the story’s increasingly
eerie atmosphere of reality. By the time you’ve finished the book,
you’ll be muttering to yourself that maybe there’s a real business model to be
found at heart of the tale. This feeling is only heightened when you begin to
contemplate that, as Liver points out, you have no legal rights to
your DNA or what’s done with it once it leaves the mothership, so to speak.
Selling Steve Jobs’ Liver sports
a rich cast of supporting characters including Boris, the company’s lonely and
lovelorn Russian master coder, May Lei, his one true soul mate, packaging and
design impresario Gruezén, who’s a very funny parody of Apple design god Jony
Ive, Mother Cabrini, the aforementioned Catholic saint who has an important,
though non-speaking role in the book, and yes, Steve Jobs himself, who returns
to the industry stage at a major show in persona form and promptly begins
taking control of the event, as you would expect.
Liver is perhaps at its funniest
when Chapman is taking dead aim at high-tech pretensions, rituals and
prejudices. Take as an example his description of the proper way to prepare for
DEMO, the industry conference where firms who are preparing to make a dent in
the universe launch their latest offerings in front of anticipatory audiences:
“While most attention is paid to the six-minute
show-and-tell, there are other lesser-known but still important preparations
you need to make to boost your chances of success. In no particular order they
If you’re over 30, moisturize, moisturize, moisturize.
DEMO likes its entrepreneurs to be dewy-eyed and under 30 if
at all possible. It’s still sort of OK to be over 30, but you can’t look like
you’re approaching 40! (See below.) Excess facial wrinkles, bags under the
eyes, and deep gray hair are all no-no’s. There’s a mini-trend for startup CEOs
to resort to plastic surgery, but in many cases this is overkill. First spend
time watching the cosmetics segments of the QVC channel for useful products
that can help. And remember there’s a reason God created Grecian Formula.
If you’re over 40, don’t come.”
I fully expect the characters in Silicon Valley to soon
appear on screen reading Liver. They and the book are a natural bundle.
Check out the authors website .
Selling Steve Jobs Liver can be purchased on B&N
Gary Skiba is currently a principal software engineer at RF Code and a partner at investment firm GrokFish. Previously, he has worked at such firms as Katerra, IBM, Ashton-Tate, and Inset Systems. He provided technical advice to the author of Selling Steve Jobs Liver on some of the books technical issues and in regards to the pyschological foibles and quirks of programmers.