[Story Sells] Why Steve Jobs shelled out $100,000 to a freelancer for 14 days of work

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After Steve Jobs got canned from Apple in the late 1980s, he was licking his wounds, deciding what to sink his fortune in.

After buying a small computer division from Lucasfilm (called Pixar), Jobs focuses on his real business: He would build a new computer company called NeXT.

Eventually, he produced a groundbreaking but expensive computer. It never caught on, though academics loved it. (Legend has it that Tim Berners Lee used a NeXT machine to help create the World Wide Web.)

But the business wasn’t a complete bust – eventually NeXT was bought by Apple, bringing Steve Jobs back into the orchard where he would later bear some very profitable fruit: iPod, iPhone, iTcetera.

But before that could happen, the man faced a problem with NeXT.

How to get instant name brand recognition to launch the company as fast as possible? He decided he needed a logo with instant status of an icon. So he hired a freelancer.

A fella named Paul Rand, who had been inking logos for over fifty years.

Now, if you know anything about Steve Jobs, you know he could be a tyrant with impossible expectations. It was his way or the highway.

But when Jobs began listing his demands for the design to Paul Rand, asking for more than one design option, Paul Rand cut him off abruptly. He said “NO.”

“I will solve your problem for you and you will pay me. You don’t have to use the solution. If you want options go talk to other people.”

He out-Jobsed Steve Jobs.

Steve Jobs blinked, and said OK. He agreed to pay the $100,000 for a design he hadn’t seen, for a computer that hadn’t even been produced.

Paul Rand delivered it in two weeks. (Drool over your calculator figuring the hourly wage on that fee.)

Why am I telling you this story?

Well, for one thing, this story became part of the legend of Paul Rand. (You can see Steve Jobs tell the story here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xb8idEf-Iak).

Although Rand already had a sterling pedigree as a designer, this story illustrated how he worked and what you could expect. Perhaps it helped him avoid fielding calls from the wrong kind of client.

It’s a good example of a Disqualification Story.

Some stories invite you in. They’re inclusive, striking a chord of cosmic harmony. Kumbaya-tastic.

But others shut you out. Tell you that you don’t belong.

Might seem harsh, but it can be better for everyone to know there’s no fit at the beginning of a project, rather than midway when a divorce will really hurt.

So you may want to tell a Disqualification Story like this the next time a client hassles you about price or how to do your job. Either tell it to yourself OR directly to the client, depending on the size of the stick you carry (i.e. how competent you are).

Ben Settle wallows in this attitude with his “antipreneur” positioning in his Email Players pitches. He practically dares you to join … just so he can tell you “no thanks.”

And Dan Kennedy seems to think this kind of approach works to help him bill seven figures per year for his copywriting services.


Especially when you’re facing price objection, consider telling a Disqualification Story to weed out the wrong kind of clients.

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Scott McKinstry
Scott McKinstry
Scott McKinstry is a direct response copywriter who specializes in telling stories. You can contact Scott and learn more about using the power of stories in marketing at marketingwithstory.com.
Showing 6 comments
  • Reply

    I’m upping my price and trying this out.

  • Leonard

    Yes Kevin, I do agree. The copywriter is CHIEF. This attitude and approach,[Disqualification Story], moves the copywriter beyond rejection.

  • Reply

    When we moved our Portable DJ business to Idaho from the Seattle area we learned that local DJs were only charging $200 for a 4-hour gig. (Obviously, quite a few years ago!) In Seattle we regularly charged $500 for the same show, and no-one objected. I considered lowering our price–for about 30 seconds. Realizing that I only needed one show to result in the same or more profit that they were getting from four shows, and that left us with an additional three days to either play or book other shows, we held out price and increased our advertising. Before long we were booking as many days as we were willing to work, and we were choosing our clients carefully based on their personalities.

    Soon we figured out to only accept 6-hours gigs or longer. Same preliminary effort, same travel time, same set-up and break-down time, but 33% more money.

    Of course, we had to provide the highest quality shows to justify it all. Before long we had enough referral business that we only advertised through our web site.

    We suggested that some friends of ours who also provided a high-quality show do the same thing. They freaked at the thought, focusing on the fear that they wouldn’t fill all their available dates. When I did the math for him and pointed out that he could spend more time with his children and still earn more money, he finally tried it. Before long they were charging much more than we were, and were booking more dates than they ever had. Their clients were more satisfied with them because they expected greater value for the higher cost, and believed that they got it.

    I was taught many years ago that money is the grease that lubricates the wheels of business. No grease, and the wheels won’t turn. The value to profit ratio is what makes and breaks businesses. Too much value without enough profit will bury you. Value is not priced on a linear scale–it is priced on a logarithmic scale.

    • Reply

      Great insights Bruce, and thanks as always for sharing your stories. “Value is not priced on a linear scale — it is priced on a logarithmic scale.” A lot of wisdom packed in that thought.

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