Steve Jobs Hides In Bushes To Spy On Customers

Steve Jobs Hides In Bushes To Spy On Customers

The bushes outside the Apple Store in the Stanford Shopping Center, Palo Alto, Calif. Steve Jobs hides in the bushes to spy on customers.

We all know that Steve Jobs is obsessed with crafting top-notch customer experiences. Of course, he’s famous for being dismissive of focus groups, but did you know he spies on customers at his local Apple Store?

Better than that, he hides in the bushes outside the store carefully watching what’s going inside, like some black-turtlenecked Jane Goodall.

According to Louis Corso, a former employee at the Apple Store Stanford:

“We would find him hiding behind the bushes or around the corner outside, peering inside to see what was going on. We would go, ‘There’s Steve! Everybody play cool.’ We thought he was evaluating us. It was nerve-wracking.”

But Steve wasn’t spying on the employees, he was carefully watching what the customers were up to. “He was directly observing how customers acted around his products and teasing out what they believed about his company. He was staying in touch, albeit from a slightly comic distance,” says the The ZURBlog, which reported Corso’s story.

The New York Times also noted that Jobs visits the store frequently to get a feel of what’s going on.

Here’s Steve in 2004 posing with a customer at the Stanford Apple Store:

Steve Jobs Hides In Bushes To Spy On Customers

Steve and Jesse's Dad. CC-licensed photo By dametenshi: http://www.flickr.com/photos/confidential/925007/

  • Les Surdykowski

    It might seem a bit odd for the guy to do this but that fact that he places such value on trying to understand the customer from the customer’s perspective (which lately has been referred to as user instead) rather then the corporate perspective is telling. It’s too bad he never started a band.

    Sto lat Steve!

  • Cincotta_e

    then he would understand that Apple needs to lower their prices.

  • tekunoloji

    That guy blinked. Picture ruined. Man, hope Jobs gets better soon. The man and Apple have changed the landscape of consumer technology over and over. He deserves some rest and peace of mind.

  • B066Y

    Although, I would love for Apple to sell their products at a lower price I disagree with you that Apple “needs” to lower their prices. This is a free market and as such companies charge what people are willing to pay. Apple has no issues selling products at the current price points, so why in the world would they lower their prices? I like Apple products and I can afford to buy them, so I do. I don’t upgrade every time they release a new version (I’m still using a Gen 1 iPod Touch) but I have quite a few Apple products in my home.

    So I hate to be rude, but Apple doesn’t need to lower their prices, you may “need” them to (and I would like them to) but they don’t need to.

  • Danielsw

    No they don’t, and their generally rising statistics prove such. If anything needs to change, it’s your own attitude about money.

  • Danielsw

    Just as Apple has proven throughout these economic hard times that it is possible to not only weather the storm, but to be indeed prosperous, Steve is also showing us how a top executive can and should be involved at all levels of a company’s operations. After all, it would be much more difficult to “hide in the bushes” if he were wearing $5K suits. . .and just where would he park his Phantom?

  • pbeeg

    Apple regularly lowers its prices. Over and over again. They also boost the power for their devices without raising prices, which, while not exactly the same, is similar. So your complaint is false to fact.
    But that, of course, is not what you mean. You mean that Apple should lower their prices so that you can buy a Mac for the same price that a company who slaps an Intel motherboard in a box and bundles it with Windows charges. Or a tablet maker who goes off and buys an OS from google–even if it’s not ready for tablet use. But who cares if the hardware and software are badly integrated? It’s not overpriced like Apple!
    Apple’s more expensive process yields better results, that millions of people are willing to pay for.

  • lwdesign1

    I love it!! Despite Steve’s superstar status, he’s just a guy like you and me, and really interested in what people think of his products. I’ve done my own “hiding in the bushes” at the Apple Store by bringing up a web site I’ve designed for a client on one of the display Macs and leaving it up on the screen to see what people do with it when they walk up. It’s an interesting experiment to see how people react to what I design.

    About the photo of Steve: I’m now so used to his current emaciated condition that he looks almost a bit strange to have that much flesh on his bones. Do well Steve. The world needs you to continue your amazing leadership of Apple.

  • GHo5t

    MBWA. Plain and simple.

  • MichaelTheGeek

    LOL.

  • Barbara

    I bought a MacBook 4 years ago and I still call it my new computer because it is so fast. My total cost of ownership for this period is $299 per year. Since I plan on keeping it for at least another 2 years, that will drop to $199. Tell me of another computer that will last as long with that kind of performance. If you can’t afford to just step out and buy it on impulse, start saving.

  • Ictus75

    More CEOs should be in touch with what’s happening at a customer level in their business.

  • GHo5t

    Niche market…Higher profit margins…Better quality products…Happier more loyal customers…More repeat business…$40B plus in cash reserves…Priceless business model.

    I don’t see any positives to lowering prices.

    I do see numerous negatives though.

    More customer service requests…Increased presure on Chinese suppliers and their employees…Higher pressure on logistics…Higher pressure sales tactics for retail employees…Unpleasant customer experiences in retail stores…Lower profit margins…Lower quality control…Security issues with OS…Mass market…Fewer happy and loyal customers…Less repeat business…Massive reduction in cash reserves.

  • Infomat

    Ah, yes! Makes sense. Perhaps everything could be even so much better if only Apple would double or triple their prices.

    Less suicides per Chinese worker. More of a niche market, so even fewer viruses. Outstanding profit margins. Prestige for the customer. Fewer service requests (fewer customers). Maybe even specially priced editions to match the upholstery in your Bugatti. This could work…

  • fernando

    LOL

  • brandon

    this supports the speculation that he is a ninja

  • Micktink

    Hogwash! The “market” will determine Apple’s prices, and I’m damned happy Steve Jobs acts in that manner!

  • Harvey Lubin

    Where’s Waldo? ;-)

  • Dimplemonkey

    Steve should just do an episode of Undercover Boss. That’s ratings gold! Gold, I tell ya!

  • ChKen

    Get yourself a 64GB SSD for about $120 on sale, and your MacBook will be good to go for a couple more years. It really gooses performance.

  • GHo5t

    IMO, doubling or tripling prices is counter to Steve’s vision for Apple and the customers that they want to serve. Apple isn’t Microsoft or IBM and doesn’t want to be. Hopefully Steve’s vision remains after he leaves the company.

    And yes, my aluminum unibody MacBook Pro does go nicely with my Ford Explorer Sport Trak even though the two hardly ever meet.

  • tallan

    May his “spying” continue for years and years… decades, in fact.

  • Hd54

    why… u get what you pay for !! Yes they are a little more expensive, however the quality of product and services more than make up for that price difference.

  • TheMacAdvocate

    Imagine having someone snap the photo you probably never dreamed of getting – and finding out you were closing your eyes.

  • John Scott

    How does Steve manage to always have a five days growth of whiskers on his face. Does he shave and go into hiding for four days and then reappear like the groundhog on the fifth day, then shave, hide, reappear, etc., etc.?

    I don’t really care as long as he gets better soon and does his usual great Job(s).

  • Harvey

    No one seems to notice what I think is Steve Jobs’ greatest accomplishment. When the iPod came out, boom boxes vanished. He should get the Nobel Peace and Quiet Prize for sparing us from overly loud portable public music.

  • Rob Dunford

    read your comment ‘boom boxes vanished’ made me think about packaging or lack of excessive packaging around apple products

  • Dean Inouye

    Wow… haven’t seen/heard THAT acronym for a while…

  • JDWages

    The real question here is, would Tim Cook, Phil Schiller or anyone else on Apple’s CEO succession plan have the natural desire to do this? My guess is no. And this is why the names on any succession plan really don’t matter that much. Who can honestly and truthfully “replace” Steve Jobs?

  • imajoebob

    C’mon! Apple must have those stores wired so Steve can see and hear every customer from Tarzana to Timbuktu!

  • Nonprofit Tech

    I was kind of hoping for a picture of him in the not so bushy bushes.

  • Romain Moisescot

    This is not just some guy. I am 95% confident this is Dan’l Lewin. He was the head of sales for the Macintosh University Consortium program back in the 1980s, then the co-founded NeXT with Steve in 85. He was head of marketing at NeXT for like 7 years, then he left for Microsoft.

  • jay

    haha. nice

  • davidrdesign

    I think you’re actually wrong on that. Both Seve and Tim live in my neighborhood and both literally hang out in the store independent of each other. I don’t know that Tim isn’t “asked” to do due diligence but I get the sense not.

  • JDWages

    But, David, your reply is basically saying, “Tim Cook would be a great substitute for Steve Jobs.” I don’t need to live in the neighborhood to know such a sentiment is not correct. Love him or hate him, Steve Jobs cannot truly be replaced. That was and still is my point. It’s far more than just “watching one’s retail stores.”

  • BradMacPro

    Management By Walking Around, in case there was mystery

  • Mimi Newton

    The “customer” in the picture is not just a customer, he is Dan’l Lewin, Corporate Vice President, Strategic and Emerging Business Development of Microsoft.

  • Photoflight

    I think the main thing to note here is that Steve Jobs, a man who has a lot of things on his plate, took the time to do this himself.

    Didn’t farm it out or hire someone to gather whatever information he was looking for.

    I honestly don’t know what he was trying to do but if Steve Jobs thought it was so important that he did this personally there should be a whole lot of other CEOs hiding in the bushes in front of their retail stores.

  • HerbalEd

    And yet, someday … hopefully much latter than sooner … someone will indeed have to take over the CEO position at Apple.

  • HerbalEd

    Actually the suicide rate of the Chinese workers that make Apple products is 10X less than the suicide rate of the Chinese population at large. In about five minutes on the internet you can easily verify these numbers … start with WHO statistics on worldwide suicide rates. Then you can actually talk facts and stop parroting bogus information.

  • JDWages

    And the sky is blue. And the world spins round and round.

    Apple will always need a CEO to head it. No one disputes the facts. But once again, the point is that Apple is Steve Jobs. Whomever else at Apple today who replaces Steve Jobs can only succeed him, not replace him. The Apple of the future without Jobs will not be the same as the Apple we have now with Jobs. Those who think it will be a “better” future lack understanding about how tightly Jobs and Apple have been woven together. Those folks may be optimists, but they lack understanding about what has truly made Apple the single greatest company in the world. And can those who lack understanding in this regard be truly capable of picking an appropriate successor to Steve Jobs?

    To contend that Steve Jobs has become “institutionalized permanently” is to not giving Jobs enough credit. It degenerates Steve Jobs’ mind into a mathematical formula that can be reproduced or emulated. Such thinking is a slap in the face to Jobs’ creativity, and denies the power of his insane greatness.

    Tim Cook would make a great CEO of a large company, especially so because of his close friendship and working relationship with Steve Jobs. But a “great CEO” is not what made Apple what it is today. Steve Jobs doesn’t even have an MBA for crying out loud. Much of the insanity that drives Steve Jobs to greatness is exclusive to Steve Jobs. I’ve not seen anything similar in an MBA-wielding CEO or corporate leader in the last two decades.

    Whatever leader comes after Jobs will need to have the same fire and zeal, the same insanity for greatness that makes one truly believe that he or she is truly making a Dent in the Universe. Without that, you will simply have another dime-a-dozen CEO and another ordinary company and another set of ordinary products.

  • Download

    Interesting and useful post

  • Shaddy

    And my ipad goes even better with my 3.8 litre pajero on the sand dunes of Dubai.

  • Scotts

    sad bastards

  • K B Kelly

    I miss you Steve…

  • Ron R Barrett

    He was a s Syrian mole.   

About the author

Leander KahneyLeander Kahney is the editor and publisher of Cult of Mac. He is the NYT bestselling author of Jony Ive: The Genius Behind Apple's Greatest Products; Inside Steve’s Brain; Cult of Mac; and Cult of iPod. Leander has written for Wired, MacWeek, Scientific American, and The Guardian in London. Follow Leander on Twitter @lkahney and Facebook.

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