What I Learned from “Dr.Mo” and His Friends
March 30, 2015|CEO Talks
After the release of Apple’s MobileMe cloud service in 2008, journalist Walt Mossberg criticized the product very harshly in his review. Steve Jobs got extremely angry and rebuked the team behind MobileMe, criticizing them for tarnishing Apple’s reputation and letting his friend Walt down. Jobs ended up firing the head of MobileMe.
This story about Mossberg made an impression on me a few years ago when I read it in Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs biography. A few days ago in Beijing, I had a chance to meet Walt, arguably the most prestigious US tech reporter, in person.
Walt worked for the Wall Street Journal for 22 years, and was the author and creator of the newspaper’s weekly “Personal Technology” column. He founded Re/code with Kara Swisher in 2013 and is the co-CEO of the rapid rising tech media company. Walt is also a close friend of Bill Gates and many other tech leaders. He’s a legend in the Chinese tech industry, with many calling him by the affectionate nickname of “Dr. Mo.”
I’ve always been curious what this “Dr. Mo” is like. Here are a few stories and viewpoints from our conversation that inspired me.
The First Time Walt Met Bill Gates
Walt spent 18 years covering national and international affairs at the Journal, so he was a political journalist before switching to tech. Back then, he was just someone who liked computers with little formal training in technology. From his love of computers, he then convinced the Journal to let him write a technology column.
Back then, there weren’t that many tech reporters in the U.S., and Bill Gates knew almost all of the notable journalists in the tech world. When Walt met Bill Gates, the first thing Gates asked him was “Where did you come from?” Walt wasn’t intimidated. He replied that he had switched from the politics beat to covering tech, even without a background in the field, because of his deep interest in computers and the IT industry. Gates was impressed, and they became close friends since then, often holding some long arguments and discussions about technology.
Even though Gates was a powerful man with impressive authority in the tech world, the younger Mossberg spoke up and expressed himself directly. This is an extremely valuable personality trait that I want to see in our young people: honestly express your thoughts in front of authorities, and even be brave enough to challenge authorities when you think different.
At lunch, my team and I celebrated Mossberg’s upcoming 68th birthday with him. That’s the age when a lot of Chinese people retire. But I didn’t see any signs of him retiring at all. He is still energetic, passionate and friendly. To me, he is still the young and brave Mossberg who stood up in front of the richest man in the world and expressed his thoughts.
Steve Jobs and His Black T-shirt
Walt once asked Steve Jobs why he always wore the same shirt.
Jobs explained that he didn’t have time to think about what he should wear every day, there were many other way more important things on his mind. To make it easier, Jobs bought nearly 200 of the exact same black T-shirt so he would never have to worry about getting dressed. That way he can stay focused on his priorities – how to develop and improve Apple’s products and run the business.
Another time when Walt met with Bill Gates, Walt shared with us, he happened to notice that his clothes were nicer than Gates’. He was astonished to know that the world’s richest man only wore simple, ordinary clothes with very little luxury.
Bill Gates would often forget to eat when he had passionate conversations about technology with Walt Mossberg. One time, they stayed in the office late debating, and Gates offered to buy them Taco Bell.
Leaders in our industry, such as Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, often care very little about their daily lives and put all their time, energy and intelligence into product development and growing their businesses.
Walt put it this way: Genius always knows how to focus on the right things.
Stay Away From Silicon Valley, Stay Close to Users.
We all know Walt’s famous commitment to “Fight for the people.” He’s famous for taking an unswerving stand for the common user and writing honest, independent consumer tech reviews.
When Walt joined the Wall Street Journal, the paper wanted to relocate him to Silicon Valley, because it was the center of the U.S. tech industry. However, Walt said no and insisted on staying in Washington D.C. He had concerns about getting too close to those giant tech companies and being affected by them, which would hurt his ability to review products for the user. For decades, he has stayed focused and undisturbed writing his reports and reviews from Washington, far away from Silicon Valley.
Walt’s story resonates with me. In Cheetah Mobile, we try our best to improve the user experience of our products. When we started off developing Clean Master, I flew to the U.S. two times just to talk with local users face-to-face so I could understand their thoughts and behavior. I forwarded all the valuable feedback to the product team immediately afterwards.
We respect and value our users. In the Google Play Tools and Utility category, all products from Cheetah Mobile keep an average rating score at 4.6 out of 5.0 stars, and Clean Master has 4.7 stars. More than 28 million users have given us 5-stars.
What’s happening in China?
During our conversation, Walt repeatedly emphasized that many great technology innovations have happened or are happening in China. However, many tech companies also reach out to Mossberg talking about their products and business, but not all of them are impressive and attractive to him.
When it came to Clean Master, he said our products and business model have made an impact globally, and our company has a lot of potential. His encouragement strengthened my conviction to do the right things for our users.
I took out my Xiaomi Mi Note and showed it to him. It turned out Walt likes Xiaomi and said he was also testing a unit for review. He hadn’t spent much time with the Mi Note, but he was deeply impressed by the quality of the device’s hardware, and said the Mi Note might even be better than some high-end Samsung phones, even gradually approaching iPhone in terms of quality and design. Given the rapid growth that Xiaomi is experiencing, he believes that Xiaomi has a chance to reproduce the success that Apple has achieved.
What’s Promising in the Future?
From Walt’s perspective, he predicts that cars, battery technology and wearables are three major areas worth paying attention to.
In the U.S., people spend lots of their time in their cars, which makes them an essential part of their life here. Turning cars into smart automobiles brings unimaginable opportunities to tech companies working on the problem.
Battery technology is another product category that has almost unlimited potential. He said if you find a startup that can make a new kind of battery with 10 times more capacity, you should immediately invest as much money in them as you can. Walt and I are also in agreement that wearables, such as the upcoming Apple Watch, is an area worth keeping an eye on.
Cheetah Mobile is honored to have the chance to welcome Walt Mossberg to China, and we’re grateful to hear his remarkable stories from the early days of the American tech industry.