Dag Kittlaus, a 44-year-old from Norway, is living an American dream with his wife and three kids in a nice Chicago suburb. His life took a turn for the better following a special phone call from Apple last year. Norwegian publication E24!, which profiled the entrepreneur in a lengthy article, explains that Steve Jobs himself bothered to give Kittlaus a buzz. The reason?
Apple’s late CEO wanted to discuss an acquisition offer for a startup Kittlaus co-founded in 2007 along with chief architect of the CALO project at SRI Adam Cheyer, semantic web genius Tom Gruber and Norman Winarsky. It was spun out of Stanford Research Institute in 2007 and funded with $25 million from Morgenthaler and Menlo Ventures.
The startup was named Siri.
According to his LinkedIn profile, Kittlaus helped launch “the first true automated Virtual Personal Assistant for mobile devices”. The deal, estimated at about $200 million, eventually came through and turned Kittlaus, a former Motorola executive, and other co-founders into millionaires.
Following the acquisition, Kittlaus and Co. moved to Apple’s Cupertino headquarters. Eighteen months later, in October 2011, Kittlaus quit Apple and is currently writing a novel, a futuristic techno-drama, and brewing new projects on his kitchen counter. He is also helping kids with problems at home and their parents who cannot help children with their homework. Kittlaus would know – he worked day and night for four years on Siri.
So, what was going through Kittlaus’s head when he realized Apple’s mercurial boss was on the line? More on that and the origins of the Siri name below the fold.
Of the phone call from Apple, Kittlaus said (pardon our machine-translated quote):
Of course it was a great moment when Steve Jobs called and wanted to buy my company. It was surreal. When I heard that it was him, I knew we had made it big. In advance, we were pretty confident that the technology we had developed was so startling that we would get some kind of breakthrough. Steve was the first caller.
Siri in Norwegian means “beautiful victorious counselor”. Urban legend has it that Kittlaus named the Siri app after the famous Norwegian meteorologist and business woman Siri Kalvig, with whom he had worked during his tenure at Telenor, a Norwegian telecommunications company, while she worked for meteorologist company Storm. “It was a good collaboration, because I am a total weather freak”, he said.
In reality, Kittlaus wanted to name his daughter Siri, but he got son so he instead named his company Siri .“Our first child was going to be named Siri, but then we got Markus”.
Despite living in a beautiful brand-new villa in a suburb of Chicago, funded by Apple’s cash, Kittlaus said he realized during his tenure at Apple that money and profit is not what drives the California consumer electronics giant: “It is the desire to create a fantastic product.”
His reaction to Steve Jobs’s death (again, machine-translated)?
Well, my strongest reaction came when I realized how sick he was, that he had not long to live. [...] My reaction to that was a lot stronger than I was prepared, it put me out properly. He is the inventor in history that changed the most, dozens of industries around the world is turned upside down.
By the way, we’d be grateful if our Norwegian readers helped us out with accurate translation of the quoted parts.