iTunes Semantic Search Project Derailed By Apple

June 17, 2010

How I almost got acquired by Apple and then snubbed

Filed under: One — kandarpmadhav @ 2:10 PM

This is a report of my interaction with Apple Inc. I have been watching Apple’s iPhone related news lately and i remember one of the iPhone OS related event where Apple executives took questions from media and one of the questions was about how difficult it was to find the quality apps from hundreds of thousands of apps in the App Store. To which Steve Jobs did not have a clear answer and murmured they are trying several things to improve the interface.

This is where my research expertise come. It was a perfect example to implement a semantic search and discovery algorithm. So i put together the algorithm and tested out on 12000 apps that were available through the RSS feed (300 x 20 x 2) and it worked well. Next, I wrote this mail to Steve Jobs:

On Apr 23, 2010, at 10:46 PM, Kandarp Madhav wrote:

Hi Steve,

I am developing a semantic solution for the iTunes App Store app discoverability problem. It would automatically find out well reviewed apps that match query semantics using machine learning and NLP. Would you be interested to support this effort?



Sure enough he was interested as evidenced from this mail I received from Apple’s manager for iTunes:

On Apr 27, 2010, at 4:56 AM, Patrick Gates wrote:

Hi Kandarp –

My name is Patrick Gates – I’m an engineering manger in the team at Apple responsible for the iTunes Store and App Store. I understand you’re interested in solutions for discoverability within the app store, and I wonder if you might have time to discuss this. It’s probably safest if we avoid talking about your specific ideas for now and instead focus on your background and how we might work together.

Would you be available for a phone call some time soon?

Many thanks,


So we set up a time for the call. He calls me on Apr 28, 11 AM PDT  (11:30 PM Indian time) and describes his role at Apple and is impressed with my research background from IIT to CMU. I tell him specifically I need the App Store data and he says like he can easily do that. Next he says that if I have incorporated the startup, Apple could acquire it or he could hire me to work with him. I tell him I am open to any instrument that will facilitate me to work on this problem. He then says he will call me the next day with more details and asks me to submit some sample search results of my algorithm in the mean time. He appeared to be genuinely interested, very eager and enthusiastic to work with me. But what followed was an awful experience.

I submit sample search outputs of my algorithm next morning and wait for his call at night. No call. The next day passes, the weekend goes, no calls or email. On Monday, I enquire and receive a response:

On May 3, 2010, at 11:58 AM, Kandarp Madhav wrote:

Hi Patrick

I hope you had received my last e-mail giving sample app search output of my algorithm.

Waiting for your response.



On May 4, 2010, at 12:45 AM, Patrick Gates wrote:

Hi Kandarp –

My apologies for not getting back to you last week – I was out sick for three days so it will take me a few days to catch up.

– Patrick

I believe him and wait a few days. On Friday, I send a gentle reminder. No response. Again the weekend goes by, the next week almost goes when I write and receive a response:

On May 13, 2010, at 10:10 AM, Kandarp Madhav wrote:

Hi Patrick

I am still eagerly waiting for your call or email.

I hope everything is alright.



On May 14, 2010, at 12:00 PM, Patrick Gates wrote:

Hi Kandarp –

Thanks for writing. Everything is good, I’m finally back on my feet and mostly caught up. I’ll be in contact by Monday.

– Patrick

I believe him and wait. Monday goes, Tuesday goes. On Wednesday I nudge him again. No response. The week goes, Google I/O goes. On Tuesday I write to Patrick Gates and Steve Jobs both:

On May 25, 2010, at 9:15 AM, Kandarp Madhav wrote:

Hi Patrick

I am still waiting for your plan/decision to support my work on App store semantic search and discovery. It has been 26 days and I am starting to get confused. It would be really nice of you if you can clarify anything I should be aware of.

A relevant observation I would like to share with you and Steve : I’m sure you would have taken note of Google’s announcements last week. Two of them were very related to my proposal – one, they will bring the Android app store (and Chrome web store) to desktop interface and two, they will focus on app search and discovery. Given that search is their strength, it will be imperative on Apple to provide a more intuitive itunes/app store search and discovery solution to its users. Such a solution could also be handy in semantically targeted iAd placements as the ad inventory and app instances grow.



After a few hours I receive a response:

On May 26, 2010, at 3:10 AM, Patrick Gates wrote:

Hi Kandarp –

(Removing Steve). My apologies in taking so long to respond – it’s been an unusually hectic here since I got back but I haven’t forgotten you. 🙂 I’m working on getting a full dump of the app XML for you. Where did you get the dump you’ve been using for your prototype?

What I’d like to do is have you ingest the full catalog and then run some queries I send you. Based on what you’ve already sent I think it’s promising.



Then he promises to set up an account for me to access the Enterprise Partner Feed of iTunes data. This is the last I heard from him:

On May 26, 2010, at 8:57 AM, Kandarp Madhav wrote:

Hi Patrick

I’m glad you haven’t forgotten me 🙂 I will be really happy to have a full dump of app XML, but not sure my computer will be able to handle the 10x computational complexity.



On May 28, 2010, at 12:19 AM, Patrick Gates wrote:

Hi Kandarp –

Are you going to give the Enterprise Partner Feed a try?



Of course, I wanted to give it a try. Not just a try but develop a working solution. Why was I waiting for so long.

On May 27, 2010, at 12:18 PM, Kandarp Madhav wrote:

Hi Patrick,

I am certainly interested to give it a try. You can enable the access to the feed page.



On Jun 1, 2010, at 5:24 PM, Kandarp Madhav wrote:

Hi Patrick

Please let me know when you set up the access login for me to the EPF page.



As weeks pass, I don’t feel happy about the way things were going. It wouldn’t have taken more than 10 mins for him to keep me going, but there was something wrong. So I write again to both Patrick Gates and Steve Jobs:

On Jun 4, 2010, at 7:46 PM, Kandarp Madhav wrote:

Hi Patrick

You might be interested to read this news : Google search for mobile now includes app store results : (cc’d to Steve)

I am unable to understand why it has been 34 days and still no tangible progress in our discussion. A lot could have been established including a semantic search index for the app store if you would have acted in earnest. Putting someone – who wants to help you solve an important problem – on hold for a prolonged time sends a wrong signal about Apple’s commitment to support innovation. Could you please identify specific measures that will be taken by Apple to support my effort? (which was the original query).



I put one last attempt after a week:

On Jun 11, 2010, at 1:15 AM, Kandarp Madhav wrote:

Hi Patrick

I hope everything is fine. After reading the news about WWDC and launch of iPhone 4 and iTunes 9.2, I can possibly relate to why you were unusually hectic recently. I only wish you take a little time to help me get going on this project. If there is any change in strategy, kindly let me know.



Seeing no hope, I finally write to Steve Jobs asking specifically if he is interested anymore and his answer was typical short:

On Jun 15, 2010, at 9:02 AM, Kandarp Madhav wrote:

Hi Steve

Is there any chance I will receive some update/response on this discussion started by Patrick Gates? I really don’t understand the silence after lots of early interests. I feel helpless. All I am asking is the access to the App Store data to develop the semantic search and discovery solution for the iTunes. Can Apple be a little generous to support innovation that can only benefit it?

Please let me know even if you/he are not interested in my project.



On Jun 15, 2010, at 9:38 PM, Steve Jobs wrote:

Sorry, no interest.

Sent from my iPad

I concluded the discussion with Steve:

On Jun 15, 2010, at 10:22 PM, Kandarp Madhav wrote:

Thanks Steve.

I’m a bit disappointed.

Wish you all the best and looking forward to seeing more innovative products and services from Apple.


So, what do all these mean? Well, I don’t want to speculate the reasons for this erratic behavior from Apple, but things are right in front of us. Couple of points though:

It is unethical in all cultures to keep someone waiting while you flout the time commitments. You receive a proposal, you take a decision to pursue it or not. If you say something, you follow it by action. If you commit a time, you show up. Apple has clearly failed on all such norms in this particular instance. It makes Apple look rude and I had heard Steve Jobs didn’t want Google to be rude towards it.

Secondly, it was a research project with primary objective to solve an important problem for the Apple ecosystem. Apple has snubbed apps developers in the past, but now it seems they won’t allow even researchers to use its data for technology advancement. That would be really a sorry state going further.

Getting acquired or hired was not my priority. Being a researcher with an algorithm, my primary interest was to evaluate it on real life full-size data and then improve the underlying mathematical model to better fit the data. This was a small impromptu of the many applications of the semantic algorithm. Hence the need to force a decision and move on rather than being left in the lurch.

This conversation does not fit a startup culture that Steve Jobs claims. This is a clear example of how a corporate labyrinth disallows a manager to take prompt decisions.

This publishing is not for 15 mins of fame for me, it is for public to be aware of the ugly inside of Apple corporate culture.

I used to be an Apple fanboy, but obviously not any more. I think we should not be fanboys of any companies, but rather the constitution. If they follow the ethical norms, we admire them and if they breach the code of conduct, we condemn them. This is my way of condemning Apple.

All of the above content, I sent to Steve and Patrick, waiting for one day before publishing:

On Jun 16, 2010, at 10:59 PM, Kandarp Madhav wrote:

Hi Steve, Patrick

I have written a report on our conversation and to be published on the internet. I would like to let you be aware of it and if you have any concerns, let me know asap. I will consider incorporating it.




  1. “Wish you all the best and looking forward to seeing more innovative products and services from Apple.”

    Way to stick it to them 😉

    Comment by Zach — June 17, 2010 @ 9:19 PM

    • holy ATM batman

      Comment by wowzer — June 17, 2010 @ 11:39 PM

  2. Ditto on the above comment. I will never understand this attitude when they’ve annoyed you enough to write what you do after. I could not help but cringe reading that.

    Comment by Jaymz — June 17, 2010 @ 10:02 PM

  3. Were they serious about acquisition or you got it wrong?

    Comment by Mathew — June 17, 2010 @ 10:03 PM

    • Just to give the context, next day after the call, Apple acquires Siri, the natural language search app for iPhone. So, Apple were looking for acquisition in this space and the manager sounded very desperate to build the app search and discovery solution. He had 20 engineers under him, but were planning to implement data mining at the time.

      Comment by kandarpmadhav — June 17, 2010 @ 10:05 PM

  4. It is unethical in all cultures to keep someone waiting while you flout the time commitments. You receive a proposal, you take a decision to pursue it or not. If you say something, you follow it by action.

    True for cultures in the sense of “American,” “Indian,” and so forth, but probably not for business culture, where it’s not uncommon for, as near as I can tell, businesses and VCs play these kinds of games all the time. In my case, I have less experience with that and more experience with the same phenomenon in the context of literary agents: they regularly promise to look and manuscripts, request or not request, and reply or not reply within whatever time parameters… and then break those commitments.

    In addition, the kind of thing you’re describing happens in dating constantly — usually because the party with more power or status can gain or demonstrate status by waiting or deferring.

    Chances are good, however, that the delay and uncertainty isn’t about you. Paul Graham covered this in Two Kinds of Judgment, which is worth reading.

    Comment by Jake Seliger — June 17, 2010 @ 10:11 PM

  5. You didn’t “almost get acquired.”

    Apple gets contacted by a lot of random yahoos who think they have the most brilliant idea on the planet, and can’t understand why Apple isn’t interested. Sounds like you’re one of them.

    And cc-ing Steve Jobs on all of that? I’m not surprised that they got annoyed by you so quickly.

    Comment by Dignan — June 17, 2010 @ 10:14 PM

    • Although I think the tone is way too strong, in principle I agree with Dignan. It was a valiant attempt: you put in hard work, made some progress, and have learned from it. You made it farther than most.

      However, you were probably one of many that had Apple’s attention just long enough to evaluate your product and their need. In your case it wasn’t a fit. That is not surprising giving the size of Apple and sheer volume of people trying to get in with them. It is nothing to feel anything but happy about. Keep working toward the next time and/or the next company!

      Also, it’s a good learning experience. I do agree with Dignan that including Steve was the wrong way to go. Steve oversees the biggest technology company on the planet! (check the market capitalization). He has more important things to deal with. That’s why he has employees: to delegate. Even then you received a response directly from him… again, you are in a very exclusive club.

      Realize your successes and buy yourself a beer: you made it farther than most! Excellent job! Dust yourself off and learn from your errors. Then keep working away and be ready for the next opportunity when it comes. The most important trait in successful people is persistence.


      Comment by David Bishop — June 18, 2010 @ 2:59 PM

    • That’s not the point. I think the author made it clear that he was willing to take ‘no’ for an answer. Sounded like Apple was interested, and maybe there were evaluating several solutions in parallel. It was to their benefit to not show their hand ’til the end. It would have been more polite to be upfront with him, and not have strung him along. They made him feel small, and that’s not nice. Its acceptable in “business culture” because we feel we can’t do anything.
      Apple has a lot of excuses for doing such a thing, and surely tons of people will come to their defence. But how would Apple feel if someone did this to them. That’s the point.

      Comment by Sean — June 18, 2010 @ 4:12 PM

  6. My suspicion (and that’s all that it is) is that they were already working on a parallel project, got your results to see how well you’d done, and decided that they didn’t need you. It would have been nice if they had been upfront about it, and even nicer if they hadn’t strung you along for weeks.

    Comment by Len Feldman — June 17, 2010 @ 10:15 PM

  7. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Udo Szabo, fotious and hnquestions, Hacker News. Hacker News said: How I Almost Got Acquired By Apple And Then Snubbed: Comments: […]

    Pingback by Tweets that mention How I almost got acquired by Apple and then snubbed « iTunes Semantic Search Project Derailed By Apple -- — June 17, 2010 @ 10:39 PM

  8. People don’t get acquired.

    PS. Jobs is a douchebag and Apple as a company are assholes.

    Comment by Justin — June 17, 2010 @ 11:14 PM

  9. Does it feel good to get treated like this? No.

    Is it pretty much standard operating procedure? Yes.

    You may think you have something they want. And maybe you do.

    But they are the big dog and get tons of offers like this all the time. They can afford to treat you this way and so they do.

    It’s not personal. I don’t condone it, but it’s pretty much the way it is with just about every company on the planet.

    Comment by Hillel Cooperman — June 17, 2010 @ 11:31 PM

  10. Hello Kandarp,

    It was an interesting tale about your approach to discovery. I feel sorry and glad(as I am angry about apple’s behavior towards controlled innovation) both for apple having lost an opportunity to capitalize on discover-ability which is the engine that will fuel commerce among all kinds of mobile platforms.

    I would like to talk to you some more about your work on semantic search, NLP and know more about your views on use of discovery towards recommendations. Would you be kind enough to email me (the email has been submitted on the comments section) so that we could continue discussion on these lines?


    Comment by Rohit Nallapeta — June 17, 2010 @ 11:36 PM

  11. haha! You didn’t “almost get acquired”. You didn’t even get a job offer. You hacked out a demo and had a phone call. Good for you that you even got that far. This guy was discussing the universe of possibilities, not making you any offer. “Almost” acquired is having written docs in hand and haggling over terms.

    Unethical? Maybe it’s bad form to not follow up as promised, but if you’re going to filter out business relationships by who don’t follow up as planned, you’re going to have a thin network indeed.

    Comment by haha — June 18, 2010 @ 12:03 AM

  12. […] How I almost got acquired by Apple and then snubbed This is a report of my interaction with Apple Inc. I have been watching Apple’s iPhone related news lately and i […] […]

    Pingback by Top Posts — — June 18, 2010 @ 12:14 AM

  13. Thoughts:
    A bummer to be sure, but I’m not sure it’s worth getting upset over.

    If I were you I’d be calling Siri people to try and get on their team if you want to work with Apple. Use the other door.

    Comment by A Friend — June 18, 2010 @ 12:18 AM

  14. What’s stopping you from publishing an app using the index you have now, you definitely don’t need the full apps XML to get an interesting solution (app) in the Appstore. I can help with App development if you are interested. Shoot me an email.

    Comment by KT — June 18, 2010 @ 12:22 AM

  15. One word, “snarf”

    Comment by loreto — June 18, 2010 @ 12:24 AM

  16. By chance did this happen while the iPhone was stolen? From what I have heard from a former employee, Steve is a little uneven, saying things like like “Why the fuck did I hire you”, when something small goes wrong. I have heard he makes grown men cry. Wonder to myself why nobody has ever punch him the face.

    Comment by J — June 18, 2010 @ 12:28 AM

  17. What is annoying about this is that they strung you along for over a month, then ignored you, then told you to go away in one line, without any explanation. Not nice.

    Comment by Sam Watkins — June 18, 2010 @ 1:19 AM

  18. I think this is a good example of how your business demeanor can destroy good work. You had their interest, a call, and a plan to show your chops…and you let it all go because you felt emotionally hurt and decided to lash out. The email on the 25th ended any chance you had for working with them.

    Comment by Krang — June 18, 2010 @ 4:27 AM

  19. Kandarp – if a company says they’re interested in interviewing you for a job, did you almost get hired?

    If you ask a girl on a date and she says yes, did you almost get married?

    If you wrote a book manuscript and a publisher said she might be able to get a book deal, were you almost a published author?

    And so on,..

    You did not “almost get acquired” by Apple my friend.

    Comment by Rob — June 18, 2010 @ 4:54 AM

  20. Kandarp: At Chomp we are working on improving app discoverability. If you are interested, send an email to feedback at chomp dot com. We’d love to talk with you.

    Comment by Ben Keighran — June 18, 2010 @ 6:10 AM

  21. “If a child seeks bread from his father and it is not forthcoming, has not the father answered?” — excerpt from Og Mandino’s book, The Greatest Salesman In the World.

    Your response from Apple is more the norm than it is the exception in the business world. I see it as a consultant: A prospect loves the proposal and gives the okay to go ahead, only to never pay the deposit or be heard from again. Or time was taken to meet face-to-face with a potential client, and submit a quote, and they never respond.

    Do I like it? No. I always try and follow up with whoever gives me a quote or face-time. But it is business as usual. And from my reading of the correspondence between you and Patrick, you were never close to acquisition. They considered your idea and that is as far as it went. The rest was in your imagination.

    Thanks for sharing your experience.

    Comment by rinkjustice — June 18, 2010 @ 9:17 AM

  22. It looks like you don’t care of their privacy. Publishing the whole conversation is not a good idea.

    Comment by Obivan — June 18, 2010 @ 10:04 AM

    • Actually, I sent the whole draft of this report to both Steve and Patrick and asked if they have any concerns, waited for one day before publishing:

      On Jun 16, 2010, at 10:59 PM, Kandarp Madhav wrote:

      Hi Steve, Patrick

      I have written a report on our conversation and to be published on the internet. I would like to let you be aware of it and if you have any concerns, let me know asap. I will consider incorporating it.


      Comment by kandarpmadhav — June 18, 2010 @ 10:19 AM

      • You waited one day? I am sorry – I don’t want to sound condescending (I really don’t), but do you really think Steve Jobs just waits the whole day to receive mail from you? I don’t know, nowadays people love to post e-mail convos with Steve Jobs (if you can call them conversations, heh), but I think it’s disrespectful at best (unless both parties agree to make the mails public), damaging to YOU at worst. I am not sure why you think people would want to do business with someone who goes ahead and posts their e-mails. Really, not so smart from your side.

        Especially since they are about a non-event.

        Comment by Tim — June 18, 2010 @ 5:16 PM

  23. Hi,

    I’m with commentary #18. I have seen real people go out with a girl or a boy and plan in their minds the wedding, the kids, the house!!

    I’m sorry to tell you this but Real world works this way: You have something that you want to sell, you offer it to other people, if the people don’t want to, they don’t need to buy your product-service. Really, the don’t.

    You are not the only person that has developed a semantic solution for search, I have done it too, and probably thousands of other people in the world. Your solution needs to be the best one in some particular area(e.g faster, easy to use…). They just told you: show me, and then they were not interested. I believe that the engineer was ill, that things happens. What you don’t see is the hundreds of other request this engineer receives a day. C’mon, have you seen a rock star mail?(thousands of mails a day).

    Comment by Jose — June 18, 2010 @ 10:05 AM

  24. I would also be quite disappointed if they treated me this way…

    Comment by memo — June 18, 2010 @ 1:49 PM

  25. This is a common practice at Microsoft as well. You pitch the idea. It’s delegated to someone who may or may not know the intricacies of the idea you are pitching..usually they know enough. They run it by a few people and see if it ‘fills’ a niche. It’s interesting in the world of sales and marketing–where so many books are written about soluition selling and the like, that a script or dialogue hasn’t been developed for a politer turndown, but there hasn’t been. Essentially you were treated pretty kindly– considering many e-mails about ideas are ignored.

    It is simply their loss at this time. And we all know it’s timing.

    Comment by fmfoodfreak — June 18, 2010 @ 8:41 PM

  26. […] How I Almost Got Acquired By Apple And Then Snubbed ( […]

    Pingback by Troubleshooting Your IPhone – Recharge, Restart, Reset, Remove, and Restore | I Mobile Review — June 19, 2010 @ 2:55 AM

  27. Looks like you ran into some tough luck. The “offer” seemed to have been just a description of the best possible outcome for you. That is, if all went well, you may have been hired or acquired. Turns out all did not go well.

    If you technology or algorithm is the awesome, you won’t need Apple to profit. Go out and make the most of it by yourself. Or team up with some other company.

    Comment by Maintenance Man — June 19, 2010 @ 6:06 AM

  28. Let me guess what happened.

    Steve: Can we get one of our engineer guys to do what this Indian guy can do?

    Enginner #1: I’ll give it a try.

    (15 days later)

    Enginner #1: Here you go Steve, these are the results.

    Steve: The results looks “good enough” to me, lets use it. (No more interest in Indian guy)

    Comment by anon — June 19, 2010 @ 7:02 AM

  29. I see this from the other angle – there is nothing more irritating than some random guy getting pushy because you’re not giving him your full attention in amongst all the other things in your diary. The string of emails asking for feedback are creepy to say the least. The first rule of engagement with a big corporate is that you need to accept slower turnaround times. People are busy, they have more than one focus and the fact that you’ve got a good idea/code does not make you unique.

    Comment by Vincent Maher — June 19, 2010 @ 7:50 AM

  30. “but not sure my computer will be able to handle the 10x computational complexity.” Why would you ever say that? You get a whole freaking cluster of EC2 Machines before saying that!

    That is what killed the deal, and made them think you were nothing serious, just a dude with a laptop

    Comment by Philip — June 20, 2010 @ 4:57 AM

  31. You should’ve responded with, “Fine, I’ll just jailbreak my iPhone then.”

    Comment by Neel — June 20, 2010 @ 4:11 PM

    • It was about the iTunes App Store data. Jailbreaking couldn’t help get that.

      Comment by kandarpmadhav — June 20, 2010 @ 4:53 PM

  32. I hate apple apologists, that have Apple as their religion…

    This Indian guy was not pushy or anything… he asked, THEY started to talk about acquiring, he waited like asshole while THEY promised him the data, writing excuses. And HE must wrote to Steve, so he would write him “sorry, no interest”.

    The problem is NOT the fact that apple was not interested. The problem is their behaviour.

    I don’t know why am I even writing this, people will make excuses for Apple no matter what happens. 2 2=5.

    Comment by k — June 20, 2010 @ 11:01 PM

  33. The fact that it’s Apple or any other big business for that matter is irrelevant. He contacted someone(s) with something that they could have found useful. They replied back as being interested and said they would get back to him with additional info that would facilitate his further research to see if his ideas would actually be something they wanted. They then proceeded to do whatever it is they decided to do in the meantime, yet did not have the decency to simply reply back with

    A. Sorry, we’ll have to get back to you at another time regarding this matter
    B. Sorry, on second thought we’re just not interested.
    C. Go fuck yourself!

    I think the point is he just wanted to know what the hell was going on and ANY reply on the matter would have sufficed. Big business aside it’s an asshole move to keep people hanging. Be decisive and be courteous… it’s not rocket science and it takes minimal time and effort.

    Comment by matty — April 8, 2011 @ 10:26 PM

  34. I found your post very interesting. Would you be willing to write about your approach to app discovery? Would you be willing to outsource the code?

    Have a good one.

    Comment by David — May 17, 2011 @ 6:23 PM

  35. Hi Kandarp Madhav,
    I was just wondering what was the end of all this? Also I already have access to EPF. Perhaps we could talk about some possibilities?

    Comment by David — February 11, 2013 @ 8:33 PM

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