Don’t Fear The Word “No”

According to Wikipedia, Steve Jobs — co-founder and CEO of Apple Inc. — has a net worth of US$5.7 billion.

Conversely, I have a net worth of diddly-squat.

Regardless of our drastically different levels of success, I feel somewhat connected to Steve Jobs. His 2005 Stanford Commencement Address changed my life, and I’m grateful.

Consequently, I decided to write a letter to Steve Jobs — not only to thank him for his life-altering speech, but to simultaneously ask him for help.

Why I imagined a leading figure of the computer industry might give a small-timer like myself the time of day, I’m not totally sure.

Perhaps I was simply following the advice of the familiar adage: “What’s the worst that can happen?” — If I ask Steve Jobs for help, maybe he’ll say “No.” That wouldn’t be so horrible.

Confident that being told “No” from a multi-billionaire wasn’t the end of the world, I composed the following letter:

June 7, 2007

Steve Jobs
1 Infinite Loop
Cupertino, CA 95014

Dear Mr. Jobs:

I read a copy of the Stanford Commencement Address you delivered in 2005. Within six months, I quit my job, sold everything that wouldn’t fit into my car, and moved out of state in pursuit of what I love.

Thanks very much for helping me recognize I didn’t love what I was doing. Your speech inspired me to start over, putting my passion first.

I’ve embraced my love for writing, and work towards my goal of becoming a professional blogger with daily enthusiasm. I’m convinced that as long as I stay consistent, and work towards achieving my goals every day, then I’m certain to reach them.

Please forgive me, because I am about to change the tone of this letter by asking you something outrageous: Would you be willing to send me a donated laptop?

I recognize it’s selfish, rude, and very presumptuous on my part to ask. After all, I am a stranger to whom you owe nothing. In fact, I already feel indebted to you since the positive changes in my life began with reading your speech.

That being said, I also recognize that the worst that can happen is you say “No.” For your convenience, I’ve included a self-addressed, stamped envelope with an index card that says “No.”

Please understand that I’m asking only because having a laptop will help me reach my goals faster. Currently, my “writing area” is the Technology Center in my local library. Any laptop capable of Web access and Word Processing will tear down the walls and operating hours of my writing area and permit me to write whenever I choose.

Thanks for your time and consideration. Thanks again for the inspiration.

Yours Truly,

Shaun Boyd of

I read the letter silently, over and over again, trying to make sure I’ve written something that won’t be immediately perceived as garbage. Steve Jobs probably receives countless solicitations for “Freebies” — and I don’t want to come off as just another tactless beggar asking for handouts.

Once satisfied, I submit the letter to be printed. I pay ten cents to the library staff to release the print job. I sign the letter, fold it into thirds, and stuff it into an envelope addressed to Steve Jobs.

Self-Addressed, Stamped Envelope with a pink Index Card that says NoI head home to retrieve the self-addressed, stamped envelope and index card that I described in the letter.

As I prepare to place it in the same envelope as the letter, I notice how incredibly harmless the response I prepared really is. I grabbed my camera and snapped a picture of it. (Notice: Clicking an image will display its enlarged version.)

In preparing a convenient way for a response to be sent back to me, I created a physical representation of the worst possible outcome. Looking it over, I understood that there are far worse things to be afraid of.

I sent the letter.

I imagined that one day I’d open my mailbox and find the familiar envelope, addressed to me in my own handwriting, with the succinct answer of “No” inside of it.

Four weeks passed with no trace of my pink index card.

I wasn’t sure if that meant he was still thinking about it, or he hadn’t received it. Maybe it never even got past his front line of defenses — and his personal assistant decided my request should meet the paper shredder.

“Oh well,” I thought — those requests must get ignored all the time.

Apple Inc. EnvelopeI resigned to the idea that I would probably not hear back from my inquiry.

The very next day, an envelope marked with the Apple insignia arrived in my mailbox.

I stared at it in disbelief. Though it was clear this envelope would not contain a laptop, it was not the blunt response I included with my inquiry — this was something unexpected.

I took my time opening Apple’s response. I set it down on my desk and sat across from it for a while with my arms folded. I tried to imagine how an Apple employee would politely say “Shove it!” — “Screw you!” — or “Piss off!”

Knowing it was most likely a simple form letter, I opened the letter. It said:

June 29, 2007

Mr. Shaun Boyd
(address withheld)

Dear Mr. Boyd,

Thank you for your recent inquiry.

We regret we are unable to accommodate your request for support at this time.

Apple’s current Community Affairs program focuses on employee volunteerism. Throughout the year, Apple employees share their time and talents with local communities and schools.

Our commitment to schools is also reflected in our product pricing discount for K-12 and higher education. Please refer to for information on pricing discounts for education.

We wish you success with your work and thank you for thinking of Apple.


Maureen Wilson
Community Affairs

(Click here to view this letter as an image.)

So that’s that — Apple said “No.”

Though disappointing, it’s not so disappointing that I’ll avoid asking for charity ever again. It’s really not a big deal. I asked for help and, as I expected, my selfish request was refused.

Writing to Steve Jobs was a “Low-Risk, High-Reward Experiment” with two potential outcomes:

  1. My request for an expensive gift is honored. I’m sent a free laptop courtesy of Apple. I begin writing whenever and wherever I choose. Whenever a “PC vs Mac” debate arises, I share this story.
  2. My request is ignored or refused. I’m told “No” and life goes on.
    I continue writing using the shared PCs in my local public library.
    I buy a laptop when I can afford to.

There was a slim chance I would get what I asked for — but if I didn’t ask, then I’d have no chance at all.

Unfortunately, people often prefer not to ask for help when there’s a chance of being told “No.”

Take another look at the picture of the pink index card. Is that really what you’re afraid of? Is this simple word preventing you from asking for a raise, or a vacation, or even a longer lunch break?

Stop being afraid of being told “No” — it’s not a horribly embarrassing experience, and you’re probably entitled to whatever you’re asking for. There’s even a chance you’ll get it.

So if you need something, ask for it. The worst that could happen is rarely life-threatening.

But if you’re looking to ask for a free laptop, ask Bill Gates. 😉

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14 Responses to “Don’t Fear The Word “No””

#1 Bjoern on 12, Jul, 2007 at 3:15 am

When I was a kid and couldn’t afford a computer, I used to see these adverts in my favorite computer magazine, where people would ask if somebody would give them a computer. I always wondered if those actually worked. It was unimaginable to me that they would, so I never tried – and I am stuck with the question till today.

Have you tried asking on Craigslist (or OK, in your blog, I guess)? I would love to know if it works 😉

I just gave my mother my old laptop, a Fujitsu-Siemens S4542 (with Ubuntu Linux installed), and she is totally in love with it. It is several years old, but still holding up well and it looks neat. Perhaps you could get an older laptop like that on ebay?

#2 Shaun Boyd on 12, Jul, 2007 at 9:38 am

When I was in college, my friend’s mom said something that made me think: “You’d be surprised what some companies will do when you write them letters.”
At the time, my college Computer Club had no budget, so I took it upon myself to write to a few dozen resellers asking them if they’d donate computer parts to our cause — explaining that our club wanted to teach its members how to build a computer using components. The few dozen letters yielded maybe 5 different refurbished CPU/motherboard combos, and a whole lot of T-SHIRTS! The typical response was to be ignored or refused, but that experience taught me that it’s not impossible to get *something* for free.
As for buying an old laptop on ebay — it’s true I could do that, but I wanted to try something unusual. Writing to Steve Jobs made the process more interesting to me. 😀

#3 Bart on 12, Jul, 2007 at 9:56 am

>>But if you’re looking to ask for a free laptop, ask Bill Gates.

Reminds me of another adage: you get what you pay for. 🙂

#4 Shaun Boyd on 13, Jul, 2007 at 9:24 am

Very true. Incidentally, that’s exactly what I’d tell all the people who used ask me for recommendations when they were in the market for a new computer. Shop for quality, not price.

#5 Bryan King on 14, Jul, 2007 at 11:01 am

funny. i doubt they read the entire thing.

nice article =)

#6 Vici Ristia on 14, Jul, 2007 at 10:39 pm

Don’t ever give up man..
2 years ago, i had a nice job as CTO in quite big IT company, where I decided to quit my job and build my own IT company. Everybody says big “NO”, no one supported me.

Not like you, i dont have to sell everything that not fit in my car, bcoz i have to sell my car and use a cheaper one.

I rent a small office which slightly smaller then my bed room…but i got the high spirit.

With spirit and commitment to work, we are growing rapidly, now we have huge work area in central business district, a good review from a couple of local magazine, market leader for 2006, and moreover a new C-class for me 🙂

Keepup your spirit man.

#7 Shaun Boyd on 16, Jul, 2007 at 8:43 am

@Bryan King
You could be right. One thing I’m certain of is that my letter never met Steve Jobs himself. Thanks for commenting.

#8 Shaun Boyd on 16, Jul, 2007 at 8:44 am

@Vici Ristia
Thanks so much for sharing your story with me, and for the encouragement. I will keep up my spirit. You do the same!

#9 Patrick Allmond on 18, Jul, 2007 at 9:15 pm

If you are not collecting your nos in life then you are not pushing the envelope.

I learned this while taking acting classes and pursuing that dream of mine. You need to be asking for what you want all of the time. Even if you know 100% you are going to get a no.

Collect as many nos as you can every day. But just keep asking… you will get a yes someday and it will knock your socks off.


#10 Shaun Boyd on 20, Jul, 2007 at 9:34 am

@Patrick Allmond
“You need to be asking for what you want all of the time” — that’s probably the reason you see a “leave a donation for Shaun” link after every article on my site. Thanks for commenting. 😀

#11 Jon on 28, Jul, 2007 at 8:16 pm

What the worst that could happen.
SJ could have taken offence at your request and sent someone out to teach you a lesson.

Good blog though.

#12 Kelly Petrucci on 04, Aug, 2007 at 10:01 pm

I have a very difficult time in saying NO to my children!
I always have kids at my house, messing up my house, costing me a fortune and I keep on saying yes when I want to say NO.
Keep on writing and just maybe I will have the courage to say NO.

#13 Glen on 01, Sep, 2007 at 9:01 pm

This blog was very inspiring. Probably almost as inspiring as Steve’s speech. Thanks for putting this out here, and for the great example

#14 Joseph on 13, Oct, 2011 at 2:01 pm

This is pretty cool. Ran across this blog post of yours from awhile back and I have to say it is pretty inspiring. I wonder how many years in the future people will be remembering the man.

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