In 1976 Steve Jobs founded Apple in his parents garage. 35 years later it became the most valuable company in the world.
Jobs will with guarantee go down in history as one of the world’s greatest innovators and visionaries. So much can be learned from him and I feel that reading his biography is a bit like having him mentoring me on the value of simplification and focus.
Here are 5 of the key business secrets Steve Jobs used when building Apple.
One of Steve Jobs’ great strengths was to laser focus on the essentials. “Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do” Steve said. It’s true for both the company and the products it makes.
In 1997 Apple lost 1 billion dollars and was only 90 days from insolvency. Same year Jobs came back to save it.
Using Focus to Save Apple
To simplify the product portfolio of Apple, Steve asked himself “which one do i tell my friends to buy?”. Then he slashed 70% of Apple’s products and told the engineers at Apple not to waste their time on “crappy” products. Many was furious. Many was fired.
Steve gave the engineers the task to focus on making only four great products. A portable computer and a desktop computer, one for professional and one for personal use. Steve’s focus resulted in Apple made a quarterly profit of $45 million only one year after.
Advising Larry Page to Focus
When Larry Page resumed control of Google which he co-founded, he went to Steve for advice. The thing he stressed the most was the importance of focus.
“Figure out what Google wants to be when it grows up. It’s now all over the map. What are the five products you want to focus on? Get rid of the rest, because they’re dragging you down.”
Larry implemented the advice from Steve in 2012, making the employees focus on a few key products.
Steve loved whiteboards as they allowed him to focus. He would ask employees to come up with the 10 things they needed to do next. He would then get rid of the “dumb” ideas as they went along, and in the end cross out 7 of the final 10 announcing “we can do only three”.
Steve’s laser focus was accompanied by an ability to simplify products. To cut away everything unnecessary and to make the Apple products so easy to navigate that a 5 five old could use it.
“Our consciousness was raised by zen”. Steve attributed the ability to simplify to his studies of spirituality, zen buddhism and meditation.
Simplification was one of Job’s trademarks. He would tell employees that you should be able to go anywhere on the device with three mouse clicks. “Why do we need that screen?” Jobs would demand. If no one had a good answer, the screen was dumped.
He removed the on/off button because it was unnecessary. He reduced the amount of buttons on the mouse from the standard of three to one. The technical geeks like Steve Wozniak, paid little attention to the powersupply of the computer. But Steve did. Steve wanted a power supply without a fan, as it was not zen-like. Fans distracted with noise.
“It takes a lot of hard work to make something simple, to truly understand the underlying challenges and come up with elegant solutions.” – Steve Jobs.
Products Over Profit
When Jobs and the team at Apple designed the Mac in the early 80’s he told them “Don’t worry about the price, just specify the computer’s abilities.” The mission was, as he put it, to make the Mac “insanely great”. He never spoke of profit maximization or cost trade-offs.
Steve initially had trouble with the “make a great product and the profit will follow” approach as the Macintosh got way too expensive. Over time though, he got it right.
When former Pepsi CEO John Sculley took over Apple from 83 to 93, he prioritized profit maximization and marketing over product development. Apple gradually declined.
When Jobs came back he shifted the focus back to making innovative products. As we all know, the result has been great products as the iMac, Powerbook, iPhone, iPod and iPad.
The Apple Marketing Philosophy
This was one of three key marketing principles taught to Steve Jobs by his business mentor Mark Markkula in 1979.
The first principle of “The Apple Marketing Philosophy” was empathy or an intimate connection with the feelings and desires of the customers. The second principle was focus. “In order to do a good job of those things that we decide to do, we must eliminate all of the unimportant opportunities.”
The third principle was “Impute”. It means that people DO judge a book by its cover. It emphasizes that people form an opinion of the company based on the signals that it convey. (This principle is highly correlated with the theories discussed in this and this post)
“We may have the best product, the highest quality, the most useful software etc.; if we present them in a slipshod manner, they will be perceived as slipshod; if we present them in a creative, professional manner, we will impute the desired qualities.” – Mike Markkula.
Markkula “emphasized that you should never start a company with the goal of getting rich. Your goal should be making something you believe in and making a company that will last.”
“Customers don’t know what they want until we’ve shown them.”
“Our task is to read things that are not yet on the page”. Caring deeply for what your customers want, isn’t done by asking them or by doing market research. Jobs instead relied on a form of empathy for his customers desires. This empathy originated from using his intuition as he learned while studying buddhism in India. “Intuition is a very powerful thing. More powerful than intellect in my opinion.”
Jobs made products that he and his friends wanted to use. “We made the iPod for ourselves and when you are doing something for yourself, or your best friend or family, you’re not going to cheese out.”
The perfection in the products probably came from Steve’s father telling him that a drive for perfection meant caring for the craftsmanship, even of the parts unseen. This was for example applied to the design of the circuit board of the Apple 2, in which first edition didn’t have “straight enough lines”. Even though this part would never be seen by any customer, it was ordered to be re-made perfectly beautiful.
Now what you can do, is to implement some of Steve Jobs’ business secrets into your own life. Here’s a couple of questions I will ask myself that you could too:
- Are you focusing your energy on the essentials, or letting not important tasks drag you down?
- Is your product simple enough or should you cut away features, categories etc?
- Do you lead by thinking about money and how you can make a quick buck, or do you think about your customers/ other people’s desires and how you can satisfy them?
I try to grab the essentials of each book that I read and from this the keys is the principles of focus and simplicity. Steve was obviously deeply influenced by his affairs in spirituality and meditation and I think these two principles are keys to many areas of life.
Buy the book here: Steve Jobs Biography
NOTE: Top executives of Apple such as Tim Cook find this biography imprecise in discussing Steve Jobs’ person. In the words of Cook “It didn’t capture the person.” The Apple executives instead endorses the biography from 2o15, Becoming Steve Jobs.
This article contains affiliate links and I do get a commission. It is at no extra cost to you of course. If you have any questions regarding this book or the subject, please let me know. /Jacob