Jean-Charles Samuelian-Werve
Co-founder & CEO @ Alan
9 octLivres

What Apple and Steve Jobs can teach us

Recently, I read Steve Jobs: The Exclusive Biography by Walter Isaacson. It was an inspiring read, and I wanted to share it within Alan and with our readers.

I’ll focus on product and design, Steve Jobs’ relationship to competition and a few important elements when building a company. I copy/pasted a few quotes, paraphrased others. If you are interested, I encourage you to buy and read the book, it is amazing!

Steve Jobs - Walter Isaacson

Apple’s product principles

When Mike Markulla was CEO of Apple, he wrote his principles in a one-page paper title “The Apple Marketing Philosophy” that stressed three points.

  • Empathy: or the importance of building an intimate connection with the feelings of the customer to understand his needs better than anyone else.
  • Focus: the importance of eliminating unimportant opportunities.
  • Impute: this principle emphasized that people form an opinion about a company or product based on the signals that it conveys. “People DO judge a book by its cover,” he wrote. “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.”

Always simplify

Steve Jobs’ design philosophy is well known: “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”. What does that mean?

  • Making things intuitively obvious for the user. It involves digging through the depth of the complexity. To be truly simple, you have to go really deep.
  • Making things beautiful.
  • Simplifying the process: iterate daily, make the decision fluid. At Apple, there are no formal design reviews, so there are no huge decision points, meaning they don’t run into major disagreements.

Customers don’t know what they want until you show them

Jobs also decided to eliminate the cursor arrow keys on the Macintosh keyboard. The only way to move the cursor was to use the mouse. It was a way of forcing old-fashioned users to adapt to point-and-click navigation, even if they didn’t want to. Unlike other product developers, Jobs did not believe the customer was always right; if they wanted to resist using a mouse, they were wrong.

At the end of one of his presentations someone asked Jobs whether he thought they should do some market research to see what customers wanted. “No,” he replied, “because customers don’t know what they want until we’ve shown them”.

The idea is to read things that are not yet on the page.

Product Launch

Then, when launching a product, “impute” your greatness by making a memorable impression with a communication blast. This is the principle behind Keynotes. At Alan, we tried it for the first time.

How to compete

Do not copy: steal

The lesson here is to steal great ideas, and make them even better.

As an example, seeing the three-buttoned Xerox mouse, complicated and expensive ($300), Steve Jobs decided to visit IDEO, a local industrial design firm, and told Dean Hovey, one of the Founders, he wanted a single-button $15 model he could “use on Formica and on (his) blue jeans”.

Steve Jobs most famous quote: “Picasso had a saying -- “Good artists copy; great artists steal” -- and we have always been shameless about stealing great ideas.”

Counter Positioning

After the release of their personal computer in 1981, IBM were very confident they would dominate the market. Apple counter-attacked, took out a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal with the headline “Welcome IBM. Seriously.” It clearly positioned the upcoming computer battle as a two-way contest between the spunky and rebellious Apple and the establishment Goliath IBM.

It worked.

Building a company

Hire and develop the best

Steve Jobs often said that “A players like to work only with other A players, which means you can’t indulge B players”.

Organize, roadmap, focus

When Jobs came back to Apple, he said: “I discovered that the best innovation is sometimes the company, the way you organize a company”.

One of the first things Jobs did during the product review process was ban Powerpoints. “I hate the way people use slide presentation instead of thinking”.

“Stop” he shouted at one big product strategy session (...). He grabbed a magic marker, padded to a whiteboard, and drew a horizontal and vertical line to make a four-squared chart. “Here’s what we need”, he continued. Atop the new columns he wrote “Consumer” and “Pro” ; he labeled the two rows “Desktop” and “Portable”. Their job, he said, was to make four great products, one for each quadrant.

This ability to focus saved Apple. In his first year back, Jobs laid off more than three thousand people, which salvaged the company’s balance sheet. Jobs insisted that Apple focus on just two or three priorities at a time.

A few interesting figures

  • The Apple II took the company from Jobs’ garage to the pinnacle of a new industry. Its sales rose dramatically, from 2,500 units in 1977 to 210,000 in 1981.
  • In January 1977, Apple was valued at $5,309 (...). By the end of December 1980, Apple would be valued at $1.79 billion.
  • In 1982, Apple’s annual sales were $1bn, while Microsoft were a mere $32m.

Jobs always indicated that he wanted to build a company where people were motivated to make great products. Everything else was secondary. Sure, it was great to make a profit, because that was what allowed you to make great products. But the products, not the profits were the motivation.

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