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10 start-up lessons to take from Steve Jobs
By Oliver Milman
The announcement of Steve Jobs’ decision to quit as CEO of Apple may, on reflection, not be entirely unexpected, but it draws to a close one of the finest chapters in entrepreneurial history.
The ailing Jobs, who took a medical leave of absence in 2009, said that the “day has come” where he can no longer carry out his duties as CEO.
He leaves behind a company that recorded a thumping $7.31 billion profit in the last quarter. But his influence on business, technology and popular culture has been far beyond mere numbers.
Here we run through the 10 lessons that budding entrepreneurs can take from Jobs’ stunning success.
1. Keep a strict focus
It’s clear that Jobs was always going to work in the tech space, from when he dropped out of college, started attending classes he wasn’t enrolled in and got a job at Atari.
But although he was working in a nascent industry when he started Apple in a garage in 1973, he always kept a tight focus on the products that would build the business, from the Apple I computer in 1973 to the iPad last year.
He once said: “Apple is a $30 billion company, yet we’ve got less than 30 major products. I don’t know if that’s ever been done before… it means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully.”
2. Embody your brand
Apple has become a company that almost transcends business and tech – it is a popular culture icon and adored by its customers on a level that most other brands can only dream of.
Many of these things can also be said of Jobs himself. He embodies the innovative, cutting edge, design-savvy image of the business. Entrepreneurs can’t afford for there to be any jarring dis-connect between their own image and that of their company.
Above all, you need passion. “You’ve got to find what you love,” Jobs has said. “And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers.”
3. Surround yourself with the best people
Jobs may be viewed as a technological genius, but if it wasn’t for some extremely talented allies, it’s unlikely that we would’ve ever heard of him.
He had few friends before meeting computer whizz-kid Steve Wozniak in the early 1970s, who proceeded to build products that no-one could match in terms of innovation.
Although his business skills have arguably never quite matched his design nous, Jobs has been savvy enough to bring in people who offer what he can’t. Hence, Tim Cook, very much a “numbers man” as COO, was in prime position to take over as CEO.
Jobs only took delegation so far, however, when it came to entrepreneurial instinct. “Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice,” he advised.
4. Improve on what is currently offered
Apple is known as a highly innovative company that has completely transformed the way we think about entertainment and communication.
But in reality, the business has built its success on improving what went before. It made the MP3 player better with the iPod. The mobile phone was improved with the iPhone.
The story goes that the iPhone came about after Apple execs complained to each other about what irritated them about their mobiles. Jobs focused on what wasn’t working in current trends and overhauled it.
5. Keep the customer in mind
Famously, Apple under Jobs never hired consultants or conducted market research. He relied on his innate sense of what consumers wanted and, crucially, what they will want in the future.
While this approach won’t work for every business, there are several lessons you can take from Jobs when it comes to customers. One is to put yourself in their shoes.
“We figure out what we want. You can’t go out and ask people ‘what’s the next big thing?” he has said.
6. Learn from failure
The relationship between Jobs and Apple hasn’t always been a cosy, harmonious one.
In 1985, Jobs had a bust-up with then-CEO John Sculley, causing him to walk out of the company he co-founded. Rather than mope, he bought studio animation firm Pixar before returning to Apple in 1996.
He immediately binned a range of products that he felt were a waste of time and went about pointing Apple in a new direction, focusing on just four products, firstly with the brightly-coloured series of Macs and then onward to the iPod and beyond.
7. Think big
Whether it’s taking an axe to Apple’s product range or creating entirely new categories with devices such as the iPad, Jobs has never been afraid to think big.
Everything about Apple under his command has been geared towards the brave and genre-defining. Jobs’ product presentations, to packed crowds, added a sense of theatre and occasion to the Apple brand.
That doesn’t mean that ambition can be fulfilled without hard work. As Jobs put it: “I’m convinced that about half of what separates the successful entrepreneurs from the non-successful ones is pure perseverance.”
8. Demand the best
Jobs may have a favourable image in the media, but those who have worked under him describe a man obsessed with perfection. As well as thinking big, Jobs liked to be across the detail too.
“My job is not to be easy on people,” he once stated. “My job is to make them better.”
9. Succession planning
Jobs’ exit may have shocked many observers, given that his long absences from Apple in the past two years have never been fully articulated, but it’s clear that a solid succession plan has been built behind the scenes.
Cook has already got runs on the board as acting CEO and will be tasked with driving the company forward, with help from Jobs as chairman.
If you fell under a bus, who would replace you? Hopefully, you will have an answer as Jobs did: “My job is to make the whole executive team good enough to be successors, so that’s what I try to do.”
10. Create a signature look
Jobs made the black skivvy look his own. He probably has a wardrobe stuffed with hundreds of them.
Maybe you should adopt a distinctive style. Bow tie perhaps? Or maybe a hat worn at a jaunty angle?
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