I’ve read quite a bit of information about becoming an entrepreneur. Not that I’ve been able to put much of it into practice, but I’ve done a lot of research. Enough that while I was reading Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson, and Becoming Steve Jobs: The Evolution of a Reckless Upstart into a Visionary Leader by Brent Schlender and Rick Tetzeli, I was surprised to notice when Jobs’ success occurred not because he followed what is often given as common advice, but when he deviated from it.
Steps in becoming a successful entrepreneur – what can be learned from Jobs’ journey
A series of small, private ventures with a single partner that were successful.
The opposite of hiding their ideas, the two partners actually showed their ideas to quite a few people (including people at HP), who confirmed the novelty of the ideas, but failed to see the business potential.
Entrepreneurs are often cautioned to guard their ideas closely.
Move next to slightly larger success with a partner.
Steve Jobs didn’t go big right away; he took an incremental step. He embarked on a venture with his partner, Steve Wozniak, that required employing a few friends and relatives after the orders were received, the Apple I, with modest success in moving volume sales.
Look for investors to fund a more ambitious next step in the process, and at the same time hire employees that can teach you more about how to run a company.
The first employees at Apple led to hiring more experts that the the employees personally knew. The company grew out of contacts.
Refine the logo, marketing, after some initial success, not before.
Putting this to early is a misstep Jobs took with NeXT, commissioning an expensive logo (and a state of the art fab plant) for a computer that sold late and never sold well. I think it’s interesting because entrepreneurs are often cautioned that perception is everything; that you can’t get anywhere without the great public image of a logo and marketing. The early logo of Apple had to be refined and, like most entrepreneurs giving advice to start ups, it’s probably something Jobs thought it was going to get right from the start this time. But it didn’t work; it just put him more into debt. However, advertising is a step that paid off in helping to stabilize Apple when he returned to the company with the Think Different campaign. Remember it? I bet you do. But that marketing was undertaken with a company that was already big.
Begin working on the next big thing before the last product is even finished, so that a new release is ready just as the previous one peeks, while maintaining incremental improvements to the original product.
This is something Jobs failed to time correctly early in his career. He lost interest in improving the Apple II, to the extent of actively hurting it and the people working on it, in search of the next big thing. In his search, the LISA and the Apple III, were both flops and the crippled Apple II left the company no where to go.
Be willing to transform the company, or product, into something other than the original intent.
Originally, NeXT was supposed to make the “next” great computer. But what saved the company, and Jobs, was selling off the hardware division (which makes actual computer or computer parts) and focusing on the software (computer programs, not a computer). The results was the operating system, OS X, that ultimately led to Apple buying NeXT and Jobs working for Apple again. When he returned to Apple, the companies big breakthrough came when they transformed from just a computer company into a company that also made other devices that were out of their comfort zone, the like the ipod.
In my personal experience, I was able to complete my PhD research only because I changed from the intent of my original research project. When the molecular biology project, looking for a protein responsible for gravitropism in a fern rhizoid, ran into roadblocks, I pivoted to a project I found by observation, which led to the discovery of gravity directed developmental polarization in a single cell, which is plant physiology research, a different field.
Even with a great product, the key to selling is marketing and hype.
Jobs was really big on big-show product launches, the perfect ad, the perfect store sales experience, in telling people why the product was so great
Learn to delegate.
This is something that Jobs learned best after he was treated for cancer. It caught my eye as another piece of advice that’s given to beginning entrepreneurs. However, I think that timing, like in marketing, is important. I question whether or not this could have been done earlier, before Jobs had found enough brilliant people to surround himself with who truly could do the job as well or better than he could.
Reliance on instinct, rather than market research.
With a few exceptions, most advice to entrepreneurs is to do your market research before you commit to a product or service. But this isn’t the way to find products and services that existing businesses are overlooking. Jobs thought people don’t know what you want until you show it to them. Ignoring market research did lead to failure for Jobs, but it’s also what led to his biggest successes. When you’re wrong, you’re wrong. But when you’re right, it leads to success that no one else saw coming.
Successes were biggest when Jobs’ own interests corresponded to his business interests.
Along with market research, entrepreneurs are often told to make sure they’re meeting the needs of their target market. But Jobs found, and I suspect others do as well, that he had his greatest successes when he was part of the target market. That’s why ultimately Jobs was unsuccessful selling to businesses, but he was successful selling to individuals. (Gates, who was successful selling to businesses, grew up with a lot of business experience.)
Becoming Steve quoted Jonathan Ive, the design chief who worked closely with Jobs during his second time at Apple on products like the revolutionary design of the ipod. “Steve loved ideas and loved making stuff, and he treated the process of creativity with a rare and wonderful reverence. He, better than anyone, understood that while ideas ultimately can be so powerful, they begin as fragile, barely formed thoughts, so easily missed, so easily compromised, so easily just squished…”
It’s the revolutionary ideas, the fragile ones, that I’m afraid the educational system is squishing out of our top students. How do you encourage creativity and foster a willingness to color outside the lines without producing someone who totally flaunts authority in every way, including in their personal life with drug use?