I read Steve Jobs' biography last week, and despite not being an Apple fan, I found the whole book very interesting. Steve had a much more interesting life than I had imagined, and the book offered a rare opportunity to see behind the scenes at a very secretive company. But the biggest lesson I learned from the book wasn't something written directly in it, but rather a theme that reoccurred through Steve's whole life: focus.
When the iPhone came out, I thought it was a joke. Amongst its substantial list of deficiencies it had no apps, couldn't multitask, lacked a keyboard, had a very low resolution screen, and had no GPS. Despite the hype surrounding it, I wasn't interested in the least. I don't remember exactly how I felt back then, but I wouldn't be surprised if I predicted that it would fail.
Steve Jobs was a smart man. The GPS, keyboard, and all those "critical" features I mentioned didn't accidentally get left out. He left them out deliberately. Why? Because he understood that there were only a few key aspects of the phone that would determine its success, and he focused on them to the exclusion of everything else.
Back then, smart phones were easy to use if you were a nerd, and difficult to use if you weren't. They had ugly interfaces upon which a gaudy layer of polish was sometimes applied. They were slow and clunky. The iPhone, on the other hand, was simple to use, snappy, and looked great. Anyone could use it easily, and would enjoy doing so.
And so the iPhone took off. Steve correctly identified the make-it-or-break-it qualities of a phone, and made them perfect. Its shortcomings disappointed people, but not nearly enough to prevent them from buying it. Often (but not always) staying one step behind, he managed to roll out newer features on successive iPhones, and in most cases implemented them better than anyone else had.
Other Apple products reflect this intense focus on critical features, as well. Take the Macbook Air. The first generation had exactly three good things about it (four if you love OSX): it was razor thin, looked good, and had good battery life. Almost everything else about it was subpar. But it didn't matter -- Steve knew what people cared about, and delivered it in spades.
After reading the book and discovering Steve's secret to success, I decided to apply his logic to my own startup. What, I asked myself, would be the deciding factor in whether or not it would succeed?
I'm embarrassed to say that the answer was fairly obvious and was an aspect of the site that had been given some attention, but was certainly not a focal point. I realized that if we could perform 20% better than our competitors in this one area, it would be almost impossible not to succeed, even if the rest of our site was horrible. Even more exciting-- none of our competitors are optimizing for this one thing, so with focused effort, we should be able to beat them by a good margin.
I may not have liked Steve's computers all that much, but the lesson I learned from him may be one of the most valuable lessons I've ever received.
I'd love it if the comments here didn't turn into a pro/anti Apple thing
BTW, this is why I gladly pay full Kindle price an any book rather than try to pirate them. If I get one good tip from a book, it's worth many times more than the cover price.
I'm on a cruise across the Atlantic now (probably about 350 miles west of Africa as I write this). I'm going to set aside one day to get TaskSmash ready for everyone to use and make it possible to make a free account without an invitation code.
I have no relevant photos, so the title picture is a shot I took in Berlin last week.
Really fun to read this after you've launched SETT. Sure, other blogging platforms are still superior in a few areas, but you blow everyone out of the water when it comes to comments and using a blog as a means to build a community. You definitely made the right move in focusing on what was most important.
That's the spirit. Looking forward to having a look on Tasksmash as I'm always to late for the codes.
You might want to join the November startup sprint.
looks like we keep going to the same places. I was in Berlin before I went to Mallorca, then you went to both of them as well :-)
Woah!! Can't wait to hear about this startup! Any timelines set to start leaking some details??
Anyhow Good Luck with the project!
Way to miss the point JGi!
I wonder if Mr. Jobs was utilizing the 80/20 rule when he decided to use laser focus ("You know, 80% of the people only care about these one or two things..") or how he came about that decision.
In my own business I think my 20% is actually how good my website looks which is ironic because it has nothing to do with my product, but lends credibility to my services (and I'm not talking about my band's music site btw).
Great post, I definitely agree that one of the most impressive themes of the book is Steve's ability to focus like a laser on specific projects/details.
Also, I thought it was fascinating to see how his extreme perfectionism worked both for and against him over the years. His commitment to withholding products until they met his exacting standards is an interesting contrast to the "get it shipped!" mentality in some of today's tech/entrepreneurial community.
If you're wondering why I always put my name in the topics of these things, it's not because I have a huge ego. I do have a huge ego, but I do it so that my name gets better search rankings in google. My goal is for people to be able to search for "Tynan" and for my site to be number one. Soon. If you want to help, like the almighty Magnus, you can link to my blog and put my name in the link.
Today Doug, Steve, Steve's (ex?) girlfriend, Todd and I headed down to Canyon Lake, TX to do some tubing. You see, I bought the sweetest tube ever to bring to the lake. The thing actually flies 15 feet in the air behind the boat. I think I wrote about it before, but I'm not sure. Anyway, the first time we tried I skipped along the water, but didn't really take flight because my weak human lungs couldn't inflate the tube enough.
Today before going to the lake I bought two different pumps to ensure that the thing would actually inflate. As it turned out, the boat rental place had a sweet air compressor, negating the need for our own pumps. Oh well... you owe me one (two?), Wal Mart. Our rental boat was a shoddy looking boat most certainly manufactured before 1990 which was apparently very fast. The interior was a coccoon of brightly colored vinyl couches covered by a weathered bimini top. I climbed aboard and with the help of Todd, tied the monsterous tube to the boat.
Steve Case was interviewed by Paul Sherman at yesterday's Digital Media Conference in Arlington, VA.
I also captured a panel by research analysts on digital media trends, a panel by VCs, and I did a panel on the iPad + Media.
I asked Steve a question about focus, saying that as an entrepreneur I had to be extremely focused, but I saw him doing many things (he's Chairman of Revolution, StartupAmerica and The Case Foundation) and I asked him if the need for extreme focus lessened when one has many resources at his disposal. He said 'no,' but then said his focus is on entrepreneurship, which didn't make a lot of sense to me. I could, for example, say that my focus is on entrepreneurship too, or that my focus is on being a human. Saying one has focus at too macro a level seems to cheapen the value of focus and render it meaningless. Or, maybe I just don't understand his position because I don't have access to the kind of wealth he does to execute his vision. What's your opinion? I'd love to hear your comments below.
Here's Steve's interview.
Steve Case was interviewed by Paul Sherman at yesterday's Digital Media Conference in Arlington, VA. I also captured a panel by research analysts on digital media trends, a panel by VCs, and I did a panel on the iPad + Media. I asked Steve a question about focus, saying that as an entrepreneur I had to be extremely focused, but I saw him doing many things (he's Chairman of Revolution, StartupAmerica and The Case Foundation) and I asked him if the need for extreme focus lessened when one has many resources at his disposal. He said 'no,' but then said his focus is on entrepreneurship, which didn't make a lot of sense to me. I could, for example, say that my focus is on entrepreneurship too, or that my focus is on being a human. Saying one has focus at too macro a level seems to cheapen the value of focus and render it meaningless. Or, maybe I just don't understand his position because I don't have access to the kind of wealth he does to execute his vision. What's your opinion? I'd love to hear your comments below. Here's Steve's interview. > A little bonus -- John Trimble, the Chief Revenue Officer of Pandora, gave a keynote right after Steve, and I captured that one too: > And here's the Twitter stream: //