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.