JT Foxx: Looking back, what made Apple a successful start-up?
Steve Wozniak: Everyone thinks that from the beginning we just made all these smart decisions, but the reality was that our funder was our biggest mentor. He explained that we needed to hire the right people to run a technology company, and that included a president to oversee the different departments, keep things moving in the right direction, and to get things done.
We hired professionals to run marketing, accounts and operations. I was already an accomplished engineer, but Steve Jobs was so young, so while I ran engineering, Steve just didn’t qualify for a title. His role was to participate in all the top levels of the company and learn it all.
In those early years we learnt why we should have a high profit margin on the product, and how this would help to fund the company as we grew. Our mentor taught us that marketing was more important than engineering, and that we needed to become a company driven by marketing if we really wanted to grow.
The result was that engineering obeyed what marketing decided the customers wanted, what they would pay for it and so on. This is where Steve really excelled. He understood these fundamentals, right down to the importance of perfection when it came to taking a picture of the product
Every line, every detail must be perfect, including getting the lighting right. Steve learnt that the quality of the box influenced how people viewed the value of what was inside the box. Even the experience of opening that box is important. All of these became key tenents at Apple, and of Steve in particular.
Was the key to a successful partnership that you were so different?
I was very lucky that Steve wasn’t an engineer or we would have been in competition with each other. And I didn’t want to do any of the business side.
This left us in control of our areas, doing things the way we wanted to. We could be ourselves and be unlimited in that sense. Partnerships work when there are complementary skills sets that don’t overlap too much.
Having said that, there were a lot of failures in our early years. Apple wasn’t an instant success. Steve was excellent at convincing people why they needed the Apple 2, but he also made mistakes. In a lot of ways, a great product carried us through.
I had developed the product, but Steve had a spirit and drive that powered us out into the market. We needed each other. Maybe someone else could have filled Steve’s shoes, but to be honest that was never a consideration. Steve was a lifetime friend. To me, a partnership is much more important at the personal level than what it means on the business level. We were lucky to have both.
How did you resolve your disagreements with Steve and who had the final say?
I’m a non-conflict person. I listen, I offer advice, and I only push for things that are really important to me. Steve was usually the smartest person in the room. In any discussion, he’d always have entered the room having spent time on the issues, and thinking through which path we should take and why.
It made him very hard to disagree with, and you’d really need a good, well thought-out argument to do so. I deferred to his judgement in many areas. As far as my own products went though, we rarely had disagreements. I remember one instance when Steve wanted to build our product a little bit weaker with two slots to plug extra things into. I wanted eight slots. Steve didn’t know computers.
As far as he was concerned you need to be able to plug in a printer and a modem. I stuck to my guns – I wanted the ability to plug in eight things. I won that one. I was the guy who knew computers, and he trusted that. It goes back to understanding your roles within the partnership.
Steve just wanted to get to market, I wanted the best products. I always saw myself as working on the best product in the world and it would take me a certain amount of time to perfect it.
I was meticulous about writing down how long a project would take, and it was always longer than Steve hoped it would be. He was incredibly impatient. He wanted everything done in a week, two weeks max. If a month went by and I was working on something that was going to take six months to do really well, Steve would start getting nervous.
He would say, “We have to go find somebody else to do this,” or, “We have to see if Bill Gates has something we can buy.” Ultimately, it was give and take.
What’s the secret to a successful start-up?
Passion. We started the company so young. We were convinced we would own the business forever. The secret was that it was a real passion. I would have done all of my work for no salary, without a company. I would have done the work at home on paper, just to prove I could.
When your passion is that strong, you go to bed thinking only about the product: How you can make it even better and more efficient. Steve liked to go for walks to think about things. He gave himself that creative and strategic space. We loved what we were doing.
What is the role of ideas in a start-up, versus execution?
Ideas are critical, but they’re also not the be-all and end-all of a great business. For every idea, there are probably about 10 000 people in the world who have the same idea.
It’s the very rare few that take the idea and realise it, meaning they turn it into something real that can be taken to market. The business that takes the idea and turns it into a product is the one deserving of results.
Is being first to market one of the most important strategic differentiators for a business?
Being first is a big advantage, but it’s not enough. You also have to do things very, very well. Just rushing out to be first allows for mistakes. You still need to take the time to create something that works well and that the market needs.
The introduction of the mouse is a good example of something we did too soon. Steve was in a hurry, and put out the mouse too soon. Too soon means competitors can copy you and put out a better product. The Mac was also a rush; it wasn’t built the right way. We could have waited just five more weeks to have a great computer.
We learnt from that though. Steve didn’t show Bill Gates the iPhone before it was out. We took longer to launch the iPhone and it took the market by storm because it was such a great product. Being first in this regard was a huge advantage, but also because we didn’t rush it. With Apple 2 we were a leader as well, the product was so good. In this case it wasn’t that we were first, but better, and that’s first in a sense too.
Apple is a master of simplicity, from the products, to packaging, to what the brand stands for. How can other brands emulate this simplicity?
We found that if one person is in charge of a product, they can pay attention to market research, throw out a lot of junk, and build something that they would want to use themselves. This also makes it much simpler to describe the product, because it’s coming from a personal place.
When Steve came back to Apple he was great at simplifying what we did. He said no to a lot of ideas, but it meant that we left things out of a product to make it usable. The result was that our products didn’t turn people off because of their complexity.
They attracted people because they were simple, intuitive and usable. Don’t add complexity just because you can. Think about the user, that’s the lesson. Build everything you do with the fewest parts. That’s the secret.
Apple has always been masterful in touching consumers at their core. What’s the secret to successful marketing?
Steve and I launched Apple at a time when a lot of other companies were launching and creating computers. They were all explaining their products from a functionality perspective, in other words, saying it did x,y and z. Our marketing mentor taught us that people didn’t care about the tech of the product. Most didn’t understand the tech anyway.
All they cared about was what the product could do for them and their lives. If you could explain how your product was going to make their lives simple in areas where things used to be hard, you would touch your consumer on a personal level.
We did that right from the start.
What was Apple’s biggest fear during the start-up years?
I believe you shouldn’t have fear – do what you love with passion, that’s how I like to approach life. Steve’s biggest fear in our early years was big companies – he felt like they were all breathing down our necks, and that their big money would create better products than us. Our mentor disagreed.
He was constantly reminding Steve that we had great people, making great products, and that all we had to do was hold onto the same percentage of the market as we had – the market was rising, which meant our business was growing.
Apple has consistently created products that change people’s lives. What’s the secret to a game-changing idea?
Whether you look at what we did at Apple, or great products from other companies, they all have one thing in common – they’re the result of a strong gut feeling.
You have to believe that a product that appeals to you, and that you would use, will sell. It starts with the understanding that there are other people just like me, facing my challenges. Sometimes this means a product that builds on something already in existence, other times it’s something revolutionary. But the secret starts with building something for yourself, instead of building it for everyone else.
Of course you have to take other people and the market into account, but if everyone on your team doesn’t share your vision, and wouldn’t buy the product themselves, you need to go back to the drawing board. Find the reason behind wanting the product, and if you can’t, move on to another idea.
Taking It To The Malaysian Market – Karl van Zyl Of Antipodean Café
Karl van Zyl approach has always been logical and simplified and he highlights three principles that he believes to be critical in the food and beverage industry.
Karl van Zyl has a 17 year history in the food and beverage industry in South-Africa and now applies his skills and knowledge in the extremely vibrant and competitive Malaysian market. I had a very interesting conversation with him to explore both similarities and differences of both markets and to share his accumulative learning of this industry to those entrepreneurs considering to open a restaurant or café.
He has a history working for the Mikes’ kitchen and Fishmonger groups in South-Africa fulfilling a range of roles from being a General Manager to Operational Manager. Currently he both manages an well-known Café called Antipodean and facilitates the opening of new cafes’ in Klang Valley, Malaysia.
Karl shared that his approach has always been logical and that applying sound basics has always served him well. Would you eat the food served at your restaurant and really enjoy it? Posing questions such as the aforementioned to yourself as a restaurant owner or manager helps you to be aware of the quality of your operation and to always keep the customer in mind when making decisions.
One of the key learnings that he shared was to get a very good and experienced team of waiters together that has previous restaurant or hospitality industry experience. He strongly advises quality over quantity when it comes to waiters and fondly remembers one of the waiters that he managed whom could take orders from a group of twenty people and remember each order from the top of his head.
It is not only about quality of service to the customer but also when there is a small but quality team of waiters operating then their earnings are much higher and they will feel valued and happy as opposed to a large group of waiters competing for relatively small rewards.
Karls’ approach has always been logical and simplified and he highlights three principles that he believes to be critical in the food and beverage industry:
- Quality of food
- Quality of service
He adds that in addition to the above principles your location should of course be in area with very good ‘foot traffic’.
When the entrepreneur venturing into the food and beverage market considers the right suppliers it is a critical factor to go and visit their facilities, thoroughly check their quality and enquire which other quality brands they are supplying in addition to buying at good prices.
In his view comparing the Malaysian food and beverage market to the South African market there are a lot more Malaysians eating at restaurants than in South Africa. One of the reasons for this is that there are a lot of ‘street café/restaurant’ options with quality food at a very low price due to the restaurant not being air-conditioned and making use of for example plastic chairs and tables.
Personally the author has found much more twenty four hour food options and countless varieties of food compared to the South African market. If you are awake and hungry at 3 am in the morning in Kuala Lumpur, no problem! You also will not be limited to only 24 hour fast food options, almost any type of food that you desire will be available that is if you know where to go off-course.
As a matter of interest Karl regards the prices of restaurants in general in Kuala Lumpur to be better than in South Africa and holds the service levels in KL in higher esteem due to it being more ‘personal’ and customer orientated. He believes that South African food matches the quality of Malaysian food but that there is however much more variety of food available in Malaysia.
Karl pointed out that it is possible to have people from all five continents represented in one night at a restaurant as the food culture in Malaysia is very diverse and so is the cultural phenomenon in general in Kuala Lumpur.
What Comfort Zones? Get Comfortable With Being Uncomfortable Says Co-Founder Of Curlec: Zac Liew
Zac Liew was offered to be CEO and Co-founder of Curlec at the age of twenty six and took up the offer knowing that he would be engaged in a steep learning curve. Curlec is a FinTech company that is redefining the customer experience for Direct Debit.
Botanica Deli, Bangsar South, Malaysia a vibrant environment where a number of entrepreneurs and office workers go to meet and have great food and coffee. I walked into the Deli to meet a man that might just possess the ‘entrepreneurial gene’ if indeed that gene exists.
Zac Liew always wanted to venture onto the exciting yet challenging playing field of entrepreneurial ventures having his dad and mother as examples. His father a lawyer, whom ventured into property development and his mother whom started the first chain of liquor stores in Malaysia.
His parents’ ventures interested him from a very young age and helped to ignite the entrepreneurial fire in this very young CEO and co-founder of Curlec. Zac is a qualified lawyer whom also did a stint in the banking industry but at all times he had a burning desire to do something entrepreneurial and always had an interest in tech.
To him tech was always logical and simply made sense within this ever changing business environment within which we as entrepreneurs launch our start-up ventures. He also enjoys the challenging demands that the tech environment places upon his problem solving skills.
The Creation of Curlec
Zac Liew was offered to be CEO and Co-founder of Curlec at the age of twenty six and took up the offer knowing that he would be engaged in a steep learning curve. Curlec is a FinTech company that is redefining the customer experience for Direct Debit. They are the first Malaysian software company to enable online Direct Debit payments in Malaysia. One of the core principles that Curlec was founded upon is to Build great tech that solves a basic need.
Zac together with his co-founders Steve Kucia and Raj Lorenz found a simplified and effective solution to collecting money on a recurring basis. Normally recurring billing and collections is a big issue for SMEs’ and other options were exceptionally costly and timeous.
Zac pointed out that the size of the issue of recurring collections exceeded all expectations and that is one of the reasons that their start-up phase has been successful and gained very good traction in the market.
Curlec has a razor sharp focus on only two products which enables them to focus on giving a great service and customer experience. Curlec cuts through the normal levels of bureaucracy of big companies and has a laser focus on their customers.
How does this apply to start-up entrepreneurs?
Create a product or a system that is simplified, very user friendly, cost and time effective, and more importantly that solves a very challenging issue within the market place that adds great value to customers. Underpin this by being customer centric.
I asked Zac to enlighten me on the key learnings of his journey thus far and also share success principles that has served him well in business and in his life in general. He pointed out that he believes that every entrepreneur should get comfortable with being uncomfortable and venture outside the boundaries of their own comfort zones.
‘Be comfortable with making mistakes’ he says. Get feedback learn from it and integrate the useful feedback in your thinking and in practically applying solutions.’
As business and life has a natural and general ebb and flow to it persistence is a key factor to your success. Accept challenges as they occur and realise that the mind of the entrepreneur should always have a problem solving focus. As a fan of combat sports, Zac shared the following quotes that resonates with him:
“The more you seek the uncomfortable the more you will become comfortable” – Conor McGregor
“I have been training under the dark lights so that I can shine in the bright lights’ – Anthony Joshua
As a writer I have always been fascinated by the wisdom imparted by philosophers and masters of their respective fields. I am even more excited and hopeful for our future when I hear wisdom ‘rolling of the tongue’ of a twenty six year old entrepreneur:
‘Be idealistic in your ideas but be pragmatic in actualising them. If things are not working out do not be stuck in that. Take what you can learn from your experiences and move on.’
Tech has the inherent power to reach the far ends of the world seamlessly and when we have more and more tech entrepreneurs solving big consumer issues and thereby making this world a better place we can be more and more hopeful of a better future.
Don’t Be ‘Outside Standing’ On Your Own Exponential Growth Says Serial Investor, Jimmy Phoon
Serial investor Jimmy Phoon is proud of his and his team at Alps Global holdings in achieving a $300 million valuation.
It was a usually warm and humid afternoon in Malaysia as I walked into the foodbar at Fashion library in Kota Damansara, to meet a man who has a deep understanding of leveraging capital mechanisms in order to achieve exponential business growth.
Serial investor Jimmy Phoon is proud of his and his team at Alps Global holdings in achieving a $300 million valuation. He doesn’t speak to the ‘wrongs and rights’ of investments as he believes there are many ways in approaching an investment opportunity. He does however, firmly believe in the MOC (Miracles of Capital) organisations’ (of which he is a senior alumni member) approach to exponentially grow a company and having a clear exit strategy such as selling at a desired price or publically listing the company.
Jimmy enthusiastically highlighted the difference between them, as he names it a ‘feasible’ and a ‘bankable’ business investment. In offering a simple differentiation between the two terms he explained that ‘feasibility’ simply means that the business is making money, whilst ‘bankable’ means that the business is not only making money but that there is a clear succession plan and exit strategy in place.
As an experienced international entrepreneur and investor he recognises that a vast number of entrepreneurs are very well versed in the market mechanisms of their respective industries yet not equally adept at the capital mechanisms that underpins the exponential growth of companies. He points out that when a company has very good management in place, has a clear and attractive dividend policy to its shareholders, and in addition a well-defined and practical exit strategy it will increase the appetite of investors in general.
He describes the MOC to be an international platform to teach the mechanisms of Capital to entrepreneurs and investors. The MOC is the trifecta of business incubation, acceleration, and investment. One of the core principles of business investment that the MOC teaches and which Jimmy firmly believes in is collaboration between companies and entrepreneurs.
This means the willingness and openness to merge your unique skills as an entrepreneur, the unique offering of your company, profit and loss, with the skills, products and offerings of other companies with the end goal of exponential growth of a newly formed company. This approach can create a big win for all involved.
But what is ‘Outside Standing’?
The aforementioned discussion led to Jimmy sharing one of his favourite sayings:
“Be outstanding or outside standing” – a tongue in the cheek way of saying that by truly understanding and applying both the mechanisms of the market and capital you can experience the exponential growth of your company or alternatively by not fully applying both mechanisms it is then highly likely that you will be a witness from the ‘outside’ to the exponential growth of other companies and unfortunately not your own.
Jimmy’s’ accumulated learnings allows him to assist his team in building an ‘IPO’ compliant company that is formed with a collaborative approach towards a planned and well executed exit. That is part of his mind-set which is to do ‘big things’ and keep a distance from ‘small things’ for as an investor this man is always after exponential growth. He fosters a creation mind-set which is to create a bigger picture through leveraging and combining market and capital mechanisms.
One of the key ‘take always’ for me as an entrepreneur is to be much more open to collaboration in order to add value to others and in turn receive value such as exponential growth. Understanding the market mechanisms within your industry is not enough to multiply business performance, taking a keen interest in the capital mechanisms at play will take major strides towards actualising your bigger picture.
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