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.
Scaleup Learnings From Our Top Clients – What The Most Successful Entrepreneurs Do Right
So, how do our successful clients move through these constraints to scaling up? We see four key drivers of success, and they are: people, strategy, flawless execution and finance.
You’re out of your start-up boots, staff is increasing, your client base is growing, revenue is up and you’ve proven your case to the market. Now it’s time to scale up. The challenges of this vital growth phase are different and it’s a time that demands different mindsets and different actions. In a world littered with small business failures, it helps to be well-prepared for scaling up using a proven methodology. At Outsourced CFO, we get an inside look at the success factors of our clients who are mastering the transition.
On the one hand, scaling up is a really exciting phase; this is what moves you into real job creation and making an impactful contribution to economic growth. On the other hand, it is really hard to scale up successfully. We see three major constraints that limit companies’ transition from start-up to scale-up:
The business has to have the leadership that can take it to the next level. When you start scaling up, especially rapidly, the founders can no longer do everything themselves. The team must grow and include new leadership talent that can take charge and execute so that the founders are working on the business instead of in the business.
The processes, procedures, networks, systems and workflows of the business all need to be scalable. This is imperative when it comes to your infrastructure for the financial management of your business. You’re only ready for growth when your infrastructure can seamlessly keep pace.
Scaling up demands more innovative marketing and storytelling so that you can more easily connect and engage with the new employees, clients, network partners, investors and mentors that need to come along with you on your scale-up journey.
Businesses that build a market conversation and a compelling brand narrative during their start-up phase are better positioned to have this kind of market access when they need to scale up.
It is critical to have the right people on your team. Our successful entrepreneurs have what it takes to attract, inspire and retain top talent. A strong team of smart, ambitious and purpose-driven people who love the company and want to see it succeed contribute greatly to a world class company culture. They are adept at communicating a compelling vision and establishing core values that people can take on. These entrepreneurs are tuned into the aspirations of their people and focus on developing leaders in their teams who can in turn develop more leaders.
It is planning that ensures that the right things are happening at the right times. At successful scale-ups strategies and action plans are devised to ensure that the most important thing always remains the most important thing.
Strategy includes input from all team members and setting of good priorities for the short, medium and long term. Goals are clear and everyone always knows what they are working towards. The needle is continuously moved because 90-day action plans are implemented each quarter to achieve targets and goals that are over and above people doing their daily jobs.
Top entrepreneurs are not just focused on what operations need to achieve, but how the business operates. They have the right procedures, processes and tools in place so that everyone can deliver along the line on the company’s brand promise. Frequent, quick successive meetings ensure the rapid flow of effective communication. Problems are solved without drama. There is no chaos in the office environment. Everyone is empowered to execute flawlessly to an array of consistently happy clients.
Everyone knows that growth burns cash. A rapidly scaling business faces the challenge of needing a scalable financial infrastructure to keep the company healthy. Our successful entrepreneurs pay close attention to finance as the heartbeat of the business, ensuring that everything else functions. They look at the tech they are using for financial management and for the ways that their financial systems can be automated so that they can be brought rapidly to scale. The capital to grow is another vital finance issue.
The best way to finance a business is through paying clients on the shortest possible cash flow cycle. However, when you are scaling up and making heavier investments in the resources you need for growth, it is likely that you will need a workable plan for raising capital. Our scale-up clients know the value of accessing innovative financial management that provides high level services to drive their business growth.
Navigating the scale-up journey of a growing private company is one of the hardest but most rewarding of careers to pursue. Having people in your corner who have been through this journey before helps take a lot of pain out of the process. No growth journey looks the same, but there are tried and tested methods that will – if applied diligently – lead to definite success. Happy scaling!
That Time Jeff Bezos Was The Stupidest Person In The Room
Everyone can benefit from simple advice, no matter who they are.
When you think of Jeff Bezos, a lot of things probably come to your mind.
You likely think of Amazon.com, a company he founded more than twenty years ago, that’s completely disrupted retail and online commerce as we know it. You probably also think of his entrepreneurial genius. Or the immense wealth that he’s built for himself and others. You may also think of drones, Alexa and same-day delivery. Bezos is a visionary, an entrepreneur, a cutthroat competitor and a game changer. He’s unquestionably a very, very smart man. But sometimes, he can be…well…stupid, too.
Like that time back in 1995.
That was when Amazon was just a startup operating from a 2,000 square foot basement in Seattle. During that period, Bezos and most of the handful of employees working for him had other day jobs. They gathered in the office after hours to print and pack up the orders that their fast-growing bookselling site was receiving each day from around the world. It was tough, grueling work.
The company at the time, according to a speech Bezos gave, had no real organisation or distribution. Worse yet, the process of filling orders was physically demanding.
“We were packing on our hands and knees on a hard concrete floor,” Bezos recalled. “I said to the person next to me ‘this packing is killing me! My back hurts, it’s killing my knees’ and the person said ‘yeah, I know what you mean.'”
Bezos, our hero, the entrepreneurial genius, the CEO of a now 600,000-employee company that’s worth around a trillion dollars and one of the richest men in the world today then came up with what he thought was a brilliant idea. “You know what we need,” he said to the employee as they packed boxes together. “What we need is…kneepads!”
The employee (Nicholas Lovejoy, who worked at Amazon for three years before founding his own philanthropic organisation financed by the millions he made from the company’s stock) looked at Bezos like he was — in Bezos’ words — the “stupidest guy in the room.”
“What we need, Jeff,” Lovejoy said, “are a few packing tables.” Duh.
So the next day Bezos – after acknowledging Lovejoy’s brilliance – bought a few inexpensive packing tables. The result? An almost immediate doubling in productivity. In his speech, Bezos said that the story is just one of many examples how Amazon built its customer-centered service culture from the company’s very early days. Perhaps that’s true. Then again, it could mean something else.
It could mean that sometimes, just sometimes, those successful, smart, wealthy and powerful people may not be as brilliant as you may think. Nor do they always have the right answers. Sometimes, just sometimes, they may actually be the stupidest guy in the room. So keep that in mind the next time you’re doing business with an intimidating customer, supplier or partner who appears to know it all. You might be the one with the brilliant idea.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
How Sureswipe Built Its Identity By Building A Strong Company Culture
Culture is unique to a business, it’s the reason why companies win or lose.
A company’s culture is its identity and personality. Since this is closely linked to its brand and how it wants to be viewed by its employees, customers, competitors and the outside world, culture is critical. The challenge is understanding that culture contains unwritten rules and that certain behaviours that align to the culture the company is nurturing should be valued and cherished more than others.
At Sureswipe, the core of our culture is that we value people and what they are capable of. We particularly value people who are engaged, get on with the job, take initiative, are happy to get stuck in beyond their formal job descriptions, and who sometimes have to suck up a bit of pain to get through a challenge.
We include culture in everything we do, so it’s a fundamental element in our recruitment process. In addition to a skills and experience interview, each candidate undergoes a culture fit in the form of a values interview. We look for top performers who echo our core values (collaboration, courage, taking initiative, fairness and personal responsibility) and have real conviction about making a difference in the lives of independent retailers. If we don’t believe a candidate will be a culture fit, we won’t hire them.
If we make a mistake in the recruitment process, we won’t retain culture killers, even if they are top performers. This is such a tough lesson to learn, but it liberates a company and often improves overall company performance.
Culture should be cultivated, constantly communicated and used when making decisions. At Sureswipe, we often talk about what it takes to win and have simplified winning into three key elements: A simple, yet inspirational vision; the right culture; and a clear and focused strategy. The first and third elements can be copied from organisation to organisation. Culture on the other hand is unique to every business and can be a great influencer in its success.
Catch phrases on the wall are not the definition of culture
A strong culture is purposeful and evolving. It’s what makes a company great, but also exposes its weakness. No company is perfect and it’s important to acknowledge the good and the bad. Without it, we cannot ensure that we are protecting and building on the good and reducing or eradicating the bad.
Mistakes happen. That’s okay. But we are very purposeful about how mistakes are handled. Culturally we’re allergic to things being covered up or deflected and have had great learning moments as individuals and as an organisation when bad news travels fast. It’s liberating to ‘tell it like it is’ and almost always, with a few more minds on the problem at hand, things can be rectified with minimal impact.
Culture should be built on values that resonate with you and that you want to excel at. In our case, some are lived daily and others are aspirational in that we’re still striving for them. In each case we genuinely believe in them and encourage each other to keep living them. This increases the level of trust within the team, as there is consistency in how people are treated and how we get things done.
We are always inspired when, after sitting in our reception area, nine out of ten visitors will comment on the friendliness of staff. We hear their remarks about how friendly the Sureswipe team is or a potential candidate will talk about the high level of energy and positivity they experience throughout the interview process.
These are indicators that our culture is alive and well. It’s these components of our culture — friendliness, helpfulness and positivity — that cascade into how we do business and how we treat our customers and people in general. Being able to describe your culture and support it with real life examples is a great way to communicate and promote the type of behaviour that is important and recognised within the organisation.
Culture doesn’t just happen
We are fortunate that culture has always been important to us, even if it wasn’t clearly defined in our early days. As we grew it became important to be more purposeful in the evolution of our culture. About four years ago, the senior leadership team and nominated cultural or values icons were mandated to relook all things cultural.
A facilitator said to us, “You really love it when people take the initiative, and get very frustrated when they don’t.” That accurate insight became core to our values. We love to see people proactively solve problems, take responsibility for their own growth, initiate spontaneous events, change their tactics or implement new ideas. It energises us and aligns to the way we do business.
We celebrate growth and love to see our staff getting promoted due to their hard work and perseverance. We recently had one of our earliest technicians get promoted to the Regional Manager of Limpopo. It was one of the best moments of 2018.
Be purposeful with culture, describe it, communicate it and use it in all aspects of business. Culture should change. Don’t allow phrases like ‘this is not how we do things,’ or, ‘the culture here is changing,’ to stifle the growth and development of your culture. When done correctly change is a good thing. Culture is driven from the top but at the end of the day it’s a company-wide initiative. Design it together with team members from different parts of the organisation to get the most from it. And then make sure everyone lives and breathes it.
The best ROI is achieved when you stop wasting money.
Peter Drucker once said that businesses have two main functions — marketing and innovation — that produce results. “All the rest are costs.”
If you agree, that means that the average business has a lot of fat to trim. Obviously you can go overboard trying to cut costs too. My philosophy has been to look at some of the general areas where you can add some efficiency but not at the expense of impairing your most valuable resource — your focus.
The following cost-cutting measures will do that. Think of these as adding value to your company, whether it’s time, creativity or a closer connection to your consumers.
Uncover inefficiencies in your process
This is where I begin. In fact, it was analysing the inefficiencies of legal communication and knowledge sharing that led me to create Foxwordy, the digital collaboration platform for lawyers. I noticed that attorneys in our clients’ legal departments were drafting new documents from scratch when they could pool their knowledge and save time by using language that a trusted colleague had employed in a similar document. Business is all about process. When you create a new process, or enhance an existing process, you will drive cost efficiency.
Refine your process, then automate
If existing processes are lacking, it is time to create process. If you have processes, but they are not driving efficiency, it’s time to redefine your process. Either way, a key second step is refining processes that are needed in your business. Only then can you go to automation, since automating without a process will result in chaos — and won’t save time or money. Similarly, automating a poor process is not going to give you the cost-saving results you are looking for.
Thanks to the Cloud, there are very accessible means of automating manual processes. For instance, you can automate bookkeeping functions with FreshBooks and use chatbots to interface with clients — for very basic information. If you’re a retailer, a chatbot on your site can explain your return policy or address other frequently asked questions. Automating such processes allows you to spend more time focusing on clients and customers. Technology alone isn’t a panacea for all business functions, but if you find something you’re doing manually that can be automated, take a look and consider how much time and process definition automation would save you.
Rethink your outreach
Marketing and outreach are usually big and important challenges for an organisation. In my experience, there are two main components to successful marketing — knowing your customers and using the most effective media to spread your message. For the first part, I recommend polling. There are various online survey services that offer an instant read on what your customers are thinking. You may think business is humming along, but a survey could reveal that while consumers like your product, a few tweaks would make it even better.
For the second part — marketing messaging — once you have a firm idea of your marketing messaging, Facebook is a great vehicle for outreach. The ability to granularly target customers and create Lookalike audiences (from around 1 000 consumers) can help grow your business.
Scrutinise your spend history
There are tools that can help you assess spend history and find cost-cutting opportunities. For example, you might be able to take advantage of rewards or loyalty programmes to reduce common business expenses, like travel, or consolidate vendors for a similar function. If you have a long-standing relationship with a vendor, negotiate better pricing.
The most important elements to keep in mind are resources that make your company special. Your company may be built on one person’s reputation and expertise. Guard against tarnishing that reputation with inappropriate messaging in advertising or social media. If your company’s special sauce is intellectual property, protect that too. But everything else — ranging from physical property to salary and benefits — are costs and should be considered negotiable. — Monica Zent