'Be a yardstick of quality': small business lessons from Steve Jobs
Steve Jobs' unfortunate passing on Oct. 5 reminded us of just how much this man has achieved. He redefined the music, animated-movie, mobile and computing industries. Many people mistakenly believe that NeXT Computer – his post-Apple venture – was a failure. They do not understand, however, that NeXT's core technologies power many of the core planks in the Apple platform today, including the Apple Store, Mobile Me and the iTunes Store.
Books have been and will be written about Jobs' genius. Here are a few lessons Jobs left behind for small business owners:
Apple's iPad has sold tens of millions of units. Think about it, can you even name another tablet? Perhaps Amazon’s Fire will make a dent in the market, but the iPad is the de facto standard. People forget, however, that Apple struggled early on with different devices.
At an All Things Digital conference in 2004, Jobs made reference to a new "Apple PDA" that was based on Newtontechnology. Jobs ultimately scrapped the device, but that product ultimately evolved into what we now call the iPad.
Lesson: Products and services take time to evolve, to get right. If you don't see immediate returns or don't think that you've hit the nail on the head, be stubborn. This does not mean putting your business at risk or hiring a bunch of people to work on something with no future. However, these days, it's unlikely that you can create a great offering by following a simple checklist. Experimentation and innovation take time. Don't pull the plug on something prematurely.
Good enough isn’t good enough:
My favorite Jobs quote was, "Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren't used to an environment where excellence is expected." Jobs was notorious for pushing his employees. He famously would tell developers that their versions of operating systems and hardware weren't good enough – before he had even seen the demo! He was usually right, as peeved employees would go back to the drawing board to spite him – and create better products.
Lesson: These days, it's not hard to find small businesses competent at doing the basics. They follow rules. They do what is expected of them for the agreed-upon price. This is all fine and dandy, but consider the following questions:
- What about companies that go above and beyond?
- What if they do more for less?
- What if they throw in some extra goodies or functionality?
Don’t compete on price:
Apple products have never been cheap. With respect to hardware, Apple is the antithesis of Dell Computer, a company with razor-thin margins. Apple would rather make 40 percent margins on fewer, high-quality units than 10 percent on products designed to break.
Lesson: Small businesses competing in our global economy are no longer protected. Accountants in Indiado American taxes for 30 cents on the dollar, and do them well. If your business brands itself as the least expensive, rest assured: Your future isn't bright. One-up your competition. Offer a superior product, service and experience.
Remember, Apple started out as a small business and grew to be one of the world’s most successful companies.