With Steve Jobs retiring from Apple, we look at his amazing run and list 10 lessons to media, video and content companies and executives.
1) Marriage of Two Seemingly Opposing Variables
We tend to view things as dichotomies: content vs. audience, content vs. distribution; reality is that only a more nuanced, hybrid approach will prevail. Apple’s “software meets hardware” worldview was criticized in bad times and lauded in good times. Today, the markets are smiling down on Apple as the world’s most valuable company.
With online video, you have four quadrants: content, technology, distribution, or advertising. Whatever your mix depends on what business you operate, but understand that any one variable alone will not win over time.
2) Content is King, but the Platform is God
As one software executive told the NYTimes recently, “For 30 years, the economics of software have been the same: your platform is only as successful as the quantity and quality of applications that run on top of it.”
That’s true and reminds us that content is king. But the one platform that can win over the most useful and valuable content applications will become incredibly valuable, as did Microsoft, Google, Facebook and Apple. While content remains a better risk-adjusted bet, you go into content because you are passionate about story-telling.
3) Control: One Brand, One Experience
When Jobs returned to Apple, he changed the licensing program for Macintosh clones, making it cost-prohibitive for manufacturers to continue making machines. This was the first step required to build the Apple brand back to prominence and make consumers want to pay the premium for his products.
Private-label solutions are great in theory, but if you simply commoditize your offering and dilute your value, it might backfire. Everyone has criticized me for the heavy branding in videos, but in the end, it’s helped build our brand and create an element of consistency to an otherwise heterogeneous catalog.
4) Going Against the Grain: One Experience, Multiple Screens
Always go against the grain; otherwise, you’re a sheep. When Steve launched the iPod, music was viewed as a dead end. When he launched the iPad, people had written off tablets altogether. When you plan on attacking a market, don’t make boastful claims that will come back to haunt you before you even have a product out. By the time others get their act together, you will have an insurmountable lead and too much momentum to slow down.
5) Listen to Your Gut
There’s something to be said about not listening to customer market insights and research. Users — be it business consumers who might license your content, or viewers who watch it for free and build your audience — don’t really know what they want. The best chefs get inspired by ingredients, create concoctions and place these in front of diners to delight them.
As an entrepreneur or executive, you should always follow your gut for your strategy, but the velocity or your execution should reflect the conditions on the grounds.
6) Appeal to Emotion
People buy on emotion and rationalize on facts. Jobs will be most remembered for his attention to design and understanding the crucial role aesthetics plays in public appeal, creating highly functional and elegant products that left clients in awe and competitors envious. If your target audience is Wall Street or Sand Hill Road, you won’t be able to focus on the things that will make Main Street want your product or service.
7) People Matter(s)
When Jobs lured his eventual nemesis John Sculley away from Pepsi, he famously asked the executive: “Do you want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life, or do you want to come with me and change the world?” Sculley gave up a cushy corporate gig to join Apple, eventually ousting Jobs, and recently admitting it was a mistake (to push Jobs out).
Managing people’s egos and emotions is the single biggest criteria in determining if you can be successful. While his fans and critics alike considered him the typical Silicon Valley egomaniac, he himself understood that “the total was greater than the sum of the parts. Great things in business are not done by one person, they are done by a team of people.”
8) Focus on Profits
After Apple bought NeXT in 1996 and brought back Jobs, he focused his efforts on making the company profitable. Jobs terminated a number of projects, namely, Newton, Cyberdog and OpenDoc.
9) Balance Innovation with Deliverables
When I launched my company, I told everyone that it was a white canvas and the sky was the limit. But I also had no patience for those who wanted to keep adding a layer of paint to the canvas. As much as you don’t want to stifle innovation, Jobs reminded his employees that “real artists ship”, meaning that delivering working products on time was as important as innovation and attractive design.
At the 2007 Macworld Conference and Expo in January 2007, Jobs quoted Wayne Gretzky: “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.” It’s very easy to suffer from herd mentality and be a sheep. You have to look out a few years and ask yourself where you want to be then and assess what kind of team you need to assemble to achieve that goal. Most entrepreneurs and executives would content themselves with one chapter from Jobs’ many successful acts. Steve Jobs positioned Apple at the forefront of his industry. He didn’t copy the market and he wasn’t cynical about the opportunities. Above all: he stayed foolish and he stayed hungry.