Apple fans everywhere were shocked by the recent news that CEO Steve Jobs is stepping down. The innovative company’s iconic leader — known for parading across stages in his black turtlenecks and New Balance shoes to demonstrate Apple’s latest products, each one smaller and sleeker than the last — is so representative of the brand that Apple’s stock fell by 7 percent immediately after he announced his departure.
Jobs is undoubtedly one of America’s most successful CEOs. But back in the 1970s, he was just a scrappy engineer tinkering with computer parts in a garage. His rise to power offers some lessons — many controversial, to be sure — for today’s entrepreneurs.
- You don’t need a college degree to achieve success. Jobs dropped out of Oregon’s Reed College after one semester before going on to co-found Apple. Of course, he isn’t the only tech visionary who bailed on earning a B.A.: Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg didn’t finish his Harvard degree, and neither did Microsoft’s Bill Gates. However, dropping out of school can be a risky endeavor if you’re uncertain whether your business is on the path to success. If you need to take another job to make ends meet at some point, you’ve lost nearly $13,000 in potential annual earnings by skipping out on a diploma.
- Setbacks can help you re-prioritize and build a better company. In 1985, Apple was faring poorly and Jobs was ousted from the company he helped build. Instead of becoming dejected, Jobs started another computer company called NeXT and soon purchased Pixar Studios for a mere $10 million. (In 2006, Disney bought Pixar for a deal worth $7.4 billion — a pretty sweet ROI for Jobs.) A struggling Apple ultimately bought NeXT in 1996 and named Jobs as Apple’s CEO. He subsequently led the company through its most innovative period yet. Jobs has described his temporary exile from Apple was a blessing in disguise. “The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life,” he said in a Stanford commencement address.
- Customers don’t like to have too many choices. Most computer manufacturers produce a dizzying array of products, all with slightly different specs. After returning to Apple, Jobs realized that simplification was the key to success: Instead of offering dozens of choices, the company focused on producing and perfecting just a few Mac product lines, such as the iMac and the MacBook, each geared toward a different type of user.
- Focusing on accessibility over elitism brings far more sales. Under Jobs, Apple has gone a long way toward demystifying technology by building products that don’t require special skills or training to understand. Last year, a video of a 99-year-old woman using an iPad went viral, and my 2-year-old daughter has mastered the device just as easily. Rather than marketing Apple products as high-end devices — though that’s a reputation it still enjoys — Jobs has made a killing by building and selling products that are intuitive and simple to use.
- “Built to last” is no longer a concern. Apple’s iPods, iPhones, and iPads rarely last more than a few years, but consumers don’t seem to mind. Because the company constantly innovates — and improves upon existing products — people understand (consciously or otherwise) that each product is a short-term purchase. Upgrading to the latest model has become a way of life.
What has Steve Jobs taught you about being an entrepreneur and business owner? Share your thoughts with us in the Comments field.