Think BIG like Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs at WWDC 2007. Photo by Ben Stanfield.
“You can’t start with the technology and try to figure out where you’re going to try to sell it.” — Steve Jobs, Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference, 1997.

Over 20 years ago, Steve Jobs stepped on stage at Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference after Gil Amelio was ousted as CEO of the company by the board of directors. Jobs was taking on the crucial task of rebuilding the company’s product line as well as the public’s faith in the company.

But, not everyone in attendance was thrilled with Job’s return to Apple. In fact, one particular audience member shared his skepticism and disappointment with him. I highly recommend you watch the entire clip for yourself. I was completely captivated by Jobs’s response to the man’s questions and feel that his answer is one that can help business leaders grow today.

Audience member: “It’s sad and clear that on several counts you’ve discussed, you don’t know what you’re talking about. I would like, for example, for you to express in clear terms how, say, Java and any of its incarnations addresses the ideas embodied in OpenDoc. And when you’re finished with that, perhaps you can tell us what you personally have been doing for the last seven years.”

Jobs: “You know, you can please some of the people some of the time, but one of the hardest things, when you’re trying to effect change, is that people like this gentleman are right in some areas.

The hardest thing is: how does that fit into a cohesive, larger vision, that’s going to allow you to sell 8 billion dollars, 10 billion dollars of product a year? And, one of the things I’ve always found is that you’ve got to start with the customer experience and work backward for the technology. You can’t start with the technology and try to figure out where you’re going to try to sell it. And I made this mistake probably more than anybody else in this room. And I got the scar tissue to prove it. And I know that it’s the case.

And as we have tried to come up with a strategy and a vision for Apple, it started with ‘What incredible benefits can we give to the customer? Where can we take the customer?’ Not starting with ‘Let’s sit down with the engineers and figure out what awesome technology we have and then how are we going to market that?’ And I think that’s the right path to take.

Apple embodies this philosophy throughout the customer lifecycle, including being exposed to the product, buying the product, implementing the product, upgrading the product, and getting help with the product. It is Apple’s competitive advantage.”

Can you pick out what Jobs identifies as Apple’s value proposition?

“What incredible benefits can we [Apple] give to the customer? Where can we take the customer?”

That is Apple’s value proposition. These questions are what helped Apple develop and create the magical user interface of the iPhone. This device would go on to change how the world uses a smartphone. It would also grow a customer base (SAM) from a few million users to BILLIONS of users.

The success of Apple revolves around their philosophy and strategy: Start with the value proposition and then develop the technology to deliver, NOT the other way around.

As a company, the most important IP asset that you own is your value proposition. Why not develop a strategy to protect this IP as opposed to trying to just protect your technology?

Before Apple debuted the first iPhone in 2007, the company went ahead and protected their value proposition — iPhone user experience using less than 10 US patents:

These patents have also been instrumental in the infringement litigation between Apple and Samsung.

Apple generates over 4,000 patents per year but they only needed these 7 to protect their company’s value proposition and therefore become the masters of their market. By protecting their use case, they were solidifying the Apple brand into the minds of technology and electronic consumers around the world.

Now, do you know how many patents you need to have in your portfolio to protect your value proposition?