Five Professional Lessons from Steve Jobs’s Entrepreneurial Career

HIS PARENTS ABANDONED HIM as an unwanted offspring. Fortunately, Paul and Clara Jobs, a couple from Mountain View, California, wanted a child very much. So they adopted the infant and named him Steven Paul Jobs. Paul Jobs, his adoptive father, was a car mechanic; watching and often helping him doing his repair works introduced young Steve to the world of design and technology, a field the boy would revolutionize soon after.

At school, Steve Jobs met Steve Wozniak, a talented computer technician. Woz was five years older but the two clicked together. Together they launched their first product: The Blue Box—a device that allowed long distance calls for free. Wozniak was the design whiz behind, however Jobs was the one who turned the innovation into a business. They sold around hundred boxes, giving them a taste of what they could achieve combining Wozniak’s engineering skills and Jobs’s business acumen.

Lesson One: Do not underestimate the power of teamwork. Be it Wright brothers partnership or Alexander Bell’s collaboration with Thomas Watson, none of the great inventors could have achieved success working alone. You need someone to complement your weaknesses. While Woz was good at invention, it was Jobs’s vision that turned those inventions into marketable products. Likewise, Jobs was unable to make a product of his own without the engineering competencies of Wozniak.

During 1970s, computers looked more like airplane cockpits. Steve Wozniak had the idea that a computer should be a self-contained, compact package. Following this notion, in 1976, with a startup capital of $ 1,300, Wozniak and Jobs founded Apple. Jobs liked to eat apples and he thought the name of their product should signify the simplicity and ease of the product he envisioned, so the name “Apple” stuck.

As a starting point, Woz built some circuit boards and they decided to sell them to the people who wanted to make their own computer. They constructed a sample computer and took it to a local electronics shop. The owner was not interested in the circuit boards, but Jobs convinced him to buy finished computers akin to the sample; the owner agreed to pay twenty-five thousand dollars for fifty Apple computers.

Jobs had made the deal, but he didn’t have enough money to buy the parts. He went to an electronic supply store and successfully convinced them to lend him parts. Despite being erratic in nature, Steve’s persuasiveness was an undisputed trait— something his future peers would call “RDF or Reality Distortion Field”: if Steve wanted something to happen, he would bend the reality to make it happen.

Apple I was a moderate success as Jobs and Wozniak made a reasonable profit out of it. Using his RDF, Jobs found another investor who gave them enough money to finish Apple II (more compact and user-friendly compared to Apple I). Their hard work paid off and Apple II stood out due to its clear graphics and sound quality. Every computer that came afterwards copied Apple II.

Lesson Two: Learn to persuade others whether they are financiers or team members. Even as a teenager, Steve Jobs had a remarkable ability to convince people. He had some personal flaws as all of us have; however, persuasion was the single most remarkable ability that contributed to his early successes.

By 1978, Apple was making money. As the company grew, many employees were hired but it wasn’t easy working with Jobs. He yelled at his employees for small mistakes and expected them to work for long hours, just like him. He was twenty-five and already a millionaire, but most of his employees lacked self-motivation. Besides, he was an obsessive perfectionist, taking days finalizing small details. Yet he was successful so could afford to go his way.

In 1984, Apple launched Macintosh; it sold well for a short period but wasn’t a huge hit. Mac was meant to be a home computer, but people were not willing to spend excessive amounts for it. Steve got the blame for Mac’s lower sales and the board of directors refused to bear his brattish behavior any longer. The following year, they decided to let Jobs go. He was ousted from his own company.

Lesson Three: Treat your employees respectfully. Its hard to run a sustainable business with a demotivated team. Jobs was a visionary entrepreneur, but he did not consider that other employees had no reason to be as motivated as him; they had their own lives. Understand your employees, learn to earn their respect.

Banished from Apple, Jobs started a new company and named it NeXT—a next step in the world of computers. Despite being a millionaire, his plans for the new company were lavish: a whopping hundred thousand dollars were paid for just the logo design, and he insisted that the computer case should be a perfect cube. His obsessive perfectionism proved to be the death knell for the company; NeXT lost ten million dollars in three years. 

Around the same time, Jobs bought a majority share in a computer graphics company called Pixar. However, the story was no different from NeXT; by 1988, Steve had sunk $ 50 million into Pixar while also losing money in NeXT. He started losing his reputation as a visionary entrepreneur; even his earlier successes with Apple II were considered a fluke. Woz was the genius, not Jobs, people assumed.

Lesson Four: Be pragmatic in your perfectionism. Improvement is a continuous process; it should be balanced with practical realities. Jobs was so focused on his ideas that he wasted two of the most precious resources: time and money. His products got late, and they were too expensive; all due to his inability to negotiate something less than perfect.

Despite his failures, all was not lost for Steve. Things were bound to change when Pixar joined hands with Disney. In 1995, Pixar and Disney launched an animated film called Toy Story which became the most popular movie of the year; subsequent hits raised Pixar’s worth to billions. The success of Pixar made Jobs a billionaire. Meanwhile, Apple was struggling; their computers had failed to change with time. They wanted Steve back.

Though Jobs agreed to act as the head of Apple but only for a brief period. He told the board that they would need to look for a replacement for him. As expected, he made drastic changes including his surprising announcement to team up with Microsoft—something, he had hated during his previous tenure. But time proved his decision was right; a hundred and fifty million dollars deal with Microsoft raised the value of a sinking company.

The beginning of twenty first century saw the rise of Apple as Steve led the launching of revolutionary products like IPod, IPad,and IPhone. By August 2011, Apple became the most successful company in the world.  Steve Jobs had resurrected his dying baby!

Lesson Five: Do not let your ego overtake your decisions; do not hesitate to shake hands with your competitor for a larger gain. After Steve’s failures outside Apple, his reputation was at stake. However, by joining hands with Bill Gates—his stark rival—Jobs proved himself a visionary once and for all. The subsequent rise of Apple to the world’s top tech company was a testimony to his vision as an entrepreneur.   

Steve Jobs, arguably the most influential entrepreneur of modern times, died of Pancreas cancer on October 5,2011. The news was mourned across the globe with people leaving bitten apples on the ground in tribute.

18 thoughts on “Five Professional Lessons from Steve Jobs’s Entrepreneurial Career

  1. Pingback: Five Lessons to Help You Avoid Being Stubborn | Five Lessons

  2. Pingback: Five Lessons to Help You Manage Your Time | Five Lessons

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