Startups

4 Things Steve Jobs Taught Me About Succeeding as an Entrepreneur

He’s been deemed “the greatest marketer of all time.” There are countless stories of his outbursts and his stubbornness, but also of his iconic innovation, his inspirational personality (for some) and his revolutionary methods in everything from product design to branding.

Ever since I got my first Apple II when I was 12, I knew that someday I wanted to go work for “the guy who made that.” I dropped out of grad school after landing a job at NeXT and drove down from Winnipeg to sunny California. At the time I couldn’t have pointed out Silicon Valley on a map, but I knew in my gut that was where I wanted to be.

I began my career at NeXT, and then Apple. The time I spent there laid the groundwork for not only my entrepreneurial career path, but also my entrepreneurial DNA. It was the culture of Jobs’ companies that played the most crucial role in this development. Sure, there was an air of fear that I didn’t quite agree with, but I came out of that company learning lessons that I’ve implemented into every one of my companies.

Here are a few of the top lessons I learned that are relevant for any entrepreneur looking to start up.

1. Hiring is chess, not checkers.

When I led my first interview for NeXT, I was blown away by the amount of detail and procedure involved. It was creatively surgical. They knew exactly what they were looking for, but had extremely imaginative ways of making a candidate's true skill level and ideology become crystal clear. It was a well-oiled machine for selecting the best of the best, for one of the top companies in the Valley.

As I started putting together my first company, Hipbone, it became apparent why Jobs poured so much time and energy into hiring. Of course you want skilled workers developing your product, but it’s much more complex than that. As the saying goes: a rising tide lifts all boats. When you have great talent, it inspires others to produce great work as well. On the flip side, poor talent can repel the top tier talent you want and need.

Take your time when hiring. Gauge candidates’ skills by giving them problems to solve. Get a feel for who they are, how they live their life and, most importantly, what they want out of life. Remember: a lot of people are rockstar interviewers, but sub-par employees.

Related: 10 Steps for Hiring Your Next Rock Star

2. Strive for simplicity.

The first demo I had to present to Steve taught me more about developing products in five minutes that most learn in five years. He didn’t ask questions, no pre-brief, no manual… nothing. He just went up to our work station and began using the product. If it wasn’t simple and intuitive enough for Steve to figure it out without asking any questions, it usually was rejected.

Think about any Apple product ever made: you open the box, turn it on and get right to work. Every detail of these products was pre-meditated, organized and designed to be as simple as possible.

This concept is two-fold: simple products are obviously easier to use, and increase the chances of having repeat users. But if you have a simple product, people gain the ability to easily become experts. Allow users to quickly discover the value of your product, and let them become experts with ease, because your products’ experts are usually your biggest fans. You have to work hard to get your ideas clean and simple. But once you get there, you can move mountains.

Related: The Secret to Successful Product Design? Simplicity.

3. Be a solution that adds massive value.

Apple was one of the first companies to offer people a comprehensive solution, not just a product. You weren’t getting a motherboard from one company, a processor from another and a video card, monitor and hard drive from random manufacturers. At Apple, all these parts came from the same place. It was a solution, not just a product, and that’s something that has become one of the cornerstones of my company, Vendini. We’re able to add much more value by offering a complete solution, rather than a single product.

The piecemeal approach is tapering off. People are opting for products and services that offer a complete solution, with multiple products that work together to maximize the effectiveness as a whole.

4. Let your employees play in the sandbox.

Not everything I learned from Jobs was based on things I agreed with. A big part of my company now is based on something I did not agree with.

Jobs was a fiercely loyal person, and demanded that his employees share that loyalty. But it led to a culture where employees were afraid to express interests outside of NeXT if they had anything at all to do with competitors. But as engineers, we’re constantly trying to learn new things and challenge ourselves to create new things. A friend of mine was nearly fired for helping a fellow developer on a project who worked for a competitor (on his off time, just for fun). I once won a contest, the Java Cup, and I was terrified that Jobs would find out and fire me on the spot, as I’d seen happen to others before me.

That’s not how it should be. If you’re hiring the right people, they’re going to be curious. That’s a good thing. If one of our developers is interested in learning a new programming language, I’ll pay for classes. We wound up implementing some hardware ideas that an employee dreamed up at TechShop. Let your employees get out there and play in the sandbox; often times inspiration strikes from throwing variety into the mix.

Starting up is hard, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed. But sometimes you just have to slow things down, be selective and make it simple. After all, that’s what Jobs did.

Related: How Steve Jobs Blew Up the Rules of Branding