14 Steve Jobs Quotes That Offered Great Advice For Entrepreneurs
Steve Jobs, who died in 2011, remains one of the most quoted people in modern history. And why not? He lead several companies, most notably Apple, which revolutionized personal computers, communications, and both the music and film industries.
Plus, man, could Jobs talk. When people talk about how chief executives need communication skills, Jobs should be Exhibit A. Just Google “Steve Jobs” and you can spend a day reading interviews or watching videos of his many speeches.
Of course, his quotes are everywhere, too. So in creating this list we looked specifically for quotes that can inspire or advise entrepreneurs. We also sought quotes that may not be quite as famous, such as the ones revealed this year by Pepsi CEO Indra Nooyi.
A frequent critique of any list such as this, or even some of Jobs speeches, is that “not everyone can be Steve Jobs.” These miss the point. If your business is far from cutting-edge technology – maybe you run a cupcake bakery or an internet marketing company – that doesn’t mean that Jobs’ experiences and lessons don’t apply. We can’t all be William Shakespeare or Vince Lombardi, either, but that doesn’t stop people from drawing lessons from what they had to say.
Plus, with the well-received “Steve Jobs” film hitting cable, he is back on the minds of many people. And a whole new generation of young people are getting exposed to his story.
You may notice a theme of shaking up the status quo runs through many of these quotes. That’s as it should be. You didn’t become an entrepreneur – or aspire to be one - because you wanted to follow the herd. Entrepreneurship isn’t the arena for the followers.
1. “It’s more fun to be a pirate than to join the Navy.”Does a more succinct, inspirational quote for entrepreneurs exist? The Small Business Administration should adopt this 1982 quote from Jobs as its motto (instead it has a 138-word mission statement). Everyone who sets out on their own knows the joy of creating a business. And those who have spent time in the corporate world know how not fun that can be, what with office politics and those “sorry, we can’t afford merit raises this year” meetings. Creating a successful business is difficult. But entrepreneurs know it’s far more fun – despite the many difficulties - than working for someone else. Jobs said this
2. “My model of business is the Beatles. They were four very talented guys who kept each other’s kind of negative tendencies in check. They balanced each other. The total was greater than the sum of the parts.”
In 2003, Jobs talked to 60 minutes about the creation of Pixar and how “great things” never get accomplished by just one person. As much as history sometimes elevates the “lone genius” story when it comes to great accomplishments, Jobs correctly hit upon the real truth that it takes a team to make things happen. For every entrepreneur out there, the message is clear: be like The Beatles. Surround yourself with talented people – each talented in a different way, but who mesh well together. That’s the foundation upon which you can build business greatness.
3. “If design is important to you, it has to report to you.”
In one sentence, Jobs hit on a truth about running a business. If you want to see change or innovation from a certain area, then they need the strong support of the CEO. And they also should know the CEO is directly reviewing their ideas – no intermediary. Nothing shows the significance of something like the person in charge paying close attention. Job said this to Indra Nooyi shortly after she became Pepsi CEO in 2006. She talked about the good advice he gave her in a 2016 interview at the DealBook Conference in New York City.
4. “If you really feel strongly about something — if you don't like something people are doing — throw a temper tantrum. Throw things around, because people have got to know that you feel strongly about it."
Pepsi CEO Indra Nooyi also revealed this little gem during an interview in 2016 – another piece of advice Jobs gave her about running a company. Jobs, according to people Nooyi talked to, would throw papers across the room, yell and make people work all night if they delivered something to him he didn’t like. Too far? Maybe. But as Nooyi revealed, it is “very effective” to have strong reactions, even if you just shout and pound the table a little, saying “It shows the passion I have for what I am doing.” If it worked for her and Jobs, it might work for you.
5. “It’s really clear that the most precious resource we all have is time.”This one hits home to everyone. Who doesn’t think about time? Stephen Hawking wrote a famous book about it. Pink Floyd dedicated a whole song to its fleeting nature. For an entrepreneur, though, the question is, “Where am I spending my time?” If you are what you focus on, then how and where you spend your time in your business says a lot about the direction you are going. And you don’t get to go back and try again – time moves only one way. Jobs said this in an interview with Playboy in 1985.
6. “Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact: Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use."Here was Jobs back in pirate mode. This quote came from a 1994 interview with the Santa Clara Valley Historical Association. Jobs spoke about how everyone is brought up to accept life as it has been handed down to them. He challenged people to look around and change it, because why accept something invented by others long before your time? The same can be said of the smart entrepreneur. Nothing holds back an organization like saying “we’ve always done it this way.” The better way involves deciding on your own which is the best path and then taking it, leading your company to better success.
7. “My job is not to be easy on people. My job is to make them better.”
Jobs had a well-deserved reputation of being very difficult to work for because of his demanding nature. How far an entrepreneur goes in this direction is a matter of choice – certainly you don’t want to become an unreasonable person. On the other hand, some small business leaders can go too far the other way, trying to be friends first and employer second. Jobs said this in a 2008 interview with Fortune, and it’s important to note that while he defended pushing people, he also made it clear his job was to pull people together from various parts of the organization, clear any obstacles in their way and get them the resources they needed for big projects.
8. “For the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: 'If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?' And whenever the answer has been 'No' for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”
This quote, from Job’s famous 2005 commencement speech at Stanford University, is among his most cited speeches. Obviously, it speaks to the need for change and recognizing when it needs to happen. If you are an entrepreneur, or aspire to become one, that quote is likely associated with the moment when you decided to leave the “safety” of the corporate world and strike out on their own. Or it could involve feeling your business is stuck without a clear path forward. Certainly we’ve all experienced that “too many days in a row” part. The trick, as Jobs pointed out, is to take action.
9. “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.”In the 2005 commencement speech at Stanford, Jobs spent a long time talking about death. Not in a morbid way, but as a method to motivate the students toward achievement because of the limited time we all have. For an entrepreneur, it’s a good reminder not to spend time following the herd. Do your own homework, chart your own course, do things the way that is best for your own personal and professional success. And keep in mind that while sometimes it seems you have all the time in the world, Jobs was right in saying that our limited time can provide great motivation.
10. “Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don't lose faith.”
Jobs said this in relation to his firing from Apple. As bad professional experiences go, few prove worse than getting dumped by the company you founded. While hopefully this never happens to you, running your own business can still involve some tough setbacks. Jobs’ story is an inspirational one. After leaving Apple, he founded NeXT and Pixar. The former provided the technology later used by Apple to launch its comeback. The latter did groundbreaking, and wildly successful, work in computer animated films. His experience shows that when things fall apart, it’s an opportunity to make a fresh start. “It was awful tasting medicine, but I guess the patient needed it.” Jobs said.
11. “Things don’t have to change the world to be important.”
In the beginning of what has become a long boom period for technology, Jobs said this about the innovative products in the industry during a 1996 interview with Wired. He pointed out that too many people held technology advances up to “this radical new light” that every advance had to change the world. Business owners can run into this same issue. Not everything you do has to be a groundbreaking moment in your industry or even the history of your company. But continued innovation and a forward-looking strategy remain important, even if the results don’t radically change the world (or your corner of it).
12. "I think if you do something and it turns out pretty good, then you should go do something else wonderful, not dwell on it for too long. Just figure out what's next.”
An expansion on the idea of “don’t rest on your laurels,” Jobs said this during a 2006 interview with NBC at the opening of the midtown Manhattan Apple store. For the entrepreneur, this is especially important. Once you’ve moved past those early struggles and experienced success, that’s not the time to “dwell on it for too long.” Always think about the next step and how you can take your business up to the next level. Success doesn’t mean you have arrived. It’s an opportunity to launch your next move from a more solid foundation than where you started.
13. “I'm convinced that about half of what separates successful entrepreneurs from the non-successful ones is pure perseverance."Jobs said this during a 1995 interview for an oral history project done by Computerworld Information Technology Awards Foundation. This was his direct response to what advice he would give to entrepreneurs. He pointed out that most people give up after starting a business because of the difficulties. And that owning your own business “consumes your life.” Passion, he said, is important, and an idea that you feel strongly about. But what can separate those who succeed from those who fail is simply staying the course.
14. “Stay hungry, stay foolish.”
This is Jobs closing statement at the 2005 Stanford commencement, and we use it as the closing statement here, as well. The quote was lifted from the last issue of “The Whole Earth Catalog,” which folded in the 1970s. The stay hungry part is self-explanatory. But the “stay foolish”? Jobs seems to have meant that those who want to lead should always dream big and take chances. Failure is part of life and business, but the fear of it shouldn’t keep you from trying your hardest to attain whatever goal you have set for yourself, no matter how “foolish” some might find the idea. Chances are you have something in the room with you right now that Jobs and his team of people helped create, and it’s probably something that didn’t even exist 20 years ago. And they all started with hungry people staying foolish.