A faster horse

I’ve just completed the Steve Jobs biography – what a read. I could hardly put it down. Amazing, inspiring, fascinating, a warts and all bio of genius with a flawed personality. I would have hated to have worked with him, but then loved it at the same time.

I bet many people got it as a Christmas present, as I did. Steve died in October, the book came out the same month, and it would have been on many lists. As I try to absorb the 571 pages and 56 years of history, I am struck by various gems I stumbled over. At the very end, in his own words, he tries to explain his philosophy on life and business.

At one stage he admits that he never listened to market research. Only this week at work I was asked to research an idea I had for my business unit – a natural thing to ask. Jobs paid no attention to research. “Our job was to figure out what people were going to want before they knew they wanted it.” This would never come from market research. We didn’t know we wanted the iPod until Apple brought it out and said: “Hey look guys, a thousand songs in your pocket!”. We didn’t know we wanted a mobile phone we could carry around with us that would make calls, access internet, emails, and download little software programs (apps) that meant we could customise it to what we wanted (iPhone). We didn’t know we wanted a scaled down pint sized laptop with no keyboard or USB connection (iPad). Yet it turned out to be a category killer. Apple went from being 7% of the value of Microsoft to 70% higher than Microsoft and the world’s highest capped company.

He explains it this way: “If Henry Ford had researched the market (before he brought out the car), the research would have come back with – ‘They want faster horses!'” Steve Jobs was the not the only person who worked in this way. Legend has it that Sony’s research in 1979 unequivocally showed that people would not like a portable cassette player that could only be listened to my headphones. People wanted bigger HiFis with large speakers. “No”, said the Sony boss, “People are bored, they will love this when it comes out.” He was right. The ice hockey player Wayne Gretsky said the same thing in his own way: “skate to where the puck will be, not where it is.”

About the author

Charlie has spent more than 20 years in Perth’s tech and startup sector, firstly as a founder himself, through to exit, and more recently as a writer, advisor and investor. Originally from the UK, Charlie worked in Singapore before arriving in Perth in 1997 to do an MBA at UWA. Graduating as top student in 1999 he set up online real estate business aussiehome.com, running it for 10 years before selling to REIWA, whereupon Charlie ran reiwa.com. In 2013, he moved to Business News to lead their digital transformation as CEO, and then worked for the federal government’s Accelerating Commercialisation program, funding pre-revenue startups and innovative businesses. He now works in an advisory capacity for multiple tech and other businesses, is managing editor of Startup News and co-host of the Startup West podcast. He also writes a column for Business News on startups. Charlie sits on the advisory boards of WA Leaders, TEDxPerth, WAITTA, the Perth Symphony Orchestra, and the full board of Rise Network.

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  1. […] Don’t ask your clients what they want, think what they will LOVE! Be in the business of FUN! Virgin has Indian head massages and is investigating pool tables. They did not ask clients whether they wanted these, clients had no idea. Just think what will wow them. We didn’t ask mobile phone companies to put cameras on them, have them synch with outlook, install tetris and demand we could video conference our kids … but someone at Apple thought phones could do this, and when we saw it, we loved it. As Henry Ford once said, “if I’d asked my customers what they wanted, they’d have said: a faster horse!” […]

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