If there is one individual who I find myself looking to more than any other for inspiration, it is Steve Jobs. A lot of people consider Jobs to be a great entrepreneur, but I don’t really fit him into that categorization for a few reasons. Let me say that more clearly: Steve Jobs was not one of the great entrepreneurs of the 20th century.
Following is my argument for why that is…
Jobs founded three companies in his lifetime: Apple, Next, and Pixar. We know that Apple was the big winner of the bunch, with over $100 billion in CASH sitting in its coffers. The massive success of Apple outshines that of Next and Pixar, but these have both been very successful companies in their own rights. Personally, I’d be thrilled to create just one company of Next’s caliber, and Jobs created three in the course of his lifetime. Pixar went on to be acquired by Disney and Next, the “loser” of the bunch, was still eventually acquired by Apple for nearly half a billion dollars.
So if Jobs has created three multi-million dollar companies, how can I say that he isn’t one of the greatest entrepreneurs of the 21st century?
I say this because, while jobs had moments of great entrepreneurial inspiration, he also worked in the companies that he founded for extended periods of time. On the entrepreneurial spectrum, Jobs would sit somewhere between a one time founder like Phil Knight and the frenetic non-stop founder of Richard Branson.
I don’t say this to discredit Jobs in any way. In fact, I believe Jobs deserves recognition as being one of histories greats. And there is one thing that Jobs has done better than anybody else in the history of the world. And yes, I mean it.
Steve Jobs was the greatest product manager that the world has ever seen.
Jobs has repeatedly built products that have spanned categories and even created entirely new ones. He was the first to understand the direction that the music industry was going in and he capitalized on it with iTunes.
His ability to do so is testament to his vision and unique understanding of the time he lived in, a time of collapse and disruption when an electronics company could become a publishing company nearly overnight.
Jobs genius started with the Macbook, but went mainstream when he unveiled the first generation of the iPod. Looking back on this product now, it seems a bit clunky and obtuse, but Jobs was at the cutting edge during the time it was produced in the middle 2000s.
From the iPod, Jobs set his sights on his next great innovation, the iPhone. It was the iPhone that was the clearest expression of Jobs’ appreciation for minimalist design, sleek lines, and no clutter. To our eyes in 2015, the design certainly appears overly skeumorphic, but at the time it was first released in 2007, the iPhone not only met the standard of the day, it set it.
Product management requires an appreciation for several disciplines. One must work with marketing to understand precisely what the end user wants, and coordinate with engineering in order to bring those specifications to life. Jobs had an innate understanding of this that even the best product management guru in Silicon Valley can teach.
So there you have him, Steve Jobs. Not the greatest entrepreneur in the history of the world, but the greatest product manager of history, bar none.