BEST OF THE WEB: The entrepreneurs rejecting the Steve Jobs approach

Steve Jobs’ managerial style is well-known to many entrepreneurs by now. The Apple founder and chief executive often berated staff in public, insulted ideas during meetings and, on many occasions, was just downright nasty to work with.

Last year’s Walter Isaacson biography Steve Jobs revealed some telling anecdotes about how Jobs worked and operated. And it serves as a bizarre tale when juxtaposed with the elegant and groundbreaking devices his company made.

But entrepreneurs are divided.

In a new piece at Wired, it seems entrepreneurs are moving into two camps – those that are taking Steve Jobs’ lessons on board, and those that are rejecting them completely.

Steve Davis, chief executive of software company TwoFour, has told the publication that he’s dedicated more time to his company taking Jobs’ example – and he’s become more focused.

“Guys who start companies are different from other people,” he said.

“We’re willing to fail. Look at Jobs. He got knocked down, and he kept going. He’s totally unconventional, driving on his particular path, and either you join him or get out of the way.”

For some people, that means being more blunt. Square co-founder Tristan O’Tierney says he’s taking on a more direct approach.

“You don’t make better products by saying everything is great,” he explains. “You make them better by forcing people to do work they didn’t know they had in them.”

But, of course, there are those entrepreneurs who are taking Jobs’ lessons as a warning. They look at incidents like Jobs refusing to give an early Apple employee shares, or firing the MobileMe director on a stage in front of his entire team.

Jeff Atwood, founder of Stack Exchange, says while he used to watch Jobs as an example, he’s now taken the opposite direction.

So much so that Atwood quit.

“If you’re going to fail at building something,” he says, “fail at building the f—ing iPad. Don’t fail at building children,” he says, referring to Jobs’ less than stellar relationship with his family.

But then again, Isaacson himself suggests we may all be too harsh on Jobs. He responds to accusations that Jobs had a bad family life with quips like, “Then how come you’ve been married three times and this particular daughter doesn’t f—ing speak to you?”

“Jobs could have been a better father,” he says. “But I look at that family, and it’s perfectly wonderful. It couldn’t be a better family.”

As it turns out, Jobs remains a polarising figure even after his death.

Focus groups turning to social media

Focus groups have been a key part of retail research for years now. But they’re taking a technical twist – they’re moving on to social networking.

Potato chip maker Lay’s is now using its Facebook app for users to suggest new flavours. But it does more than just create an input for consumers’ tastes – it allows the company to better find which flavours work in which locations – even down to the city level.

“It’s a new way of getting consumer research,” Ann Mukherjee, chief marketing officer of Frito-Lay North America, told The New York Times. “We’re going to get a ton of new ideas.”

So while consumers are using these sites to connect with friends and get ideas for where to spend their money, companies are using them as marketing tools.

Walmart used Twitter discussion to find out where to stock different-shaped cake makers, while MAC Cosmetics used social media polls in order to bring back certain brands.

Beer brewer Samuel Adams even asked users to vote for different ingredients to create the world’s first crowd-sourced beer.

In fact, this trend is so huge that Walmart acquired social media company Kosmix for a reported $US300 million. It forms a unit of the company that now examines social media posts to help refine its product range.

“There’s mountains and mountains of data being created in social media,” said Ravi Raj, vice president for products for @WalmartLabs.

The company even noticed that a new product, cake pops, started becoming popular on social media. So the labs told HQ, which then started to carry more – and were so popular, they began to sell very quickly.

Social media has allowed consumers to share their specific tastes. Now it appears companies may actually be listening.

The review to end them all

If you’re a keen Mac user then you’ll have been checking out the reviews for the latest OS X update, Mountain Lion. But there’s a big one that may have slipped by.

Every time Apple comes out with an update, Ars Technica releases a review. But not just any review – this review clocks in at over 20,000 words.

It’s the most comprehensive review around for the software, delving into the minutest of details, including changes to the System Preferences menu, and some of the tiniest tweaks you’d have never even noticed.

Apple always says its software comes with “hundreds” of feature updates. This is an attempt to actually categorise them.

It’s not just a simple review, either, taking into account Apple’s overall strategic direction.

“For a desktop OS in the year 2012, which direction is “forward,” anyway? The obvious answer is “toward iOS,” but Lion proved that it’s not quite that simple. And really, there has to be more to it than compulsive imitation, otherwise why continue development of the Mac platform at all?”

Even if you’ve downloaded Mountain Lion without a second thought, this is definitely worth a read.


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