The iPhone turns 10: Entrepreneurs on life before the smartphone


Yesterday marked the tenth birthday of the iPhone, one of the most game-changing and revolutionary products of the 21st century, credited with sparking the adoption and development of all smartphones.

Today, smartphones of all shapes and sizes are integral parts of businesses both big and small, and many business owners might not be able to even comprehend what life would be like without them. But just ten years ago, companies were launched and thrived without smartphones: In their place stood flip phones, Blackberries, and good old pen and paper.

SmartCompany spoke to six entrepreneurs who have been in the business world since before the advent of the iPhone who share stories of running their companies before Steve Jobs’ products took hold.

Kate Morris, Adore Beauty

“It was pretty brutal. I started my business pre-smartphone and pre-broadband, we were literally on dial up, and I had one of the old brick mobiles and eventually a Nokia.

The biggest thing that’s easier now is remote working. Back then if you were on the road and you needed to send an email, you had to try and find an internet cafe to go and sit down and check your emails. Even if you had a laptop there wasn’t a prevalence of Wifi. You were bound to an office, and bound to a desk if you were out on the road. Nowadays it’s in your pocket and it’s easy as anything.

One of my favourite phrases is that it’s not work-life balance, it’s work-life integration, and that hasn’t changed. When you have your own business it’s just going be constantly busy anyway, even when it was just phone calls and flip phones.”

Sue Ismiel, Nad’s Hair Removal

“I quite often think about how amazing the world is with the iPhone. Everything we need to do is at the tip our hands wherever we are in any part of the world, you can just push a button and there it is. I can have a conference call, I can delegate any task I need to, and I can call for free. It has just changed things dramatically and made it so much easier for businesses and the world.

I started with the iPhone 3, and I don’t know what I’d do without it now, to be honest. If I leave my phone at home and drive out, it’s like the end of the world. When I bought it I never really thought twice about it, I always knew it would be a great business tool.”

Sue-Ellen Watts, Wattsnext

“Most people agree the biggest difference is that work wasn’t 24/7 then [before the iPhone]. When you left work on Friday afternoon at 5:00pm you really left work, unless you actually deliberately did work when you got home. You didn’t notice your work emails coming in as you walk into shops, you weren’t working 24/7.

The biggest difference I remember was working when my bosses didn’t have mobile phones, I used to have to call them at home. But that’s the biggest difference in relation to work, the 24/7 element.

As a result of [the smartphone], things have sped up so quickly, and we have an expectation people get back to us immediately. It’s created a speed and pressure to everything we do, we don’t ever shut off, and we live through our phone. On the positive side, it certainly has allowed us to do more in business than we could before.

I held off quite a long time for a mobile phone, but I was a smartphone early adopter and now I upgrade each time a new version comes out.”

Taryn Williams, Models

“I remember back in the day before smartphones we were still sending paper invoices. We would type the invoice up and put the in the mail and send the to client because there were so many companies that would only process manual invoices. A lot of the business was run through SMS because we’d need a quick turnaround time in response to models, so almost everything ran by just calling and SMS.

We’ve definitely come a long way because now we have email on our phones, and we can do meetings and all sorts of things. It used to be we would have to madly rush home and check emails, and you had to really carve out time to respond to your emails, and the response time so much slower. Today if I don’t get a response in two hours, I assume the person has dropped dead.

I had a flip phone and then I had a Blackberry, and it took me a long time to convert from Blackberry to the iPhone because the Blackberry made emailing so efficient and quick.”

David Strangis, Bronze Snake

“The main thing is connecting with customers now is so much easier. Customers have smartphones, so they have access to instant social media and instant emails, so marketing has become a lot easier. I remember when we first started it was harder for a customer to see what your product was, so you would do was a physical catalogue mailout.

We saw the benefits instantly because we were doing a lot of work overseas, so getting the ability to check emails on phone rather than going to internet cafe was huge. That’s when you really notice the impact.”

Naomi Simson, RedBalloon

“It was incredibly different. I remember everything was about the desktop, and it was really exciting when we got two screens for our desktops, it was a really big deal.

It was such a different world, and the trust of the internet has naturally shifted with smartphones, now it’s pervasive and everywhere, but then you had to go to your home computer with the dial-up modem, and wait for the page to download.

Also, 100% of our traffic then was on one platform, and now more than half of traffic on smartphones, and every year that number going up and up.

Even our approach to media has changed compared to before smartphones. We wouldn’t advertise in cinemas because by the time people got home they would have forgotten who we were, but now they can type it in and go check it out online.

It has affected everything from our media strategy, to how we get product reviews, and how we engage with customers. Also in terms of on the supply side, how our business clients interact with us now is all by smartphones, but before they would have to go into the office, look at the calendar, and contact customers then.”

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