Business Lessons from Steve Jobs

On Entrepreneurship


Have you had the experience of purchasing, owning or using an iPhone, iPad, iPod or Mac computer? Together these popular electronic devices have created one of the most powerful consumer brands in the world. Steve Jobs and Apple—the company he founded and led until his death last year—released all these amazing, world-changing and record-breaking products over a period of less than ten years. In the process, Jobs made Apple the most valuable business in the world with a market value of over $500 billion.

When Steve Jobs’ biographer, Walter Isaacson, asked him what he thought his most important creation was, Jobs did not choose one of Apple’s amazing products. He said it was Apple, the company. This spring Isaacson wrote an article for Harvard Business Review reflecting on what he thought were the keys to Jobs’ success at Apple. Many of these factors are equally applicable to those building successful businesses in Africa.

Tolerate Only “A” Players

Jobs had a reputation for being difficult to work for, but he was passionate about working with only talented and dedicated people who shared his drive for making Apple products the best in the world. He knew that without the right people in the right jobs great things couldn’t happen. As CEO, Jobs’ responsibility was to recruit, inspire and hold accountable the best talent he could find and to eliminate those who couldn’t keep up.

Simplify and Focus

When Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, the company was producing a random array of products and numerous versions of each. Jobs focused the company on building four great products while eliminating the rest. He knew that to be great at even one thing meant eliminating the distraction of many good things. Jobs decided what Apple could be best at in the world and then focused all the company’s resources toward achieving that one goal.

Take Responsibility End to End

Jobs and Apple took end-to-end responsibility for their customers’ experience – something that few businesses do. Customers don’t just buy products and services; they purchase the whole experience of doing business with a company. Great companies step into the shoes of their customers, pay attention to every detail of the process, and assume responsibility for ensuring that every aspect of doing business creates a consistently positive experience.

Put Producing Quality Products Before Profits

Jobs’ passion was to always create “insanely great” products. Early on, he told his design teams, “Don’t worry about price, just focus on what the product can do.” Over time, he got the balance right: Keep the focus on making the customer experience great and the profits will follow. By consistently delivering innovative products of the highest quality, Apple established a loyal customer following as well as a powerful brand.

Building great businesses in Africa is hard. It’s a new frontier that presents challenges that were overcome years ago in more developed countries. Yet Africa is a great opportunity for entrepreneurs to create something new – something that didn’t exist before, just like Steve Jobs did at Apple.

Dale Dawson is an investment banker and entrepreneur. He serves on Rwanda President Paul Kagame’s Presidential Advisory Council and is the founder of Bridge2Rwanda and Isoko Institute for Entrepreneurship and Strong Societies in Africa. Dale also serves on the boards of Urwego Opportunity Bank of Rwanda and OneHundredX. He is a graduate of the University of Texas and lives in Little Rock.