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3 Things Small Business Owners Can Learn From Steve Jobs

Steve JobsLessons in Life and Business From Steve Jobs

Newton, Franklin, Edison, Carnegie, Curie—now Jobs. The men and women whose work forever altered the worlds of science, business, technology, and design are typically endowed with preternatural genius, a talent for hard work and industry, and an almost superhuman sense of purpose.

Obviously, the conditions that produce an Isaac Newton or an Alfred Nobel are essentially mysterious and not reproducible, however, just as every artist can learn from the work of great masters, every small-business owner can seek to emulate leading entrepreneurs and inventors such as Jobs, by studying their habits and attitudes.

Steve Jobs died in the fall of 2011. Although Jobs’ legacy will largely depend on the ultimate success or failure of the Apple brand he nourished, it is clear that his contributions to technology, design, and commerce helped shape the world he left behind. Below are three of the attributes and attitudes embraced by Jobs throughout his career.

Customers First

The cornerstone of Jobs’ professional philosophy was laid by Mike Markkula, the second CEO of Apple Inc. In 1977, Markkula wrote and circulated a short memo entitled “The Apple Marketing Philosophy” in which he stressed Apple’s commitment to customer satisfaction, stating, “We will truly understand their needs better than any other company.”

Throughout his career at Apple, Jobs embodied Markkula’s philosophy by advocating for Apple’s customers, even at the expense of the company’s bottom line. As a designer, Jobs’ endeavored to create intuitive, friendly, useful products to improve the lives of his customers.

Put Your Best Foot Forward

Jobs understood two essential truths of customer service: first, that customers are often compelled to judge a book by its cover, and second, that a poor first impression is difficult if not impossible to correct. As Markkula stated in his memo, “We may have the best product, the highest quality, the most useful software, etc. If we present them in a slipshod manner, they will be perceived as slipshod; if we present them in a creative, professional manner, we will impute the desired qualities.”

In later years, Jobs often obsessed over details that other executives might have dismissed as trivial, such as the size of the font on Apple’s packaging or the type of stone used for flooring and displays in Apple Stores (grey-blue Pietera Serena sandstone from Il Casone, a family-owned quarry near Florence). Ultimately, Jobs’ attention to detail ensured that every potential Apple customer would have a positive encounter with the brand.

Don’t Just Focus on Money

Jobs’ relationship with money was notoriously complicated, but it is safe to say that the accumulation of wealth was never his primary motivation. The passion that Jobs felt for his products, his brand, and his customers consumed him, and money never did; profit was a means to an end. Financial success allowed the company to continue to create superior products and services.

Photo Credit: segagman, Flickr. 


Marshall Walker Lee graduated Summa Cum Laude from the University of Michigan's Honors College with degrees in Writing and Philosophy. As a freelance writer and designer he has developed branding strategies and programming for J. Walter Thompson, Nike, the Kellogg Foundation, Spike TV, Sony Films, and General Motors. He is the co-founder and director of Poor Claudia, a 501(c)3 non-profit publishing enterprise based in Portland, Oregon.