Once in a while, there comes along a great entrepreneur with a special mindset, the ability to see great potential in something, and the drive to start a paradigm shift. That drive to create is the hallmark of the entrepreneur, a class that has historically been looked upon with distrust and disdain.
On Wednesday, the world lost a great entrepreneur and capitalist, a man whose creativity and genius sparked an entire industry and changed the face of computing and communication forever. That man was Steve Jobs.
Like many of you, I was shocked to hear of his passing. I knew that he was sick, but I had no idea his time was that near when he decided to retire as Apple‘s CEO. I have had a draft titled “Steve Jobs, Capitalist and Entrepreneur of the Decade” sitting in my drafts folder since sometime in early September, and I have been meaning to write up something about his long and storied career.
His name now belongs up there with many of the other great inventors and entrepreneurs of our age, but his success has come at the end of a long road. It takes more than a good idea to reach success: it also requires drive, determination, and passion. I’ve always wondered what his life story was like, what challenges he faced on the road to success, and what lessons we can learn from his journey.
Getting fired from the company you founded
Imagine what it would be like to get fired from the company that you founded. In 1976, Steve Jobs founded Apple along with Steve Wozniak and Ronald Wayne. The company quickly found success and started to rapidly expand, rising from a couple million in sales to a billion and beyond. However, a slump in the mid-80s as well as a power struggle led to Steve’s firing in 1985.
I can’t imagine what it must have been like, but I’m not sure words can be put to the feeling that someone would have after getting fired from a company that they had founded and built up just years earlier. However, Steve quickly put his creativity to work, and later said that it was the best thing that could have happened to him. He went on to found NeXT Computer, a company which built innovative computing solutions, and he also bought the company that would later be known as Pixar and go on to produce many memorable films in partnership with Disney.
Apple was lagging in the meantime, and the company was hurting from internal inefficiencies and a lack of direction. Steve eventually came back home when NeXT Computer was acquired by Apple in 1997. Many of the technologies went on to live in Apple’s products, and Steve regained his former job as the CEO of Apple.
Revolutionizing the industry
The rebirth and rise of Apple since Steve Jobs returned to the helm has been nothing short of stellar. The years since then have seen many innovative products come from the company, such as the iMac, iPod, and especially the iPhone. Steve Jobs was a master of marketing and design, and he knew how to take a product concept and turn it into something that would win over consumers.
I believe that the iPhone may be the most revolutionary product to have been developed by the company, and while the concept of a smartphone is part of the natural evolution of computing and communications technology, the iPhone is the first phone that changed the whole paradigm of the industry. Here was a phone that took touch and the user interface to a whole new level, and the company completely changed the game by integrating an app-store for third-party apps. The iPhone brought everything together in a way that was completely unparalleled at the time.
Of course, like any great invention, the iPhone also had its share of skeptics. Other companies laughed at the time and said “a touch phone? It’s just a fad that people will be over soon enough.” Well, those companies aren’t laughing anymore. The smartphone is not yet ubiquitous, but most people didn’t use the Internet just a decade and a half ago. Things move fast, and today, computers and the Internet are just about indispensable. With the spread of the Internet, information has never been easier to access or publish. You can survive without computers, but they just allow you to do so much more.
True philanthropy is creating something that people love
I am a big believer in adding value to the world through voluntary trade and exchange, and what better way to do this than to create something that people like so much that they are willing to give you something in exchange, out of their own free will? People give something up because, in their own perception, they are getting something better in exchange. Given the continued success of Apple and the reinvention of the industry, I would say that they were right.
There are people around the world who are getting onto the Internet for the first time through a mobile phone. In some places, they are skipping the wired infrastructure and going straight to wireless communications, a natural home for the mobile phone. The release of the iPhone completely shook up the industry and has fomented such a huge burst of innovation, competition, and progress. These changes are showing up everywhere, such as in the medical industry, in education, and just in plain old everyday life. Over time, the consumer receives ever-rising quality and choice, and pays ever-lowering costs.
I think what really hits home for me is that I just got such a sense of hope, optimism, and wonder from Steve Jobs and from Apple. He turned vision into reality and added true value to the world by creating products that people loved, and I daresay that the world became a better place for it. Contrast this to the fear, envy and greed that we often feel when it comes to politicians and the political stories of our times. Instead of creating wealth, politicians take it by force and destroy it, and instead of lifting us up, they turn us against each other and pander to the worst of our emotions. Steve Jobs might not have talked the political rhetoric, but I will go out on a limb and boldly state that he did far more good for this world than most of these politicians ever will.
Rest in peace, Mr. Jobs. You may be no longer of this earth, but your ideas and passion have changed the world forever.
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