I’m a strong advocate of both simplicity and focus, but hadn’t give a lot of thought to how the two are related until I read the article on MacRumors by Joe Rossignol entitled iBook Turns 20: Watch Steve Jobs Unveil the World’s First Notebook With Wireless Internet.
When Steve Jobs returned to Apple from his exile of 11 years at Next, Inc. he found a foundering company with a bloated morass of products. The company totally lacked direction and focus and had just spewed out product after product, confusing its customers and costing a lot of money in product development and manufacturing. Jobs inherited John Sculley’s bid for tech stardom, the failing Newton MessagePad, which was totally unrelated to anything else the company was doing, but had attracted some of its top tech talent. In two words, a total mess!
As I recall after reading the article, Jobs called his hand-picked lieutenants into a conference room and drew a simple two by two matrix on the whiteboard. The two columns were labeled Consumer and Pro: Apple’s target market. The rows were labeled Desktop and Portable, Apple’s two and only two, product lines. Out went the Newton and a host of other miscellaneous products. In one bold stroke Jobs had greatly simplified Apple’s product development, manufacturing, and marketing. But as should seem obvious, he also seriously tightened focus. It became abundantly clear to those in product development and manufacturing what they were building for whom. And now marketing and sales could focus on two groups, consumers – Apple’s largest and traditional customers, and professionals – graphic designers, software developers, and other creative professionals who had been loyal Apple customers since the invention of the Laserwriter and desktop publishing.
Mentorphile is focused on startups, not company turnarounds like Steve Jobs faced upon returning to Apple. But I encourage founders to focus their teams in much the way Jobs did: by diagramming out your product(s) and customer (s). I put the s’s in parentheses because startups need to start up with a single product and single target customer, but a roadmap to the future expansion of both needs to be part of any investor presentation.
Jobs was famous for his insistence on focus and once said he was prouder of the many things he had said “no” to than the products he had shipped. (Job was also famous for his grandiose exaggerations!). But note how focus can drive simplicity and how simplicity serves focus, even if you only have a single product and customer base, not the dog pound of mongrel products Steve Jobs inherited.