Present in Steve Job’s garage at the birth of what would become the world's most valuable company, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak knows a thing or two about starting a business.
Speaking at AppsWorld 2013, the Silicon Valley legend highlighted the difference between the startup landscape of today and what it looked like when Apple was founded. "Now apps are so big, there's so much of a market and there's so many of them that if you have a winner, you can make a lot of money. It's such a big deal that everybody is trying to think in terms of maximising a company, planning everything from a business point of view, whereas when we started Apple our business was accidental." Wozniak has plenty of advice for young companies. Here are four key areas:
1. Marketing Is the Most Important Thing
Wozniak thinks that for a consumer-facing venture, it's the marketing that makes or breaks products and companies. "Marketing is the most important thing. It's a lot easier to think of an app and write it than to figure out a way to convince people to buy it. It's very important to get good publicity in the right places because the right blogs can reach a million people in one shot."
However, one of the secrets to attracting the right kind of marketing is to do something new. In the case of Apple he says: "We had a lot of publicity because nobody was against us. No big companies thought our personal computers would be successful in that early startup phase. So all the press was hot on this neat story about two kids starting in a garage and these little computers that would be in your home."
2. But The Team Still Has To Be Good
Marketing is an awful lot harder if a product's not good. For that it's all about the team. Wozniak believes that for a company to create something that consumers will actually want to solve their problems, the team needs to be users themselves. "If you're not one of those people who is an end user and has good ideas, you better find one and become partners with them even when you're running on zero dollars."
Building a team for a successful business is something of a balancing act. "You've got to mix the creative thinking with the very well skilled," says Wozniak. "If you're a business man please find the engineers because engineering is so difficult and they will come up with new ideas for your own product that you never would have thought."
However, as important as getting the right mix of skills on a team is, it never hurts to have someone with that Steve Job's-esque genius. Look out for people who Wozniak describes as, "not necessarily the ones getting all the questions right in class, because those answers come from a book and everyone is doing that. Look for the people who have inner ideas and talk about a passion. They're very rare but I've ran into a couple in my life."
3. Be Prepared To Fail
Despite narrowing margins Apple device sales continue to grow, even if it’s for a set-top box that has never been advertised. But the company certainly didn't get where it is today without its fair share of hick-ups and duds. "The Apple 2 made up all of the revenues and profits of Apple for the first 10 years of the company. We went through failures of the Apple 3, the LISA and the Macintosh, trying to build computers that just failed over and over. We had to modify the Macintosh and market it heavily to get it to sell. We believed it was the future but the market had got a lot tougher."
Ultimately though he believes it is a combination of trial, error and persistence that benefits companies in the end and this ethos becomes an important part of recruitment. "Look for people who build something cool and fun but doesn't have any value and doesn't make any money, then design another thing that’s cool and fun, and then build another thing because every time you increase your ability. You never go backwards you always go forwards and you use the techniques you've come up with to create things and new solutions."
4. User Experience Has To Be Human
No matter what kind of technology a company is working with - be it analytics software or time-killing apps - keeping the user in mind is critical and Wozniak cites this as one of the important defining factors in Apple’s early life and says: "When we started Apple we said we're going to be market orientated and understand people, their needs and we're going to be very attentive to the end user.”
Little has changed and now in an age where smartphones are defined less by their features than the apps they carry it's still just as important for developer to bear in mind the real-world users who want the technology to solve problems in their lives as seamlessly as possible.
“User experience is extremely important.” Says Wozniak, “You've got to make products that are easily understood, you've got to put your products and technology to use in human ways rather than forcing the human to learn all these weird commands to make the technology work. I call that the Macintosh dream. Computers that are so obvious that they think for you and ahead of you.”