Commentary

Prof. Steve Jobs: Lessons from His Legacy for the Payments Sector

(Editor’s Note: Apple co-founder Steve Jobs passed away Wednesday, Oct. 5. He was 56. “Apple has lost a visionary and creative genius, and the world has lost an amazing human being,” wrote Apple CEO Tim Cook in an email to all Apple employees. When Jobs stepped down as Apple’s CEO in August, MPD CEO Karen Webster paid tribute to the man who, as a Twitter user named Matt Galligan aptly put, “touched an ugly world of technology and made it beautiful.”)

The resignation of Steve Jobs as Apple’s CEO has prompted a zillion articles on its impact on everything from Apple’s ability to continue to innovate to the future of the mobile industry. I don’t have much to add to that score. News of his resignation brought to mind two things, though, that might be new to the conversation – here goes.

The first is how Steve Jobs taught us some important lessons about how to ignite a platform. Before the genius of the iPod, iTunes, iPhone and iPad, there was, well, Lisa. Lisa was developed in 1983 (well before most of the iPod, iPhone toting users were even born) by Jobs during his first stint at Apple. Its genius was that it was the first commercial computer with a GUI interface. Before that, we all either chiseled our documents out of stone tablets <joke>, or more likely, relegated document production to the computer to techies who could type commands on the keyboard to make the system work.

Lisa was pretty cool, and arguably, the precursor to what we all know and love and can’t live without today. But it was a flop. It was, by and large, a huge, expensive (around $6,500) paperweight. Since it had few software applications to run on, there weren’t a lot of buyers. The Lisa fiasco helped get Jobs tossed from Apple, ironically.

But one could say that this failure was one of the biggest drivers for Jobs and Apple’s success. The brilliance of Apple products isn’t just their slick design but the integration of applications with the devices that drive their sales and devotion to them – forever. Jobs built an incredibly robust and integrated platform that has driven Apple from being nearly bankrupt back in the 1990s to a Fortune 100 powerhouse a decade later. He has also done something else along the way: opened everyone’s eyes to the power of a platform – the apps store for driving commerce on IP-enabled devices. Today, there are more than 100,000 apps in the iPhone apps store, which keeps users sticky to Apple’s products and developers developing apps for them. Its embedded payment platform makes adding to one’s personal collection simple and easy. Apple probably did more to drive the future of mobile commerce forward than anyone else on the planet by raising the lid on these platform network effects and stimulating the likes of PayPal, Amazon and Google countless more to replicate its magic. Sure, Apple is a closed platform (on the hardware side; it is open of course on the app side), and many suggest that will be its Achilles’ heel. But so far, Apple has proven them wrong. The mistake made with Lisa – create cool products without cool things to drive sales and usage – is at the core of what we all know to be central to Apple’s success. [Related: Why Steve Jobs Will Go Down as “The Man”]

The other thing that his resignation brought to mind, for me at least, is an admiration for how strong Jobs must really be as a human being. Jobs has been really sick for a very long time, and until very recently, was reported to be working at full tilt on the new product suite. That’s impressive given the seriousness of his illness. My guess is that getting up every morning and pursuing his life’s dream was the only way he could block out how sick he really was and in the process capture some small piece of a normal life. Not talking about his health or dwelling on it was as good for him, as it was for the company who never wanted to focus on life post-Jobs. If I’m right, that lesson is huge and something we can all learn from – and certainly benefited from.

We wish Steve Jobs well, and peace.


Karen Webster is the CEO of Market Platform Dynamics (MPD), a consulting firm that helps companies find, implement and monetize innovation. She serves as an advisor and member of the board for a number of companies operating in the payment, technology and digital media industries. More info here.


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