Plan like Steve Jobs

In 2010, Steve Job's email to Apple's 100 most senior employees was released as part of Apple's lawsuit against Samsung.

This email sets the agenda for Apple's annual "Top 100" meeting. I read the email when it was released to public in 2014. Today, I would like to comb through it and learn some lessons on Product, Strategy and Marketing from one of the greatest product minds of our time. 

As Product Managers, we are responsible for our product's strategy. While there are many books and articles on strategy and planning, this email is a real world example from a top product guy doing this exercise for one of the most successful tech company of our time. This practical example offers many insights to this process. This is my attempt to do so.

The day is October 24, 2010. Earlier in June, Apple released the iPhone 4. Here is a snapshot of the Apple product line in  2010, for context.



In this post, I quote interesting parts of the email, and offer my commentary below. So, without further ado, lets go.

1. 2011 Strategy – SJ
– who are we?
– headcount, average age, …
– VP count, senior promotions in last year
– percent new membership at this meeting
– what do we do?
– pie chart of units/product line and revenues/product line
– same charts with tablets + phones merged together
– Post PC era- Apple is the first company to get here
– Post PC products now 66% of our revenues
– iPad outsold Mac within 6 months
– Post PC era = more mobile (smaller, thinner, lighter) + communications + apps + cloud services
– 2011: Holy War with Google
– all the ways we will compete with them
– primary reason for this Top 100 meeting
– you will hear about what we’re doing in each presentation
– 2011: Year of the Cloud
– we invented Digital Hub concept
– PC as hub for all your digital assets
– contacts, calendars, bookmarks, photos, music, videos
– digital hub (center of our universe) is moving from PC to cloud
– PC now just another client alongside iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, …
– Apple is in danger of hanging on to old paradigm too long (innovator’s dilemma)
– Google and Microsoft are further along on the technology, but haven’t quite figured it out yet
– tie all of our products together, so we further lock customers into our ecosystem
– 2015: new campus

[SID] - Steve starts his agenda with "who are we". That's how he plans to open his company's "Top 100" annual meeting. Think about that for a minute. This is not a new company or a startup. This is their north star, guiding "the how" and "the what" they work on. Steve highlights new "memberships" to this meeting, mentions VP count and senior promotions.

He then moves to "what do we do", with pie charts of units and revenue per product line. He describes the Post-PC era, what it means - smaller, thinner, lighter + communications + apps + cloud services, and how important it is to Apple.

Then comes the holy war with Google, his reason for this meeting. Steve puts in all the ways they will compete with Google, and expects each following presentation to tie into this central idea of the meeting.

He describes how PC as a digital hub is no longer relevant as the PC is now just another client to the iPhone and iPad. The digital hub describes all the things important to users (contacts, calendars, bookmarks, photos, video) and that its moving from the PC to the cloud. Apple's strategy to beat Google and Microsoft was to figure out this before they do, otherwise Apple would be in danger of the "innovators dilemma". 

The new campus for 2015 was the last item of the first section on Steve's agenda.

2. State of the Company
– Peter & Tim
– FY2010 recap
– FY2011 plan
– where is our business
– geo analysis (NA, Euro, Japan, Asia, possibly break out china) (present on map)
– key milestones, trends & future goals
– comparisons with Google, Samsung, HTC, Motorola & RIM3. iPhone
– Joz & Bob
– 2011 Strategy:
– “plus” iPhone 4 with better antenna, processor, camera & software to stay ahead of competitors until mid 2012
– have LTE version in mid-2012
– create low cost iPhone model based on iPod touch to replace 3GS
– Business & competitive update
– show Droid and RIM ads
– Verizon iPhone
– schedule, marketing, …
– iPhone 5 hardware
– H4 performance
– new antenna design, etc
– new camera
– schedule
– cost goal
– show model (and/or renderings)
– Jony

[SID] - Steve plans Peter and Tim to cover the State of the Company. This reviews the past year and plans for the next one. "Where is our business" is next, with geographical analysis. Then come the milestones, trends, goals and Competition. 

Joz and Bob are pencilled next, with the 2011 strategy for the iPhone. Discussion is planned around the next two versions of the iPhone, and a new SKU that is low cost. One important mention here is that Steve plans to show the Droid and RIM ads, not just their product or revenue/customer numbers. This is rare. How many times have you shown your competitors through the eyes of your customer? 

The section ends with discussions around the Verizon iPhone and the iPhone 5.

4. iPad – Bob, Jony, Dan Riccio, Michael Tchao ,Randy Ubillos, Xander Soren, Roger Rosner
– 2011 Strategy: ship iPad 2 with amazing hardware and software before our competitors even catch up with our current model
– Business & competitive update – Michael
– Apps, corporate adoption, …
– show Samsung, HP(?) anf iPad ads
– 2011 Product Roadmap
– Bob, Dan & Jony
– iPad 2
– new ID, H4, UMTS + Verizon in one model, cameras, …
– EVT units & cases
– HDMI dongle (use for projection of demos below?)
– iPad 3
– display, H4T
– DEMOS:- PhotoBooth (Michael?)
– iMovie (Randy)
– GarageBand (Xander)
– text book authoring system (Roger)
– working display for iPad 3 (during break)

[SID] - Strategy section for the iPad is crystal clear. Ship a new iPad that gives no chance to the competition to catch up. Also note the order of the iPad on the agenda and number of people presenting. Again the discussion is around the next two versions of the iPad, iPad 2 and iPad 3. Competition ads are to be shown. Apps for the iPad and Corporate Adoption are two unique items for the iPad, that were absent for the iPhone. 

5. iOS – Scott, Joz
– Strategy: catch up to Android where we are behind (notifications, tethering, speech, …) and leapfrog them (Siri, …)
– Timeline of iOS releases from first until Telluride, including Verizon
– Jasper tent poles
– Durango tent poles (without MobileMe)
– Telluride tent poles (with “catch up” and “leapfrog” notations on each one)
– Jasper: AirPlay to AppleTV – video from iPad, photos from iPhone, ??
– Durango: ?? (without MobileMe features)
– Telluride: Siri, ?

[SID] - iOS strategy defines places where Apple is behind, and how they plan to leapfrog the competition. Features are broken into "Catch Up" and "leapfrog". Three product releases are mentioned (Jasper, Durango, Telluride). Demos are expected.

6. MobileMe – Cue, SJ, Roger Rosner
– Strategy: catch up to Google cloud services and leapfrog them (Photo Stream, cloud storage)
– Android
– deeply integrates Google cloud services
– way ahead of Apple in cloud services for contacts, calendars, mail
– 2011
– Apple’s year of the cloud
– tie all of our products together
– make Apple ecosystem even more sticky
– Free MobileMe for iPhone 4, iPad and new iPod touch
– Jasper – Sign up with Apple ID, Find My iPhone
– Durango
– Find My Friends, Calendar, Contacts, Bookmarks, Photo Stream
– April
– iWork cloud storage
– Telluride
– cloud storage for third party apps
– iOS backup
– new iDisk for Mac
– Growth
– projected growth, cost/user
– plan to scale to 100 million users
– transition plan for paid members
– what about email?
– Find My Friends
– Calendar
– Photo Stream
– iWork cloud storage (Roger Rosner)

[SID] - MobileMe is a separate section for Steve. He plans to announce 2011 as the year of the cloud. Android's deep integration is highlighted. Apple plans to tie in all of its product together, making the ecosystem more sticky. Backups, Find My Friends, Calendar, Contacts, Bookmarks, Photo Stream, iWork Cloud Storage, iDisk for Mac are mentioned. Cost/user is mentioned, along with plans to scale the service to 100 million users. Email is a dilemma for Steve.  

7. Mac
– David Moody, Bob, Craig Federigi, Randy Ubilos & ?
– Hardware roadmap
– Lion plan
– Mac App Store
– Final Cut Pro DEMO (Randy & ?)

[SID] - The Mac appears. A new hire or a promotion was possibly on the cards, described as a "?" on the agenda. Hardware, Software, App Store, Apps, all of it has a place.

8. Apple TV 2- David Moody, Jeff Robbin
– Strategy: stay in the living room game and make a great “must have” accessory for iOS devices
– sales so far, projections for this holiday season
– add content:- NBC, CBS, Viacom, HBO, …
– TV subscription?
– where do we go from here?
– apps, browser, magic wand?

[SID] - Same story for Apple TV. Steve had an idea for a TV subscription service, in 2010. He was open on Apple TVs strategy going forward.

9. Stores Update – Eddy, Patrice
– Music
– Strategy: Leap even further ahead of Google in music
– Beatles
– iTunes in the cloud
– App Store
– Strategy: Leap even further ahead of Google in discovering great new iOS apps

[SID] - Now come the Stores. Music and the App Store. App Discovery is Apple's leapfrog item with respect to Google. iTunes in the cloud is on the list. Beatles get their obligatory mention.

10. iAds Update – Andy Miller
11. Retail Update – Ron Johnson

[SID] - The agenda closes with iAds and Retail updates.

This is how Steve's agenda looked like for Apple's strategy meeting. I found it very simple and interesting. Hopefully, you found it too.

Find me on twitter (@sidoza), if you want to discuss this post.  

Quotes from The Psychology of Human Misjudgement

I just finished reading "The Psychology of Human Misjudgement" by Charles T. Munger. A simple Google search will get you the whole text. There is a YouTube video on this article too.

I highly recommend you read/listen to it.

The article prescribes a latticework of theory to help you build mental models for decision making. I will write a separate blog post on mental models proposed in the article. There are a ton of interesting quotes in the article. As a quip lover, I find them very interesting. Here I present a select few for your reading pleasure. 

"I don't believe life ever knocked all the boy's brashness out of the man."
- Charles T Munger

"Of what use is a philosopher who never offends anybody?" 
- Diogenes

"My sword I leave to him who can wear it."
- "Old Valiant of Truth" in John Bunyan's Pilgrims Progress

"Invert, always invert."
- Jacobi

"We are too soon old and too late smart."
- German Folk Saying

"Many an academic is like the truffle hound, an animal so trained and bred for one narrow purpose that it is no good at anything else."
- Jacob Viner

"If you would persuade, appeal to interest and not to reason."
- Ben Franklin in Poor Richard's Almanack

"They pretend to pay us and we pretend to work."
- An Employee in Soviet Russia

"To a man with only a hammer every problem looks pretty much like a nail."
- Folk Saying

"Bad behaviour is intensely habit forming when it is rewarded."
- Skinner

"Shrouds have no pockets."
- Patterson

"I did not completely die."
- Horace

"Children need to eat their carrots before they get dessert."
- Granny's Rule

"Politics is the art of marshalling hatreds."
- From England

"I wear the chains I forged in life."
- Marley's Miserable Ghost

"An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."
- Franklin's Poor Richard's Almanack

"A man never forgets where he has buried the hatchet."
- Folk Saying

"It is not greed that drives the world, but envy."
- Warren Buffett

"You can always tell a man off tomorrow, if it is such a good idea."
- Tom Murphy

"Keep your eyes wide open before marriage and half shut thereafter."
- Franklin's Poor Richard's Almanack

"Always tell the bad news promptly. It is the good news that can wait."
- Common Injunction at Berkshire

"Why does that man hate me so? I never did anything for him."
- Henry Ford

"It is not necessary to hope in order to persevere."
- Folk Saying

"What a man wishes, that also will he believe in."
- Demosthenes

"They asked me if I wanted to become a director of Northwest Bell, and it was the last thing they ever asked me.
- Joe Rosenfield

"A small leak will sink great ship."
- Ben Franklin

The Right Question

Horace Dediu wrote a piece on Tesla and SolarCity. He starts the article with a very simple explanation of what is meant by mergers, integrations, spinoffs and acquisitions.

A merger is the result of two entities in the same business joining forces. It is usually justified through “synergy”, a euphemism for removing redundancies from their unity. Arithmetically, the desired outcome is that the resulting organization should be smaller than the individual parts (which is desired if the available market is shrinking.)

An Integration is the answer to the question of “Why two companies in different businesses are better off together.” Arithmetically, it suggests that the proposed sum is greater than the individual parts.

The spin-off is the response to a situation where one company houses two unrelated businesses.

For completeness, we can define an acquisition as the purchase of an unequal entity in order to improve the value of the acquirer.

This explanation is extremely simple to understand from a strategy and markets point of view, a trademark of Horace's writing. He continues the article with the importance of questions.

Henry Ford asked, “What would enable everyone to have a car”. The result was  not a better car but a better production system.

Steve Jobs asked, “What would enable everyone to have a computer”. The result was not a faster computer, but a more approachable computer.

Akio Morita asked, “What would enable young people to have their own music”. The result was not a better audio quality but a smaller audio player.

Kiichiro Toyoda asked, “How can a car be built without faults”. The result was not a bigger factory but many smaller ones.

For Product Managers, this is a good way to crystallise your thinking around your product's strategy and positioning. What is the correct question for your product? Your answer defines your vision and identifies the strategy you need to get there. 

A similar approach is to focus on the "problem" part of the equation (customer, market, technology) and less on the "solution". 

Product Managers need to keep asking the right questions. Keep focusing on the problem. Right solutions and strategies emerge out of your answers to the right questions and problems.

Nietzsche and startups

A few days ago, I came across the following article on Nietzsche on Maria Popova's excellent website -

The article quotes Nietzsche's essay "Schopenhauer as Educator", on how to bring forth our gifts and find ourselves. That to achieve true happiness, our soul needs to be unshackled from the chains of opinion and fear. He touches upon the role of our educators as liberators and how this helps us find purpose and happiness. The whole article is a wonderful read. Truly beautiful.

Read in another light, we can also use Nietzsche's advice for starting up new companies and building new products. For example, a perennial question facing many "to-be" entrepreneurs is when to start and what to work on. Here is some guiding light from Nietzsche on these two subjects -

“What have you truly loved thus far? What has ever uplifted your soul, what has dominated and delighted it at the same time?” Assemble these revered objects in a row before you and perhaps they will reveal a law by their nature and their order...

Any human being who does not wish to be part of the masses need only stop making things easy for himself. Let him follow his conscience, which calls out to him: “Be yourself! All that you are now doing, thinking, desiring, all that is not you.

Timeless advice can be applied to any problem, no matter what the field or times of the question. To find answers, you can rely on books, mentors and experts in your field of interest today.

Or you can seek guidance from the greats who have withstood the test of time and use their advice to build your own way forward.

No one can build you the bridge on which you, and only you, must cross the river of life. There may be countless trails and bridges and demigods who would gladly carry you across; but only at the price of pawning and forgoing yourself. There is one path in the world that none can walk but you. Where does it lead? Don’t ask, walk!