5 reasons why Steve Jobs was an amazing nontechnical cofounder.

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For all the talk over the past week on Steve Jobs success I think we’re
missing some of the learning lessons from his life that I noticed.

From where I sit Steve Jobs was the best non-technical cofounder of his
generation. And he did it by ignoring a lot of advice that I’ve been
guilty of giving. You might not agree with his method but his results
speak for themselves. Here’s how I see some of the Lessons of Steve Job
nontechnical cofounder, and what we might want to learn from them.

1 – Take over everything from the technical founder that is not his core

Steve Jobs handled all the firing and hiring of Apple Computer early on,
he rejected technical hires that his technical cofounder wanted. He went
alone to banks and asked for money. He negotiated the early angel
financing, alone. He built the early dealers network to sell the computers
and he trained the sales people. Where was his cofounder Woz during all
this. Building and designing computers. Why? Because that’s what he was
good at. Would Woz have been good at the other items up here – perhaps?
But the goal was to squeeze every inch of engineering genius out of Woz
and get every distraction out of his way. Steve Jobs did that artfully.

2 – Learn enough technical knowledge to be dangerous. Then be dangerous.
(I.e. challenge everyone to defend their technical beliefs.)

Eric Schmidt in a recent business week article pointed out that Steve Jobs
argued with him on arcane points of C while Schmidt has a PhD in compsci.

Unlike Schmidt, Steve Jobs could never program the technology he wanted, but he had a view
on it. He could defend it and he wasn’t afraid to.

I suspect he learned more from the ‘defend your technical beliefs’
arguments then he ever learned from looking at code. In other words the
interested layman talking arcane tech so much he sounded like he could
even do it. He did this to keep his technical staff wondering what arcane
point they would have to defend next. But it also made them prepare to
defend their design decisions so they would chose the best and easiest to
defend design decisions.

3 – Never accept people’s qualifications at face value.

Steve had no qualifications and he was a success.

The opposite could also be true. You could have qualifications and be a
failure. If you ever read about people’s first interviews with Jobs, he
nearly always asked them to defend why they should be hired. The resume
was only a foot in the door. Qualifications, even technical ones don’t
really matter at the end of the day. Can you do it? They do so.

4 – Never let your products become too techie. They’re supposed to be used
by people. Make sure you want to use it.

At the end of the day Woz was about refined technical design. Steve was
about refined design. But it was Jobs who recognized that a command line
was never going to be the future of computing it was going to be an icon.
Technical founders build beautiful technology. Nontechnical founders need
to make sure they can use it too. Steve made sure he could use it and then
made sure he wanted to use it and then show it to his girl friend.

“We made the buttons on the screen look so good you’ll want to lick them”

5 – Argue for technical changes by talking about the humanity of the
end-user. Not the technical problems that need to be fixed.

If you read the folklore.org pages about the Macintosh startup time.
You’ll hear the story of how he argued for shorter boot times not because
it was slow but because they were wasting away the lives of their users.  

The argument was not a technical one, the problem was. The way to inspire
his team that Steve decided to use was to not argue about loading memory
items when the user won’t notice. He just explained a completely off hand
thought for saving lives.

Was it a good argument – no.

But did it explain the thinking of Steve Jobs? yes.

— There are probably many more and better ones.

There have been hundreds of arguments on technical founders versus
nontechnical founders. We just lost the best nontechnical cofounder in
history and he certainly showed that they matter.

The Author

Hi. My name is Matt Roberts, you can find me at www.mattroberts.com.

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