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Steve Jobs Was Right

As I woke up today and began my morning scroll, I was reminded it’s Steve Jobs’ birthday. I immediately began to reflect upon how my time at Apple was the most transformational experience of my professional career, and how the opportunity to work with the company during Jobs’ leadership was an absolute privilege. I knew at the time I was part of something historic– and more than a decade after his death I find my own leadership style very heavily influenced by his ideas and ideals. I’d say I only have 2 mentors in my life, and Steve was one of them.

So I thought today I would take the time to celebrate the life of Steve Jobs by sharing some Apple takeaways which guide me in my life and leadership everyday:

Perfect is possible.

It’s also a worthy goal. Perfection begins with who you hire. When you have a company centered around the idea of attaining perfection, you have to have the right team. Quality over quantity was the hiring principle at Apple, which meant it took a certain type of person to work under Steve. Some people say, “Oh, we’re not going for perfection” or “We’re just trying to get this done” or “You know, not everything can be perfect.”-- all dreadfully defeatist positions with no place on a team striving for excellence.

Excellence is the expectation.

If you do not have the willingness to work hard enough to strive for perfection, then Apple’s not for you, and you can go work for another tech company with less lofty goals.

This culture created a vast contrast in expectations and work ethic between Apple and its competitors. I saw this when I worked in partnership with another company where the culture was so lazy and toxic, I could not figure out what motivated the employees. The environment was a stark contrast to Apple, where excellence was an expectation, and it extended beyond product design. It was in fact the expectation for everything, from office design and reading materials to the cafeteria. At tech companies where focus is on retirement and not about rocking the boat of innovation, they couldn't care less about the customer, the product, revenue or success of the company.

When I founded my own company, Kairos, I took this perfection page from Steve’s book and leveraged it to build the company from the inside out. From product to company culture, Like Steve, I believe in striving for perfection and working to create the best possible experience for users/customers. Because you CAN achieve perfection. Look at the history of Apple’s success. Even with a small team, if you hire the right people and do not accept the common excuse of exceptional mediocrity, you will without a doubt deliver the best product, the best service, the best everything.

These principles became the foundation of Lightship Capital.

When I founded Lightship, our VC fund focused on investing in remarkable founders, we knew that we had to spread this gospel. We search, select, and teach our entrepreneurs this truth at Lightship, and I believe that is one of the biggest reasons they are doing so well. Founding a startup is one of the riskiest things you can do as a professional– so why strive for mediocrity? Mediocre people often take umbride with these concepts, and I respect other approaches. They are welcome to their opinions and their Android phones. 🙂

Written by Brian Brackeen, General Partner, Lightship Capital. Lightship Capital is a $50MM fund focused on investing in remarkable women and minority entrepreneurs who live in the Midwest and South. He is also the organizer of Black Tech Week, more details here:

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