Tim Cook (right), chief executive officer of Apple Inc., addresses an audience question during the recent Utah Tech Tour, organized by U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah (left), in Salt Lake City. Cook also was the keynote speaker the same night at the Utah Technology Council’s Hall of Fame gala. Photo courtesy of Sen. Hatch’s Office.
Be first to market, or wait to see what the market really wants?
It’s a conundrum faced by many entrepreneurs with a new product or service. And the leader of one of the world’s top companies has some advice: Either one works.
Speaking at a pair of technology events recently in Salt Lake City, Tim Cook, chief executive officer of Apple Inc., said entrepreneurs are faced with a choice of three objectives: Be best, be first or make the most.
“Sometimes, the sun and the moon line up and you can be the best, the first and have the most,” he said to a crowd of over 1,000 at the Utah Tech Tour, organized by U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. “But rarely does that happen and you should never, ever, base success or failure on hitting on all three of those, in my view. So, as an entrepreneur, I would encourage you to pick one and then go for it, whatever it is.”
Cook noted that Apple considers being the best the most important objective.
“It trumps the other two, by far,” he said. “However, for other companies, some companies might look at that and say, ‘No, for me, being first is the most important.’ I think the key thing is to decide, so that you have a ‘North Star.’”
Apple, he noted, did not produce the first MP3 player but it’s iPod was the first modern one. The same was true for smartphones and tablets.
“So for us, our North Star is making the best products to really enrich people’s lives. And if we can’t do those, we pass,” he said. “And it doesn’t bother us that we’re second, third, fourth or fifth if we still have the best. We don’t feel embarrassed because it took us longer to get it right.”
The idea of focusing on the best products came from the late Steve Jobs, Apple’s co-founder, chairman and chief executive officer, Cook said, adding that Jobs insisted that the products not just be great but instead “insanely great.”
“His spirit will always be the DNA of the company. He embodied who we are,” Cook said. “It was his vision that Apple should make the best products and it was his vision that they should enrich people’s lives. Lots of other things will change with Apple, but that will never change.
“There’s so much noise in the world, every day, and people want us to do this or that or the other thing. We keep our eye on that and it’s amazing doing that, and it’s his spirit. It makes a lot of decisions easier because it becomes easy to say, ‘No, we’re not going to do that one. That’s not the best and it doesn’t enrich anybody’s life,’ or ‘Yeah, that’s a cool product but nobody’s really going to get anything out of it, so let’s not do that one.’”
Before a crowd that included many youngsters, Cook was asked how students can be more competitive and obtain the skills needed to work in a tech company. He said Apple looks for “wicked-smart people,” but cautioned that “there are a lot of wicked-smart people.”
“We look for grit and determination. We look for people that are curious, because many times, you don’t really know what to do, but you’re curious enough to start pulling the string to see where it takes you. And we look for people that are very collaborative, because nobody — even somebody that has an ‘S’ on their chest and a cape on their back — can do everything alone,” he said.
“And so we look for people who believe that by working with others it can amplify what they do. And we look for people who won’t accept the status quo, people who aren’t satisfied with the way things are, that really want to change the world and sort of put all of themselves into doing that.”
His own education featured different important elements during the course of his life, from math to engineering and later ethics and the arts. “For Apple, we believe strongly that the most important things in life stand at the intersection of technology and liberal arts, and that it’s the intersection of those things that you can do really profound things for people that really enrich their lives,” he said.
Cook encouraged young people to learn how to code, saying it should be a school requirement.
“Whether you want to be in marketing or operations or to be a senator or a musician or an artist or whatever you aspire [to] and you have a child, it’s very important, in my point of view, for that child to understand how to code, because the world is become much more of a software world versus the traditional world,” he said. “The thinking and logic and language that goes into coding really helps develop people’s logic skills and so forth.”
Asked how a person becomes CEO of Apple, Cook quoted Abraham Lincoln: “I will prepare and someday my chance will come.” He encouraged students to study hard, do great work “and have faith that those things add up and will lead you on a journey that will be a most incredible journey.”
During the events, Cook praised the technology environment in Utah, noting that the state has more than 50,000 registered iOS developers. “There are great things happening here,” he said.
Hatch said Utah has several ingredients helping the tech sector. “Thanks to a unique combination of talent, culture and pro-growth policies, ‘Silicon Slopes’ is quickly becoming a world-renown hub for technology and innovation,” he said.
When he visits people in Silicon Valley, “they tell me how much they envy Utah’s tech environment,” he told the audience. “Our state has the same fertile soil for creative disruption, but we can do business here at a fraction of the cost. In the interest of keeping Utah real estate affordable, let’s not tell anybody else about this, OK?”
Cook also gave the keynote presentation at the Utah Technology Council’s annual Hall of Fame gala, which had about 1,400 attendees from Utah’s 5,000 technology companies. The event honors individuals with Utah ties who have made global contributions to the technology industry through innovation and leadership. This year’s inductees are Fraser Bullock, co-founder and senior advisor at private equity firm Sorenson Capital; Carine Clark, chief executive officer of customer experience organization MaritzCX; and Peter Genereaux, who was responsible for the establishment of the Utah Information Technology Association (UITA) in 1991 that later became the Utah Technology Council.