Four Keys to Apple's Success and Ours

Posted By Jeff Porter | Dec 2, 2011
I read this article recently and thought it spoke accurately about our approach at Handbid. While I do admire Apple Computer and their success, l also fundamentally believe and agree with these premises for any company (and also for any person as well).  In fact, there are as many life lessons here for an individual as there are for a company. 
Greg Joswiak, a VP of iOS product marketing at Apple sat down with the Wall Street Journal and shared these four keys to Apple's success .  We will review each one of them and discuss how they drive our thinking here at Handbid.

FOCUS


Apple is a $30bln company with less than 30 products.  For most companies that size, that is unheard of.  However for companies like Apple, focus allows them to create really great products and avoid spreading themselves too thin.  To do this effectively companies need to say "no" more than they say "yes".  In addition, they need to be able to discern what is important and what is not. 

Handbid is focused on helping charities and non-profits raise more money through auctions.  That is all we do.  We don't do anything else. Its our focus and our passion.


SIMPLICITY


It's easy to build technology, especially complex technology.  Making things simple is hard.  It's really really hard.  Two of our core values at Handbid are beauty and simplicity.  When things are beautiful and simple, users are pleased and engaged.  To keep things simple, we focus on core functionality and resist feature bloat as much as possible.  

There is an interesting story told by Derek Sivers about this very topic:  Steve Jobs had been fielding questions about what new features iTunes would get.  His response?  

"I know you have a thousand ideas for all the cool features iTunes *could* have. So do we. But we don’t want a thousand features. That would be ugly. Innovation is not about saying yes to everything. It’s about saying NO to all but the most crucial features."

To finish up, Derek states that "the most beautifully-designed products have very few features" and "the most beautifully-designed businesses specialize in being the best in the world at something."

That is what we firmly believe.    At Handbid, we add features using a very data-driven and value-driven approach.  We get requests all of the time to add features. People have come up with some rather unique approaches to their auctions, and we have been asked to support a number of them.  Some of them are really innovative and some of them are not.  But before we implement any of them, we first need to understand how it drives value and results for our customers. 

We rely on analytics and split-testing to understand how various features impact critical auction measures such as bids/bidder, bids/item, revenue/item, etc.  Does a feature make a meaningful impact?  If it does, we will consider it,  if it doesn't then we likely won't.

Does that mean that you shouldn't ask?  Not at all!  It just means that we may not say yes --- at least not right away.


COURAGE


Apple transformed a number of industries (music, mobile) because it had the courage to do so.  When a company sets out to transform an industry, it is met with a lot of resistance.  Regardless of their circumstances, people, companies, and industries typically resist change. The only way to overcome this inertia (as Isaac Newton would tell you) is to apply a constant positive force to it.  In the business world, this translates to being persistent (and not giving up). 

Persistence comes a lot easier when you have the passion to bring about change.  That passion comes from following your heart and intuition.  The one thing that can derail this approach is fear.  Fear promotes the status quo and speaks out against change. We can't let fear hold us back.

We tell our charity partners the same thing as they contemplate using technology to automate their auction.  Our initial conversations are typically about fear of adoption and fear of failure.  "What if people don't have smartphones?  What if the Internet access is spotty?  What if...[insert your own concern here]?"  

We addressed our own fears about automated mobile auctions by using it at our own event.  We have been running a fundraiser for years that attracts approximately 300 people.  As we were building this system and getting ready to launch it, we had many people tell us we were crazy to debut this system at our Kentucky Derby event.  "You should test it on a smaller audience" some said.  But, we were confident it would work, and had the courage to stand behind what we believed in.

The result?  We doubled our auction revenue and the attendees loved the system.  Our bidders had a great time, checkout time dropped from 60 minutes to 15 minutes and revenues were up 200%!  It was fantastic.  Were there problems during the event?  Of course; but, we dealt with them as they hit us and maintained our composure.

Fear not only demotivates, it destroys companies.  Companies that remain fearless and willing to charter new territory can be come truly remarkable. The rest will not. 

At Handbid, we believe we can change the game for charities and non-profits.  This is an industry that is desperate for innovation; and, we are confident that we are doing something meaningful here. 


BE THE BEST


Jim Collins talks about establishing a Hedgehog concept based on the story of the Fox and the Hedgehog.  There are plenty of postings on what that is so we won't dive into the details here (perhaps that is another blog post); but, I will tell you this:

We at Handbid believe that we can be the best in the world at helping charities connect with their donors and raise more money through auctions.  Everything we do centers around how we impact auction performance, bidder engagement, donor/sponsor exposure, and reach. We are passionate about delivering value to non-profits and charities and helping them meet their financial objectives.

We entered this industry because we know it, we live it everyday, and we truly believe we can transform it and make it better.  As Joswiak would say, "If you can’t enter the market and try and be the best in it, don’t enter it. You need that differentiation. At Apple if we can’t be the best then we are not interested in it."

To sum it up, we know we will succeed in this space. We already have in so many ways.  However, our success is driven off of the same principles that has made Apple successful, and we feel good to be in that company.  Stay focused, keep it simple, have courage and be the best.