The accolades still roll in. Most folk compare him to great inventors, like Edison. My partner Rich makes the case that he is a one-off, an original, not easily compared to an Edison or other vigorous inventors. I rather think that he is a rare breed, perhaps best compared to Walt Disney, a person who re-imagined rather than invented. Disney thought of Coney Island and re-imagined it as an extension of story-telling, a movie writ large in the physical world. Disneyland rides are stories from movies and books, and the experience is startlingly better than a thrill ride park.
Steve has three times defined the style of computing, and maybe left behind the fourth way:
- Apple // OS begat MS-DOS
- Mac begat Windows
- iPhone begat Android and re-imagined the smartphone
- Siri may revolutionize TV
Quite a record.
Re-imagining is hard, hence the type is rare. Harder than inventing. There are lots of new mousetraps, but how many re-imagine the problem? It is not enough to have the imagination; the Steve Jobs Aspirant needs to persuade others and get the product produced, marketed and adopted at scale. In this Jobs and Disney were brilliant.
Most deals in venture capital are not very imaginative. It is much easier to jump on a platform shift, like client-server to cloud, and build the same product on the new platform, scale it and flip it. Lots of money is made this way, but few platform companies.
It is also easier to watch what is working and pursue it as a fast-follower; think of the myriad of Groupon clones around the world. Facebook was perhaps the 250th social network launched and funded. It had the huge leap to eschew the fakester profiles and insist on real names, which made it much more valuable as a persistent locale for socializing, and to that extent Zuckerberg (like Reid Hoffman before him, with LinkedIn) is more like Jobs than the other social network founders, but not quite all the way there. Real re-imagination is rare.
It is perhaps easier to re-imagine inside a scale player than in a raw startup. It is hard to convince investors of something truly new; Twitter had a devil of a time raising its seed follow-on round (the Bullpen round), finally raising out of the area from a Boston fund. It is easier to pivot off a base, as The Point did to become Groupon, with some evidence in the market of the possibilities of the daily deal.
There are areas ready for re-imagining, such as:
- Mobile Cloud, where Fred Wilson has made the point that it won’t be like Dropbox
- Mobile Photos, which seems dominated by Facebook, but what about the next Billion newbies to the Internet, who will get there with cheap Android phones on sub-par networks, and not have a PC?
- Digital Pheremones, a concept for geo-based “ticklers”, a new communication medium
- Digital cameras, under onslaught from the iPhone – and a subject of a subsequent post