When Steve Jobs resigned as CEO of Apple on August 24th, it was the end of an era for Apple and the end to one of the most remarkable careers in U.S. business history. Described by some Apple employees as a modern-day Thomas Edison, Steve Jobs has been one of the most inspiring business success stories and one of the greatest innovators of our time.

He fundamentally changed the way people think of the personal computer and the mobile phone. His creative talents have reshaped the movie industry and the music industry. He has created essentially an entirely new market for tablet computers, bringing Star Trek-like technology into everyday use for the first time.

The overwhelming majority of small businesses are never going to grow to be as profitable and influential as Apple. But even if we can’t innovate and capture the public imagination on the same level as Steve Jobs, all of us as small business owners and entrepreneurs can learn some valuable lessons from Steve Job’s career.

  • Failure – even painful, public failure – is not the end. Many people forget this now, since Steve Jobs is so synonymous with Apple, but back in 1985 (only 5 years after Apple’s IPO), Steve Jobs got kicked out of Apple after a falling out with the company board. That’s right – the company he founded fired him. It was an embarrassing blow, but he went on one year later to found a little company called Pixar, which has gone on to produce some of the most profitable and critically acclaimed animated films of all time (like Finding Nemo, Toy Story, the Incredibles, Ratatouille, and many others). Steve Jobs got the last word in 1997, when he was invited back to Apple as CEO. In the next 10 years, Apple introduced the iMac, iBook, Apple Store, iPod, iTunes and iPhone. Not a bad way to follow up on a “failure.”
  • Don’t just carve out a piece of the pie, make the pie bigger – or bake a whole new pie. (Appropriately for an article about “Apple,” I just had to mention “pie.” Sorry.) Steve Jobs didn’t just find a way to innovate within an existing market, he created entirely new markets. The biggest rewards are always going to go to those businesses who find a way to solve problems that people didn’t know they had. The iPhone reinvented people’s conception of what a mobile phone could do – it wasn’t just a phone, it was a hand-held talisman to unlock the problems and puzzles of everyday life. The iPhone App Store has created an entirely new platform for independent software developers to sell their products. (Five years ago, no one would have understood the phrase, “There’s an app for that.”)
  • Presentation matters. Steve Jobs became famous for his dramatic unveilings of new Apple products, delivered in his trademark black turtleneck, jeans and running shoes. Although Steve Jobs is a great presenter, he always made sure that the emphasis was on the product – the product was always the star, and Steve’s presentations just focused the audience’s attention on the elegance and sophistication of each new design. He didn’t clutter up the screen with a lot of bullet points and text; he spoke without notes, and he gave the audience clear, memorable takeaways. Anyone wanting to get better at presentations and public speaking would do well to follow Steve Jobs’ example.

Coming soon: Part 2 of “Small business lessons from Steve Jobs.”