John Gruber, remarking on Steven Levy’s 2011 profile of Nest:
Because Apple now dominates the tech world, its influence is beginning to spread. We’re going to see more products and companies that adhere to Apple-like ideals and priorities.
Nest was the latest micro-Apple: a startup entering an unsexy space with an obsessive focus on user experience and full-stack thoughtfulness.
The other high profile micro-Apple is Square.
While there is only so much you can glean from outside of a company, it’s interesting to contrast the two organizations and how they’ve developed.
They both have high profile founders. They both employ lots of Apple people. They both bring elegance and simplicity to neglected industries. They feel like they’re part of the same family.
They both started small. Nest, with a thermostat; Square, a card reader.
But Square wasn’t happy with being “just a payments company.” It expanded into Wallet, a product that serves another customer — not merchants, but consumers. They did a distracting deal with Starbucks that would eventually cost them $100mm. Today the company finds itselfgrappling for focus, trying to regain its footing. I believe they can do it with their amazing team, but the stakes are very high.
Nest, on the other hand, took a different approach. It was clear from the beginning that they had ambitions beyond thermostats. The name itself hinted at a company that will connect your whole home. But their expansion was slow and deliberate. They eventually released Protect, a smart smoke detector. It’s rollout certainly wasn’t seamless, but the product felt like a natural extension of the brand. It was a small step, but it set the stage for an ecosystem that would grow into a family of smart devices for your home. Of course, Nest sold to Google for $3.2B, giving the company the resources it needs to own this market.
While there are obviously many more differences in how the companies operate, and their markets, there’s a takeaway for me here: focus obsessively and only expand your scope organically.
Thoughtful, patient growth is hard when you’re an ambitious team facing ablue ocean market. But extending into a market too quickly, unsure of how well the new opportunity fits into the larger company focus, can lead to slower growth in the long run.
We had a bit of this experience at Lore, my last company. Our core product was for instructors. And some point, we were fed up with the adoption rates of professors, so we launched Lore for Students, a way for students to use Lore without their professors.
This made sense in theory. In practice, there was an incongruence. Students who already used Lore with their instructors were confused by the two very different product offerings, and new students didn’t understand why they’d want to use the service. We would have better off incrementing our instructor product over time to be more and more student friendly.
Patience takes courage and discipline. It doesn’t imply a lack of ambition or intensity. Not letting an exciting opportunity force your hand requires real confidence.
We’ve seen this approach work time and time again with Apple. They took their time with iPod and iPhone, and now we’re seeing it with television and wearables. When they’re ready, they’ll go into the market with full force. Historically, they’ve wiped away early players who instinctively rushed into the opportunity.
In this way, Apple employs a sort of corporate mindfulness.