There are two types of tech companies: The big ones — like Microsoft and Google — that have a bunch of different divisions doing different things, customising their products for different needs.
And then there are the intensely focused ones, the companies that are just trying to do one simple thing incredibly well, until they become the best at it. WhatsApp fits into that category.
But back in 1977, it was Apple, the company Steve Jobs founded the year before, that represented the monomaniacal zenith of single-focus obsession. Jobs was trying to do one thing: create a computer that ordinary people could use at home, even if they weren’t computer geeks. And he was willing to ignore all sorts of perfectly good business ideas in order to concentrate on that one goal.
Forbes has a great story demonstrating that focus: In 1977, George Diamond was a cardiologist at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, working on statistical methods for diagnosing heart disease. He bought an Apple II, the first of Jobs’ computers widely available in retail, and using the awesome power of its 48K memory he wrote a statistical program to detect coronary disease. Impressed with the product, Diamond then wangled an appointment with Steve Jobs and flew out to meet him in Cupertino. Diamond was convinced that Apple ought to create a program that every doctor could use to diagnose disease, and that an Apple II should sit inside every doctor’s office for that reason.
Jobs’ reaction? “I can’t be distracted.”
Here’s the rest of the exchange, according to Diamond:
He said he was very impressed with what I had done, and that he agreed about the potential for the future, but ‘frankly I’m not interested in working with you on this.’ I asked why. He said: ‘You have to understand. This is something that nobody in the world yet understands. I can’t be distracted. I’m trying to make the best hammer I can make, the best hammer in the world. You can use my hammer to tear something down, or you can use it to build something up. I really don’t care what you do with my hammer. I just want to make the best possible hammer. And what you are doing is a wonderful bit of construction, but to me it’s a distraction.’
So that was pretty much the end of our conversation. There was no where else to go after that so I thanked him very much for his time and flew back to LA.
History, of course, proved Jobs was right to concentrate on developing hammers — machines for everybody — and not customise them even for the professions that wanted them.