Get Closer Than Ever to Your Customers. So Close, in Fact, That You’ll Tell Them What They Need Before They Realize It Themselves – Steve Jobs

February 20, 2020

You can learn a lot from guys like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. Both had vision. Both had a sense of purpose. Gates wanted every personal computer in the world running Microsoft Software whereas Jobs purpose was simply to make our lives better. They both hired great people. Gates hired Steve Balmer who ran the company while he focused on the future. Jobs hired Joni Ives who brought amazing design to Steve’s vision.

Whether either was a little mad or not, we don’t know. We do know both were driven to win, and both listened very well to what the market was telling them. While I don’t know for sure, I suspect they proceeded with caution, especially after some of the lessons they learned in their younger years. There’s no question in my mind, that both Gates and Jobs systematically measured everything.

I attended the same party at COMDEX with a young Bill Gates back in the day, so I know he understood the value of face-to-face. Back then all of us jetted around the world seeing our customers, listening to our customers and building whatever it was that our customers wanted.

Steve Jobs legacy is the unrelenting champion of the end-user. He obsessed over every detail. He built products that exceeded our expectations. He built a company that will stand the test of time because he put the end-user first. There will never be another Steve Jobs.

I was in Palo Alto on the day Steve Jobs passed away. Though I’d never met him, I was numb. I felt compelled to go to the Apple store on the typically sleepy University Avenue. What I found when I got there will stay with me the rest of my life. There were dozens of people milling around. On the front windows of the store were thousands of sticky notes, each inscribed with a personal note from Steve’s customers. I mean, think about it, who among us hasn’t used an Apple product?

Realizing the significance of the day, I leaned against one of the white birch trees that lined University Avenue and watched as one person after another left a note to Steve. I tried not to, but I teared up watching the scene unfold in front of me. Steve Jobs deserved nothing less.

I knew I wanted to write a note, to participate, to leave Palo Alto that evening having paid my respects, but I was at a loss for what to write. Then I realized what Steve had taught me, likely leading by example over the years. I think it can best exemplified by his quote –

Get closer than ever to your customers. So close, in fact, that you’ll tell them what they need before they realize it themselves.

By 2011, the year Steve Jobs died, I had logged over 2 million miles on United and well over 1,500 nights at Marriott hotels all over the world. I’d made it a point to get off my butt and go see my customers. I listened to them and, often, I’d been able to see what they needed even before they’d realized it themselves. Steve Jobs taught me that and I still live it. I will always live it.

So that’s what I told Steve. I simply wrote:


You taught me the value of going
face-to-face with my customers.
Thank you.
Jack