Saturday, October 08, 2011

Steve Jobs, enabler of entrepreneurs' dreams

The news of Steve Jobs' death is still shaking the world. It certainly shook me, and like many others it impacted me more than I expected. On Wednesday night, a couple of hours after the news broke, I went over to his house with my family and left a flower and note along hundreds of others, a simple gesture to pay respect. Now, several days later, having read dozens of obituaries and having talked about almost nothing else, I feel the urge to write down some thoughts.

Having moved to Silicon Valley from the Netherlands 7 years ago to pursue my entrepreneurial dreams it is now clear to me that Steve Jobs has had an outsized impact on how my adventure has fared so far.

Initially I was just an admirer of Jobs, who was clearly one of the driving forces in Silicon Valley. I ran into him 3 or 4 times here in Palo Alto, and was always starstruck when it happened. Here's a tweet I posted 2 years ago:

Spotted Steve Jobs getting in his car while I was biking to work. I was in awe like a 12 yr old fanboy... wow, this guy defines tech

Not only was he an inspiration, but his impact on my business became very concrete. The vision for my company EveryTrail depended heavily on smart phones becoming more powerful, easier to use and more open to developers. This turned out to be one of the major barriers to success. Many times over investors and other industry "experts" told me that my plan wouldn't work as key players in the mobile space were too powerful, and would never allow the mobile ecosystem to open up and enable a flourishing mobile start-up economy.

I stubbornly ignored this advice, because I had the gut feeling that something would happen to open up the mobile playing field. It was 2006, and I had no clear idea of how this would happen, but it just felt unavoidable. Maybe a big mobile player like Nokia, Motorola, Verizon or Microsoft would force change in the industry? Or perhaps a start-up would become a disrupting force?

Now we know that Apple and Steve Jobs created the disruption I needed. Initially laughed at as a "toy" by most leading players, the iPhone and the App Store broke the mobile field open and caused a huge wave of creativity and value creation. This was no accident, but instead the result of 30 years of incredible hard work, risk taking and perseverance by Steve Jobs.

Like anything in life, this was not a silver bullet by any means for my company, but it did create a significant opportunity that positively changed its trajectory and eventually led to the successful sale to TripAdvisor. It turned the dream of one optimist into a viable business plan, and eventually into a valuable company that employs a dozen people (and growing) and generated great returns to its investors.

This is just one story by one guy and his dream. When you consider that thousands of similar stories exist, it is clear that Steve Jobs not only was a source of inspiration, but also a concrete enabler of entrepreneurship.

Thank you Steve for enabling the dreams of entrepreneurs to come true.

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