Steve Jobs: “You Only Get One Shot” to Build a Great Product

In an article in Harvard Business School’s Working Knowledge, Steve Kemper tells the story of a secret meeting between the team building the Segway personal transport device and Apple CEO Steve Jobs. The Segway designers wanted Jobs’ opinion, and during the meeting he reportedly criticized the product’s design, saying:

“You have this incredibly innovative machine but it looks very traditional.”

When members of the team countered that they were on a tight schedule to release the product, and felt they couldn’t spend more time on the design, Jobs replied:

“Screw the lead times. You don’t have a great product yet! I know burn rates are important, but you’ll only get one shot at this, and if you blow it, it’s over.”

He explained his experience with the iMac, how there were four models now but he had launched with just one color to give his designers, salespeople, and the public an absolute focus. He had waited seven months to introduce the other models.

Giving everyone an absolute focus helps them create a product rise above the competition to become a universally recognizable phenomenon. When that translates into a large customer base, the designers and engineers can return to the drawing board to refine their creation and potentially develop new models to satisfy different needs.

But in the beginning, all that matters is getting the product right.