28 days ago, the world lost one of its greatest innovators, and Apple lost its father. And today, there’s serious banter being bandied about that Apple is now considering using its considerable war chest of cash ($82 billion) to start buying back shares or, worse, begin distributing a dividend (the horror).
I can hear Steve now…”Do you know who buys back shares? Do you know who hands out dividends? Tech companies like Microsoft. Don’t be an asshole…” Do you really think that’s what Steve would want? Probably not, but then again Steve told Tim to run it his way.
It seems their cash machine can support it, but I’ve got some suggestions for how they could think different regarding those 82 bills.
In the interest of disclosure, Apple is one of my largest personal holdings and I do own a considerable amount of Apple shares for client accounts as well. I’ve owned Apple for a very long time. And the reason I own Apple is because I agree with James Altucher, I think they have the DNA to become the first trillion dollar company in the world.
Ok, Apple — First and foremost, unleash your greatest asset; the love of design. And as I see it, the time is ripe for the Apple to fall a bit further from the tree. See, Steve gave the company the license to do it in 2007, when he dropped “Computer’ from their name. Apple’s greatest untapped resource isn’t just the expectation of future tech innovation; it’s world-class design. And Apple’s greatest asset in the pursuit of design nirvana is Jony Ive, arguably one of the most successful designers of the 21st century. So, let’s unleash Jony on the world. Let’s give the shareholders what they want… super human growth applied to a company that stands for perfection. It’s staring you in the face.
See, in 2003 Jony Ive gave an interview to the Design Museum in Britain as the winner of Design Museum’s inaugural Designer of the Year award.
He said, “By the age of thirteen or fourteen I was pretty certain that I wanted to draw and make stuff. I knew that I wanted to design but I had no idea what I’d design as I was interested in everything: cars, products, furniture, jewelry, boats…”
Reinvent the rest of the world, make more dents in the universe. So Apple (and Jony), if you’re listening, let’s see what you can do with these ideas:
1) Furniture: Steve Jobs was a billionaire. Yet he had no furniture in his house for a very, very long time. Do you know why? Very few pieces moved him enough to want to own them. Very few pieces were up to his standard, to make him want to have them in his house. Did you know that Steve & Laurene, his wife, spent months questioning, “What is the purpose of a sofa?” They spoke about his ‘furniture theory’ for 8 years. So, do you think the furniture world is now, magically, up to their standards? (pause for laughter). And me? I want a beautiful floating staircase in my house (even though I live in a rancher), I want that perfect hue of gray-blue on my sandstone floors that the Apple stores have. I want a lamp that shines absolutely perfectly at my workstation. I want a desk chair that is not only beautiful and as comfortable as a cloud, but also has gorgeous hex screws thoughtful placed. I want elegance & a color palette that make me want to cry. I want my sofa to repel dirt in ways we’ve never imagined. Are we really going to let a company named Lazy Boy continue to be the place we rest our posteriors?
2) Cars: I’m tired of pining for a retread of the classic Camaro. I’m tired of dealing with skeezy salesmen & buying charcoal grey and gunmetal silver. I’m tired of plugging my iPhone into the car, only to be able to play music. The whole thing lacks imagination. Are the limits of our wow factor really going to be a self-dimming rear view mirror? Now, some of you will think I’m proposing an endless money pit of bailouts & failures. I understand. So, rather than start from scratch, let’s just buy someone. Who? GM? Apple could probably afford their $36 billion market cap, but there’s too much baggage– too many models to choose from. Very Un-Apple. Sure, Apple prides itself on being an American company (even though many of its suppliers aren’t– yet another enigma that is Steve Job’s), but we need something that is going to capture the imagination of drivers around the world. Someone young enough to be molded. So who?… Why not Tesla, a company named after another great innovator, Nicola Tesla? Do you know what Tesla’s market cap is right now? $2 billion. A measly $2 billion. Buy them & help them take it to the next level. I want to never want to leave my car. I want to feel giddy every time I see it & feel good about owning it. I want it to integrate with my Apple gadgets deeply. Forget Microsoft Sync, totally lame. Let’s see what Siri can do in my car, like politely warn me about the upcoming speed trap in my a license plate-less Mercedes. Are we really going to let the Google cars be the great innovation of the automotive industry in the 21st century? Is that how we’re going out? Allowing a bunch of engineers, who have no sense of style, to rule the world? Jobs help us.
3) Appliances: Steve once said, “It turns out that the Americans make washers and dryers all wrong. The Europeans make them much better – but they take twice as long to do clothes! It turns out that they wash them with about a quarter as much water and your clothes end up with a lot less detergent on them. Most important they don’t trash your clothes.” You know what they bought? A Miehle. And Steve said about his new washer & dryer, “I got more thrill out of them than I have out of any piece of high tech in years…” So, let’s reinvent my whole house full of appliances. I want my washer to text me when it’s done, I want it to tell me the best time to run, I want it to tell me how much electricity I’m using. I want it to generate electricity while it’s on spin cycle. I want it to dispense the perfect amount of detergent for the load it auto-detects; instead of lugging down the jug of soap from the shelf every load & guessing how much I should use. Shall I go on? And please, if nothing else, kill my coffee maker, it sucks.
4) Bicycles: Steve is famous for his quote that “computers are the bicycle for the mind.” And in the last 70 years there have been 3 major innovations aside from making them lighter. 1) the recumbent bike aka “the dork-mobile” 2) motorcycle components re-imagined for mountain bikes and 3) electric bikes that weigh as much as a tank. In 2003, bike production had climbed to over 100 million per year compared with 42 million cars. A huge industry ripe for change. Let’s think different, shall we?
5) Banking: I’m guessing in about a year, your next iPhone is going to have near-field communications & effectively remove the need for me to carry my lumpy wallet to make purchases. And when Apple does, they’ll have 200 million users ready to listen. They’ll be the biggest credit card hub on the web. So why stop there? Apple, why do you insist on me dealing with my soulless bank? Why do I have to keep being hocked financial products I probably don’t need while I wait in line to talk to someone with ‘premier‘ in their title. Where’s my ‘Money Genius’? Where is somebody to help me figure out how I can afford the next vacation to Steve’s favorite spot in Hawaii? Where’s the ‘beam money to my friend’ app? And why is my banker wearing this awful suit under these horrific fluorescent lights? Is this really the best we can do?
6) Venture Funding: If you can’t imagine anything yourself, at least find people who can. Carve out $20 billion & start funding complementary technologies and ideas. Wireless electricity, smart meters, reinvent the houses that inspired Steve, heck– anything but giving us the money you’ve been squirreling away for more growth opportunities & innovation– ‘Nuff said.
7 ) Education: Steve Jobs was for equal opportunity & he conceded equal outcome isn’t possible. As he saw the world, education was the keystone to equal opportunity and as such, education always held a special place in his heart. Apple’s love of education is why they are so close to me today. My first computer in elementary school was an Apple IIc. You think that hasn’t paid some dividends to your company? So, aside from subsidizing iPads for schools around the country, why not just reinvent the school itself? Build a school that blows away everything we think about rote system of learning we’ve boxed ourselves into. Invent a school that crushes the standards of every other school in the country, because it’s simply the best. Buy a software company like IXL, that’s on the verge of creating new educational breakthroughs by optimizing our overworked teachers and empowering students & parents alike. That’s what Steve would want. That’s what I want. Not to watch you whittle away $82 billion dollars in an exercise of defeated lack of imagination.
You could reinvent 7 industries with a fraction of your cash, and I’m just getting started…
Oh, and “One more thing”…
If you really do decide to go through with it, and really give away all of the potential your $82 billion represents, I hope you’ll at least reinvent the guillotine before you do; because I want you to kill me now – beautifully. In ways I’ve only begun to imagine.