Think Different: Applying the Most Important Lesson I Learned From Steve Jobs

I worked for Steve Jobs at both Apple and NeXT. To say it was a roller-coaster is an understatement. We didn’t often see eye-to-eye, but one thing we did agree on was something he’s often quoted on: “A lot of times, people don't know what they want until you show it to them.”


I was fortunate to have the job of bringing the Lisa, Macintosh, and even the Newton to people who didn’t know they wanted it (well, with the Newton, they didn’t actually want it, but that’s a different story for another day...) There’s no bigger high than seeing the lightbulb go off, when someone realizes that a solution you’re showing them is exactly what they need. Sometimes they hadn’t even realized the “problem” being solved was an issue. Think of using a mouse instead of just a keyboard or the ease of drawing on a screen with your finger or a sylus.

At subsequent companies I worked with a wide range of clients, guiding them through their initial efforts to get on board with the internet, from the earliest days of email and websites. At no time did a client say to me before websites existed, “I really need a spot online to show off my products and connect with customers.” But once they saw it, they had to have it.

Today I’m facing similar challenges with the Versaic platform in the corporate philanthropy space but this time, it’s brought me squarely into the legal realm and up against conventional wisdom about how software gets purchased, paid for and the legal documents that dictate how things work.

Quick background: our product is a SaaS product so it’s constantly evolving. On top of that, we have a specific approach to delivering our product to new clients that is faster, more interactive and results in a better solution and more satisfied client. Andy, our Director of Client Solutions, explained our approach in a blog post a couple of months back.

The old school approach with software is that you sold the customer a specific product with features they needed (or didn’t, in many cases) and hoped would solve their problems. There would be an “acceptance period” during which the product is reviewed and accepted by the customer. Then the software company gets paid. Pretty straightfoward.

Except you often didn’t get the solution that really solved your problem. Or it solved it for a short period of time and then your business needs changed. Not so straightforward anymore.

We’re developing and iterating from the moment we start engaging with a client, building the solution they need to solve their specific problems. And yes, we are often delivering solutions our clients hadn’t imagined actually existed or offering new ways of thinking about how they go about their work. Once they see it, they want it.

The challenge comes with getting the software purchase and contract process to sync up with today’s way of delivering solutions. Unlike a work-for-hire or traditional software process where it’s all spelled out, with Versaic, there’s no point where the product is “done” and someone can sign off on an “accepted” product and cut us a check. For legal and contract folks, that’s a big problem. I’ve had countless conversations trying to help people understand how our way of

doing business, while different from what they’re used to, is actually far better and cost- effective for their company. It’s a challenge we’re working on all the time but that just goes with the territory when you’re trying to do things differently.

My take on it is that the issue for our day to day clients isn’t about acceptance periods or anything like that. Really they just want something that works and will continue to work, even as their needs, goals and people change. But since solutions like that never existed in the past, they didn’t know to ask for it.

Now it does, and since it’s a new concept we have to explain it to the business people in the simplest way we can: things in your business will change, they always do, and we’ll just make the changes as you need them, and you won’t have to pay anything additional for those changes. The business people eat that up. They hate being stuck with what they accepted right after purchasing the product and before they had sufficient insight about how best to solve the problems.

The legal teams don't get it, and I get that. But we continue to have the conversation and make our case. Sometimes it can get pretty painful and one many occasions has made me feel like an amateur lawyer. On other occasions I’ve been known to stretch the truth: “Well, how will we know when you’re done?” I have at least learned not to say, “We rarely are!” Sometimes Andy or I would just say, “30 days” and see if that worked.

But there are times when everything just clicks.

We recently closed a deal with a major bank. Their people were the best. Their purchasing person said, in effect, “Listen Burt, I’m going to save us all some time. If I have to get precise language to describe everything Versaic can do it’ll take awhile. Just do what you’ve got to do, we’ll keep the acceptance clause, and trust us. It will all work out.”

I did and it did. And we both are getting what we need.

New kinds of products necessitate new ways of working, and that includes the operations and processes. When everything comes together, everybody is happy with the new product and the new process...and they didn’t even know that’s what they wanted or needed.

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