How to Design Impactful Products - Steven Jacobs of Olio and Pebble


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Olio and Pebble founder and now startup or venture advisor Steven Jacobs walks us through the hardware space and how he founded two companies and is now focused on mentoring founders and helping startups achieve a positive social and environmental impact.

Taking up mechanical engineering and materials science and Stanford and Berkeley, Steve then went on to work for companies like Apple (as part of their product design team) and HP (in their Premium Products Group), after which he founded Olio Devices and also Pebble, which are both around wearables. Then, Steve went on to do product management for the big tech companies like Google and Facebook before moving onto being a venture advisor.

Steve’s goal was to make products that made people smile and create meaningful change. He talks about the stark contrast in his mindset from when he first started out versus today and how the definition of ‘impact’ changed for him. He even uses lettuce as an example of a business model and likens it to soda and later on, algorithms and software.

In order for startups to have a more positive impact, Steve talks about two ways for them to go about it, and he also offers advice based from his own experience on common mistakes founders usually make and how to avoid them. One important point he mentions is integrating the social impact into the incentive structure so that it becomes the core of the company culture and values. Lastly, he emphasizes the importance of focusing on creating the greatest impact for your target audience to ensure you stand out, and only then, he suggests that you broaden your horizons.

Steven’s key lessons and quotes from this episode were:

  • “How do I play a small role in impacting our species for the better? How do I find companies and founders and investors that are making meaningful change that will have long-lasting effects?” (6:00)
  • “Impact isn't the degree of happiness that you bring someone. Impact is the amount of people that you affect.” (9:36)
  • "How many users can you get to spend more time on our product?," versus, "How much did you make that user smile?" (10:27)
  • “The fallacy that, I think, all of us fall into is thinking that our oversimplified desires to have things be constant is best.” (25:07)
  • “One of the things that really stuck with me though, and I tell companies that I advise today this story all the time, is the benefits of really being focused and saying no to good ideas, so that you can focus on great ideas.” (44:43)
  • “There's more friction to learning and getting advice and having all the advantages of people that start companies when the people who've done it before you are different than you across a variety of dimensions.” (54:25)

In this episode, we also talked about:

  • Steve’s education and the early beginning of his career (1:56)
  • Steve’s relationship with social impact throughout his career (8:01)
  • Advertising-based business models and Steve’s take on it (13:55)
  • How to influence startups to create a more positive impact (21:54)
  • Common mistakes in the hardware space (28:43)
  • Steve’s advice on creating a positive social and environmental impact (34:41)
  • Pebble and the start of Steve’s entrepreneurial journey (41:57)
  • The world in 10 years according to Steve (52:13)
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