What Apple and Vida e Caffè have in common

If you were to start a business tomorrow how would you approach your strategy? Would you follow the traditional analytical approach? Analyzing environments? Analyze customers’ needs and competitors to see what they are doing?

This all seems to make sense and it misses a key component. Good taste.

The strategy that satisfies potential customers, finds a niche with the competitors and will work in the current environment is often so watered down and lowest common denominator by the time it gets out the door that it goes nowhere.

Asked about choosing strategy, Apple’s CEO Steve Jobs says*, “We do no market research. We don’t hire consultants. The only consultants I’ve ever hired in my 10 years is one firm to analyze Gateway’s retail strategy so I would not make some of the same mistakes they made [when launching Apple’s retail stores]. But we never hire consultants, per se. We just want to make great products.

“When we created the iTunes Music Store, we did that because we thought it would be great to be able to buy music electronically, not because we had plans to redefine the music industry.”

This struck me as very similar to the conversation I had with Rui Esteves who along with Brad Armitage founded the very successful Vida e Caffè coffee chain in South Africa. “We wanted to build a place that we would like to visit to have coffee”, he said, “Good quality coffee and food in a special environment.”

They did no research, no environmental analysis and no picture of the competitive landscape. They built something using their best taste and worked hard.

Both Vida e Caffè and Apple stand as beacons of success proving that there is at least one alternative to following the text book approach when strategizing a new business.

The lesson, follow your own sense of taste about what would make an incredible product.

When I spoke with Rui, we were sitting in his new venture &Union, a beer salon which is the retail face of of he and Brad’s new business Cervejas São Gabriel. The design of the beers and the salon? “Made of the type of healthy things we think are important,” says Rui.

Switching back to Apple, I’ve included a video where Steve Jobs walks us through the first Apple Store before it opened showing what he thinks is important in a retail computer store. How many companies the size of Apple have a CEO who dictates as much of their own taste into their products (and in this case store)?

So the thing that Apple and Vida e Caffè have in common, is the founders good taste, which I happen to agree is, well, good taste.

What other examples do you have of companies with good taste?

* Fortune magazine March 2008

Author: Dale Williams

Dale is based in Cape Town on the southern tip of Africa from where he maintains connections with people all over the world through his portfolio life.