It's all about moonshots | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, October 16, 2015 / LAST MODIFIED: 10:07 PM, November 03, 2015

It's all about moonshots

Former Apple and PepsiCo CEO John Sculley talks about the next big thing


Noun: The act or procedure of launching a rocket or spacecraft to the moon.

This is how dictionaries define the term 'moonshot'. But today the term means something quite different. A moonshot is an idea so big, so bold, that it is thought to be impossible until it isn't anymore. We caught up with John Sculley, former Former CEO of Apple and PepsiCo (who will be played by Jeff Daniels in the new Steve Jobs movie) to talk about moonshots, what's going to be the next big thing and the startup he's been working on.

You often say that now's the best time to build a billion dollar business. Why is that?

I believe this is the perfect time to build a billion dollar business because technologies which were considered mindboggling just a decade ago are easily accessible for businesses and entrepreneurs at an extremely affordable price. We will get to see many game-changing initiatives - 'moonshots'.

Most multibillion dollar (tech) businesses are working on cloud computing, wireless sensors, big data, mobile devices and the upcoming 'Internet of things'. In addition to that, the West is recovering from a global recession. Money borrowing costs and inflation are quite low. Compared to my time, it will cost you a fraction to start a business today. Founders have become smarter. They start their businesses as almost-virtual-organisations. They take little to no pay at all during the incubation period and outsource most of the functions to specialised contractors. So building a billion dollar business from scratch is much easier.

How can an entrepreneur build a billion dollar business from scratch?

To be an entrepreneur, firstly you have to have a vision. You have to be passionate and optimistic. You have to have the mindset of doing whatever it takes to meet your goal. Then again, being overzealous might make you blind to the fact that there may be obstacles in your way. To overcome that, you need to ask the right questions, as well as see your work from the eyes of the customers. The idea you have might require some fine-tuning so keep an eye out for improvements and feedback. 

You also need to simplify. Steve Jobs was brilliant at that. He could zoom out, see the bigger picture and make things simpler from a consumer's perspective. If you focus on your customers and stick to your gut, you are bound to succeed.

What is the latest 'preneur' you are working on?

We are currently working on launching a smartphone that will create a buzz globally. It is called the 'Obi Worldphone'. Many might wonder why. After conducting intensive research we came to realise that there is no product in the world that is as iconic as a cultural instrument as the smartphone. But there must be some gap in the market where you can bring great design and be able to differentiate. We plan to tap in that segment

How is your product going to be different?

Firstly, we are a design-driven company. Every decision we make about something the customer experiences is done through the lens of design. Robert Brunner (a former Apple design director and designer of the Dr. Dre product-line)  was tasked with coming up with a handset that would appeal to consumers on both an aesthetic and financial level. The two models currently in the market, SF1 and SJ1, are empirical evidence to that very fact.

The smartphone market is seeing stiff competition, particularly in the mid-range budget segment. Only a few companies are making decent business here. Do you think your product will survive here?

It's true that HTC, Nokia, Sony, and others are haemorrhaging money. We realised this was because of the corporate overhead, legacy R&D expenses, and big field hierarchy. But you don't build companies like that anymore. You need to start from scratch, particularly with the Silicon Valley model. So we implemented just that.

The hardest part of designing this product was not coming up with a cool design. Rather we were sweating over the details in our Chinese factories because they were not accustomed to delivering such demanding finished products. We had teams all over in China, working for months on the floor every day to bring the best possible product at the best possible price.

What would be the target market? How do you plan to promote it? Are we going to see them in Bangladesh?

The next two billion of the world's middle class will be from emerging markets like Asia, Africa and the Middle East. They will be our target market. These consumers will want low-cost mobile phones that combine functionality and design. Our phone embodies both.Also, our marketing approach is going to be different. Unlike others we be believe our product will speak for itself. We will rely on old-fashioned word-of-mouth. We make beautiful phones that people will certainly tell their friends about. That's all the marketing we need.

Hopefully, by the end of the fourth quarter of 2015 we are going to bring Obi smartphones to the Bangladeshi market.

Engineer-turned-writer, Shahriar Rahman is Sub-Editor of the tech publication of The Daily Star. He is also Head of Operations at HiFi Public

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