Part 1 — What Steve Jobs can teach us about Company Design/GTM

Karthiga Ratnam
4 min readOct 8, 2021


It's been 10 years since Steve Jobs left us. The Apple annual conference is a stark reminder of how different Jobs was. The world lost a visionary. How different would technology be if Jobs was still with us? Would we be using a new kind of device? Sadly, we will never know.

The constant innovation and awe we saw from Apple are gone. That buzz, that excitement of what would Apple do next. In the celebrating Steve video that Apple released yesterday, he was mentioned his favorite quote, by ice hockey player Wayne Gretzky — I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.

During the time of Steve Jobs Apple technologically always designed the future. But that’s not enough. Apple also needed to be where its customers are going to be.

Source — Photo by NordWood Themes on Unsplash

A few weeks ago, I stumbled upon a gem of a video. One in which Steve Jobs explains Apple’s GTM or company design. Today GTM is a hot topic and one that most companies are trying to focus on. 30 years ago, in 1991 Jobs addressed some of the same problems that exist today.

He starts off by saying, how historically Apple didn’t know who their customer was.

In today’s context, I have learned this:

⁃ It's important to know who your customer is. But it's even more important to know who your customer is NOT. Churn happens at the point of sale. If you have sold to the wrong customer you will spend countless hours trying to retain them.

But how do you find out who your customer is? Ask any GTM expert and they will tell you that this keeps them up at night. Because your ability to grow depends not on how well you can acquire customers, but on your ability to retain customers. Sangram Vajre the category creator of ABM lives by this mantra. Retention is the key! But you can’t retain the wrong customer no matter how hard to work.

Relevant accounts become lifetime customers with expansive value

Source — MOVE — The 4-Question Go-To-Market Framework

Here are three questions that Steve Jobs addressed:

1. Who is our target customer?

2. Why are they selecting our products over our competition?

3. What distribution channels are we going to use to reach these customers?

These are fundamental GTM/Company Design questions. Whether you are a traditional marketer who believes in GTM or you are a category designer who compels the market to come to you, these questions will form the essence of your growth strategy. The scary part is the more your company grows the better you need to be able to answer these questions.

The secret lies in the data. Funnels or Flywheels, you need data to make decisions. The data will tell you:

⁃ Where to position your product

⁃ Whether you can create a new category or niche down within an existing one

⁃ What does the competitive landscape look like

⁃ How you can grow

When Apple looked at the data in 1991:

⁃ There was a workstation marketplace

⁃ There was a PC and traditional personal computer market

Now here’s where the genius of GTM comes into place:

⁃ When Jobs looked at the workstation market place they realized its a space they could potentially compete in. Except for the users in that space didn’t really CARE about USER INTERFACE and these were not computers used by “everyday” folks. Again knowing who your customer is NOT.

⁃ On to the PC market, yes Apple is easy to use, but it also allows multi-tasking, etc, and a host of other features that PCs back then didn’t. So is Apple’s target customer in the PC market space?

Here’s their light bulb moment:

Apple was neither an easy-to-use workstation nor a more powerful PC. Using data, customer insights, and market reports, they were able to identify an emerging marketplace. The professional workstation market. Professionals who are not within the category of scientists and engineers who want the power of workstations coupled with the ease of use of PCs. Apple’s sweet spot! A tiny market space that had the potential for exponential growth.

Apple then created its metrics and KPIs to dominate this market space. And the beauty of this light bulb moment is that even today 30 years later Apple is renowned for its user interface and ease of use. Knowing what your customers care about and care about what your customers care about consistently.

This is such a good example of the CEO owning GTM. Steve Jobs was many things — an innovator, a category designer, a visionary, a great public speaker. But he was also the CEO who owned GTM at Apple.

In part 2 of this article, we will explore how Apple leveraged this light bulb moment in their GTM and MOVED the needle to create scalable growth after almost falling into the Valley of Death.



Karthiga Ratnam

Impact-Driven Category Designer | Working group member Wicked 7