Steve Jobs, as a fan outside a San Francisco Apple store last night said, "was kind of like this generation's John Lennon."
And just as the Beatles in some way influenced every popular band of the day, so too has Jobs influenced all good entrepreneurs--even though many of today's founders might not realize it.
Jobs, above all, was the tech industry's biggest advocate for the consumer. He hated buttons on devices. He even hated corners. He was tech's leading advocate of simplicity. And that demand--"make it simple"--is one of the most popular refrains in the Valley today.
We see simplicity as a goal everywhere--in the design of Google's iconic home page; in the best apps for the booming smartphone and tablet markets that Jobs created; in the game-changing hardware-software product Square, which turns mobile phones into credit card machines.
I asked Naval Ravikant, a top Silicon Valley angel investor (Twitter and Foursquare, among others) and entrepreneur (including 1999 darling Epinions.com), what he thought Jobs has meant for startups and him personally.
In short, said Ravikant: everything. Ravikant, who is now 37, said he fell in love with computers because of the Macintosh, and in fact decided to move to the Valley after reading Guy Kawasaki's book "The Macintosh Way."
"If it weren't for Steve Jobs," said Ravikant, who headed west after graduating from Dartmouth College, "I'd probably be on Wall Street or in a big law firm."
He went on:
I would say that he has informed and influenced every aspect of my career. If I look at my failings, it's usually because I was doing things Jobs wouldn't do--working on products I didn't really care about, doing things how others thought they should be done rather than as I wanted to do them; fearing failure instead of embracing it for the renewal it brings.
Today, Ravikant's passion is AngelList, which he founded with fellow investor and entrepreneur Babak Nivi in February 2009. AngelList is a booming community where investors (angels and traditional venture capitalists) find startups and startups find investors. About 3,000 investors are now members, and more than 600 startups have won funding through the site.
Startups gunning for the big score always come up with a one- or two-line elevator pitch, and most companies on AngelList position themselves by comparing their businesses to established successes or other hot companies. They'll say, for instance, "We're the YouTube of this, the Airbnb of that, the Facebook of whatever."
The one company that no one ever compares itself to is Apple. The reason, Ravikant points out, is simple. "They know that the bar is too high, that it would be almost impossible to live up to," he said.
In other words, entrepreneurs can and do try to create products and businesses that Steve Jobs would have approved of. They just know better than to say that's their goal.