Guy Kawasaki - On Innovation, The Magic of Apple and Owning a Niche

Oct 26, 2016
7 Min Read
Guy Kawasaki - On Innovation, The Magic of Apple and Owning a Niche

Guy Kawasaki - On Innovation, The Magic of Apple and Owning a Niche


I spoke to Guy Kawasaki, who is the chief evangelist of Canva, an online graphic design tool that is "empowering the world to design." He is on the board of trustees of the Wikimedia Foundation, a brand ambassador for Mercedes Benz USA, and an executive fellow of the Haas School of Business(UC Berkeley). He was also the chief evangelist of Apple. He is also the author of The Art of the Start 2.0, The Art of Social Media, Enchantment, and nine other books. Kawasaki has a BA from Stanford University and an MBA from UCLA as well as an honorary doctorate from Babson College. In the following brief interview, Kawasaki talks about the areas in society that still need to be democratized through innovation, how Macintosh is a product that polarized people, innovative products that unite people, why you should focus on niche markets, and how companies can win over their customers.

In Guy's TED Talk, The Art of Innovation, he spoke about the desire to "make meaning" as opposed to "make money," and how Apple wanted to democratize computers, Google wanted to democratize information and eBay wanted to democratize commerce in order to, as a result, "change the world." The folks at QuickBase Inc. who manage The Fast Track saw an interesting parallel between Canva, which allows everyone to create beautiful designs, and QuickBase, which is democratizing business application development by empowering all employees to create applications to increase the agility and efficiency of their own organizations.

Dan Schawbel: What do you believe are the most important areas of society/markets or organizations that still need to be democratized through innovation?

Guy Kawasaki: We could democratize elections so that PACs don’t try to influence elections as much as they do, but I guess that would take a Supreme Court ruling. I think the mega-trend is for everything to get democratized: Amazon with self-publishing, Uber turning people into limo and taxi companies, AirBnB turning people into a hotel owner. It would be great to democratize access to super computers and scientific labs. The list goes on and on.

Schawbel: You say great products, great services, and great innovation “polarize people” and not to be afraid of doing so. Would you give our readers an explanation and an example of a product and a service that does this?

Kawasaki: You need go no further than Macintosh. Some people love it. Some people hate it. The same thing is true of Uber and AirBnB. When you democratize stuff, the status quo resists change because it has so much to lose.

The challenge is that when you’re successful, it’s hard to realize that you must, and then succeed at, cannibalizing yourself. That’s why hardly anyone is using a Kodak or Polaroid camera today.

Schawbel: And have you ever run across an innovative product and/or service that unites people (for e.g., line of business and IT professionals who collaborate on a platform to rapidly prototype and build business applications)?

Kawasaki: You could make the case that Slack or Trello unites people. I know people who swear by those products ability to increase communication and collaboration in an organization.

Schawbel: Many marketing directors who find themselves in a Niche quadrant of a company/product evaluation tend to act disappointed. You say the only marketing you need to know is to “niche thyself.” What does it mean to niche yourself and what steps can companies make to take advantage of this positioning?

Kawasaki: It’s better to own a niche than own nothing. The key to marketing is to provide a product that is both unique and valuable to a reasonable amount of customers. My advice is to get one niche and then move to another. One day, you might wake up and see that you’ve achieved worldwide domination. But if you set out to achieve worldwide domination from the start, you’ll probably die trying.

Schawbel: Being innovative is just one important aspect for company success. Besides getting down to shine a prospect’s shoes with your jacket (referring to a meeting you had with Richard Branson at Virgin), in what other ways can companies win over the hearts and minds of prospective customers?

Kawasaki: It’s not rocket science: a good product that’s well supported is “all” that it takes. This is much easier said than done, but that’s really the essence of success, so people should not lose focus on this goal.

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