Apple is a company that spawns both rabid fans and haters.
But there’s no denying that it’s been enormously successful, and it just keeps on winning.
Part of that success, as we’ve said before, comes from the fact that the company is really just a huge startup — with a corporate culture that is extremely engineer-focused, emphasizes minimal bureaucracy, and likes taking care of its people.
Sachin Agarwal learned a lot about Apple’s management style during his days as an engineer. He worked at the company for 6 years, before leaving to start the simple blogging platform Posterous.
“I loved working there… [Choosing to leave] was a really hard decision,” he says.
But, when he left, he made sure to take a few important management lessons with him, which have helped make Posterous successful as well.
A tech company should be run by engineers, not managers
Agarwal tells us that Apple is completely run by its engineers. “They don’t have a lot of product management,” he says. “Most of the project teams are really small, and they’re all driven by the engineers.”
On top of that, Agarwal says that most managers are all engineers as well, “not product people or MBAs.” That means that the people overseeing projects understand the technology, what’s necessary for a project, and can really relate to their team.
Build a culture of respect between managers and employees
Agarwal says that, because most managers have strong engineering backgrounds, “there’s not a division between product manager and ‘code monkeys’.” There’s a great amount of respect between the two tiers.
“My manager was an engineer at apple for ten years before he was a manager… which made me want to work [even harder] to impress him,” Agarwal says.
That respect, along with small, close-knit project teams, is a key piece of the puzzle to Apple’s success.
Give employees the freedom to own and improve the products
At Apple, if an employee was using a product and found an issue that bothered them, they had the freedom to go in and fix it without having to deal with layers of bureaucracy to get approval.
All projects are driven by long-term goals, Agarwal says, but the best stuff comes from the engineers personally.
Challenge your employees to grow
Management would really challenge Agarwal by giving him harder tasks that were a little beyond his capabilities. “But I learned,” he says.
And on the management side, he was getting to manage projects within six months of starting employment.
Apple is really good at developing their employees, and giving them the skills they need to rise up within the company, he says.
Deadlines are crucial
Apple required absolute deadlines, and they never missed them, says Agarwal.
“In terms of quality, one of the things I learned was that you don’t ship things that aren’t of ‘Apple quality,’… [even if] that means cutting something that didn’t make it in time,” he says.
“Especially at a startup… it’s easy to keep building and keep building and never launch anything,” he adds. “The better thing to do is ship, stick to deadlines, [and then] iterate.”
Don’t play the “feature game” with your competition
“Apple doesn’t believe in playing the “feature game” with [its] product,” says Agarwal. As in, the company focuses more on its goals for its own products, rather than comparing itself to competitors’ and trying to outdo them on the same levels.
That mission is “deeply engrained in the culture,” he adds. Employees aren’t focusing on what the competition is doing — they’re driven to innovate and come up with products that challenge the status quo.
Hire people who are insanely passionate about your product
According to Agarwal, “The people who work at Apple really really want to be at Apple.”
“I, personally,… am an apple fanboy, and that’s OK. That’s not a bad thing!” he says. “I’m gonna work twice as hard [for this company] because I’ve believed in it my whole life.”
That enthusiasm is a key element of the hiring process — management looks for people who really passionate about the company, its products, and its overall style and mission.
Agarwal has taken that mindset with him to Posterous: “Everyone [we hire] says, ‘We love the product, this is what we want to work on.'”
It’s important to emphasize work/life balance
Agarwal tells us that Apple puts a huge emphasis on work/life balance. “You work hard, but they let you enjoy your time on your own,” he says.
From excellent healthcare to generous office holidays around Christmas and Thanksgiving, Agarwal says that people love the type of environment the company provides for its employees. “Apple nailed it — [their motto is that] we love working here, we work hard, but when all is said and done [you should] go enjoy your life.”
You should maintain that startup culture, even when you’re a big company
As we’ve said before, Apple keeps winning because it’s a giant startup.
From its lack of bureaucracy within projects, to its engineer-focused culture, to its emphasis on passionate and loyal employees, the huge company has maintained the corporate culture of its startup days.
And that culture is a huge part of what makes it so successful — and, not surprisingly, a good place to work.