Some of the best investments in history have had a combination of Apple’s simplicity and Intel’s paranoia. In fact, both Apple and Intel had a healthy dose of paranoia and simplicity under CEOs Steve Jobs and Andy Grove respectively, which is a winning combination. Other companies that have showed similar characteristics include Microsoft, Nintendo and Netflix.
In 1997 Andy Grove wrote his masterpiece, 'Only the Paranoid Survive' which stipulated that a company contains the seeds of its own destruction and that success, in fact, breeds complacency. Complacency then tends to breed failure. As a result, companies must be paranoid in order to survive by either disrupting their own markets or being overly paranoid of the competition. Steve Jobs was paranoid of employees leaking products ahead of product launch dates and even had many secret code words for the same product so that he would know who leaked a product name should the press write about it. Grove was incredibly paranoid about the viability of his company’s business when it came to competing with the Japanese, who were much more aggressive with pricing. Grove reacted accordingly and reinvented the company in the processor market.
Steve Jobs’ genius was the simplicity of his products’ designs and marketing efforts. He was the quintessential communicator and he was famous for his simple catch phrases. He believed that 'less is more' and he was adamant about having only one physical method for entering information in hand held devices, unlike the post Jobs products which are a bit more complex (including the Apple Watch which is slightly confusing to use at first and the stylus on the new larger iPad). In fact, Jobs believed in product portfolio simplicity by having relatively few products to sell. The number of Apple products that the company sells increased from 12 four years ago prior to the passing of Mr. Jobs to 24 today. Under Andy Grove, Intel created the brilliant yet simplistic ‘Intel Inside’ advertising campaign with the Intel jingle, creating consumer brand loyalty for a chip that consumers never see! Simply brilliant.
Microsoft also had a healthy dose of Apple’s simplicity and Intel’s paranoia under Bill Gates as he believed that Microsoft was always one and a half years away from bankruptcy. Under Gates, Microsoft simplified the process of using computers with the release of Windows. In the post Bill Gates Microsoft era, the number of products has also grown materially leading a slightly more complex product portfolio.
Nintendo, similarly, has prided itself on very simple video game designs while being incredibly paranoid since its founding in 1889. For many years Nintendo has had a multi-billion dollar cash balance that many investors feel is unnecessary. In fact, Nintendo is so paranoid when it comes to its cash balance that the company could actually operate at a $250mn annual deficit for more than 35 years if needed! I met the CFO of Nintendo in Tokyo about 8 years ago and I asked him why they have such an enormous cash balance while the Nintendo Wii was a huge success. He told me that they are always paranoid about companies that they compete with that are much larger than they are, including Microsoft and Sony. The Wii U, which is the follow up to the Wii, has been such a flop that it would cause many competitors to declare bankruptcy, which happens often in the video game sector (i.e., Sega). I now appreciate and understand why the company is now in its third century of existence!
Netflix is yet another example of a company that has embraced simplicity in all of its platform solutions on multiple devices while using paranoia to its benefit. Netflix’s streaming business was created in order to cannibalize its cash cow DVD rental business years before competing streaming devices could do so. Founder Reed Hastings was paranoid that his DVD rental business would not be viable in the long run, so he preemptively destroyed his own cash cow. Please leave a comment at the bottom of this article if you can think of a company that has ever reinvented itself as well as Netflix has.
Companies run by CEOs that have a healthy dose of Apple's simplicity in its products and marketing tend to outperform those that do not. Similarly, companies run by CEOs that have a healthy dose of Intel’s paranoia withstand the test of time and remain relevant. Companies that have a healthy dose of simplicity and a healthy dose of paranoia are extraordinarily rare and are superb investments. Simply put, only the paranoid survive.