Beyond Meat, which makes meat replacement products from plants, just had its first earnings report as a newly public company. You could say it went well, although that would be an understatement. The company's shares have more than tripled in price since its IPO less than a month ago. Though not yet profitable, its losses per share were less than what analysts predicted, and founder Ethan Brown said the company would "approximately break even" for 2019. Brown explained that Beyond Meat is moving toward profitability more quickly than expected.

Right at the end of the call, Brown did something highly unusual, and completely unexpected. After thanking everyone and especially the company's investors, instead of wrapping up with more info about his company or its products, Brown recited a quote that he says is prominently displayed on the company's wall. The quote is from Edwin Land, founder of Polaroid, and it perfectly describes what it takes to create an iconic product and a great company:

Let us not make more of something there is too much of. Let us find out what is desperately needed, although people may not know it. Let us find out what will beautify the world, although people may not know it. Then let's learn and learn and teach ourselves, and support each other in doing that until we lose ourselves in those tasks.

 Does that philosophy sound familiar? It should, because it's exactly the approach Steve Jobs followed and that led to Apple's launching one groundbreaking product after another. That's no accident--Jobs idolized Land. In fact, according to Jobs biographer Walter Isaacson, without Land's inspiration there might have been no Apple. Early on, Jobs said, he never considered trying to found a tech company because he thought of himself as a "humanities person" who just happened to like electronics. But he had always admired Land, and then he read something Land had said about the importance of those who could stand at the intersection of humanities and science. "I decided that's what I wanted to do," Jobs said. 

Jobs and Land met face-to-face on at least two occasions. Former Apple CEO John Sculley was there at one of the meetings, and he listened to the two compare notes about creating products that the world had never seen. Land said that the Polaroid camera "was just as real to me as if it were sitting in front of me, before I had ever built one." Jobs described a similar experience with the first Macintosh computer. "If I had asked someone who had only used a personal calculator what a Macintosh should be like, they couldn't have told me. There was no way to do consumer research on it, so I had to go and create it and then show it to people and say, 'Now what do you think?'"

Both men disdained market research, which Land described as "what you do when your product isn't any good." Likewise, when reporters asked Jobs how much market research Apple had done before launching the iPad, he answered, "None. It isn't the consumers' job to know what they want."

There are many other uncanny similarities between Land and Jobs. Both created iconic products that everyone wanted--the Polaroid camera model that folded flat was as desired when it came out as the iPad was when it launched. Both men were adored by the media during their lifetimes. Both were college dropouts but lifelong learners, both were renowned for dramatic, meticulously planned product launches, and both lost control of the companies they had founded--Jobs temporarily when Sculley forced him out as CEO, Land permanently when he was forced to resign as chairman of Polaroid after pouring the company's resources into Polavision, an instant home movie system that was trounced by video cameras as soon as it hit the market. 

One of Land's best quotes, which Apple lived up to, is this: "Every significant invention must be startling, unexpected, and must come into a world that is not prepared for it." When it was launched back in 2009, that description could have fit Beyond Meat's meat replacement. If the company keeps doing that--creating products that people have no idea they want until they see (and taste) them--it should be very fun to watch.

Published on: Jun 10, 2019
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