12 Sep 2017 20:52 IST

I for iPhone and i for impact

Steve Jobs’ idea of carrying the internet in your back pocket has inspired many an entrepreneur

Recently I met Vashist Vasanthakumar, founder of start-up Vaya in Chennai. After completing his higher studies and working for nearly a decade in the US, Vashist came back to India to set up his own company last year. Guess what his company Vaya’s first product is? The humble tiffin carrier.

But Vaya’s Tyffyn (as named by its founder) is no ordinary lunchbox; and that’s because Vashist followed the same philosophy in creating his product as Steve Jobs did with the iPhone over 10 years ago. Tyffyn looks extremely sophisticated for a product we use everyday and don’t give much thought to. And, just like the iPhone, Tyffyn is highly functional, looks sleek, and is expensive!

Looks matter too

What inspired Vashist to create such a product? Well, he worked with Apple for nearly 10 years. As a part of the supply chain management team for iPhone, Vashist understood what it took to create an unbeatable product. While the entrepreneur used to believe what really mattered in a product was its insides (quality components), his stint at Apple taught him a new lesson. It was equally important, he understood, for the product to look good and be high on customer experience. The Tyffyn, he claims, does that.

The initial response to Tyffyn is similar to how customers welcomed the iPhone, first sold ten years ago in June 2007. In the first month of its launch, Vaya sold about 700 Tyffyns. Today, about nine months later, sales have increased to 12,000 pieces a month.

At the time of iPhone’s launch, Steve Jobs had set out to conquer one per cent of the smartphone market. The first year, it sold 1.39 million units. It was a slow start because by the end of 2016, that number ballooned to over 200 million units a year. In the past decade, 1.2 billion units of iPhone have been sold. In many regions, the iPhone has a 40 per cent share of the smartphone market.

The impact

The iPhone was a breakthrough product, though even Jobs hadn’t realised that. His promise of ‘internet in the pocket’ revolutionised the way phones functioned and looked. And because of this, the iPhone had snob value. It became a phone people craved for even if they didn’t have the means to buy it. I know of quite a few people who have taken loans to buy an iPhone.

The phone was expensive; its first version had a price tag of $499. If reports are to believed, tonight Tim Cook will unveil a special $1,000-model of the handset. The special model, rumoured to be named iPhoneX, will be accompanied by the latest version of the phone’s mainstream models.

The unusual combination — a high price tag accompanied by surging sales volumes — made the iPhone an outlier. In 2016, it made up 60 per cent of Apple’s revenues, which clocked $215 billion in 2016.

But the iPhone’s impact goes beyond its sales figures and fan following. The phone’s features were instrumental in spawning many billion-dollar ideas including Uber and Instagram. In the design world, iPhone, again, broke new ground. One of the things it introduced was a screen bereft of keyboards.

The iPhone, and Apple overall, ushered in a culture where pushing the envelope was the norm, as was keeping customer interests right on the top and coming out with a product that people didn’t mind paying big bucks for. That culture has spawned many an entrepreneur too, including Vaya’s Vashist.

By the way, do you know what the ‘i’ in iPhone stands for?