John Scully (Photo: Moneycab)
Interview by Helmuth Fuchs
Moneycab: Mr. Sculley, if you would start a company tomorrow, what would it produce or offer?
John Sculley: I would always start with looking for a really big customer problem to solve. Technology is commoditizing so rapidly, there are so many technologies available to work with that the question is not about inventing a new technology, it’s actually what are the really big customer problems you can solve with existing technology.
„Never start with the technology, always start with the big customer problem.“ John Scully
For example we heard the story here at the conference about Uber. It started with two questions, why is it so hard to get a taxi in San Francisco? And why are so many of these black limousines sitting there just waiting? So it started with the curiosity of two questions, both around customers, not around technology and from that they obviously built a great company.
So my advice is never start with the technology, always start with the big customer problem.
So do you see a real big problem that could be solved with today’s technology and is not yet being dealt with?
Absolutely. I believe that in my country, the USA, in the healthcare industry we have a 3 trillion USD health care spent per year. It’s not sustainable at that rate, it sure doesn’t cover all the population with health care. I believe that you can forget about listening to the politicians or the lawyers, or the special lobbyists. Look to the private sector and to the innovators, because the health care industry missed the PC revolution, it missed the internet revolution, it cannot afford to miss the big data revolution and the opportunity to pivot the US healthcare industry by including consumers, putting patients more in control of their own wellness.
„I believe that you can forget about listening to the politicians or the lawyers, or the special lobbyists. Look to the private sector and to the innovators.“
We can save so many billions of dollars in our healthcare system in the US, if we take proactively care of our patients instead of just treating them after they are sick, if we focus on creating the incentives to keep them well and if we get data about the many doctors who treat chronic care patients and who do not even know about each other and make different prescriptions of the dosage of medication. If we can get better information on behavior modifications of chronic care people through better nutrition, through exercise to lower the body weight, through understanding the alternatives of different treatment, all of those things can save hundreds of billions of dollars every year in the health care system. I would focus on that kind of progress.
If you consider an investment, what are the qualities you are looking for in a company?
It’s always about the people. When you go to Silicon Valley, you think you’re smart because you’re a valedictorian in your school. Then you discover that everybody was a valedictorian in their school. So Silicon Valley doesn’t lack from smart people and yet they’re far more smart people in Silicon Valley than there are suggestive companies.
„It’s always about the people, it’s not about the idea.“
So the real message I think is that you look for a problem that can be defined around an innovative better way to do something for customers. Then you look for leadership in a team where people can be excited, become compassionate about solving that problem. So it’s always about the people, it’s not about the idea. I see many, many ideas all the time but not always the talented people to be able to turn those ideas into a company.
How would you, for example, build a Fintech startup?
Well, I believe that it’s important that you have domain expertise in the industry. I’ve been in healthcare for the past 10 years, I’ve been in hi tech for 30 years, I’ve been building consumer brands on a world scale for many decades. So when I go into an industry I try to resort to an industry where I assume that the technology is going to commoditize, where there’s going to be an incredible amount of competition. I will look for talent that has domain expertise.
To try to build a fintech company without financial service experience would be very challenging. We are building one of the largest fintech companies in United States. We recruited from the banking industry, we recruited from the technology industry, we grew our talent from a variety of different places, not just smart engineers.
Looking back at your impressive career, what is the single most important achievement, one you are really proud of?
I’m most proud of the fact that I’ve been able to work around some incredibly talented people. I feel that a lot of it is luck being in the right place at the right time, whether I was working with Bill Gates or Steve Jobs. Right now I’m working with many of the next generation of entrepreneurs. I don’t run companies anymore but I’m an adviser, investor, a so called “rain maker”. I help to connect the dots, make the introductions, bring in the talent, help on strategy.
I feel so fortunate to have been able to keep that opportunity going. I’m now 76 years old. Last week I was speaking to 2’000 young entrepreneurs in Beijing, another group in Shanghai, I’m in Zurich speaking to a group here today, Monday I’ll be at MIT speaking to another group.
„I try to stay connected and I see all of that as the most exciting part of my life and I do that with my wife.“
So I try to stay connected and I see all of that as the most exciting part of my life and I do that with my wife. She’s also a mathematician and computer scientist, we are partners and it’s a very exciting time in my life to be able to do all of that together with her.
is recognized worldwide as an expert in marketing, in part because of his early successes at PepsiCo, notably his introduction of the Pepsi Challenge, which allowed the company to gain market share from primary rival Coca Cola. He used similar marketing strategies throughout the 1980s and 1990s at Apple to mass-market Macintosh personal computers, and today he continues to speak and write about disruptive marketing strategies. Sculley is currently invested in and involved with a number of high-tech start-up companies, including 3CInteractive, XL Marketing (now rebranded as Zeta Interactive), Inflexion Point, Mobeam, OpenPeak, x10 Credit, Pivot Acquisition Corp., nextSource, and WorldMate.
The interview took place at the WorldWebForum 2016