The Definitive Guide to Business

Apple CEO Tim Cook explains why he'd rather be the best than the first

Apple CEO Tim Cook speaks at a conference in Laguna Beach, Calif., October 27, 2014.
Lucy Nicholson | Reuters

Apple did not have the first MP3 player. Or the first smartphone. Or the first tablet.

At a recent public appearance at the Utah Tech Tour, in a conversation moderated by Utah's Senator Orrin Hatch, Apple CEO Tim Cook pointed out that Microsoft had tablets on the market decades before Apple.

Cook emphasized his company's timing coming to market with new products to underscore the idea that it's nearly impossible for a company to be the best, the first and to make the most of a given product.

Entrepreneurs when they are just launching a company need to pick one of those three goals, says Cook.

"You should never, ever base success or failure on hitting all three of those, in my view. So as an entrepreneur, I would encourage you to pick one. And then go for it. Whatever it is."

For example, Apple isn't concerned with being first. Cook has a different goal.

"It doesn't bother us that we are second, third, fourth or fifth if we still have the best. We don't feel embarrassed because it took us longer to get it right," says Cook.

"For Apple, being the best is the most important and trumps the other two by far."

"Our North Star is making the best products that really enrich people's lives, and if we can't do those, we pass."