Asked about Google's direction, Campbell said in its past the company has sometimes tried to do "too many" things.
"Google prides itself on being a technology company and the technology innovation that comes out of there is phenomenal. But it doesn't always fit what customers want. Apple is completely different," he said. (Campbell stopped serving as an advisor to Google in 2010 when Apple and Google found themselves increasingly competing with each other.)
Google today is "a very professional company" that is moving toward Jobs' philosophy of making all its products work together, Campbell said.
Campbell pointed to Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg as one Silicon Valley executive who "thinks fanatically about customers" rather than about whether the company's IPO will be bigger than Google's.
Campbell said the biggest challenge facing Apple and CEO Tim Cook is not losing focus. "The biggest danger Apple has right now with Steve gone is that they [try to] do too many things." Cook, he said, "has to be really good at restraining everybody's enthusiasm" over the countless new product ideas "popping up out of [the Apple] lab every day."
Campbell also had some tough-love advice for Boston-area entrepreneurs seeking venture capital. "Get on a plane and go to San Francisco," he said to groans and laughter. And then to applause: "My view is you gotta get some wild-ass venture capitalists out here who are willing to take chances on bizarre ideas."
Along with providing funding, Silicon Valley VCs offer startups more support in terms of advice, industry connections, visibility and more, Campbell said. East Coast VCs should do the same he said, noting the number of colleges and universities surrounding the hotel where the Mass Technology Leadership Council meeting was being held. "You have entrepreneurs coming out of those places who are dying to do stuff."
Responding to a question about what skills college graduates need to succeed today, Campbell said too many people come out of school focused on quickly getting rich from a startup.
"Go into a company, try to learn," he said. "Go to a place where people are good, have some experience, [and] can teach you what to do."
Asked what he would do if he were starting a company today, Campbell said "Getting the best engineering person I could find would be the most important to me."
And then he returned to the theme of developing great products. "You don't need to be an engineer. But you need to care deeply that everything you do is to try to make sure you are providing a better product or a better service. That's what it's all about," he said.
"If you're not passionate about products, go to Wall Street."