Brayden Haws

April 16, 2022

Product Lessons from Tony Fadell

There are a lot of product people that I admire and aspire to be like: friends, coworkers, and big names in the space. But for me, the best model for a career in product is Tony Fadell.

Among his accomplishments are: the iPod, the iPhone, Nest, and 300+ patents. Having just one of those on your resume would be enough to declare victory. Being able to list all of them is stunning. But what is more impressive than the accomplishments, is the work that went into them. The ups & downs, late nights, endless experimentation, and overcoming failures. All together these led to a career that any of us should study as we look for models for success in our own work. Here’s a few of the qualities that each of us can apply to our own work and lives:

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Doggedness/Doing the Work
When Tony started his career he set his sights on General Magic. It had spun out of Apple and was one of the most innovative start-ups around. (If you haven’t seen the documentary, it’s definitely worth your time). Tony was set on working there but they weren’t as set on him. So he left home, drove across the country, and slept outside their offices. 

Eventually they gave him a shot. He started out at the bottom of the totem pole. But he was a quick study and a harder worker. He put in the time and effort to learn everything about the product. Through effort, will, and a desire to grow; he turned himself into a product leader at the company.

Relentless Curiosity and Endless Pursuit
After General Magic, Tony had a new idea he wanted to bring to life. Making music portable and accessible on the go. He set out to make this happen at Phillips. He ran into issues with the right tech being available, before finally finding storage capabilities that would enable his vision. Even so things went sideways at Phillips, and he left before his vision was realized.

Rather than giving up, Tony went to Apple (a risk all on its own, as Apple was in trouble at the time). Working with Steve Jobs he made his technically-difficult dream a reality. The iPod became an iconic product, with few contemporaries past, present, or future. 

The work that went into creating the iPod is worth a deep dive on its own. From being scrappy with prototypes, to working against an impossible ship date, to having the first two generations of the product more or less flop, and needing to convince the company to reinvest for generation 3. There is so much to be learned and we will all face similar challenges in our career.
Learning From Mistakes
After the iPod became a runaway success, Jobs’ focus shifted to winning the mobile market. To create the iPhone, two internal teams were formed. Tony’s team would pursue the phone using the iPod and its click-wheel technology. While another team utilized a touchscreen and a different software base. 

After some time it became apparent that the click-wheel did not lead to a good experience when trying to make phone calls or send text messages. Rather than being bitter that his approach didn’t work, or seeing the time spent on it as wasted; Tony dove into supporting the other team and helped to ensure the iPhone shipped on time.

Do Meaningful Work
After Apple, Tony had the time and freedom to explore the world. While he was away he started building a home and found himself frustrated with the current smart home offerings.

In response he launched Nest to scratch his own itch in the world of smart homes. Nest was doubly important to Tony because he was also invested in improving the climate. Nest was one way he and consumers could have a positive impact on the climate.

Driven by his passion for the work, and with the help of a world class team, Nest quickly grew and was acquired by Google.
Don’t Rest On Success
Worked at a legendary Silicon Valley company, launched multiple iconic products at Apple, sold a company to Google. That’s like winning the career lotto (even though we know it wasn’t luck). Many people after a run like that would be looking for a beach where they could hang out for the rest of their lives. But instead Tony has doubled down. Launching Future Shape, an investment firm and consultancy, where he is helping the next generation of product people have the type of success he did.

Any of us can only hope to have a career as iconic as this one. We cannot control the outcomes. But we can ensure that we apply these lessons and put in all the work needed for success.

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If this has sparked your interest here are some resources to dive deeper:

About Brayden Haws

Healthcare guy turned tech wannabe. Doing product stuff at Grow. Building Utah Product Guild⚒️. Constantly tinkering on my 🛻. Occasionally writing poor takes on product strategy and technology.

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