This week, I met the “legendary” Tony Fadell at SVForum’s Visionary Salon in Palo Alto. Fadell has been called “the father of the iPod,” Google’s $3.2 Billion guru, among other colorful things, so I was intrigued. Here’s what I gleaned from our brief conversation:
On Working with Steve Jobs
Fadell learned to say “no” more than “yes” while working at Apple and he found creative ways to “disappear” when Jobs was in “one of his moods.”
But in 10 years of working with Steve Jobs, the Apple cofounder often revealed his softer side. For example, when Fadell became a father for the first time, Jobs took him for a walk and advised him not to over-schedule his child.
“Make sure they’re bored sometimes,” said Jobs.
What did he mean?
Fadell explains: Kids need the time to find themselves…be creative, and solve problems.
Although critics say he micromanages his teams, Fadell sees himself as a mentor (see more below).
On Google Glass
Glass is definitely a side project for Fadell…he checks in with his Glass design team sporadically. He’s still CEO of Nest and that remains his primary focus, since, as he underlines, “it’s actually shipping product.” He’s laser focused on making sure it’s being done right (see Leadership below).
On Tech Security
Fadell reckons people today are obsessed with tech security and that in reality “nothing is secure…people in the security business are stirring up the shit.”
On Moving Meditation
Fadell starts his work day at 5:30 am and does what he calls a “moving meditation,” be that running, or yoga (one hour, three times a week). That gives him time to problem solve and prepare for his “roller coaster” day of “back-to-back” meetings.
I challenged him to demonstrate one of his favorite poses: the Vriksasana, or tree pose and as you can see…he likes a good challenge.
For non-yogis out there, it’s a great pose for increasing balance, focus, and memory. It also strengthens your feet, ankles and knees.
Here are some of the highlights of that conversation and my observations:
Make sure your projects don’t take over 18 months to ship, otherwise “it’s impossible to keep your team together,” says Fadell.
Although Fadell has lost several key members of Nest recently, he insists that his young team “need mentored to grow into the next leaders in Silicon Valley.” He says that those who walk out the door are examples of “the Tinder generation.”
Like Steve Jobs, Fadell has a reputation for being an intense leader, a micromanager or even a bully.
As Ben Austen so eloquently describes in Wired, “Steve Jobs has become a Rorschach test, a screen onto which entrepreneurs and executives can project a justification of their own lives: choices they would have made anyway, difficult traits they already possess.”
Perhaps Fadell needs to do a little more yoga and a little less yelling?
Larry Page vs Steve Jobs
Fadell characterizes his new Google boss, Larry Page as “an incredible scientist” who respects products and likes deep research to push the limits of technology. By contrast, he found Steve Jobs more focused on marketing, “more business, less science” and says he often took, or even “stole ownership of ideas.”
Fadell says before joining Apple, he’d had 10 years of failure, at General Magic and other enterprises. In 1998 he was a DJ in his spare time, and founded a hardware startup for music collections. He made about 80 pitches to VCs without success. It was the intense fear of failure that helped him stay strong in negotiations with Steve Jobs. He agreed to work on what would become the iPod, only after Jobs assured him, “if you can build it, we’ll put every marketing dollar into this.” And of course, the rest is history.
Should tech companies build cars?
Fadell gives this question a resounding “YES!” He describes a recent meeting with some members of the board at Ford, “I could see fear in their eyes,” he says.
He views cars – especially self-driving cars – as “lots of computer with a little bit of car,” and says that car companies “need to do a 180 and compete with computers on wheels.”
See lots more photos of SVForum’s Visionary Salon
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