tony fadell tim ferriss

On Building the iPod, iPhone, Nest, and a Life of Curiosity – Tony Fadell on The Tim Ferriss Show

Check Out The Tim Ferriss Show Episode Page and Show Notes

Key Takeaways

  • “A lot of people learn then do. I like to do, fail, then learn.”Tony Fadell
  • A lesson learned from Steve Jobs:
    • “The biggest one was storytelling, storytelling, storytelling. Always, with whatever you’re doing, have great stories or great analogies because you need to relate to people on their level.” Tony Fadell
  • Sometimes in life, to figure out your next steps, it’s necessary to step away from the day-to-day grind, pause, and GET BORED
  • Not nearly as many plastics are recycled as they should be, and are instead burned or buried. When plastic is buried/burned, it decomposes into micro-/nano-plastics that remain the environment for hundreds of years.
    • “It’s in everything we drink. It’s in the air we breathe. It’s in the soil. It’s in water. It’s in snow… This plastic is everywhere… Typically, those nano-plastics pick up bio-cumulative toxins that latch on and go into our bodies and bloodstreams.” Tony Fadell

Books Mentioned

Products Mentioned

  • Tony uses the OOLER Sleep System, the next generation of the chiliPAD, a mattress topper that circulates temperature-controlled water (varying between 55-110 °F), allowing you to optimize your sleep environment (with the OOLER, you can schedule temperature changes throughout the night)
    • For 15% off the OOLER, use the code “Podcastnotes15” at checkout
    • For 25% off a chiliPAD use the code “Podcastnotes25” at checkout
  • Tim has noticed over the past year or so, using a variety of sleep tracking devices, like the Oura Ring, that alcohol destroys his sleep quality (by lowering heart rate variability, raising body temperature, and increasing resting heart rate)

Intro

  • Tony Fadell (@tfadell) is known as “the father of the iPod.” In 2001, Tony joined Apple Computer Inc. and, as the SVP of Apple’s iPod division, led the team that created the first 18 generations of the iPod and the first three generations of the iPhone
    • From 1992 to 1995, he served as a Hardware and Software Architect at General Magic, which created the precursor to the iPhone 15 years earlier
    • In 2010, Tony founded Nest Labs, Inc. and served as its Chief Executive Officer until his resignation in 2016
    • He’s currently an active investor at Future Shape, a global investment and advisory firm coaching engineers and scientists working on foundational deep technology

Why does Tony avoid caffeine and alcohol?

  • Right around the time Tony turned 40, he went without alcohol for 2 weeks as an experiment
    • “All of a sudden, I started feeling completely better. I was sleeping better. I was waking up better.” – Tony Fadell 
      • Another benefit: Weight loss 
      • So, Tony decided to cut it out for good and hasn’t looked back
  • Back in Tony’s General Magic days, he estimates he was drinking ~8-12 diet Cokes per day (which are loaded with caffeine)
    • “That’s what kept me going, but it was killing me” – Tony Fadell 
      • Sure enough, Tony decided to quit cold turkey, but this didn’t come without withdrawal symptoms (3 weeks of “insane headaches”)

Where did Tony’s ability to sell come from?

  • His dad, who worked as a salesman selling jeans with Levi Strauss for 30+ years
    • “I watched him all the time going and selling clothes. He gave me little tips along the way.” – Tony Fadell 
  • What made Tony’s dad so good at sales?
    • His honesty – he only sold what he truly believed was a perfect match for the customer, or else he recommended the competitor
      • One thing he always taught Tony: “It’s not about a transaction, it’s about a relationship… EVERYTHING in life is about your relationships and how you treat them.” – Tony Fadell 
  • Tony also picked up some sales skills at General Magic
    • One lesson learned: “Every single thing is about communicating in other people’s languages… It’s about coming from a place in the heart that’s really meaningful when you’re talking the other person’s language.”Tony Fadell 
      • Expanded: It’s about dissecting the customer’s needs/problems, and how you might be able to solve them

Breaking Down the General Magic Doors

  • For background: Check out the documentary about the company and Tony’s story
  • “I was a passionate geek since the 70s… I was always an Apple fan.” – Tony Fadell 
    • When the Mac came out, Tony became obsessed, specifically with the founding team, who eventually went on to form General Magic. Tony knew he had to go work with them (he was working on a failing startup at the time).
      • “I had to get to Silicon Valley. I had to go see that team. Ultimately… I kicked in the door to get to work there.” – Tony Fadell 
        • (But it wasn’t easy – it took 6 months of pestering interviewers, employers, anyone who could get him in, etc.)

Why did General Magic fail?

  • “General Magic was trying to create what was, in essence, the iPhone about 15 years too soon” – Tony Fadell 
    • Back then, there were no digital telephone networks (they were analog) the internet was still early, most people didn’t use email, etc.
  • Other factors: “A lack of discipline about who our customer was, what the product was we were making, what the timeline was, and how we’d get it to market” – Tony Fadel
    • Tony adds – “It was literally an amazing sandbox to create this generation platform with almost no bounds. We created everything from scratch.”
  • Before the company going under, Tony, still in his 20s, was working A LOT
    • Just how much?
      • “It was probably 4 years that I didn’t go further than a couple of miles radius away from General Magic and where I lived.” – Tony Fadell

Know Yourself

  • Just shy of General magic failing, Tony started working looking for work elsewhere and eventually made his way to Phillips, where he became a manager
    • “I never managed people… I started hiring people and building this team, but I was probably the worst manager under the sun for the first 6 months… I left everything I knew to go to this big company and do this thing. I had no clue what I was doing, and I was failing at it.” – Tony Fadell 
      • This led Tony to ponder some even bigger questions: “Who am I? What’s a great manager? What’s a great leader?”
  • And how exactly did Tony come to find the answers to these questions?
    • By talking to mentors
    • Reading
    • Seeing a psychologist (for 1-5-2 hours 2x a week for a year plus), diving deep into EVERYTHING
      • “I got to go deep into so many pieces of my life. Huge lights were flashing… All of a sudden, the changes started occurring.” – Tony Fadell 
      • What else did seeing a psychologist teach Tony?
        • A lot about empathy
        • Differing approaches to leading/motivating
        • How he could further hone his decision-making process

Advice to New Managers

Wow

  • “A lot of people learn then do. I like to do, fail, then learn.” – Tony Fadell

The Birth of the iPod

  • It isn’t discussed much, but after Philips, Tony left to work at Apple 
  • The drivers:
    • Mp3 players were taking off, and there was a gap in the market for a killer product
    • The Mac was struggling
    • Apple purchased iTunes
  • Steve Jobs signed off on the project in March 2001, and the first iPod was shipped in November of that year
    • That said, it took about three generations of the product until it was considered a “success”

On Meeting Steve Jobs

  • Tony’s first contact with him: At Andy Hertzfeld’s birthday party, one of the principal software developers of the Macintosh 
  • On meeting him: “I was absolutely star-struck… It’s like when you go up to your favorite rock star and don’t know what to say… He was very definitive in the way he spoke.” Tony Fadell

A Lesson from Steve Jobs

  • “The biggest one was storytelling, storytelling, storytelling. Always, with whatever you’re doing, have great stories or great analogies because you need to relate to people on their level.” Tony Fadell
    • This applies to everything – whether it’s a product/software story or if you’re trying to change something up about a work-related process. Stories are the BEST way to get people to understand the facts.
    • One example: “The Mac was like bringing a glass of ice water to somebody in hell”
    • Or another for the iPod: “A thousand songs in your pocket”
  • Why is this important?
    • “If you can have a great analogy for someone, they’ll continue to repeat that to everyone else.”Tony Fadell 

Get Bored to Figure Out the Next Step

  • In prep for this interview, Tim recalls reading that upon leaving Apple, Tony’s goal was to “get bored” (and he did so by traveling around the world for a year and a half with his wife & kids)
    • Tony expands: “You get to a certain point in your career where you can actually take a pause, breathe, think again, and get inspired”
      • Getting bored = getting out of your day-to-day process/grind
      • 🎧 “If you do your career right, between every 8-10 years, you’re going to have a different chapter of your life, of your career. If you want to do anything substantial, it’s probably between 8 and 10 years… When those pauses come up, or when those big transitions happen, you need to think very clearly because you’re about to get married for 8-10 years to something else that you’re going to put your heart and soul into, if you’re choosing correctly.” (1:04) – Tony Fadell
        • So… take the time to get bored, get out of the rat race, and think carefully about your next move
          • And when you get bored: “You’re going to start to think differently. You’re going to start to act differently. Your mind might start to open up to other sources of inspiration and other problems.”

The Birth of Nest

  • While traveling around the globe, Tony & his family spent time living in Spain, Hawaii, and different parts of California
    • “Through that journey… talking to people, living in different houses, that’s where the idea for Nest came up… And, step by step, Nest was created over a 9-month gestation of thinking, reading, learning, and experiencing, all to come up with a solution that, if I were still in Silicon Valley, I would have never came up with.”Tony Fadell

Learning Through Immersion

  • Traveling a fair bit in Southeast Asia, Tony’s eyes started opening:
    • “When you live in Southeast Asia, you start to really understand plastics. They’re all around you – on the ground, in the water, even in the air. You see it everywhere. You start wondering, ‘Why do they have this problem, and in other parts of the world, we don’t seem to have it?’… For me, plastics are a problem that we all have, it’s just hidden in many parts of the world… It’s a problem with our usage, the material itself, how we use it, and how we design with it. We are baring our future generations in this toxic mess.” Tony Fadell 
      • “This is not a societal problem. This is truly a design problem. We designed this mess. We have to design ourselves out of it.”
  • Digging further:
    • So many products are designed with plastic components when they shouldn’t be
    • Plastic is used in single-use products (like packaging) and then “recycled” 
      • As it turns out: “Just because something has the recyclable label doesn’t mean it’s recycled. It’s literally buried or burned, setting off toxic gases… Or, it ends up in the environment as litter as we see in the oceans.” Tony Fadell
        • Why does this happen? – Many third-world countries can’t afford to recycle as it doesn’t make sense economically
    •  🎧 When plastic is buried/burned, it decomposes into micro-/nano-plastics that remain the environment for hundreds of years
      • “It’s in everything we drink. It’s in the air we breathe. It’s in the soil. It’s in the water… It’s falling down as rain or snow… This plastic is everywhere… Typically, those nano-plastics pick up bio-cumulative toxins that latch on and go into our bodies and bloodstreams.” Tony Fadell
        • “When those nano-plastics get into us, it’s like asbestos. It causes inflammation, and the body attacks it, and it could cause all kinds of things.”
  • In summary:
    • “We are creating a huge mess on this planet, and we just don’t realize it” Tony Fadell
    • Don’t trust recycling labels (but you should still recycle, just realize that most of the time, it’s probably not going anywhere to be re-used)
    • Recycled plastics are only good for 2-3 uses

Future Shape

  • “This is an investment vehicle from our family to find great entrepreneurs and companies trying to create deep technologies to help fix our planet, society, and communities and get us forward in a ‘green’ way” – Tony Fadell 
    • “We don’t call ourselves venture capitalists, we don’t call ourselves angels, we call ourselves mentors with money”
  • So far, after nearly 10 years, Tony and his team have invested in 200 companies around the world

What does Tony struggle with?

  • Long-form writing
  • Anything analytical
  • Having patience

Optimizing for Self-Care

  • Tony follows a vegetarian diet and as mentioned, avoids caffeine and alcohol
    • He also tries to minimize refined sugar intake
  • 6-7 days a week, Tony exercises for 1 hour/day
    • His favorite form of exercise? – Yoga, but Tony also runs, strength trains, skis, and hikes
  • Tony also tries to get good sleep every night
    • He used an OOLER Sleep System, the next generation of the chiliPAD
      • “Oh my god, it is a lifesaver. I swear by it.” – Tody Fadell
      • For 15% off the OOLER, use the code “Podcastnotes15” at checkout
      • For 25% off a chiliPAD use the code “Podcastnotes25” at checkout
    • Speaking of sleep…
      • Tim has noticed over the past year or so, using a variety of sleep tracking devices, like the Oura Ring, that alcohol destroys his sleep quality (by lowering heart rate variability, raising body temperature, and increasing resting heart rate)
        • “Two drinks or more, and my sleep is garbage” – Tim Ferriss

Recommended Reading

Parting Thoughts

  • 🎧 “We all go through all of these changes in our lives, we all go through failure. If you’re open to learning, and you’re open to the failure and pushing hard… It can end up happening if you really keep pushing. Whether it’s a failure or a success, keep pushing… Keep staying a beginner, trying to stay humble, and trying to work with others. That’s your superpower at the end of the day.” – Tony Fadell (1:50)

Additional Notes

  • Tony estimates he’s only had ~2-3 cups of coffee throughout his whole life
  • Growing up, Tony went to 12 schools in 15 years (mainly due to his dad’s job as a Levi’s salesman)
  • “You can usually get to a great answer or a really great question by asking ‘Why?’ about 5 times” Tony Fadell
  • “One of the best decisions I ever made in my life was to ask my wife to marry me, and I didn’t know 15, even 10 minutes before, that I was going to do it… I didn’t even know. I had no clue… That was after 11 weeks of dating, It was a span of 10-15 minutes from the time I said, ‘I’m going to do it,’ til I did it.” – Tony Fadell
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