00:00:02 OPRAH WINFREY: "Hattie Mae, this child is gifted," and I heard that enough that I started to believe it.
00:00:08 ROGER BANNISTER: If you have the opportunity, not a perfect opportunity, and you don't take it, you may never have another chance.
00:00:14 LAURYN HILL: It all was so clear. It was just, like, the picture started to form itself.
00:00:19 DESMOND TUTU: There was no way in which a lie could prevail over the truth, darkness over light, death over life.
00:00:27 CAROL BURNETT (quoting CARRIE HAMILTON): “Every day I wake up and decide, today I'm going to love my life. Decide.”
00:00:35 JOHNNY CASH: My advice is, if they're going to break your leg once when you go in that place, stay out of there.
00:00:40 JAMES MICHENER: And then along come these differential experiences that you don't look for, you don't plan for, but boy, you’d better not miss them.
00:00:52 ALICE WINKLER: This is What It Takes, a podcast about passion, vision, and perseverance from the Academy of Achievement's audio vault. I'm Alice Winkler. Just as hydrogen and oxygen in the right combination create something altogether new — or hazelnuts and chocolate, if you prefer a Nutella metaphor — the two men we have in this week’s episode turned the world upside down when they got together. In this episode: Steve Jobs and Tony Fadell. They spoke to the Academy decades apart, and yet their paths merged at one pivotal point in time into a single story, the story of the iPod and the iPhone.
00:01:44 So first to Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple, of course, who was 26 years old when he was inducted into the Academy of Achievement. It was 1982. At the Academy’s annual Summit, Jobs gave a couple of short, extemporaneous talks to a roomful of promising young high school students.
00:02:05 STEVE JOBS: One of the things that tends to run through some of the things that people here have talked about is innovation and creativity, and if you’re really bright — have you ever thought about what it is to be intelligent? Probably some of you have. Right? Because you meet your friend and he’s pretty dumb, and maybe you think you’re smarter, and you wonder what the difference is?
00:02:25 And I’ve thought about this a little bit myself, and one of the things is, it seems to me a lot of it’s memory, but a lot of it’s the ability to sort of zoom out. Like, you’re in a city and you can look at the whole thing from about the 80th floor down at the city. And while other people are trying to figure out how to get from point A to point B, reading these stupid little maps, you can just see it all out in front of you. You can see the whole thing, and you can make connections that just seem obvious, because you can see the whole thing.
00:02:52 That’s why bright people feel guilty a lot, because they come up with stuff that they just say, "Hey, look at this," and other people give them these dumb awards, and they feel funny.
00:03:03 ALICE WINKLER: Tony Fadell was only 13 in 1982, and he wasn’t in the room that day, but he could have been. Fadell had the kind of intelligence Steve Jobs was talking about. He was already a budding computer and design genius and an ambitious entrepreneur. He couldn’t yet take in a whole city from Steve Jobs’ proverbial 80th floor, but he was on his way up there. It would be almost 20 years before the two men would meet.
00:03:37 Now, a lot of people know a lot about Steve Jobs, so I’m not going to retell his whole story, but most people outside of the tech world don’t know much, if anything, about Tony Fadell, which is kind of strange considering many of you are listening to this podcast on an iPhone, a device he created. And before the advent of the smart phone, you probably played all your music on an iPod, another of his devices.
00:04:06 You may even have your home hooked up to a Nest thermostat, if you're energy conscious. That one’s also a Tony Fadell invention. So most of this episode will be devoted to telling you Tony Fadell’s story, with some input and context provided by Steve Jobs decades before they even met. I know it sounds a little like I’m talking about time travel, but honestly, their stories are so intertwined that it actually makes sense.
00:04:35 Here then is Tony Fadell, talking to journalist Gail Eichenthal in early 2016 about how his climb to the 80th floor began at his grandpa John’s knee.
00:04:48 TONY FADELL: He was a superintendent of the Hamtramck School District right outside — or inside — of Detroit, and he also taught special-ed kids. But also, because of the Depression era, he also learned how to do everything himself, or his father and his grandfather taught him how to build things and create things because you had to be very — how can I say — you had to be able to use your hands and be very industrious, especially in Detroit, right?
00:05:13 That was what the city was all about. And he — that same training that he did, he did for my brother and I, and taught us a lot about how to build things just when we were four years old, five years old.
00:05:23 GAIL EICHENTHAL: What did you guys build?
00:05:24 TONY FADELL: Well, it started out really simply, you know. Oh, we would just watch, you know. And we’d hand him tools, and we’d learn something, and then we got up to building birdhouses, and then we got to repairing bicycles, and then lawnmowers, and building a soapbox derby car, and then repairing houses for, you know, parts of the house for him, then for our parents, then for our relatives and our friends down the street. So it just kind of unfolded.
00:05:49 He put it to me very clearly, which was, "Look, a human made this. A human can repair it and make it better." So it was, "Don't worry about those things. Like, go and learn about them. We can take them apart, put them back together," and it builds confidence. So it doesn't — it's not like there's this — some entity over in some part of the world building things and it's a special place. No, you can do it yourself, and that's what's so empowering.
00:06:14 ALICE WINKLER: Fadell’s grandfather was one direct influence on his career, but he also developed an unusual outlook on the world from his family’s life on the move. His dad was head of sales for Levi’s jeans, and so almost every year they moved to a new part of the country. Fadell said that caused him to develop an outsider’s view and the eye of a detached observer. Somehow those factors helped give him an edge, he says, when it came to engineering and computers.
00:06:44 TONY FADELL: Nineteen eighty is when I took my first summer school course, and I was learning on bubble cards with pencils and paper, where we'd actually feed that in the machine. We didn't even have monitors. We had paper printouts. And so I learned that, and I got hooked, so engineering was always along the route. And it was just another tool to go with all the things my grandfather had taught me. Right? And then, over time, you start to learn, “Well, when I'm building something, what do I want it to look like?”
00:07:13 And so that process of learning about design unfolded by doing. Right? And then you go, like, "Wait a second. I want to make it better. I want to make it better," and you start asking a lot of questions. And the observer in me would step back and go, "What are we really trying to do?" So the design really happened between blossoming through my mom, who was actually — she loved to do interior design, and all the time — because we were moving houses.
00:07:37 She would have to redecorate each time, and I'd watch that process, and much to the chagrin of my mom, my grandfather would try to fix up some of the houses, and he wouldn't do it in a very nice way. It was always the most practical way, but it wasn't necessarily the most beautiful way, and you could see this contention between my grandfather and my mother, going, "It works!" "It doesn't look good!" "It works!" "It doesn't look good!" And so that was really embedded in me, and I was — you know, I used that to think about, as I was building things, "Well, let's make it look good too."
00:08:11 ALICE WINKLER: Like most of the titans of the modern tech era, Steve Jobs had a similar story about his first exposure to computers. During his speech to young students in 1982, he recounted a conversation he’d just had with a kid named Ralph about the early days.
00:08:28 STEVE JOBS: My first experience with a computer was having to take all these — type out a program and take all these cards to a computer center, and half an hour later you’d get the result, and it was prehistoric compared to the way it is now. And Ralph didn’t understand this at all, and it really signaled that the real optimism of youth is that they don’t understand how bad it used to be.
00:08:49 And that they really take the accomplishments of the last generation for granted, and they’re still not happy. And so if there’s one thing that I wish, is that all the sort of “God bless America” stuff you’re hearing from us doesn’t dull you into complacency with the way things are, and that you retain that idealism, and you retain that feeling that the way things are isn’t good enough, because you’re all citizens of the world in a world that desperately needs your idealism and desperately needs your help.
00:09:26 ALICE WINKLER: No doubt, part of Steve Jobs and Tony Fadell’s success came from the fact that they were able to retain that idealism, even as they aged and gained experience. Fadell’s first business venture, other than the egg delivery route he and his brother ran in third grade, was a company he started in his basement during high school. His business partner was another kid just a few years older. The two of them created and sold hardware and educational software for the Apple II computer.
00:09:59 TONY FADELL: And so I got to do customer support and engineering and logistics, you know. Shipping things out and marketing and all these kinds of things alongside him, and I learned a lot, to see inside the business. We'd even travel to trade shows and set up a booth and have our wares. And so it was an incredible learning experience, as you can imagine, you know, because I was doing what I loved and seeing all the other things besides engineering that it took to actually build a company.
00:10:26 ALICE WINKLER: Tony Fadell created other businesses once he got to the University of Michigan. One of his companies made semiconductors that allowed the Apple II to run five or six times faster, and he actually sold the chips to Apple. One of his other companies that he launched with his computer professor and mentor, Elliot Soloway, supplied multimedia software programs for kids. Fadell credits Soloway with preparing him to have the kind of phenomenal success he’s had by letting him flop.
00:10:58 TONY FADELL: I was, you know, a sophomore or whatever. He gave me a lab and all this equipment and a budget and just said, "Go ahead and build whatever you want." So he actually was kind of my first venture capitalist, in a way, just saying, "Here's all the tools you need. Go off and create whatever you want," and he would grade me on that. He had such — and he has — such passion for what it was we were doing, that he instilled that passion in me.
00:11:20 He was like, "Just go for it! Make it happen!" And I would give him some wild idea, and he'd say, "Go try it!" You know, and it was that next set of just knocking down the fear of failure. “Just go try anything.”
00:11:32 ALICE WINKLER: Fadell’s next move, not long after graduating college in 1991, was to a company called General Magic, legendary in the history of Silicon Valley for its spectacular inventions and its spectacular failure. General Magic made some of the earliest PDAs — personal digital assistants — if you can remember back that far, though General Magic originally called them “personal intelligent communicators.” How did Fadell land a job there? Force of will, and plenty of talent, of course.
00:12:09 TONY FADELL: I was reading all the time in the backs of magazines about the Macintosh. It was called MacWeek. Every week — because we didn't have the Internet back then, so you could just — all you could get was this sheet, this — it was all the news about the Mac and the Apple every week, and I would read it religiously. And there was a back column, and that back column was by Raines Cohen. I remember — he's an author, and he's still around, a writer.
00:12:32 And it would tell about the team that created the Mac, and it would say where they're at and what they're doing now, and they started this company called General Magic. And I was like — and it was totally secretive, and everyone's like, you could hear it was percolating out in the valley just by reading a thing. And I'm like, "Oh, my, my. My heroes are there. They're doing something cool that's — you know, we don't know what it is, but it's got to be something cool. I’ve got to go find out what they're working on. I’ve got to work there," because when I was starting that little company, I found myself being a very big fish in a very small pond, and I wasn't learning anymore.
00:13:09 I stagnated, and every single time, I was failing at everything I tried because I hadn't had the experience. I hadn't seen different things, because we didn't have a startup environment in Ann Arbor in the '90s. It just wasn't there. And so I wanted to go to that fountain of knowledge. I wanted to go work for my heroes, and ultimately I got — after a lot of perseverance ‑ into General Magic, and I was employed at, like, 30 or something like that, and got to work with my heroes and learn everything.
00:13:36 I call it my Ph.D. I got my Ph.D. in the computer industry by working with the greats like Bill Atkinson and Andy Hertzfeld and Joanna Hoffman and Susan Kare. And so these people instilled design, engineering discipline and rigor, how to think about products, how to think about marketing, and then there was a whole other set of people there as well that ultimately — Android. Andy Rubin was at General Magic. He created Android.
00:14:07 He had the cube just two cubes away from me, and there were, you know, other people who created eBay in this company. So this was kind of this little genesis of the next generation of Silicon Valley all bonding together at General Magic, and I couldn't — and I have lifelong friends from there, so I couldn't be more happy about, you know, making that choice and really going out on the limb to go and get them to hire me.
00:14:31 ALICE WINKLER: Tony Fadell’s techie dreams were about to take off, but as he got ready to head for the holy land of Silicon Valley, he still had to contend with Mom.
00:14:43 TONY FADELL: "What? What company? I’ve never heard of it." I’m like, "Let me explain to you. These are the greats who created the Macintosh." "Why can't you just go work for some nice company, like IBM or something, or Microsoft?" And I was like, "No! I want to go work with my heroes! I want to go and learn from them. I don't know everything I need to know." And so she's crying. My dad's just kind of — he always saw me as kind of the person who, you know, I didn't really listen, so I just did whatever I wanted.
00:15:15 So he's like, "Okay, here he goes again." My mom's crying and, you know, I was teared up because I was like — I always threw myself into things without — because my gut felt it. It wasn't rational. A lot of the decisions I made in life, they were — how can I say? I mitigated the risk by thinking about things, making sure I thought about all the angles, but there was never a case when you knew it was the right decision, rationally.
00:15:43 You had to trust your gut. It's just, like, you know, some people, like, when they get married. When they want to get engaged, they have to trust their gut. There's nothing in the world that's going to tell you, “This is the right thing for your future.” It's not going to be 100% guaranteed, signed on the bottom line. And so all of these decisions — big decisions, forks in the road — that I've made in my life have come from my gut... was the final, “That's the way I'm going to go.” And so when you have that emotion, and that — and then you make that decision, you have emotion afterwards.
00:16:13 And that emotion is sometimes elation, sometimes fear, sometimes, “What did I get myself into?” And each time, when I was at that fork in the road, there was always that day afterwards, going, "What did I just do?" And it made you lift yourself up and go, "I'm going to make this. I'm going to make it a success. I can feel it." And that's how, you know, I make decisions and figure out where to go in life.
00:16:40 ALICE WINKLER: Tony Fadell’s decision did not actually lead to success, at least not in the short term, but no matter. He followed the course that felt right at the time, and in hindsight, who can argue with it?
00:16:54 TONY FADELL: We were failing at General Magic, and we said it had to die. We were failing, and I designed a new product. And I was designing it, and I was like, "Look, everybody. I think this is what's going to help save General Magic." And everyone's like, "That's really interesting, Tony. Nice. But you know what? We’ve got other priorities right now. We can't do that. Please get back to work." And I'm like, "But this is what's going to help the company." They didn't want to hear it.
00:17:16 ALICE WINKLER: So what was it? Well, it was a small pocket computer with a small keyboard. It had a modem.
00:17:24 So you could e-mail, and it had a touch screen.
00:17:27 TONY FADELL: So it was like a mini little laptop, and I was like, "This is what's going to — people don't want — they want a little, tiny laptop that they can communicate from anywhere." And so I designed that. Nobody wanted it at General Magic, so I started — I'm like, "Wait a second. I'm going to go pitch it to the partners at General Magic," and Phillips was one of them.
00:17:45 And I went right to the CEO with the help of some other people, and I pitched them, and he goes — and I was 25 at the time. I had no idea what I did. Besides my small startup company in Ann Arbor and before, I had never run teams or anything. And the CEO of Phillips goes, "I like the idea. Let's do it!" I was like, "Wha —?" I was like, "Be careful what you wish for." And literally the next day — because this was my gut, and I was like, "Wait a second. What did I just do?"
00:18:15 And I was, like, so nervous, so worried. I was like — and now I have — I'm going to have to get a team of 150 people and put together this project. I have no idea if I can do it. And so I, once again, threw myself in as — I just rose up, and I said, "I'm going to use my resources and everything to build this." And so that was great. I was like, "Okay, I'm going to get over this decision," and then the very first day, I walk into the Phillips offices, and they ask for a drug test.
00:18:45 I was like, "What? A drug test?" And I was like, "Wait a second. I can't hire anybody in Silicon Valley if you ask for that." And then I go, "I'm going to make you a deal. I'll take the drug test, but if I pass — which I did, obviously — if I pass, you will not require anybody in my team that I hire to take the drug test." That was the deal. And they said, "Okay," because that was the chain of trust. So I was able to clear that, so that was like, "Whoa, wait. This is a big old company."
00:19:15 The next thing, I get into my office. It was built in 1950. It was dark paneling. Every single one was, like, you know, this little, like, trophy room, and no one talked to each other. It was like... you know, you came from a place where there are cubes and people and, you know, there were, like, gophers everywhere, coming out of these cubes. "Hey, what's going on? Blah, blah, blah." Just this lifeblood of people, and then in this — you're like, in this little, tiny office. You’re going to defeat the world, and nobody's around, and you're like, "What did I do?"
00:19:43 Well, anyway, it got a lot better, and I helped to change a bunch of the culture and everything because I'm like, "Knock down the walls. Put up cubes. Let's get some life in here." But Phillips really was — you know, it was old, and we created a startup inside this company, but whenever we went outside, it was like we were talking two different languages. Even though they spoke Dutch and English, they just didn't understand. Like, when we were saying, "Well, we need open offices," or "We need this," or "We need great marketing for that." All they wanted to do was sell TVs.
00:20:11 And so, that's where I learned in life that even with the most resources, you can design and build anything, but if you don't have the right team behind you to sell and market it and really do it, you're not going to have a great success. So we were a critical success in the industry for what we built, but we were a failure from a business perspective because we didn’t know how to sell it.
00:20:31 ALICE WINKLER: Tony Fadell was getting better at navigating his career toward success, but in the whirling-dervish world of technology, his gut was as important as ever in making decisions about where to go next, and nothing would test his instincts as much as his move from Phillips to Apple in 2000. The story he tells gives me agita every time I listen to it, starting with the call he got as he was waiting in line for the chair lift on a ski trip to Colorado.
00:21:02 TONY FADELL: "Hello, this is Jon Rubinstein." I'm like — I didn't know who he was, and then the conversation started, and lo and behold, the iPod came out less than a year later.
00:21:11 ALICE WINKLER: Jon Rubinstein was the head of hardware for Apple at the time and the strategist who, with Steve Jobs, helped turn the failing company’s fortunes around. At first, Rubinstein brought Tony Fadell in as a consultant, but pretty soon, Fadell was feeling more than a little pressure to join the company full-time.
00:21:34 TONY FADELL: So the first six weeks of my consultancy — it was six or eight weeks — it was design. “Go and learn everything about these chips...” — luckily, about the chips, the marketplace. “Put together this whole overview of the business.” And so I did that and did the best I could do in six weeks. It's a lot of work for more or less one person to put this all together and present it to Steve. So — and I had some help with some other people at Apple, but they were helping to make sure the presentation looked good for Steve.
00:22:05 They wanted to make sure this meeting was going to go well. So I presented a Styrofoam model that created — and a lot of the building materials, the things that you build the iPod with, kind of the business angles, how many we could sell, that kind of stuff, how big the team would need to be, schedules. And at the end, Steve picked up this Styrofoam block that was the iPod, and he was like, "Let's do this," and he goes, "Now we have to hire you."
00:22:35 And Jon turns to me, and goes like this, he goes, "I’ve got this. Don't worry." So then that began a three-week intense battle, going, "Look, I have a startup, Jon. I can't leave this startup. I can't leave this team in a lurch. I need to, you know, do what's right for them." And he's like, "No, no, come to Apple. You're going to do this." I go, "Look, I've been at Phillips. I've been at other big companies. Nine out of ten projects that get started get killed at those kinds of companies."
00:23:07 And he goes, "No, no, no. This one's going to ship." I said, "I don't believe it." I go, "And then once you ship — " Remember, Apple was not the Apple you know today. Apple back then was, at best case — what was it? Two hundred fifty million dollars in the bank and $500 million in debt, and they were break-even quarter to quarter. They had less than one percent market share for Macintoshes in the U.S.
00:23:33 Not in the world. One percent market share — and he goes — everyone said it's a dying company. So I'm like, "Wait a second, Jon. This company wants to do this. I've seen all these projects die. Are you going to actually have the funds to actually market it when you're under attack? Like, why should I join this company?" So I said — and I talked to other people around, and I started going, "Okay, well, this startup thing I have is not going so well. I can bring some of the people with me. Maybe this is a chance I should take."
00:23:59 This is this gut reaction, like, everything in your brain logically goes, "Don't do this. Don't do this. Don't do this." And I'm — my gut's going, "Maybe there's something here." So I said to Jon, I go, "Look, I've talked to a bunch of people. I'm starting to understand how you guys work here. I need to talk to Steve." So he arranged for me to chat with Steve.
00:24:26 And I was like, "Steve," I went — I was like, "What about Sony?" I'm like, "They're number one. They own every audio category." And he was like, "We're going to beat them. Watch." And I go, "Wait a second. Sony. Do you understand this?" He's like, "I'm telling you, we're going to beat them," and he had such confidence. I said, "Yeah, I think we can build the product, but will you sell and market it?" And he goes — and he said to me, he goes, "If you build this and it's a quality product, I will put every dollar of Apple marketing behind this to watch this thing go, and I'm patient, and I will make this happen. You just get this done."
00:24:56 And I was like, "Well, that's a pretty bold statement." And I hadn't — you know, I had heard lots of stories from my General Magic friends who worked for Steve, right? I'm like, "Can I trust him?” And then my gut's going, "Okay, this is starting to feel better," but I'm not ready yet. So while I'm talking to Steve, Jon had set up a big meeting for me to reveal, because he wanted me to just say yes, and I was supposed to reveal this secret project to a big set of Apple execs and people who should be in the know about the program, because it's so secret at Apple.
00:25:33 So he sets up this big meeting. I'm still talking to Steve. It's now — I'm 20 minutes late to this meeting. There's 20, 25 people in it. So Steve and I hang up. I walk in this room late. Everybody's just sitting there. They don't — they never — except for two people, they'd never met me. They were like, "Who is this guy? Why are we waiting for him? What is he going to tell us about?" I walk in the door, scowls on their faces, and Jon looks at me, and goes, "So are you going to take the job?" in front of all of these people.
00:26:02 And I turn, and I look, and I was just confused, and he goes, "So are you taking the job? Right here, right now. This meeting will be canceled if you don't take it." And I was like, "What?" And I turned to the whole audience, who I didn't know, and I said, "Does this happen in every Apple interview? Is this how you do closing?" So it broke the ice, and everybody was, like, chuckling under their breath because they were also shocked and stunned because they didn't know what was going on.
00:26:30 And I'm like — in my brain, you're going really fast, and here's the gut, right, and the rational are, like, fighting right now. Both sides of my shoulders are screaming in my ears, and I'm looking at Jon, and I'm looking him in the eye, and I'm like, there are only two ways this is going to go down. Either I'm going to go, "No, screw you. I'm going to get what I want," or "Yes," and trust that was going to happen. And I'm, like, the first thing I don't want to do is make my potential new boss look dumb in front of all these people.
00:27:01 And I was like, if it's not working, I can always leave, and I was like, okay. So I looked him straight in the eye, and I said, "Yes. Shh, shh, shh." Then what happens? I go and sit down in my seat. I was in such shock, I couldn't even put a word together for 15 minutes. I just sat there in the room like this and Stan — Stan Ng, who was the guy who was helping me create the presentation and everything with Steve — Stan took over and started talking to people about the design and everything else.
09:28:11 But I was just shocked. I didn't know what I did, and for the next two days, I was an utter mess, trying to figure out did I do the right thing or whatever. And so hopefully not a lot of other people have that kind of a job, you know, interview and close, but that was mine at Apple.
00:27:54 ALICE WINKLER: The truth is, going to work for Apple to build a music player was a great fit for Fadell, as his gut told him, and as he told interviewer Gail Eichenthal.
00:28:05 TONY FADELL: You know, growing up sometime in Detroit and everything, that was like Detroit Rock City, right? So I went to concerts when I was young, and I loved music, and I learned to play the piano horribly. I was not a good piano player, banging on the keys, bang, bang, bang, bang. So that wasn't the thing, but I loved to listen to it and learn a lot about it. And in college, before DJs were DJs like we know them today, I would just play stuff for parties and stuff like that, and I continued to do it, and even as I came to Silicon Valley, I'd do more and more of that stuff because I loved it so.
00:28:34 And I had to start carrying around all these CD cases, you know, thousands of CDs, because vinyl went out — vinyl's back in style now, but vinyl went out — carrying all these CDs and the gear and everything. And I just didn't want — I loved music, but I hated all the struggle to do this — to find the — to carry it and move it, to find the songs I loved, to put them on. And I was always thinking — because we were doing these handhelds, and when they — we started putting headphone jacks on them for audio books.
00:29:03 And I'm like, "Wait a second. These handhelds, one day, if they have enough memory, they could be great for music." Lo and behold, then MP3 files came, and then some MP3 players came, and I wanted to make a really big jukebox, so I was making kind of a rack mount CD player. You'd have a CD and a hard drive inside, and we were ripping the songs — the MP3s would come out of the CDs and we’d put them on the hard drive.
00:29:32 And that was the genesis. So I was making small stuff, my love of music, and building this box at that startup I was telling you about. Then it all came together into the iPod.
00:29:43 ALICE WINKLER: Tony Fadell is sometimes referred to in the media as the “father of the iPod,” but he's careful to give credit to the many colleagues who contributed to its creation and its success. Like any elaborate product, it’s not always clear exactly who did what, but Fadell says he essentially designed the mechanical and electrical inner workings. Then, with Jeff Robbin, came up with the interface, and it was Jony Ive, with his team, who designed the outside look and feel of it, that sleek combination of metal and white behind plastic.
00:30:19 Fadell says they were all joined at the hip, really, figuring out how to make the smallest, easiest to use, most beautiful thing they could. Some people have the mistaken belief, Fadell says, that there was some grand master plan, devised by Steve Jobs in the year 2000, to change the world with digital music and video downloads. Not so. Not at all.
00:30:44 TONY FADELL: It really happened by virtue of the CD player actually getting integrated into a Mac, and people started playing tunes on a Mac, and then from there they were like, "Wait a second. We could take those tunes off and create mix CDs." Okay, so they started making mix CDs, so they’d rip the tracks off the CD, put them in iTunes, and then print a new disk with those — like, just like you made mix cassette tapes.
00:31:14 Then they were like, "Wait a second. I can only fit 10 or 20 songs on that CD. Why can’t I get more songs?" And MP3 players started at the time, and all these MP3 players were tiny. They either held 15 songs, or they held a hundred songs but the — it took, like, a day to put the songs on it. Like, all of these things were wrong with them, and that’s when they contacted me, saying, "We’re looking at all these MP3 players. We want to let people take their tunes on the go from iTunes, but they’re all bad. We think there’s an Apple way of doing it. Can you design that for us?"
00:31:48 So that happened. So that’s when the iPod came out, which was, “A thousand songs in your pocket.” It's one of the best marketing lines ever. I strive every day, when we try to market our new products, to get a tag line that good, because it says everything in just a few words. Then, from there, we’re like, "Well, what can we do next?"
00:32:08 And we’re like, "Well, we can put more songs.” We did that. “We can make it a little smaller.” Made it better, better, we started that. And then we go, "Wait a second. It’s now time we can put photos on it, because we’ll put a color screen on it, because it’s cheap, and we’ll put a color screen, and we can store all those photos and — " So we put photos on it. Then we go, "Wait a second, people want to digitally download music. The labels are failing because everyone’s stealing music. Let’s give them an alternative where they can spend a dollar a song, get the song they love, and put it on — they don’t have to rip the CD, put it on the iPod...”
00:32:39 They could just download it really quickly because there was enough Internet bandwidth to the home, and there was enough storage, and the music companies really wanted to sell their music digitally. They hated it before that, but now they're willing because they were losing so much money. So then the music store was created. Then, after that, the video store was created, and we made video iPods, and so on and so forth. So all of these unfoldings happened over time as we ran into a new problem and a new problem.
00:33:04 We didn’t have the cash, the team, the technology, even, to be able to have a grand master plan back then and just implement it. It was literally heads down, seeing the next problem, solving it, solving it, solving it.
00:33:20 GAIL EICHENTHAL: I can't think about the iPod without thinking about its beautiful, elegant, simple design. And it is as much a work of design as it is of engineering, and that obviously was part of the culture there.
00:33:35 TONY FADELL: Absolutely. Design... design not just of the product itself, but design of the marketing, design ultimately of the retail stores. All of the different customer touch points, I was able to watch that and learn. At General Magic, we learned how to do products. At Apple, you learned how to really build experiences, and design experiences. Even the opening, the ceremony of opening a box and taking the products out and learning and using them for the first time, it's kind of like, you know — I don't want to sound — because it's nowhere near like this, because I've had kids, but it's that first time when you see your baby for the first time and you have it in your hands, and you're like, "Oh, my God. It's so precious. It's so wonderful."
00:34:15 Well, these products are nothing like a child, but we try to, you know, go for those kinds of emotions for people so it feels really precious to them, because they just spent their hard-earned money on these things. What is it going to give to them?
00:34:27 MUSIC: HEY MAMA
00:34:29 We the blast masters blastin’ up the jamma
Cutie, cutie, make sure you move your booty
00:34:35 ALICE WINKLER: Another beautifully designed and executed part of the experience — with a capital “E” — was the ad campaign. Remember those iconic silhouettes of people grooving to the music on their iPods? You can watch them all, one after another, on YouTube. It’s actually great fun. Well, interviewer Gail Eichenthal wanted to know what tunes Tony Fadell first grooved to on his own first iPod.
00:35:01 TONY FADELL: Well, for me, you know, I'm a — I love — coming from, you know, Detroit, you know, I'm very much of the hard rock stuff. So, you know, Aerosmith and Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd — that was kind of the thing that I always — my go-to, when I wanted to just hear something that gets me going, and those were the very first tunes I listened to.
00:35:22 MUSIC: BLACK DOG
00:35:22 Hey, hey, mama, said the way you move
Gonna make you sweat, gonna make you groove
00:35:34 TONY FADELL: I listen to all kinds of stuff, but you know, sometimes those are just those comfort classics that just get you going.
00:35:40 GAIL EICHENTHAL: I see where some of your energy comes from.
00:35:42 TONY FADELL: Absolutely! Music is a big part of my life.
00:35:44 MUSIC: BLACK DOG
00:35:44 Hey, hey, baby, when you walk that way
Watch your honey drip, can't keep away
00:35:52 ALICE WINKLER: The next revolutionary product Tony Fadell embarked on for Apple basically ate the first product.
00:35:59 TONY FADELL: Yeah, it totally cannibalized it. As Steve said, "Either we eat our young or someone else does. So which is it going to be?" And very bold to be able to — you know, we saw the threat of cell phones and feature phones, camera phones starting to play music, and we knew everybody was carrying those, and they weren't going to carry two devices. So we went through kind of a two-and-a-half, three-year, you know, design process of trying to put a phone inside of an iPod. That didn’t work.
00:36:31 ALICE WINKLER: There was the issue of the track wheel, such a distinguishing feature of the iPod.
00:36:37 TONY FADELL: So you could select a name from a list, you know. It would be easy, just like you select a song. Okay, I can select somebody and call him. But then it came down to dialing, and it was such a horrible experience. It was like an old rotary phone. You know, I grew up for a few years on rotary phones, and you hated them, right? So that was the thing that put the bullet in the head of that product, was we just couldn't make the rotary phone and text entry work, so then we had to go and look for another technology.
00:37:05 Obviously you couldn't do keyboards, and we had this new touchscreen technology, multi-touch. It was the size of a ping pong table. And Steve pulls me into this secret room and goes, "This is touch. This is multi-touch. Play with it," and I was like, "Oh, this is cool." And it was a big Mac. You know, it was a projected Mac on this ping pong table, and I'm moving things around. He goes, "See that? I want you to put that on the phone." I was like, “It's that big!”
00:37:30 So after a few weeks of learning about what it was and everything, I was like, "Yes, we can put a multi-touch on a phone. The issue, though, is we're going to have to start a touchscreen company to do so," because no one in the world had ever built any of this technology, and we did have to do that. So, not just making all of the apps and the phone itself and all the other pieces of the puzzle, we also had to make another company just to supply the touchscreen components necessary to build it. So we were doing all of this stuff at the same time. It was an insane, awesome project to work on.
00:38:00 ALICE WINKLER: One of the keys to their success in building the iPhone, Tony Fadell says, is that the team stayed humble, despite the mega-success of the iPod. They had the wind at their backs, for sure, but to use one of Tony Fadell’s favorite expressions, they remembered to “stay beginners.”
00:38:18 TONY FADELL: “Stay beginners,” well, that's a term that I learned from Steve, and it was all about understanding that when you’re in the business that we're in, we get so caught up in our own lingo. We get so caught up in trying to impress the people down the hall about our engineering prowess or our design prowess that we forget about the people whom we're selling to. We forget about the person who just unwrapped that box, and trying to understand how it works, and making it so simple for them.
00:38:53 So if you take really powerful technology and wrap it in a very simple and clear interface, and simple ways of using it, you can empower people and make those beginners feel like they — they've ten-X-ed their capabilities. They have superpowers now. And so, “staying beginners” was making sure you wore that beginner hat each day when you came in, and remembering those customers, those people who want to be empowered, and giving them the tools they can use to succeed and feel good about it.
00:39:22 ALICE WINKLER: The lesson is one of the great gifts that Steve Jobs left behind, according to Fadell, and it’s among the qualities that have been largely overlooked by all the books and films that have portrayed Steve Jobs as a pretty nasty guy.
00:39:37 TONY FADELL: Well, the first thing to realize is, don’t believe everything you see in movies and read in books. You know, there is no way both my wife, who worked for Steve directly, and I worked for Steve, could do that for 10 years if there wasn’t some amazing stuff that came out of it. It wasn’t like we were getting whipped every day. It had nothing to do with that. We were dedicated. We were passionate. He was passionate. He wanted the best for the company, for the products, for our customers.
00:40:04 And when you’re in that, there’s a creative tension, and he emotionally would show that passion sometimes. Sometimes it was, "Oh, my God, this is the best thing ever!" You know, you hear about the negatives, but you don’t hear about all the positives and all the great things he did for you and did for the individual, as well as the company, and all that stuff. So it was always a balance, and those bad days were not very often, but they did happen, because, typically, yeah, you might have made a mistake.
00:40:34 “Don’t do that again,” or we weren’t thinking about it right, or somebody was falling down on the job, or whatever the case may be. That’s when it came out, is when someone didn’t show respect for the mission they were on. When you didn’t show respect for the rest of your teammates and for the thing we’re trying to build, that’s when there was a problem, not when we failed. When we tried really hard, and if we showed we tried really hard, then that was just an option, just like we — the iPod phone was a failure.
00:41:02 No one got killed over that. It was more just, you know, “Okay, we tried our best. We move on. We tried our best. We move on.” It’s when you didn’t do what was right and you failed because you didn’t put your heart and soul into it, and you let the team down. That’s when there was a problem. But yes, he did have his bad days, but not usually without reason.
00:41:25 ALICE WINKLER: And that 80th floor view that Jobs talked about at the beginning of this podcast? Tony Fadell says it was remarkable to see it in action.
00:41:34 TONY FADELL: I think about that a lot because I remember some specific instances where Steve, because of that ability, was able to break through some amazingly hard problems that we had many people working on. And he wasn’t always mired in so many of the details, so he could really step back and not worry about the intricacies of implementation and how hard it might be. He would just look at the logical way it should be done and what was the best thing for the customer, and then push you on it.
00:42:02 So there’s one perfect example. I can’t get into the exact of what we were talking about, but I can tell you how we were talking about it, which was — for about three months, we were trying to break this really hard problem, and we had teams of people working on it from every single angle, and after three months, we finally presented him our options. We had five different options. None of them were great, and we’re like, "Steve, here are our options that we’ve been able to come up with."
00:42:31 And there's a room of 20 people. And then we’d talk through each one, and we’re like, "But none of them feel quite right." And Steve, never being a part of this for three months, he took a step back, and he went, "Did you ever think about it this way?"
Because he took a step back and changed something way up here. He changed something way up in the system, and all of a sudden everything got solved. And we were like — we all looked around the table at each other and went, "Oh, my — " You know.
00:42:58 And you're — you just kind of go, "Um," that kind of thing. And so that was his talent, and allowed us, and has really instilled in me, to do the same thing, hopefully to, you know, the same level he could, but it was really inspiring to watch.
00:43:13 ALICE WINKLER: There’s a term that’s often been used to describe Steve Jobs’ ability to convince people they could accomplish ludicrous things, “reality field distortion.” Journalist Gail Eichenthal asked Tony Fadell what he thought about that during their interview.
00:43:30 TONY FADELL: My wife always says, "If you want to achieve something, you have to believe it," and Steve would believe something so passionately that any — and it was — how can I say — it was educated. It was educated belief. It wasn't just this, you know, just throw-caution-to-the-wind belief. It was educated belief, that we could do something. And that ability to get people convinced that this was the right way to go, that it was, yeah, scary, and, “It’s so unconventional, but this is the right thing,” that’s what made these discoveries happen, these inventions happen.
00:44:13 And you do have to distort reality if you want to change the reality we’re living in, and people are like — they’re so locked into the everyday that they forget there could be a whole other thing that they’re not seeing over here, and his job was to push us. “Don’t habituate. Go back. Peel back all of your, you know, preconceived ideas and notions and, you know, calluses that have built up over time that may cloud your vision. Go back to the essence. You need to look other places to find that disruptive invention that could change the world.”
00:44:47 He saw them before we did, and would push us to those unknown areas.
00:44:51 ALICE WINKLER: Tony Fadell found that next disruptive invention, but only after leaving Apple. He and his wife had two kids under two, and they felt the intensity of life at Apple wasn’t compatible with family life, but also, as Steve Jobs had always preached, everyone needs new experiences and new ways of seeing to create something game-changing. Listen to this excerpt from his talk to students in 1982.
00:45:21 STEVE JOBS: The key thing is that if you’re going to make connections which are innovative, you’ve — to connect two experiences together, that you have to not have the same bag of experiences as everyone else does, or else you’re going to make the same connections, and then you won’t be innovative, and then nobody will give you an award. So, what you’ve got to do...
00:45:39 ...is get different experiences than the normal course of events. And one of the funny things about being bright is everyone puts you on this path, you know, to go to high school, go to college. I've heard about some kid that’s 14 on his way to Stanford, and that’s great. That’s sort of out of the ordinary, but you might want to think about going to Paris and being a poet for a few years, you know; or you might want to go to a third world country.
00:46:06 I’d highly advise that, and see people and lepers with their hands falling off and all that stuff. It’s very much so worth doing. You know, fall in love with two people at once.
00:46:21 You know?
00:46:27 Walt Disney took LSD. Do you know that?
00:46:30 He did, once, and that’s where the idea for Fantasia came from.
00:46:35 It’s true, and you can go hear stories about all these people, and the key thing that comes through is that they had a variety of experiences which they could draw upon in order to try to solve a problem or attack a particular dilemma in a kind of unique way. And so one of the things that you’ll get a lot of pressure to do is to go in one very clear direction and believe in God and all that other stuff, and that’s great, but don’t ever walk by a Zen Buddhist because of that. Sit down and talk and buy him lunch.
00:47:05 ALICE WINKLER: Well, Tony Fadell didn’t say during his interview whether lunch with a Zen Buddhist had anything to do with his next creation, but it makes perfect sense that he had to get back to the world outside of Apple to see around new corners, and what Fadell was able to see was the need for a better thermostat. Really? Yeah. It may not sound as sexy as the iPod or the iPhone, but in fact, his Nest thermostat cracked open the doorway to new thinking about the home and its devices.
00:47:38 TONY FADELL: During the iPhone development period, my wife and I said we were going to have a family, and we said, "Let’s design a home for them," so I wanted to make a really green home for our family. I also wanted to make it connected because this iPhone that we were developing, I was like, "Wait a second. This thing is going to become the primary interface to your world, whether you’re in your home using it or you’re outside your home. It’s going to be the primary way you’re going to interact with the physical world."
00:48:07 How is a home going to change when it’s green and connected? And that was the — part of the design that led us to seeing all the problems. You know, given my grandfather and — teaching me all about the different systems of plumbing and these things, I dove deep into every system design — heating, cooling, plumbing, energy, water, all of the stuff — and started finding all of these problems.
00:48:33 And coming from this, "Oh, you know, I know how to build electronics and everything else," I was like, "Oh, they must be building products the way we build them but in these industries." They were building them like they were built in the '80s. They had no idea how to build next-generation consumer appliances or products for the home. I was like, “Huh!” So green, 50% of energy is used — consumed by your thermostat — you know, gets controlled by your thermostat.
00:49:01 You know, going to Paris with my family between Apple and Nest allowed me to actually see that all of these homes had problems. Right? Because we lived in different homes: in France, in Spain, in Hawaii, in Latin America. They all had the same problems. I’m like, "No one’s solved this!" It was another one of those things that said, "Oh, my God, this is something that needs to get fixed." And it was only if I would get out of my element, get out of Silicon Valley, which is a wonderful place, to actually gain that perspective and that experience to then galvanize you and get that gut feeling to move forward with confidence.
00:49:36 GAIL EICHENTHAL: I read that you had visited Disneyland’s Tomorrowland and saw the Monsanto display and —
00:49:41 TONY FADELL: Yeah. So in 1977, '76, something like that, I went to Disney World with my parents and my grandfather. That was a long time ago. And I remember being in awe of seeing this exhibit, and I think the exhibit was actually created in the late '60s, so it was kind of getting old and tattered, and it was the vision of the future where it was one button and your food would pop out of this weird container, already prepared.
00:50:11 It was very “space age,” because everything was about space, right, when it was created. And everything just magically happened for you. And I was drawn in by that, but what’s really interesting is, in the '80s, that same vision got sold to us again from various other companies, and then in the '90s it was again, and then in 2000s, it was yet again. And nothing of this stuff ever materialized, and it’s like, someone’s selling the wrong dream.
00:50:36 They’re going for something that is not about families and not about home and how it works. It’s something — some tech geek wizardry. It has nothing to do with how we live. And I was like, "Let’s rewrite what the future of the home looks like," and it started with the humble thermostat.
00:50:52 GAIL EICHENTHAL: It's been written that you focused on sort of unlovable objects.
00:50:57 TONY FADELL: Unloved. Well, you know, in the '50s when they — when the first, you know, Henry Dreyfuss design came out for a thermostat, it was iconic. It was actually beloved. People were like, "It’s easy to use. It looks nice on my wall,” for that period of time and everything, and then what happened over time is no one cared about design. They just cared about cost. They didn’t care about usability. And I said, "Wait a second. That’s where they — how they became unloved, because no one put any love in them."
00:51:25 And therefore, if you don’t put love and passion into your product, no one’s going to extract that out of them. And so we put tons of love and attention into our first product, and guess what? It came back ten-X from the community, and so that was what’s wonderful to see. So you can take an unloved thing and turn it into something lovable by adding the love, by adding the passion to it.
00:51:49 GAIL EICHENTHAL: So this is a thermostat that’s smart. It figures out who you are and what your lifestyle is.
00:51:55 TONY FADELL: You know, people think that, you know, “smart” — like, that was the other thing that Monsanto — everything was about the smart home, and every time I heard the word “smart” attached to anything, it means it’s pretty dumb because no one knows what it really does. They just add “smart” as a — you know, a prefix to say, "Oh, you must buy this because it’s smart." It just — no. If they can’t tell you what it does and why it does it, don’t buy it just because it says “smart." So I wanted to make sure that we weren’t smart.
00:52:23 What we were doing was we were learning. The way you know more about your surroundings is by learning about them, and so all the thermostat did was very simply watch. You know, in the morning, you turn it to a certain temperature. When you leave, you turn it down. When you come home, you know, you turn it up and go to bed again. So just a few days like that and we were like, "Wait a second, you’ve already told us how you like it in your house. You’ve just showed us in three days. Why do you have to program?”
00:52:50 So we just learn the things you tell us to do, and we just do it like any good assistant, just record it back. It’s that simple. But everybody else was coming from the programming. "Tell us what it is. Make a structured schedule." Like, no one knows what their schedule is, especially in a busy household. So why can’t the assistant learn and adapt as you change? And that was the — you know, besides making it beautiful and, you know, loved again, let’s make it not smart, let’s make it thoughtful.
00:53:18 GAIL EICHENTHAL: I think you’ve also used the word “delightful.”
00:53:22 TONY FADELL: Delightful.
00:53:22 GAIL EICHENTHAL: And it is really fun. It’s a fun thing to look at.
00:53:26 TONY FADELL: It’s fun to look at. It’s fun to interact with. We get videos all the time of kids using them, saying, "Look at the leaf," to try to get better energy conservation. We’ve had eight-year-olds show videos of them installing it. If my grandfather could only see all these eight-year-olds putting in thermostats around the world, you know, I think he would be proud. But then we had 80-year-old people doing it, you know. And it’s everything in between. And it was just a thermostat that no one cared about just a year previous. No one cared.
00:53:55 ALICE WINKLER: When Tony Fadell sold Nest Labs to Google for 3.2 billion dollars it made news. That was in 2014. Fadell, who is still the CEO of Nest, explains what was behind the sale, other than the size of the offer.
00:54:13 TONY FADELL: You know, I had been in the Valley now, at that point, almost 23 years or so, and I’ve seen the ups and downs in the cycles of the market and how things go. And I also know what it takes to make a really big influential company, especially when you’re trying to do something so complex and integrated in what we’re trying to do. And you need to have strong arms around you to help you grow and build that and be patient, and investors are not always like that.
00:54:42 You know, the street, as we know, Wall Street, whatever, venture capitalists, they're fickle. They run hot and they run cold. You need somebody who's going to be there, and we had to think whether we're going to take more outside money or if we're going to join up, get married with another company. And at the end of the day, I said, "It's not about the money. It's about the mission, and who has the technology? Who has the patience? Who has these things to make the mission successful?” And that was, naturally, Larry and Google.
00:55:09 GAIL EICHENTHAL: You had already dated.
00:55:12 TONY FADELL: Yes, we had dated, yes. We got married two years ago, but we had dated for about two years before that because Google was an investor in our company. We were Google Ventures, and so the marriage happened in a very proper way, as opposed to how typical corporate marriages happen, which is it’s over a weekend, you know, "Let’s go to Vegas! I meet you for the first time, 24 hours, let’s get married!" That’s not the right way to do these kinds of things, in my experience.
00:55:42 ALICE WINKLER: Assuming it’s a happy and stable marriage, what will their offspring look like? In other words, what does Tony Fadell imagine the connected home of the future to be, 10, 20, 30 years from now?
00:55:57 TONY FADELL: I’m trying to make sure that the home doesn’t turn into just a bunch of screens and gadgets everywhere. You know, home is about socializing with your friends and family inside of this structure or outside of the structure. It’s about the people. It’s not about the things in the home, or especially not displays and gadgets. So my goal is to try to make all of these assistant capabilities and all these things to be blended into the walls.
00:56:24 You know, when we first got electricity and gas, you could see all the pipes running inside the structures because people retrofitted that onto the structure when electricity was invented, but then over time, what happened? They all got buried into the walls. Right? It became unseen. You just have one little control, but you don’t know where all this stuff — my hope is that it’s going to be the same with this technology. It’s going to recede into the structure, trying to keep everybody connected and talking to each other, not with screens between them.
00:56:54 ALICE WINKLER: These days, at least at the time this episode is being recorded, Tony Fadell is working a little on the Google Glasses project while still running Nest Labs. And I feel pretty confident in saying that Tony Fadell has safely reached the 80th floor, alongside his mentor, Steve Jobs. I think we’ll end with one final point from Jobs. It seems only fitting.
00:57:21 STEVE JOBS: One of the things that I had in my mind growing up — I don’t know how it got there, but was that the world was sort of something that happened just outside your peepers, and you didn’t really try to change it. You just sort of tried to find your place in it and have the best life you could, and it would all just go on out there, and there were some pretty bright people running it. And as you start to interact with some of these people, you find they’re not a lot different than you. The people actually making these decisions every day, that are sort of running the world, are, you know, are not really very much different than you.
00:57:52 And they might have a little more judgment in some areas, but basically they’re the same, and once you realize that, you start to feel you have a responsibility to do something about it because the world’s in pretty bad shape right now. And I guess one of the things that motivates a lot of people that I’ve seen, that actually get out and do something in any different field is that we all sort of, you know, eat food that other people cook, and wear clothing that other people make, and speak a language that other people evolved, and use someone else’s mathematics. And we’re sort of taking from this giant pool constantly, and the most ecstatic thing in the whole world is to actually put something back into that pool.
00:58:35 ALICE WINKLER: What Steve Jobs and Tony Fadell created together has made that pool a good bit deeper. They changed the way we listen to music, the way we communicate, and the way we move through our daily lives. And hey, without them, there wouldn’t be podcasts, so raise a glass. I’m Alice Winkler, and this is What It Takes from the Academy of Achievement.
00:59:03 ALICE WINKLER: Thanks to the Catherine B. Reynolds Foundation for funding What It Takes.
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