20VC Tony Fadell on The 3 Hats of Being a CEO, How the Best Leaders Inspire, How to Create Your Own Role within a Company, The Art of Parenting and Teaching Children Resiliency & New York Times' 36 Questions on Love!

Summary Notes


In a candid conversation with Harry Stebbings on "20 VC," Tony Fadell, often hailed as the father of the iPod and iPhone and the creator of Nest, discusses his journey through personal and professional growth. Fadell reflects on the impact of his childhood, marked by frequent school changes, on his resilience and observation skills, which later influenced his approach to parenting and adaptability in a fast-changing world. He emphasizes the importance of struggle and independence in shaping children's ability to cope with change. Fadell also shares insights on leadership, advocating for a balance between being a coach and a CEO, and the necessity of fostering a mission-driven culture. He candidly addresses the challenges of being a single founder and the value of co-founders. Stebbings and Fadell delve into the significance of maintaining a work-life balance, the future of work post-pandemic, navigating economic downturns, and the urgency of investing in climate change solutions.

Summary Notes

Introduction of Tony Fadell

  • Tony Fadell is referred to as the father of the iPod and iPhone.
  • Created Nest and sold it to Google for $3.2 billion.
  • Author of "Build," a must-read according to Harry Stebbings.

"I'm thrilled to welcome back to the hot seat Tony Fadel."

The quote expresses excitement for welcoming Tony Fadel, highlighting his achievements and contributions to technology and literature.

Discussion on Life and Career

  • The conversation is wide-ranging and focuses on life, career, and relationships.
  • Harry Stebbings and Tony Fadell share a close relationship with off-record chats that provide valuable advice.

"This is a very wide-ranging discussion on life between two friends. It is much less tech centric than usual, but a fantastic discussion on the things that really make us human."

The quote sets the tone for the conversation, indicating that the discussion will be personal and human-centered rather than focused on technology.

Tony Fadell's Childhood and Moving Schools

  • Tony Fadell moved 12 times during his childhood, attending 12 schools in 15 years.
  • He believes that moving schools is important but excessive in his case.
  • Frequent moves taught him to cope, observe, and understand human nature.

"I think I would have liked to not to have moved so many times."

The quote reflects Tony Fadell's view that while moving schools was educational, the frequency of his moves was unnecessarily high.

The Impact of Moving on Tony Fadell

  • Being the new kid was tough but taught resilience and observation skills.
  • Tony Fadell used computers and bulletin board systems to stay connected with friends.
  • The experience influenced his understanding of human behavior and the universality of cliques.

"You become an observer of what's going on in front of you and you start to see that cliques are the same everywhere."

This quote highlights how Tony Fadell learned to adapt and observe social dynamics due to his frequent moves as a child.

Raising Children with Resilience

  • Tony Fadell emphasizes the importance of teaching children to be resilient to change.
  • He raises his children with the experience of moving and adapting to different cultures.
  • The goal is to prepare them for a global and rapidly changing world.

"It is incumbent on parents to make sure that they teach their children how to be resilient to change."

The quote stresses the responsibility parents have to prepare their children for the inevitability of change.

Parenting Strategies

  • Tony Fadell discusses the importance of not overprotecting children.
  • He believes in allowing children to face productive struggles for real-world preparedness.
  • His son's experience at boarding school is an example of fostering independence and maturity.

"They have to have that struggle with the real world and they have to have that."

The quote explains Tony Fadell's belief in the necessity of children facing real-world challenges to develop properly.

Entitlement and Success

  • Tony Fadell discusses the dangers of entitlement and the importance of struggle.
  • He always knew he could make money and be independent from a young age.
  • Success for him was tied to independence and the ability to pursue his own ventures.

"I knew that I could make money because in second, 3rd grade, I had an egg route."

The quote illustrates Tony Fadell's early entrepreneurial spirit and understanding of the value of independence.

Career Progression and Creating Opportunities

  • Tony Fadell created his own positions and opportunities throughout his career.
  • He encourages others to show value and not wait for opportunities to be handed to them.
  • He advises persistence and adaptability in proposing new ideas within a company.

"I always made the thing I was going to, except for general magic."

The quote emphasizes Tony Fadell's proactive approach to his career, where he often created his own roles and opportunities.

Advice for Aspiring Entrepreneurs

  • Tony Fadell advises showing value and being proactive in a company to create your own role.
  • If ideas are rejected, it may be a signal to leave and start a new venture.
  • The current environment with accessible tools and networks makes it easier than ever to start a business.

"If you come back and you say, 'here's the value I can offer,' ... and engage in that conversation."

The quote offers advice on how to approach innovation within a company, suggesting that offering value and engaging in dialogue is key to creating new opportunities.## Professional Lessons from Failure

  • Tony Fadell reflects on the failure of General Magic as a significant learning experience.
  • He explains that the failure affected him both personally and professionally, leading to a "version 2.0" or "3.0" of himself.
  • Tony emphasizes the importance of feeling a sense of mission and ownership in a project.

"It was really the failure of general magic that was the biggest learning, both personally and professionally, from a business perspective, from a product perspective."

Tony Fadell attributes his personal and professional growth to the failure of General Magic, which provided valuable lessons in business and product development.

Leadership and Mission-Driven Culture

  • Tony discusses the role of a leader in fostering a mission-driven culture.
  • He highlights the need for leaders to empower team members to take ownership of their work.
  • The sense of mission and the ability to impress one's heroes are crucial for deep attachment to a project.

"We were on a mission, and the people, we were shoulder to shoulder together building this thing."

Tony Fadell explains that the shared mission and close collaboration at General Magic created a strong sense of responsibility and accountability.

Inspiring Ownership and Accountability

  • Effective leaders encourage ideas and make team members feel part of the success.
  • Leaders should be involved in the details and address problems promptly.
  • The mission should resonate with the team, as it's not just about making money but also about making a positive change.

"And if you have an idea, the leader, you go, I want to see you make this idea better for us."

Tony Fadell believes that leaders should encourage and nurture ideas from their team, creating a sense of shared ownership and contribution to the company's success.

Team vs. Family Dynamic

  • There is a distinction between a team and a family in a professional setting.
  • Leaders should act as a coach, believing in their team members, and as a CEO, making unemotional decisions when necessary.
  • It's important for leaders to recognize when to push team members to grow and when to make tough decisions for the team's benefit.

"The leader is like a coach and he believes in the team member, just like you as a parent."

Tony Fadell compares leadership to coaching, where the leader supports team members like a coach believes in their athletes, with a balance of emotional investment and professional judgment.

The Challenge of Being a Sole Founder

  • Tony shares the loneliness and challenges he faced as a sole founder.
  • He emphasizes the importance of having a co-founder for support and complementary skills.
  • A co-founder can help carry the load during personal challenges and provide different perspectives.

"You need a co-founder. You need a co-founder. One, they should be complementary with your skills."

Tony Fadell stresses the necessity of having a co-founder to share the burdens and responsibilities of running a company, as well as to complement one's own skills.

The Role of Co-Founders in Successful Companies

  • Tony observes that many successful companies have co-founders.
  • He prefers companies with two co-founders and is wary of those with more than three.
  • Co-founders provide stability and are less likely to leave compared to employees without significant stakes in the company.

"Steve had Steve. [...] Larry had Sergey. Elon's not the CEO of SpaceX. There's a lot of companies out there. You go through them. A lot of them have co-founders."

Tony Fadell points out that many iconic companies were built with co-founders who supported each other, highlighting the importance of having a partner in business.

The Importance of Balance in Business Roles

  • In business, one must balance being a coach, a CEO, and sometimes a parent.
  • These roles require different levels of emotional involvement and decision-making.
  • Leaders must discern when to be nurturing, when to be strategic, and when to make tough decisions.

"The CEO will hire and fire people, the coach, and push you and believe in you and say, we're here for the team and what's the best thing in the team? And then there's the parent, which is you're pushing that individual to be better."

Tony Fadell explains the different roles a leader must play, from the unemotional decision-making of a CEO to the nurturing support of a parent figure.

The Willingness to be Lonely in Innovation

  • Tony describes his experience of being ahead of trends in technology and sustainability.
  • He talks about being called crazy for his early investments in areas like plant-based meat.
  • The concept of "zigging while others zag" is central to his approach to innovation.

"I zig while others are zagging. I go to where the future is, beyond where it is today."

Tony Fadell advocates for pursuing innovative ideas that may not yet be mainstream, accepting the loneliness that comes with being ahead of the curve.## Data vs. Opinion-Driven Decision Making

  • Investing and innovation should be pursued when they are opinion-based, without waiting for overwhelming data.
  • Trusting one's own opinion and vision for the future is crucial, especially when data is not yet available.
  • The presence of too many people or investors in a space may indicate it's overvalued or overhyped.

"Everybody else wants data, and the only way they get data is when everybody's there getting those hard numbers and saying, okay, now I'm convinced to go in there because everyone else is there. But guess what? Everyone else is there already."

This quote underscores the idea that by the time data convinces the majority, opportunities may already be diminished, stressing the importance of trusting one's own opinion and vision ahead of the crowd.

Facing Doubt and Trusting Oneself

  • Doubt is common when presenting innovative ideas; incumbents often mock new concepts.
  • Trusting one's own judgment is key, as is staying informed and grounded in one's own research and understanding of trends.
  • Innovation requires immersion in the problem space and a deep personal connection to the mission.

"No, because, look, almost every single thing I've ever done, the first thing is the incumbents laugh at you."

Tony Fadell reflects on the pattern of being ridiculed by established players when introducing disruptive ideas, emphasizing the importance of self-trust in the face of doubt.

Knowing When to Persist or Pivot

  • Direction is often correct, but failure can result from the wrong team or premature technology.
  • Persistence is crucial, even after failure, as long as the overall direction is sound.
  • Learning from failure and applying those lessons is part of the journey to success.

"You might be on the right track. It was just the wrong timing, the wrong team. You didn't have whatever it was, then you keep at it, and then it turns into something."

Tony Fadell explains that even if an endeavor fails, it doesn't necessarily mean the idea was wrong; factors like timing, team, or technology might have been off, and one should persist if the direction is right.

Curiosity and Reading Habits

  • Reading widely helps identify trends and separate signal from noise.
  • Curiosity and a desire to learn drive the process of discovery and understanding.
  • Engaging with entrepreneurs and experts in a field of interest can deepen one's knowledge and refine opinions.

"By reading so much that you start to pick up on trends."

Tony Fadell discusses his approach to reading, which involves consuming a large volume of content to discern patterns and signals that inform his understanding and decision-making.

Detaching from Milestones and Focusing on Missions

  • Focusing on solving problems and ideas rather than financial metrics can lead to more meaningful work.
  • Money should be a secondary consideration, with primary focus on the mission and impact.
  • Even without being a venture capitalist, one can prioritize ideas and missions over financial gain.

"I worry about the things that matter and the problems to be solved, and then the money is second or third order."

Tony Fadell emphasizes the importance of prioritizing problem-solving and mission-driven work over financial considerations, which he sees as secondary.

Balancing Work and Personal Life

  • It's important to not overwork to the point of damaging one's health or social relationships.
  • Engaging with diverse perspectives outside of work can bring fresh insights and prevent stagnation.
  • Delegating responsibilities allows for personal time and gives team members space to grow.

"You have to remember that you can't crush it 24 hours a day or you're going to crush yourself."

Tony Fadell warns against the dangers of overworking and highlights the necessity of maintaining a balance for overall well-being and productivity.

Hard Work vs. Anti-Hustle Culture

  • Success often requires intense work, particularly in competitive global environments.
  • While work-life balance is important, there is a need for focused effort on the right things.
  • The backlash against traditional work environments requires better leadership and communication to address human nature and cultural issues.

"The best people work fucking hard."

Tony Fadell agrees with Harry Stebbings on the need for hard work to achieve success, while also acknowledging the importance of focused effort and balance.

Human Nature and Work Environment

  • The pandemic has disrupted traditional work routines, leading to a desire for freedom and change.
  • Companies need to reassess their culture and provide compelling reasons for employees to return to the office.
  • Effective leadership should understand and address the human elements of work to create a positive and mission-driven environment.

"Let's start from human nature. The human nature is, people were trapped in their hamster routines, on their wheels, in their cages, in their mazes for months and years on end."

Tony Fadell discusses the impact of COVID-19 on work habits, suggesting that leaders need to consider the human desire for freedom and fulfillment when asking employees to return to traditional work settings.## Importance of Face-to-Face Interaction in the Workplace

  • In-person work is crucial for career advancement and job security, especially during financial crises.
  • Employees who physically come to work are more likely to be noticed and valued, which can affect promotions and job retention.
  • Hybrid work models are considered more realistic than fully virtual setups.

"if you don't have enough FaceTime with the right people outside of Zoom meetings, you're most likely not going to be the person who gets the promotion or that bonus or whatever."

This quote emphasizes the importance of face-to-face interaction in professional advancement and job security, suggesting that remote work might limit these opportunities.

Perception of Remote Work and Employee Responsibility

  • There's a misconception that remote work is entirely adequate for career progression.
  • Leaders should address workplace issues to make in-person work more appealing.
  • It's the employee's responsibility to understand the dynamics of organizational operations and adapt.

"What I'm saying is you, as the employee should understand this is the real world."

Tony Fadell highlights that employees need to be aware of the implications of their work arrangements and how it affects their career trajectory in the "real world."

The Future of Work

  • The future of work is expected to be a hybrid model, combining both remote and in-person elements.
  • Service industries may not be able to adopt hybrid models due to the nature of the work.

"We're going to be hybrid. We're going to be hybrid. We're going to be hybrid."

Tony Fadell predicts that the future workplace will adopt a hybrid model, acknowledging the impracticality of a fully remote work environment for most industries.

  • Economic downturns are cyclical, much like personal biorhythms and industry trends.
  • Experiencing good and bad phases is a natural aspect of economic cycles.
  • Adapting to change and being resilient is crucial during these times.

"It's a pendulum. Everyone out there, the pendulum swings from good times to bad times to good times to bad times."

Tony Fadell uses the pendulum analogy to describe economic fluctuations, advising that individuals and businesses should expect and adapt to these changes.

The Impact of Economic Cycles on Climate Commitment

  • Economic downturns can negatively impact investments in climate change initiatives.
  • The 2008 financial crisis led to a shift away from green technology investments.
  • Current geopolitical events highlight the need to invest in green industries despite economic challenges.

"Very much so. And that's why I'm railing against the metaverse."

Tony Fadell expresses concern that financial downturns can detract attention and resources from critical issues like climate change, advocating for a focus on green technology investments.

Investment in Green Technology and ESG

  • ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) investments are becoming increasingly important to consumers and governments.
  • Financial institutions may need to align with ESG values due to customer demand.
  • Green industries are potentially lucrative and essential for the future.

"Except when their customers are going to say, I need to have ESG related investments, I want my money to go to those things."

Tony Fadell points out that customer demand for ESG-compliant investments can influence financial institutions, even in a depressed economic environment.

Embracing Economic Realities

  • It's important to accept and adapt to economic realities rather than yearn for the past.
  • People should focus on learning and identifying new opportunities during economic shifts.
  • Real value is found in adapting and being resilient, not in short-term gains.

"Grow up. Wake up. Come on, people. That's how it works."

Tony Fadell emphasizes the need for a mature approach to economic changes, urging people to be realistic and proactive in facing economic challenges.

Quick Fire Round Responses

  • Tony's dream dinner guest would be a Nobel Prize winner from whom he could learn.
  • In a fire, Tony would save long-term memorabilia.
  • Tony avoids caffeine because it exacerbates his already high energy levels.
  • The ideal outcome for Tony's book "Build" is to inspire and help people in their personal and professional endeavors.

"I'm thinking some Nobel Prize winner. I can't tell you which one, but I'm thinking it would be one or multiple Nobel prize winners who I can learn from."

Tony Fadell shares his preference for intellectual stimulation and learning, highlighting his desire to engage with individuals who have made significant contributions to knowledge.

The Success of "Build" and Its Impact

  • "Build" has become a New York Times bestseller, and the success contributes to a climate fund.
  • Tony hopes his book will provide guidance and mentorship at scale, cutting through the noise of the world.

"Build is now a New York Times bestseller and I can start to feel the sales so that it's going to help build the climate fund to address, to help these businesses addressing the climate crisis."

Tony Fadell shares the success of his book and its broader impact on supporting businesses that address climate change, demonstrating the intersection of knowledge dissemination and actionable change.

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