Everbody's asking Tony Fadell about Apple, Steve Jobs and the iPod

Fadell has written a new book. So far I've seen long interviews with Ben Thompson and Jon Fortt.

Excerpted from Thompson's "An Interview with 'Father of the iPod' Tony Fadell?" posted Thursday on Stratechery:

Thompson: [T]he story of the iPod is so crazy. You weren’t even hired until April, yet you shipped in October. How was Apple able to move so quickly? Is there any company that could do that today? I doubt that even Apple could do that today with all their resources. How did that happen where you shipped this completely iconic product that didn’t even exist in the imagination of anyone, I guess in your imagination to an extent, but walk me through that process and how was that even possible?

Fadell: I think it was a coming together of a lot of things. The first one was experience. I and the people around me had experience for ten years. I pulled in a lot of people from either or General Magic or Philips or other people I just knew that I’d met around Silicon Valley over time. So one was having that network of being able to pull people in who knew what they were doing on this product, that was one thing.

Second thing was having a lot of failure before building these things, and they didn’t really necessarily become commercial successes, they might have been critical successes. So you had enough time doing this stuff. You’re like, “Okay, I’ve done this. I know to make boards. I know how to get software packages together, put all these things to happen.” So again, that was doing something totally new from a product perspective, but the process wasn’t necessarily new.

I think the other one was we had incredible leadership in Steve Jobs. He decreed from the minute after we gave the presentation to him in March of 2001, it was “Go!”. I had already been running it for a year before that doing MP3 players in my startup. So it was like, “Okay”, take all the latest knowledge I had gained during the contracting period, and ran with that.

And then the other one was we just cordoned off and it was, “Make it happen”. I saw so many projects that died at Philips because they didn’t happen fast enough, politics set in. So it was like, “Okay, we have to build this. We have to build it quickly. The holiday season’s coming around. This might be our one and only chance, because who knows when Sony’s going to come in and steal everything” because they were the number one in all audio categories. Every audio category Sony was number one in. So it was like, “Well they’re going to come for this”. So speed was everything.

So I had just been tempered all the time. One is technology changes, the market changes so quickly, you need to have the right experience and process, and we put it all together. Obviously, it was wonderful to have Apple in terms of the customer service angle, parts of the operations angle, but we had to do a lot of new stuff that Apple had never done before, and obviously the marketing, product marketing, pulling all that stuff together. So we got to pick the best bits of Apple and have them focused on us because of the leadership. Then we were able to build very quickly the new bits, throw them together, and just run like hell because at the end of the day, Apple isn’t the Apple you know it today. Twenty-one years ago, Apple was suffering. It had around barely 1% market share in the computer business, in just the US, that’s not worldwide, Apple wasn’t anywhere worldwide. It was only worth $4 or $5 billion, I think. maybe even $3 billion in total. Now it’s worth almost $3 trillion or $2 trillion, whatever it is this week.

So when you have leadership, when you have a competitor or at least you felt there was going to be a competitor coming very quickly, when the technology was there, right place, right time, and we had the right experience, and the company was at its wits end, because it had tried everything it could do to try to get the Mac to get back into the forefront of consumers’ minds with the iMac, whatever, and that wasn’t really going well. This was, “You’ve got to make it happen”, burn the boats, do whatever it takes to see this first product out there and even then it was a marginal success. It was a critical success. Everyone was like, “Wow!” but a lot of people were like, “I can’t buy it. It doesn’t work with my PC.” It didn’t work with Windows. We had to work really hard to make it a success.

From Wednesday's Fortt Knox:

My take: Well-maintained relationships with prominent journalists are a good thing to have when you publish a new book .

One Comment

  1. « having that network of being able to pull people in who knew what they were doing on this product » Great managers often come with a team. I followed some leaders through several firms, documenting standard operating procedures. They hit the ground already running, no waiting for applicants to key positions. Infuriating to existing management at first but exhilarating later when they see their sleepy business boom. Similar to the arrival of a baby, nobody gets any sleep for months.

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    May 5, 2022

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