If you want to know how to create wildly successful products, taking advice from Tony Fadell is a good place to start. Fadell holds over 300 patents, he was on the team that brought you the iPod, and he’s the co-founder and former CEO of Nest. He’s now the principal at Future Shape, an investment and advisory firm for deep tech start-ups. In his talk at the Aspen Ideas Festival, Fadell encourages would-be inventors to push the boundaries and take risks if they want to develop truly transformative solutions.
- To change the world, you’ve got to be attuned to the problems that nobody else sees.
- When you notice the pain points in daily life, you can create the product that will act as a painkiller. People want painkillers, not vitamins.
- When you’re on the right path, industry incumbents will laugh at you, then they’ll get angry, then they’ll sue. It’s your job to lawyer up and change the world anyway.
To change the world, you’ve got to be attuned to the problems that nobody else sees.
Think about a product you use often. Can you remember the first time you used that product? Do you remember the frustrations and pain points associated with the process? If you do, you’ve managed to “stay beginner,” a quality that, according to Tony Fadell, is vital to changing the world. And Fadell should know, since he was instrumental in creating revolutionary products like the iPod, iPhone and Nest.
“After you do it a couple of days, you habituate away those kinds of pains that you had when you were starting to use something or adopting it in your life.”
After a few repetitions, most people find that their frustration with a new product dulls, and then, after many repetitions, they no longer notice the pain points at all – the pain just becomes an expected part of the process. “Staying beginner” may be as important as having good ideas, or even as important as intelligence. The world is full of smart people, but not everyone will notice the problems that might lead to new products.
When you notice the pain points in daily life, you can create the product that will act as a painkiller. People want painkillers, not vitamins.
Sometimes your product is perfect, but society isn’t ready. In the early 90s, Tony Fadell worked for a company called General Magic. He and his team created a device that allowed users to access email, play mobile games, and even shop online. The product was truly ahead of its time; most people didn’t even know what email was. In the end, the product cost General Magic $750 million to develop, and only sold 3,000-4,000 units. Most of the people who bought the product were friends of the developers.
It turns out that Fadell and his team had created a product that acted as a vitamin rather than a painkiller. Vitamins have their place, but people don’t remember to take them every day. To develop a necessary product, creators need to lock into the pain points of daily life, remind their prospective buyers of that pain, and offer their product as a solution. Nobody forgets to take their painkiller.
“You try to bring a painkiller to those pain points.”
Technology teams often end up creating features to impress other geeks rather than addressing the pain points of the average user. Fadell suggests that product development teams write a press release for their future product before they start development, so they can stay laser focused on three or four necessary features and avoid “geek speak” and “feature creep.” It’s difficult to say no to all of your good ideas and zero in on only the vital features of a new product, but it’s similar to getting married; you have to say no to the wrong ones to get to the right one.
When you’re on the right path, industry incumbents will laugh at you, then they’ll get angry, then they’ll sue. It’s your job to lawyer up and change the world anyway.
When Fadell created the Nest thermostat, the leading heating control company, Honeywell, launched a legal onslaught. Such an attack would be intimidating to many revolutionary entrepreneurs, and Nest investors were nervous, but Fadell wanted to “run through the hallways cheering,” because when an incumbent threatens to sue, you know you’re on the right track.
“If you’re doing anything revolutionary you’re going to unseat the incumbents.”
When you’re on the road to success, first, the incumbents will laugh at you, then they’ll get angry, and finally, they’ll sue. It happened to the creators of the iPod, it happened with Nest, and if you’re lucky, it’ll happen to you, too.
About the Speaker
Tony Fadell is an inventor, entrepreneur and investor, known best for his work on the iPod and Nest. He’s the author of Startup Playbook: Secrets of the Fastest-Growing Startups from Their Founding Entrepreneurs.