“Father of the iPod.” Co-inventor of the iPhone. Co-founder of Nest Labs. One-time member of the General Magic team. And now Paris-based VC trying to save the planet. Tony Fadell knows a thing or two about timing.
Fadell, whose book “Build: An Unorthodox Guide to Making Things Worth Making” is due out this spring, recently joined Dassault Systèmes Head of Innovation Frederic Vacher for a fireside chat at 3DEXPERIENCE World 2022. The wide-ranging conversation, hosted by the 3DEXPERIENCE Lab, covered everything from early days on a visionary team that failed spectacularly to co-inventing the iPod and iPhone at Apple to his enthusiasm for 3DS tools helping creators make better designs that don’t hurt the planet.
Before they dug in, Fadell said he was honored to be invited to 3DEXPERIENCE World to speak to a group of like-minded creators who want to change the world.
“This group of people are creators, are builders and actually will be creating the next generation’s products and services and processes and manufacturing, everything that our whole world will use,” he said. “That’s what this is all about.”
Watch the video for the full fireside chat. And read on below for a few highlights from the conversation.
General Magic: Timing is everything
Reflecting on his time 30 years ago at General Magic, the legendary company software and electronics company started by the original Mac team, Fadell recalled the visionary team trying to build a build smart phones to put email and e-commerce in peoples’ hands when wireless data and email weren’t part of daily life.
“We were trying to change the world just too early,” Fadell said. Indeed, many from the General Magic team went on to create the iPhone and Android, but not before learning two lessons about timing: you have the tech, and your customers have to be ready for what you’re building.
“You also have to worry about timing for customer adoption. In other words, are you truly meeting needs that people understand that they have,” he said. “Do they feel the pain of what you’re trying to fix for them?”
Steve Jobs’s real strength
Apple was hardly a $3 trillion global powerhouse when Fadell joined. It was a very different time, but with Steve Jobs’s vision, effort and focus, he created an environment for Fadell and the teams the teams to go and develop the iPod and iTunes, thus changing Apple’s fortunes … and the world.
Jobs created the environment, set high standards and dug into design details. But his real strength, Fadell says, was saying no… or not right now.
“We could do anything, but what was the right thing to do? And even if there was something that was right to do but wasn’t needed to be done right now: don’t worry about it. We’ll get around to it,” Fadell said. “Eighteen generations of the iPod later and how many generations of the iPhone, it was get those first few things done right and then build upon it. We don’t engineer the world in our one shot and we’re done and we can all go on vacation. It’s an iterative process. Saying no or saying no not now we’ll do it in the future, that’s really his strength.”
Learnings from launching Nest in early IoT days
When Nest Labs launched 10 years ago, connected devices were still relatively new. Fadell saw the power of the smartphone – the screens, the apps, the wireless – becoming a building block for that’s making our homes, our bicycles, and our cities smarter and more sustainable.
“I’m terribly excited about what’s to come for all of these different devices and where we’re headed,” he said. “That said, we have to be really cognizant of the environment and making sure that we’re building things that help us with the planet and living with the planet, not just living on it and trampling it as we have over the last 150 years, but how can we be more integrated and helping us with better efficiency, making sure we have less waste. And that’s what is so wonderful – not just because we can make things and make these incredible objects, but to be able to make them in a way that will allow us to live on this planet in harmony with the Earth … and have a better lifestyle while not being wasteful.”
Shaping the future with FutureShape
Fadell’s firm, FutureShape, invests in companies around the world creating solutions to help the planet, societies and individuals through climate tech, battery materials, aquaculture and more. For the first 8 or 9 years of its existence, FutureShape’s brand of conscious capitalism wasn’t exactly en vogue, but Fadell is happy to see the universe of processional investors bending their way.
“We’re trying to do the right things to improve and doing the hard things. The Atoms plus bits. Not necessarily always just bits,” Fadell said. “We’re pressing reset on everything and we’re going to reinvent the entire world because we have to save the human species on this planet and I think it’s incredibly rewarding and a huge opportunity to do that and we’ve got to do it correctly. We got to think about it holistically. I’m so optimistic that we’re going to be able to invent and build our way out of this and make sure we don’t make the same mistakes that we did over the last 150 years.”
The 3DEXPERIENCE Lab is Dassault Systèmes’ open laboratory to nurture and empower disruptive projects. Learn more about the 3DEXPERIENCE Lab.
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