Tony Fadell — On Building the iPod, iPhone, Nest, and a Life of Curiosity (#403)

Photo of Tony Fadell

“Get bored. Just put away all of your things. Maybe go clean up the garage or whatever it is. Right? Through that, you’re going to start to think differently. You’re going to act slightly differently, and your mind might open up to other sources of inspiration, other problems…”                — Tony Fadell

Tony Fadell (@tfadell), sometimes called “the father of the iPod,” is an active investor and entrepreneur with a 30+ year history of founding companies and designing products that profoundly improve people’s lives. As the principal at Future Shape, a global investment and advisory firm coaching engineers and scientists working on foundational deep technology, he is continuing to help bring technology out of the lab and into our lives. Currently, Future Shape is coaching 200+ startups innovating game-changing technologies.

Tony founded Nest Labs, Inc., in 2010 and served as its chief executive officer until his resignation in 2016. He joined Apple Computer, Inc., in 2001 and, as the SVP of Apple’s iPod division, led the team that created the first 18 generations of the iPod and the first three generations of the iPhone. Tony founded the Mobile Computing Group at Philips Electronics and served as its chief technology officer and director of engineering from 1995 to 1998, responsible for all aspects of business and product development, including the award-winning Philips Velo and Nino PDAs. From 1998 to 1999, he served as vice president for Philips Strategy & Venture focused on building out its digital media strategy and investment portfolio. From 1992 to 1995, he served as a hardware and software architect at General Magic, which created the precursor to the iPhone 15 years earlier.

Tony has filed more than 300 patents for his work. In May 2016, Time named the Nest Learning Thermostat, the iPod, and the iPhone three of the “50 Most Influential Gadgets of All Time.” Tony graduated with a BS degree in computer engineering from the University of Michigan in 1991.

Please enjoy!

You can find the transcript of this episode here. Transcripts of all episodes can be found here.

Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, Stitcher, Castbox, Google Podcasts, or on your favorite podcast platform. You can also watch this interview on YouTube

#403: Tony Fadell — On Building the iPod, iPhone, Nest, and a Life of Curiosity

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What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.


Want to hear another episode with someone who’s thinking big to save the planet? — Make sure to check out my conversation with Mike Phillips in which we discuss the countless benefits (and dispel countless myths) of reintroducing predator species to ecosystems where they’ve been eradicated. (Stream below or right-click here to download):

#383: Mike Phillips — How to Save a Species


  • Connect with Tony Fadell:

Future Shape | Twitter


  • Why does Tony abstain from caffeine and alcohol these days? [07:18]
  • What was the catalyst that made Tony give up caffeine cold turkey, and what was the detox period like? [10:07]
  • Tony is good at presenting ideas in very persuasive ways. Where does this come from? [12:11]
  • What was General Magic, why was it “the most important company to come out of Silicon Valley that no one has ever heard of,” and how did Tony wind up there? [14:52]
  • With so much competition vying to get a job at General Magic, what elements of Tony’s approach got him in the door and eventually hired? [19:27]
  • With so much talent on board, why did General Magic eventually fail? [21:33]
  • What was Tony’s first contact with Steve Jobs like? [23:24]
  • What were the elements of Tony’s post-General Magic reboot and its consequences? [26:28]
  • When moving from the startup world of General Magic to head his own team at Philips, how did Tony — who had never been in such a position before — learn to lead? [32:41]
  • What were Tony’s most valuable takeaways from talking through his leadership questions with a psychologist? [36:48]
  • Growing up, why did Tony go through 12 schools in 15 years? [38:22]
  • What key advice about sales and relationships did Tony learn from his father? [39:39]
  • What advice does Tony give people who been promoted into a management role but never prepared for it? [41:43]
  • Books related to management and communication that Tony recommends. [44:24]
  • A counterintuitive bet Steve Jobs made during Tony’s time at Apple that went on to change the company — and the world. [46:20]
  • Why does Tony think Steve had the confidence and drive to make the iPod Apple’s priority at such a volatile time in the company’s history? [49:15]
  • The timing of the iPod from when it was first being prototyped within Apple to when it launched as a consumer product, and my own encounter with someone who was working on the project at the time and needed a second opinion on some interface ideas. [51:46]
  • Does it still have an impact on Tony when he sees iPods and iPhones being used in the wild all these years later, or has the technology become so ubiquitous that it’s become invisible to him? [54:50]
  • What are some of the most valuable lessons Tony learned from Steve Jobs? [57:15]
  • The power of analogy. [58:40]
  • After leaving Apple, it’s reported that Tony’s goal was to “get bored” — and this is advice he’s passed along to countless others who find themselves going through a career change. What does he mean by this? [1:01:55]
  • How has Tony endeavored to “get bored” in his own life, and how did this lead to the idea that would become Nest? [1:05:55]
  • After moving all around the world, where does Tony live and spend most of his time these days? [1:08:36]
  • Why is Tony so interested in plastics? [1:13:08]
  • How does Tony — who relishes solving big problems — even begin to understand a way to design ourselves out of the mess we’ve designed ourselves into with plastics? Doesn’t recycling already address this? [1:15:58]
  • After a year and a half of research and asking difficult questions, how does Tony currently think the plastics problem can be tackled in a meaningful way? [1:18:21]
  • Why you shouldn’t count on recycling labels to tell the whole truth when it comes to plastics, and what options you might consider instead of plastics. [1:23:48]
  • What is Future Shape, and how does it aim to make the world a better place with a novel mentor/investment model? [1:25:40]
  • On the value of seeing problems and building skills with a curious beginner’s eyes. [1:29:26]
  • What does Tony find difficult? [1:31:26]
  • How does Tony balance impatience as a driving force with its tendency to tick off other people involved with a project who might not share the same sense of urgency? [1:33:39]
  • Including diet, exercise, and sleep, what are Tony’s self-care regimens? [1:36:42]
  • Why sleep and drinking don’t make the most ideal of bedfellows. [1:40:21]
  • We share our impressions of a little-known (and very short) book called In Praise of Shadows — and Tony explains why he gifts it so often. [1:41:41]
  • Another book Tony gifts and reflects upon often. [1:46:29]
  • A particularly good snap decision Tony made. [1:48:33]
  • Parting thoughts. [1:53:40]


The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

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6 Replies to “Tony Fadell — On Building the iPod, iPhone, Nest, and a Life of Curiosity (#403)”

  1. Hey Tim, I would love to hear a step by step as to how you go about your psilocybin experiences. All specifics around set, setting, etc. How do you get the most out of the experience with this plant medicine. I think this would be a very popular and informative topic. Also any experimentation with micro-dosing?

  2. Hi Tim,
    As you are always searching for improvement: it’s: “Lange nicht(s) gehört”, not “gehören”.
    “Lange nicht gesehen” is correct.
    Best regards!

  3. Great episode, and your interview was useful to me . In depth questions and answers thank you for sharing with us