Tony Fadell of iPod, iPhone, and Nest Fame — Stories of Steve Jobs on “Vacation,” Product Design and Team Building, Good Assholes vs. Bad Assholes, Investing in Trends Before They Become Trends, The Hydrogen Economy, The Future of Batteries, and More (#590)

Illustration via 99designs

“It’s about the mission, not about your ego.”

— Tony Fadell

Tony Fadell (@tfadell) 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 began his career in Silicon Valley at General Magic, the most influential startup nobody has ever heard of. He is the founder and former CEO of Nest, the company that pioneered the “Internet of Things” and created the Nest Learning Thermostat. Tony was the SVP of Apple’s iPod Division and led the team that created the first 18 generations of the iPod and the first three generations of the iPhone. Throughout his career, Tony has authored more than 300 patents. In May 2016, TIME named the Nest Learning Thermostat, the iPod, and the iPhone as three of the “50 Most Influential Gadgets of All Time.” 

His new book is Build: An Unorthodox Guide to Making Things Worth Making

Please enjoy!

Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, Podcast Addict, Pocket Casts, Stitcher, Castbox, Google Podcasts, Amazon Musicor on your favorite podcast platform. You can watch the interview on YouTube here.

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The transcript of this episode can be found here. Transcripts of all episodes can be found here.

#590: Tony Fadell of iPod, iPhone, and Nest Fame — Stories of Steve Jobs on “Vacation,” Product Design and Team Building, Good Assholes vs. Bad Assholes, Investing in Trends Before They Become Trends, The Hydrogen Economy, The Future of Batteries, and More

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


Want to hear the last time Tony was on the show? Listen to our conversation here, in which we discussed the repercussions of quitting caffeine cold turkey, why companies sometimes fail in spite of retaining a solid roster of talent, advice for people learning to lead on the fly, valuable lessons learned from Steve Jobs, seeing problems and building skills from a curious beginner’s perspective, managing impatience as a driving force without ticking off the other people working on a project, and much more.

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


  • Connect with Tony Fadell:

Personal Twitter | Future Shape Twitter | Instagram


  • How did Tony overcome his lack of patience long enough to write Build: An Unorthodox Guide to Making Things Worth Making? [07:38]
  • What did Tony learn from Steve Jobs about taking vacations, and why did he lead the “Killing Yourself for Work” chapter in Build with this story? [12:30]
  • As a CEO, what did Tony accomplish in his downtime? [21:03]
  • Tony shares his thoughts on managing big jobs with small teams, and how to chalk up wins that best alleviate burnout. [24:07]
  • The best practices Tony has found for efficiently dividing labor among the members of a small team. [28:40]
  • What do the headcount and org chart look like within Future Shape? [36:20]
  • How does Future Shape differ from a VC firm, and what is its mission? Why was the COVID pandemic minimally disruptive to the way the company handles meetings and does business? [39:17]
  • What is programmable electrification, and how is Future Shape involved in its development? [44:50]
  • “The story doesn’t exist to sell your product. It’s there to help you define it.” Tony shares how this concept played into the creation of Build, and what Build is intended to provide to its readership. [51:00]
  • How did Steve Jobs use story to define projects and products at Apple? [59:47]
  • Tony admits that plenty of people think he’s an asshole. But what differentiates an acceptable asshole from an unacceptable asshole? [1:01:43]
  • In our last conversation, Tony drove home the necessity of finding creative ways to cope with the world’s overabundance of plastics. What progress has been made on this front since then, and what other materials can be reclaimed from the things we throw away regularly? [1:06:12]
  • How does Tony’s small team leverage its time and resources to focus on solving the problems that will have the largest impact? [1:09:17]
  • Underestimated targets related to climate change that Tony thinks deserve more attention. [1:13:16]
  • Tony’s thoughts on the efficacy of carbon removal, and companies that are aiming to do it right. [1:17:45]
  • How will geopolitics figure into the supply chain for an electron-based economy? [1:24:28]
  • How can we cultivate optimism in our younger generations when the constant barrage of doom and gloom from the media is generating higher-than-ever levels of apathy and passivism in the populace? What can we do to consume a healthier media diet? [1:30:34]
  • Audience asks and parting thoughts. [1:37:58]


“The story doesn’t exist to sell your product. It’s there to help you define it.”
— Tony Fadell

“All energy in the world today that is created, 60 percent of that is lost in inefficiencies. It doesn’t even do work. So just imagine what our climate crisis would be if we just saved that energy.”
— Tony Fadell

“To me, waste is horrid. I abhor waste. I loathe waste. When I go to the trash can each day, I’m like, ‘Okay, this is organic. I know where that could go. But where is this thing going? Where is that thing going?’ And it drives me nuts. And so when I see something like 60 percent of energy goes away just in losses, I’m like, ‘Where can we go target that?’ “
— Tony Fadell

“We don’t ever want to add more people to the team because we think lean and mean is better, but at some point you’re killing each other because you’re trying to do too much. So either do less, or you’ve got to add capabilities and hands to the situation.”
— Tony Fadell

“We call ourselves mentors with money.”
— Tony Fadell

“Our planet is incredibly sick and we caused it. Nobody else did. You can’t just sit around and go, ‘Well, it’s sick. I don’t know what to do.’ It’s a family member. It’s so important. What are you doing to be on the right side and trying to find solutions, both personally and professionally?”

— Tony Fadell

“It’s about the mission, not about your ego.”
— Tony Fadell


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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4 Replies to “Tony Fadell of iPod, iPhone, and Nest Fame — Stories of Steve Jobs on “Vacation,” Product Design and Team Building, Good Assholes vs. Bad Assholes, Investing in Trends Before They Become Trends, The Hydrogen Economy, The Future of Batteries, and More (#590)”

  1. What about all the energy spent on huge advertising outdoors and massive buildings? Let’s talk about those big wastes of energy. New Samaritaine opened in Paris, and it is all dressed up inside with LED screens everywhere, it really shocked me. Great talk anyways. Love you Tim !

  2. Excellent conversation and resources. I would love to hear more about the hydrogen economy, I am finding conflicting information on the feasibility of hydrogen technology.
    Thank you!

  3. We’ve all heard of the skyscraper-high piles of discarded mobile phones. All the rare minerals used in their production. You didn’t think baking in forced obsolesence to the Iphone was not bad for the planet? What about the hidden code that forced the battery to run down, and the software to slow, to influence a new purchase of a new phone. How many generations of Iphone were you responsible for, again..?

  4. This was a very interesting interview and I’m sure that Tony is a brilliant guy to have been working with Steve Jobs but I was saddened that he has jumped on this Climate Crisis! bandwagon. He mentioned “climate change” and “climate crisis” multiple times but never explained what the actual problem is. Nobody ever does.

    I live in northern Thailand and March is always hot and dry. Except this year. It rained several days in March. Highly unusual but what problems did it cause? I didn’t have to water the lawn. Oh my!

    Many people blurt out “wildfires on the west coast!” as evidence of climate change. I’m 62 years old and grew up in Southern California. I can remember being sent home from 3rd grade because there was a wildfire raging nearby. The sky was totally orange with smoke. There have been wildfires on the west coast all my life. It’s nothing new!

    When I was growing up, I think it was during the ’70s, people were afraid of a coming ice age. That’s what you heard on the news all the time. Then, later on it became a problem of “global warming”. Al Gore predicted that New York would be under water by the turn of the century. Obviously, that didn’t happen. Since they couldn’t make up their minds, it became “climate change”, just to cover all the basis.

    Well, I have news for you. The earth’s climate has been changing for eons. Well before mankind got here. It’s simply hubris to think that we can do anything about it.

    Now, don’t get me wrong. I love a clean environment as much as anyone. Trash is a big problem, especially here in Thailand. Compostable plastics would be a big help. But, it has nothing to do with climate change.

    Air pollution is also a big problem here. March is infamously known as “smokey season” (although it wasn’t bad at all this year. Probably helped by the unseasonal rains). We have an NGO here that talks about biochar as being the solution. They even build biochar “ovens” to give to the farmers. The problem is, they only work with corn waste and despite their statements about hill tribes planting corn in the forests (it’s ridiculously false), the main crop in the north is rice. The ovens don’t work with rice waste.

    I’m not saying this is true about Tim’s guest but I feel like there are a lot of groups like this that like to look like they’re providing solutions (while raking in the donations) but aren’t really helping anything. They shout the popular slogans of the day, “Climate Change!”, “Climate Crisis!” while holding their hands out.

    I do what I can for the good of the planet. I recycle and compost and even pick up trash along the road from time to time. But if I hear one more person talking about climate change without even knowing what they mean by it, I think I’m going to scream!