Tony Fadell may not have the same level of name recognition as, say, Jony Ive, but Fadell was unquestionably an important cog in Apple's climb to greatness in the early 2000s. Sometimes referred to as the "father of the iPod", Fadell helped churn out 18 different generations of iPod models before leaving Apple in 2008 and subsequently re-emerging on the tech scene with the Nest Learning Thermostat.
In a recent article written for the New York Times, Fadell himself details his journey from a young kid growing up in Michigan to an important member of Apple's executive team, and everything in between.
Fadell notes that his fascination with computing began in grade school after taking a summer programming class. From there on end, he was hooked. Always looking to create, he started his first company in high school, a little outfit that resold Apple II hardware and wrote software.
Fadell began studying computer engineering at the University of Michigan in 1987. Interestingly, Fadell notes that his dream, upon graduation, was to go to California and work for General Magic, a famed company with strong Apple roots founded by Bill Atkinson, Andy Hertzfeld and Marc Porat.
I knocked on their door until they hired me later that year. I spent four years there, developing hardware and software to create personal hand-held communications devices, including Sony's MagicLink.
Following that, Fadell proceeded to work for Phillips before leaving to start Fuse Systems.
Fadell joined Apple in 2001 as a consultant and the rest, as they say, is history. Fadell played an instrumental role in the development of the iPod and stayed at Apple until 2008, playing a direct role in the development of many iPod models and the first few iterations of the iPhone.
Eight weeks later, I approached Steve Jobs with the initial iPod concept and was put in charge of building and leading the development team. One iPod led to another, eventually becoming 18 generations of iPods - and then three generations of the iPhone. My wife also worked at Apple. Eventually I wanted to spend more time with our two children, and I also wanted a break. So in 2008, I stepped away as senior vice president of Apple's iPod division and became a strategic adviser to Mr. Jobs. He was an incredible influence on how I think about bringing products to market.
Upon leaving Apple, Fadell took some time off but reemerged with a new venture, Nest Labs.
Having spent many years at Apple and a number of other tech companies, Fadell has an interesting perspective as to what ingredients are necessary for a consumer electronics company to thrive.
In January of this year, while speaking at the Bloomberg Design Conference, Fadell articulated that one of the reasons Apple is as successful as it is is because the company ships 99% of its products that reach internal milestones.
Fadell contrasted this "develop to launch" ideology with the culture he experienced at Phillips.
"Nine times out of ten, or 99 times out of 100, they would kill the project, either at the beginning, the middle or right before the product was supposed to be shipped," Fadell explained.
"When you're in a culture that has a point of view, and drives to launch everything it does, you know you're on the hook and you better bring your best game every time."