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Build: An Unorthodox Guide to Making Things Worth Making

My notes on the book by Tony Fadell

Hey there my friend 👋 , Justin here and welcome to Just Go Grind, a newsletter for the ambitious. Thank you to the 10 of you who joined since the last edition, if you aren't subscribed, and want to join 543 other subscribers, please subscribe below:

I'm an avid reader and make endless highlights in the books I read. Now, it's finally time to share some of those highlights in a series for this newsletter: Book Notes.

For those who don't know Tony, he made the iPod and iPhone and founded the company Nest which eventually sold to Google for $3.2 billion.

In the book, he covers everything from choosing what to work on to developing products to building an amazing team to the role of a CEO.

He keeps it real, mixes tactics and strategies with stories, and provides insights that only someone who has worked on building products and companies as he has can offer.

It's great. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Let's get to the highlights.


The book is filled with amazing insights and advice. Below, I've included some of my favorite quotes, with extra commentary and context from me in bold.

  1. The world is full of mediocre, middle-of-the-road companies creating mediocre, middle-of-the-road crap, but I’ve spent my entire life chasing after the products and people that strive for excellence.

  2. The team worked literally nonstop for years - we even gave out awards for sleeping in the office for consecutive nights.

    1. Lots of people will hate this. Hard work has gone out of fashion these days. I'm not saying you should sleep at the office, but to achieve greatness certainly requires sacrifice.

  3. The company failed. I failed. And I spent the next ten years getting kicked in the stomach by Silicon Valley before I made something people actually wanted.

    1. I want to just reiterate that - 10 years! 10 years of challenges before making something truly game-changing. I need the reminder to be patient just as badly as you probably do.

  4. The best way to find a job you’ll love and a career that will eventually make you successful is to follow what you’re naturally interested in, then take risks when choosing where to work.

  5. But when you’re early in your career - and early in your life - the worst that can happen if you take big risks is probably moving back with your parents. And that is not shameful.

  6. If you’re going to throw your time, energy, and youth at a company, try to join one that’s not just making a better mousetrap. Find a business that’s starting a revolution.

  7. You should know where you want to go, who you want to work with, what you want to learn, who you want to become.

    1. One of my favorite quotes from the book.

  8. It’s all too easy to turn 1:1s into friendly chats that go nowhere, so just as you need to have a process for your team meetings, your weekly meetings with individuals should have an agenda, a clear purpose, and should be beneficial to both sides.

  9. The customer is always right, right? Except customer panels can’t design for shit. People just can’t articulate what they want clearly enough to definitely point in one direction or another, especially if they’re considering something completely new that they’ve never used before. Customers will always be more comfortable with what exists already, even if it’s terrible.

  10. Storytelling is how you get people to take a leap of faith to do something new. It’s what all our big choices ultimately come down to - believing a story we tell ourselves or that someone else tells us.

    1. Most people don't fully recognize the value of storytelling and I see this all the time when talking with founders.

  11. But pushing for greatness doesn’t make you an asshole. Not tolerating mediocrity doesn’t make you an asshole. Challenging assumptions doesn’t make you an asshole. Before dismissing someone as “just an asshole,” you need to understand their motivations.

  12. Networking is something you should be doing constantly - even when you’re happily employed.

    1. I agree wholeheartedly and wrote a post on building a world-class network for this very reason.

  13. Of course, you may need to quit your job, too. Because once you’re committed to a mission, to an idea - that’s the thing you should stick to. The company is secondary. If you find something that inspires you, then follow the best opportunities to pursue it. I got hooked on personal electronics and followed that passion across five companies. It only became really lucrative at the very end, but it was what I loved to do, so I kept finding new opportunities to do it.

  14. After a decade of failure, I finally made something - actually two things - that people actually wanted. I finally got it right.

  15. You should be able to map out and visualize exactly how a customer discovers, considers, installs, uses, fixes, and even returns your product. It all matters.

  16. It turned a moment of frustration into a moment of delight… But every time they opened the random-stuff drawer in their kitchen, they’d see the cute little Nest screwdriver… And it helped people discover us. Journalists wrote articles about the screwdriver. It appeared in every five-star review. It was free PR, a boost to word of mouth,

  17. Our product was good, but ultimately it was the whole journey that defined our brand.

  18. If your competitors are telling better stories than you, if they’re playing the game and you’re not, then it doesn’t matter if their product is worse. They will get the attention.

  19. Every person is different. And everyone will read your story differently. That’s why analogies can be such a useful tool in storytelling. They create a shorthand for complicated concepts - a bridge directly to a common experience.

    1. One of the most famous analogies in business? “1,000 songs in your pocket” used to describe the iPod.

  20. You cannot be afraid to disrupt the thing that made you successful in the first place. Even if it made you hugely successful. Look at Kodak. Look at Nokia.

  21. You need constraints to make good decisions and the best constraint in the world is time.

  22. After you’ve launched your V1, then two to four times in that year, you should be announcing something new to the world. New products, new features, new redesigns or updates. Something meaty that’s worth people’s attention.

  23. Having that kind of laser focus on a few key differentiating elements is a much likelier way to reach your goals than throwing out a wide net and hoping for the best.

  24. 3 elements to every great idea: 1) Solves for “why.” Why people will want it. The why drives the what. 2) It solves a problem that a lot of people have in their daily lives. 3) It follows you around.

    1. This wasn't a direct quote, as Tony went into more details for each of this, but I found it to be one of the most useful reminders.

  25. But knowing what can kill you makes you stronger. And knowing that you’ve already deflected some major bullets makes you stronger still. That’s why we didn’t just present our vision when we pitched investors. We presented the why - told our story - and then we presented the risks. Too many startups don’t know what they’re getting into or, worse, try to cover up the risks of failure.

  26. There’s always an exception, an incredible wunderkind who rides a unicorn to the moon, but most successful entrepreneurs are in their late thirties and forties.

  27. Having two founders works well. Three can work sometimes. I’ve never seen it work with more.

  28. That’s how we built our core team at Nest. We sought out the best of the best, and they created their own gravity - pulling in more and more talent.

  29. For every VC that process is different, so keep asking the question: What’s the next step to get us to a yes? What’s the next step? What’s the next step?

  30. Vacations are a great way to build a team’s future capabilities and see who might step into your shoes in the years to come.

  31. So look at your calendar. Engineer it. Design it. Lay out the next three to six months on paper. Write down what a typical day looks like. And what a typical week or two weeks look like. Keep going for the next month. And then the next six. Now start to reengineer your day, your week, and your monthly schedule with time dedicated to feeling human… In the long term, you need to plan some vacations.

    1. Do this now - I'm about to after writing this.

  32. The best teams are multigenerational - Nest employed twenty-year-olds and seventy-year-olds. Experienced people have a wealth of wisdom that they can pass on to the next generation and young people can push back against long-held assumptions. They can often see the opportunity that lies in accomplishing difficult things, while experienced people see only the difficulty.

  33. Nest policy was always to hire a mix of new grads and to host an intern program. It was not a popular policy - not at first… Suddenly over a few summers we had a pipeline of all the brilliant rising talent from the world’s best universities.

  34. In an interview I’m always most interested in three basic things: who they are, what they’ve done, and why they did it. I usually start with the most important questions: “What are you curious about? What do you want to learn?” I also ask, “Why did you leave your last job?”

  35. In the early days of a company, when most people are self-managing, the absolute maximum number of people one human being can effectively manage directly is 8-15 full-time employees. As the company grows, that number shrinks to around 7-8.

  36. Literally the only way to make a really good product is to dig in, analyze your customer’s needs, and explore all the possible options (including the unexpected ones: maybe I can work from home, maybe I can move closer to work). There are no perfect designs. There are always constraints.

  37. And you tell a story: you connect with people’s emotions so they’re drawn to your narrative, but you also appeal to their rational side so they can convince themselves it’s the smart move to buy what you’re selling.

    1. This was a quote regarding the marketing process that Tony gets deeper into.

  38. But, most importantly, product managers are the voice of the customer. They keep every team in check to make sure they don’t lose sight of the ultimate goal - happy, satisfied customers.

  39. The best salespeople are the ones who maintain relationships even if it is not making money that day.

  40. When you’re in any kind of negotiation that includes legal, you always need to work out the fundamental deal points first, before the lawyers get called in - how much you’re paying for something, how much you’re willing to spend, how long a contract should last for, exclusivity, etc.

  41. As CEO, you spend almost all your time on people problems and communication. You’re trying to navigate a tangled web of professional relationships and intrigues, listen to but also ignore your board, maintain your company culture, buy companies or sell your own, keep people’s respect while continually pushing yourself and the team to build something great even though you barely have time to think about what you’re building anymore. It’s an extremely weird job.

  42. The best CEOs push the team to strive for greatness, then take care of them to make sure they can achieve it. The worst CEOs care only about maintaining the status quo.

  43. Most people are happy with 90 percent good. Most leaders will take pity on their teams and just let it slide. But going from 90 to 95 percent is halfway to perfect. Getting the last part of the journey right is the only way to reach your destination. So you push. Yourself. The team. You push people to discover how great they can be. You push until they start pushing back.

  44. In this job, respect is always more important than being liked. You can’t please everyone. Trying can be ruinous. CEOs have to make incredibly unpopular decisions - lay people off, kill projects, rearrange teams. Often you’ll have to take decisive action, hurt people to save the company, to cut out a cancer.

  45. Most people assume being CEO is a hard job - stressful, busy, high-pressure. But the stress is one thing; isolation is another. You might have a cofounder, but you shouldn’t have a co-CEO. It’s a one-person job and you’re all alone up there.

  46. The best CEOs always know the outcome of a board meeting before they walk through the door.

  47. Bad CEOs come to board meetings and expect the board to help them make decisions. Good CEOs walk in with a presentation of where the company was, where it is now, and where it’s headed this quarter and in the years to come. They tell the board what’s working but they’re also transparent about what isn’t and how they’re addressing it.

  48. Even the best CEO cannot stand alone, untouchable, unchallengeable, accountable to no one. Everyone needs to report to someone, even if it’s a two-person board that you meet with for an hour every few months.

  49. It’s your job as a CEO to constantly push your company forward - to come up with new ideas and projects to keep it fresh and alive. Then it’s your job to work hard on those new projects, to be as passionate about them as you were about the original problem you came there to solve. In the meantime, other people on your team focus on your core business, optimizing the pieces that are already set up.

  50. In the end, there are two things that matter: products and people. What you build and who you build it with.

Help me choose the next book?

There are a few books I've already read that I'm considering for the next edition of Book Notes and I would love your help in deciding which one to write next.

Please reply to this email or ping me on Twitter with the book you'd like me to share my notes on next 😊

Some options:

Thanks for reading! I highly suggest you check out Tony's book. If you found this newsletter valuable, please consider subscribing and sharing it with a friend 😊



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