Building a product

Imagine it’s midnight, and you’re lying in bed, unable to sleep as anxious thoughts swirl in your mind. Your startup’s growth has you worried that its cherished culture might slip away in the blink of an eye. Or perhaps you’re knee-deep in a marketing project, terrified of making a costly mistake.


Don’t worry, we’re here to help. This blog is your go-to resource, offering straightforward advice that will empower you to conquer your self-doubt and achieve remarkable success. No pretentious jargon or rigid formalities – just practical insights from those who have walked the path before you.


Within these virtual pages, you’ll find a wealth of hard-earned wisdom gathered from industry veterans. Consider it your trusty business-building toolkit, providing guidance on how to forge a thriving career, develop exceptional products, nurture cohesive teams, and construct prosperous companies.


So, get ready to unlock your full potential and pave the way for extraordinary accomplishments. Let’s dive right in!


Taking Risks & Learning from Failure

Discovering the roots of the iPhone may surprise you. Before Apple’s iconic device, there was the Magic Link. Released in 1994, it offered touchscreen features, email, apps, games, and even animated emojis. However, it failed to resonate with the masses, only capturing the interest of tech enthusiasts.


General Magic, the company behind the Magic Link, employed Tony Fadell for four years on this ill-fated project. Despite its lack of success, Tony cherishes the experience as it helped him uncover his true passion. He poured himself into the work, investing up to 120 hours per week.


While extreme dedication isn’t necessary, finding genuine passion naturally compels us to commit more. Sometimes, it means late nights, early mornings, and working on weekends and holidays to absorb knowledge.


Early adulthood is an opportune time to pursue career goals, even with the inevitable stumbling blocks. The biggest obstacle to success is inaction. By exploring different paths, taking risks, and having fewer responsibilities, you can find your true calling.


Following his passion for smartphones, Tony joined Apple, contributing significantly to the development of the iPod and, subsequently, the groundbreaking iPhone.


Once you’ve discovered your passion, surround yourself with like-minded individuals. Build connections, seek mentors, and secure a job. This is your chance to make a meaningful impact and dedicate your time to something that matters. Start small, determine what you want to learn, and find people who align with your goals. Along the way, you’ll uncover the resources needed to shape your dreams.


In the adventurous pursuit of your aspirations, remember that failures are valuable learning opportunities. Embrace the journey and seize the potential of your youth.


Balancing Direction and Autonomy

When it comes to managing a team, the key is finding the right balance – steering them without suffocating their independence.


Steve Jobs was known for his meticulous attention to detail. For Jobs, perfection was non-negotiable – every pixel, every product component, every word on the packaging had to be flawless.


While some may label this as micromanaging, Tony sees it differently. He believes that Jobs set an example of the level of care and detail expected from the team, refusing to accept mediocrity.


One crucial aspect of managing is realizing that you’re no longer performing the same tasks you did as an individual contributor. Your role now involves helping others excel in your former position. If you find yourself still consumed by your previous responsibilities, it’s a sign that something isn’t quite right.


To maintain your focus on effective management, shift your attention away from how your team achieves desired outcomes and instead concentrate on the outcomes themselves. For example, prioritize aspects like product development, design, marketing, and sales processes. Delegate specific individuals to oversee these processes and then empower your team to showcase their strengths and abilities.


Regular meetings serve as an opportunity to touch base with team members, ensuring that everything aligns with the primary milestones. It’s crucial to have a clear understanding of the necessary steps to reach these goals. As a founder, take note of these milestones and also maintain a record of concerns related to each project and individual, allowing you to identify areas that require additional attention.


Equally important, make room in your notes for ideas. Encourage innovative thinking, whether it’s about improving the current product or enhancing the team’s work-life balance. By keeping this list, you’ll feel inspired and invigorated. It also demonstrates to your team that you value their input and opinions. Remember, effective management involves sharing your mission and passion, fostering a sense of purpose within the team.


Emphasizing the “why” behind the product

When you’re promoting your product, remember to emphasize the “why” behind it. 


Let’s take a look at Steve Jobs’ iconic 2007 speech about the iPhone. He didn’t just talk about the phone’s features, but he also highlighted the shortcomings of other smartphones and regular mobile phones. By pointing out the annoyances and frustrations that people experienced, he planted a seed of doubt in their minds. Could there be a better solution to these problems? And then, he revealed how the iPhone addressed those issues.


This approach, known as the “virus of doubt,” is quite effective. By telling a story that resonates with people’s daily struggles, you capture their attention. However, it’s not just about storytelling. Even if you have a fantastic product, if your competitors are telling better stories, they’ll likely come out on top. That’s why you should always focus on the “why” of your product. You need a strong answer to why it exists and how it can make a difference.


If you can’t come up with a compelling “why” for your product, it might not be such a great idea after all. A truly remarkable product idea consists of three components. First, it needs a clear purpose. Second, it should solve a widespread problem that many people face. And third, it should be an idea that you’re deeply passionate about and can’t let go of. Even if the product seems challenging to develop, your belief in the idea should persist.


Think of it this way: the best ideas are like painkillers, not just vitamins. Vitamins are nice to have, but you can live your whole life without them and not notice a significant difference. Painkillers, on the other hand, provide immediate relief from a problem. They address an issue directly and noticeably.


Before committing to an idea, give it time to see if it sticks with you. It might feel like that persistent pain in your leg that won’t go away without a painkiller. It may take a while for the idea to fully form. Some ideas will fade away over time, but others will stay with you. Focus on those ideas that refuse to leave your mind.


Diverse and effective team



The importance of building a diverse and effective team

When it comes to assembling your team, diversity is key, and the hiring process deserves careful attention. 


Take Isabel Guenette’s story, for instance. She joined Nest straight out of college, one of the first employees alongside the two cofounders. Despite her lack of expertise in thermostats, her youth, curiosity, and competence allowed her to dive headfirst into the task at hand. She quickly became a project manager and a vital contributor to the product’s development.


Isabel’s youthfulness turned out to be a strength. Unlike someone older who might have been overwhelmed by the workload, Isabel fearlessly tackled the challenges that came her way.


At some point in your company’s journey, you’ll need to bring in new talent. One of the best decisions you can make is to build multigenerational teams. Hire seasoned individuals in their 70s who possess a wealth of wisdom to share. Simultaneously, consider bringing in energetic 20-year-olds unafraid to challenge the status quo and brimming with passion. While younger hires may require more training, they represent a long-term investment in your company’s success.


When expanding your team, don’t overlook any segment of the population. Embrace diversity by hiring individuals from various backgrounds and with different identities. This will deepen your understanding of the world and, importantly, your customers.


However, effective hiring practices are crucial. Unfortunately, many common approaches today fall short.


To ensure you select the right candidates, involve the right people from your company in the hiring process. Suppose you’re seeking an app designer, for example. In that case, include an engineer on the interview board since app designers create products that engineers must implement.


Establishing ground rules is also essential, regardless of the position applicants are vying for. Nest, for instance, had a simple yet effective “no assholes” policy. Even if a candidate ticked all the boxes on paper, arrogance, control, or dismissiveness resulted in an immediate rejection.


Identifying whether someone is a good fit for your team isn’t always easy upfront. One way to gauge this is by challenging candidates during interviews. Ask about their reasons for leaving previous jobs, and if they mention problems like a difficult manager, inquire about how they addressed the issue.


Additionally, simulate real-life work experiences to evaluate candidates. Present a current workplace problem and solve it together using a whiteboard. This exercise offers insights into their thought process, the questions they ask, and their level of empathy. Remember, you’re not just hiring for the present job requirements, but also for their ability to solve unforeseen problems both today and tomorrow.


By prioritizing diversity and implementing a thorough hiring process, you’ll build a team that thrives on varied perspectives and effectively tackles future challenges.


Strive for excellence and prioritize what matters

As a CEO, you have the immense responsibility of overseeing the entire company, managing relationships, and driving your team to achieve greatness. But let’s be real, you might be wondering how the heck to navigate this role successfully.


Here’s the truth: there’s no surefire way to fully prepare for being a CEO except by actually being one. Even if you’ve held high-level positions before, being at the helm is an entirely different game. As CEO, the things that matter to your company should matter to you. Your job is simply to care about everything.


As the CEO, accepting mediocrity in any aspect of your company should be out of the question. If you settle for mediocrity, it will become the norm. Some CEOs might dismiss support articles as “just” support, but you need to understand that people often reach those articles when they’re on the verge of frustration. By ensuring a positive experience in reading and following the instructions, you can transform rage into delight.


So, scrutinize customer support articles as rigorously as you would engineering or design aspects of your product.


Your role as CEO is to strive for perfection. That means pushing yourself and your team, sometimes to the point of pushing boundaries. Unfortunately, many companies today are heading in the opposite direction. They pamper their employees with extravagant perks like free gourmet meals, haircuts, laundry services, and massages—the list goes on.


However, offering excessive perks creates an entitlement mindset rather than appreciating them as occasional treats. It’s better to subsidize perks rather than provide them for free. Apple, for instance, doesn’t give free products to its employees but offers generous discounts instead. When people pay for something, they value it.


You might have introduced perks with good intentions initially, but it’s easy for them to be taken for granted or abused. So, forget the massages. Instead, focus your resources on building the business, improving your products, and solidifying your business model to sustain employment. Concentrate on what truly matters, which ultimately is creating something exceptional. Your company’s mission is the cake, and the perks are merely a sprinkle of sugar on top.


In your role as CEO, prioritize excellence, encourage growth, and invest in the core aspects that drive your company forward. By doing so, you’ll build a strong foundation for long-term success.


Discovering your passion and committing yourself to it wholeheartedly can lead to remarkable achievements. Take risks, explore different paths, and embrace failures as valuable learning opportunities. Surround yourself with like-minded individuals, seek mentors, and seize opportunities to make a meaningful impact.


When managing a team, strike a balance between steering them and allowing autonomy. Set high standards and inspire your team to achieve excellence. Focus on outcomes rather than micromanaging the process, delegate responsibilities, and maintain clear communication through regular meetings. Emphasize the “why” behind your product when promoting it, and tell a compelling story that resonates with your audience’s struggles.


Building a diverse and effective team is crucial for long-term success. Embrace multigenerational and diverse hires, considering both experience and fresh perspectives. Implement thorough hiring practices, involve the right people in the process, and establish ground rules that prioritize respectful collaboration.


As a CEO, prioritize excellence and care deeply about every aspect of your company. Strive for perfection and avoid accepting mediocrity. Instead of excessive perks, focus on building a strong business foundation and investing in core aspects that drive your company forward.


By following the insights, you can conquer self-doubt, unlock your full potential, and pave the way for extraordinary accomplishments. So, dive in, embrace the journey, and create something truly exceptional. The power to achieve remarkable success is within your grasp.

Inspired by a book “Build”; Tony Fadell

8 minutes read

A Guide to Building Products, Businesses, and Careers

Explore effective strategies for fostering cohesive teams, creating outstanding products, and building prosperous companies.