Success follows passion, not trends: Fireside with Tony Fadell, the “father of the iPod”

Success follows passion, not trends: Fireside with Tony Fadell, the “father of the iPod”

It is lonely being an inventor, especially if you are working in a space that is not trendy. But that's okay because if you're doing it for the right reasons, then you're on the right track, shares veteran American entrepreneur Tony Fadell, co-creator of the iPod and iPhone

Success did not come easy for Fadell, but his passion for software and electronics never wavered. He dreamt of a portable music device that used a hard disk to store songs. At Apple in the early 2000s, he fulfilled that goal by co-inventing the iPod, revolutionising the way people listened to music on the move. Although technology was still nascent, he believed he could create a change by sticking to his guns.

Today, he wears multiple hats, including entrepreneur, investor, engineer, designer, and the newly acquired title of author, thanks to his latest book, “Build: An Unorthodox Guide to Making Things Worth Making”.

In a recent Evolving for the Next Billion podcast, Fadell sat down with GGV managing partners Hans Tung and Jeff Richards to discuss the following points:

  • Why following your passion is key, however hard
  • How failure is a stepping stone to success
  • How to find the path to follow
  • How to be a successful leader and founder


The pain in passion

Jumping on the ‘trendwagon’ can seem like an ideal thing to do in the current times, but it might not necessarily be the smartest thing to do. Sticking with your passion, on the other hand, might not be the fastest way to a breakthrough, yet it can help one to gain the title of a thought leader in the field they are focusing on.

I chose to stick to General Magic, [an American software and electronics company] even when it wasn’t a popular field, perfecting it in every way possible until I achieved something remarkable. If you choose to follow the trends, you will find it difficult to stand out from others that follow the same thought process. Following your passion can be a painful process initially, but it will grant you a truly fulfilled outcome.

Failure paves the way for success

The book I wrote, Build: An Unorthodox Guide to Making Things Worth Making, lays out what I have learned from my journey and the instances where I have failed. Many of us fear failure and jump on to another trend seeking for monetary rewards. If one keeps doing that, it won’t be fulfilling a desire to learn, and only failure will take you through a learning process. Maybe your first or second venture doesn’t pan out, but that doesn’t mean you should stop.

To find success, you will first need to embrace the pivots and adjustments you make along the way. You can only define failure when you fail, and you stop. If you fail, and you continue, that’s called learning.

Find the right path to follow

When it comes to life, there is no script that you can follow. The first question you need to ask is, “what am I curious about?” Even when I hire, I look for people’s interest in the topics they want to learn. If you do things that excite you, you would find the entire journey fulfilling. After you have drilled down on what you truly care about, stay on the path and watch its development as time goes by.

The key step in this journey is to surround yourself in a good environment that enables growth, which will reward you with opportunities to climb up to be in the management leadership. Challenge yourself as you move up and follow other leaders who know what they are doing, providing you with more to learn from them.

Another important point is that they have built strong networks to leverage on. Fifty per cent of success comes from what you know, and the remaining comes from who you can rely on and ask for support. It is essential that you have a mentor to guide you along the way, helping you with the operational details, and separating the wheat from the chaff. You have to let go of the ego that forbids you from asking for help and have the inner confidence to tap into a network in order for you to grow. When I was once a manager, I wasn’t a great one. I realised I was micromanaging too much and had to rely on my coach to help me out, which eventually made me learn much more.

Molding the exemplary founder and leader

There is a common misconception that success is earned overnight when in reality, most entrepreneurs aren’t successful until they hit their 30s. It is almost like a Gaussian distribution of success. In the end, what matters the most is the investment of time, accumulation of knowledge and expertise, and building a trustable and strong network.

I am not saying it is impossible to be successful when you are young, but the media tends to overly focus on overnight success stories. That is a very rare happening. I am saying that because older people are not just wiser, but they also have learned so much along the way.

Make it a priority for others to grow with you. You need to invest in the people who are your best people in order for them to understand their purpose. Your job is not only to focus on your business growth but team growth as well. Ensuring they are well-educated about their job scope would be helpful for them to start believing in what they do. Bring in coaches to guide them so that they can flourish even when they make mistakes. If you lose out on all of this, you will have to keep bringing in new people who have different ways of thinking and do not have any history with the people already there. This will in turn, put a monkey wrench in the system, eventually slowing you down.

Welcome people that challenge you, and avoid people who are ego-driven. It is common for everyone to feel the need to push people away to have the freedom to do their own work alone. They don’t like it when their work gets judged and would rather make decisions solo. Often, those that challenge are mission-driven and help one to push to their limit. This is an acceptable type of management interaction. On the other hand, it is when you meet people that are focused solely on pushing you down and judging you personally instead of criticising your work that you have to move away. Understand people’s motivation; if you find yourself in a toxic environment, get out of it.

The future is in the present

A lot of trends that are on rise now are things that have been existing in the past, due to the time, prices and market. We should start looking at things that are on the side of fundamental science and technology and try to fix the existing problems. Productise opportunities and issues that are already established. I believe that much more is easier to achieve in today’s times than it was in the past.

Listen to the full interview with Tony Fadell here.

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