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Lessons from Tony Fadell
- Umer Farooq
I highly recommend Tony Fadell's book Build: An Unorthodox Guide to Making Things Worth Making. It is one of the best non-fiction books I have read in 2022. It offers no bullshit, practical advice on how to build products, make decisions, and navigate your career in tech. Below are my top takeaways from the wonderful book.
You can also skip to the bullet point TLDR section at the bottom.
Recognise the asshole
During your professional journey, you may encounter individuals who are difficult to work with. It is important for you to identify the type of person you are dealing with to navigate the situation. There are the types of assholes that you may encounter:
People who are concerned with advancing their own political agendas, rather than the success of the project or team, can be referred to as "political assholes." These individuals may focus on appearances and be hesitant to take risks. It is important not to get too caught up in their behaviour, as eventually they will be held accountable for their actions.
Based on my experience in startups, I have noticed that these types of individuals are often hired as executives during the scaling phase, and tend to come from larger corporations. These are the individuals who care more about themselves rather than the product.
These are the people who are devoted to the success of the product and are willing to do whatever it takes to make it happen. Even if it means pushing the team to their limits or being direct in their feedback.
These are the individuals that you should aim to work with or work for. As they are driven by a strong sense of purpose and are open to hearing different perspectives. In my experience, founders often fall into this category. If the startup you are a part of is successful, it is likely due to the efforts of a mission-driven asshole. I am not implying that being an asshole is a necessary requirement for success
Recognise the decision
Recognising the decision at hand is crucial. A lesson that stuck with me is the importance of identifying whether a decision is driven by data or by opinion. Being clear about the nature of the decision can help prevent conflicts within a team. As people may have differing viewpoints on the type of decision being made.
Data-driven decisions are made during the v2 iteration of a product. That is when there is data available on how customers are interacting with the product, more of an evolution rather distruption. Even when using A/B testing, it's important to focus on a specific issue rather than the core of the product. From my experience, A/B testing is useful as a release tool if something has gone wrong rather than as a tool for finding solutions. In my opinion, a good primer on A/B testing can be found here.
This is the realm of hardest decisions as everbody has an opinion. Making decisions can be difficult, especially when working at a startup where there may not be existing precedent or data to rely on. It's natural to try to turn an opinion-based decision into a data-driven one, but it's important to avoid getting stuck in analysis paralysis and to eventually take action.
In these situations, it's important to gather user insights of the problem space and use storytelling to help make your case. A good story should appeal to both people's rational and emotional sides, simplify complex concepts, and focus on the problem being solved. In my opninion, Bezos's one way and two way door decision framework and working backwards with press releases can help in these types of situations.
Other tidbits - Summary:
The following are additional pieces of wisdom from the book that resonated with me:
- Being exacting and expecting great work is not micromanagement. Your job is to get the most out of your team.
- You will need a different team for product's v1 and v2. As the difference is disruption vs evolution.
- You can only have one customer, even if you are a B2B2C business.
- While interviewing, worry about three things. Who are they, What they have done and Why they have done it.
- As a business, never outsource your problem before trying to fix it yourself. Especially if it's crucial to the future success of the business.
- Product manager's main job is to make sure the teams do not lose sight of the main goal, which is happy customers.
- Mission driven assholes can be the best of assholes to work with.
- Recognise the decision in terms of data vs opinion. Data cannot solve an opinion based problem.
- Try to get better at storytelling.
- Avoid management consultants.
- In the end, there are two things that matter: products and the people. What you build and who you build it with.