Product Marty Cagan

Products and People

“In the end, there are two things that matter: products and people. What you build, and who you build it with.”  – Tony Fadell

One of the most common questions I’m asked is how to convince your CEO to take a hard look at how you create your products, and consider adopting the practices of the best product companies?

Our writing focuses on product teams, product leaders and most recently, product marketing.  And we’ve shared that we’re working on another book aimed at sharing the keys to meaningful transformation.

But realize that our lens is product teams and product leaders.  The CEO brings a very different lens and a different perspective.

Fortunately, there are a set of excellent books aimed at CEO’s that describe the benefits of empowered organizations.  Last year I shared a list of my favorite such books.

But just recently a new book has come out, one that I didn’t even know was coming, written by an author that is very well known in our industry, but is also someone I have never personally met.

The book is called Build: An Unorthodox Guide To Making Things Worth Making by Tony Fadell, the product leader behind the iPod, the iPhone, and most recently, the Nest line of connected home devices, where he was co-founder and CEO.

I was amazed that this person, that had largely grown up professionally in Silicon Valley for 30 years, usually within a few miles of where I was working, but focused on consumer electronics while I was focused on internet platforms and services, had somehow managed to make so many of the same mistakes, have so many similar experiences, and learn so many of the same lessons.

You can easily see the differences between building consumer electronics versus internet services, but what struck me even more were the similarities.  You can also see the differences between working at a startup versus working at a large company, another thing we both experienced, and which clearly left a strong impression on both of us.

About half way through the book Tony shares that Bill Campbell was his coach as he was building his own company, so there’s that common thread yet again, and probably explains a great deal of the principles in both of our writing.

But I don’t want to just add this book to my list of recommendations, as I think this book is special, and stands above the rest. 

SVPG is all about sharing the practices of the best companies versus the rest, and this new book does what I consider the best job yet of sharing the practices of the best, but this time from the CEO’s perspective.

If you’re thinking that this “unorthodox guide” will describe some new type of process or new organizational structure, you’ll soon learn it’s just the opposite: “His advice is unorthodox because it’s old school. Because Tony’s learned that human nature doesn’t change.”

It’s about the product, and the people that build it.  As always.

For those that are interested, below are some more detailed thoughts:

  • I loved Tony’s thoughts about changing the dynamic with direct sales organizations leading to sales-driven products.  I have not heard about this before, and I don’t know how many companies will follow his advice, but I’m absolutely hoping this gets traction.
  • I listened to the audiobook version, and Tony did not record this himself, although I wish he did.  The narrator was not bad, but clearly had no idea what or who he was talking about when he read the manuscript.  I laughed out loud when the narrator read the chapter titled: “The Point of PMs” as “The Point of P-M-S” which of course brought out the middle schooler in me.  Harmless, but I was a little surprised that someone that is so well known for meticulous attention to every product detail would not have personally QA’d the narration, but he very likely made the mistake of trusting the publisher.
  • Speaking of the chapter on product management, it’s clear that this is not the author’s area of expertise, especially since he had so many years at Apple which has an unusual way to cover the PM responsibilities, but still he did a remarkably good job capturing the importance of the role and the challenges.  The one difference between what he described and what we advocate is that he puts a bit more of the product marketing responsibility on the product manager’s shoulders, but he does make a good argument for doing so.
  • The chapter on Assholes was excellent, and added a dimension to the discussion that goes beyond what we covered in EMPOWERED and also goes beyond the No Assholes Rule book.
  • I loved the emphasis on storytelling as the heart of the product vision and the focus on addressing both emotional and rational needs.
  • I also loved how coaching and mentoring was emphasized throughout.
  • And of course he had countless examples of prototyping as the basis for product discovery, including many very creative examples.
  • Google’s senior leadership does not come out looking very good.  I know we all like to think that Google is better than that, but the book does a good job of showing why less comes out of that company than you would think given the size of their talent pool and the money they spend.
  • More generally, I considered every single chapter valuable, and the book as a whole a very significant contribution to the tech community.