This is not an overnight success story.
Tony’s first job out of college was such a disaster that it killed all new development in consumer-oriented personal computers for a decade. The next products he built were commercial failures, then he started his own company – a year before the .com bubble burst.
But after 10 years he learned – with every team, every product, every disaster – how to design, manufacture, market and sell something people actually wanted.
Nothing exists in a vacuum.
Before Wi-Fi, before the rise of the internet, before mobile networks even existed, General Magic tried to make a smart personal communicator – what we’d call a smartphone today. It was way, way before it’s time but perfectly timed for Tony. General Magic was his first real job.
After years of exhausting work, the Magic Link launched with a touchscreen, email, downloadable apps, games, a way to buy electronic plane tickets, animated emojis and much more.
Unfortunately, it was also slow, buggy, and was solving problems nobody had yet. It failed. Spectacularly.
As General Magic was imploding, Tony pitched a new kind of mobile personal computer to Philips. He became a 25-year-old CTO, managing his first product engineering team. It was, in a word, bumpy. But the team made it through – they used the hardware guts from the Magic Link but added spreadsheets and docs for business people on the go.
Unfortunately, Philips only knew how to sell TVs and DVD players and electric shavers. So while the Velo and Nino were well thought out and well reviewed, they barely sold.
Inspired by audiobooks on the Nino and Velo and a doomed technology he saw at Philips (a home theater that ran Windows), Tony started a company to create digital home music and video systems that could play CDs, MP3s and DVDs, but could also rip CDs so all your music was loaded into one jukebox. Tony started working with Samsung to build it and make it all available online.
Unfortunately, in 2000 the Internet 1.0 bubble burst, and the endless fountain of investor money dried up overnight. Tony did 80 pitches to VCs that all failed.
Apple, itself on the verge of collapse, called Tony just as his startup was going under. They were thinking of making a digital music player. But there was no team, no prototypes, no design, nothing. In March, Tony and Stan Ng pitched Tony’s idea to Steve Jobs. In October, they launched the iPod to the world.
Reviewers loved it. So did the few remaining Apple fanatics. But the first version of the iPod didn’t work with PCs, so almost nobody else could use it. And that meant almost nobody else bought it.
Tony and the iPod team battled Steve Jobs to convince him to let the iPod connect to PCs, not just Macs, and that’s when sales exploded. Tony led the teams that created the iPod Classic, iPod Mini, iPod Nano, iPod Shuffle, and iPod Touch, as well as all headphones and accessories. It was incredibly successful, incredibly lucrative. It saved Apple.
But times were changing. Mobile phone makers saw the iPod’s success and wanted to add music to their products. Apple knew customers would only carry one device in their pockets – and if Apple didn’t leap-frog those cell phones, the iPod business would eventually dwindle and die.
For the first time since the demise of the Magic Link, a major player was going to create a smartphone for regular people. Not just business people – everyone. It was Tony’s chance to try again. To make a Magic Link that actually felt magical.
His team designed and built the hardware and the foundational software to run and manufacture the phone. And he used everything he had learned up till then – how to build a team that could actually deliver, how to think about the product story, how to understand not just the technology but the entire user experience.
Every step along the way, every failure and success, was necessary to create the iPhone. And then to build what came next.
Nest Learning Thermostat, Nest Protect, Nest Cams
As Tony was building it, he could see the potential of the iPhone. It was going to become a remote control for the physical world. And one of the things that drove him absolutely crazy about the physical world was his crappy thermostat – how he couldn’t turn up the heat before he got home, how it wasted untold amounts of energy.
It was time to do something new. Not just to build new products – to build a business. To create an ecosystem of products – a thermostat, a smoke alarm, a camera – and a platform to connect them. It was time to fundamentally change what home could be.
The number of people who worked on all these products literally cannot be counted. Tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands. Not just the designers and engineers and marketers, but people in manufacturing, those making chips and displays, mechanicals and plastics, batteries and packaging and more.
Teams in Korea, Taiwan, China, Japan, the US, Canada, the UK, France, Germany, Italy, just to name a few. Brains all over the world working all night and thinking nonstop and joining together to make something incredible.
Tony didn’t, couldn’t, make anything alone. It takes a team. It takes an army.