Making things people want always beats making people want things

An interesting interview by Ben Thompson for his Stratechery blog caught the BBL/P eye this week. In the chair was Tony Fadell – the proclaimed “father of the iPod” (and iPhone, Nest and many more).


Fadell is promoting his new book “Build. An unorthodox guide to making things worth making” (our copy arrives tomorrow and so a review will appear in time).


Over an engaging interview Fadell reveals how and why Apple chose to focus on a music stick when, in 2001, they has less than 1% of the US computer market and far less elsewhere. The business had a value of around $3B. A very different business to Apple now, with a market cap of $2.6TN.


Apple created a team led by Fadell for an audacious raid into what was seen at the time as a market owned by Sony. MP3 players were already commonplace and so the view of the Apple team was that this was a race to get there before the competition; and from scratch in the April of 2001 the product was launched on October 23rd of the same year. 


The presence of a competitor and self-imposed time pressure were huge factors in the success of the project. And of course, the 100% backing of Steve Jobs – necessary as the iPod was very different to anything Apple was making at the time. There were plenty of what Fadell terms “anti-bodies” within the organisation.


Fadell makes a distinction between “Opinion Driven” and “Data Driven” decisions. The decision to go with the iPod project was Opinion Driven and the belief was that it would drive Mac sales. The dominant operating system at the time was Windows and the original iPod wasn’t compatible. The very narrow base of Mac owners at the time loved their new toy, but it was converting very few people to the world of Apple.


And so a second decision was taken - Data Driven - to make the player work with Windows. And that did the trick, as Fadell puts it, “Oh, this iPod thing is really cool. I’m using it on my Windows device, on my Windows laptop, or what have you. But I wonder what the full Apple experience would be?” Subsequently, Mac sales started to respond, and more and more people began to identify with the brand as it began to dominate the music space. Apple’s attention could turn to upending the mobile phone market. 


We know it’s hardly original to comb over Apple moon-shot stories but it’s always worth thinking about what any company could achieve in only seven months.

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