Build: making things worth making

“Build: An Unorthodox Guide to Making Things Worth Making” is a plea for design, for building, for go do, for passion, for impact, and always striving for excellence. Make sure you love what you do. And be great. Why be mediocre? Why be middle of the road? In this book, he shares his experiences and lessons he learned. If you’re going to pour your heart into creating something new, then that thing should be disruptive. It should be bold. It should change something. Disruption should be important for you personally—who doesn’t want to do something exciting and meaningful? Why not create big magic (which is also the title of a book). Big magic is about purpose, doing your best work, self-expression. Being brave and courageous.

Cool dude

Tony Fadell is as cool a dude as Naval Ravikant. He designed the iPod, co-created the iPhone and then founded Nest, which he sold to Google for 3.2 billion. Like Naval, he wrote an excellent book that is full of wisdom. In this blog, I will cover some topics from the book at random). My advice is to buy the book and read it (maybe read it a few times).

It is a playbook

It is a complete playbook for starting entrepreneurs covering co-founders, recruitment, building blocks, mentors (not to be confused with life coaches), pitching, fundraising, structure, the mistakes, dating VCs (brutal), fundraising, work/life balance, project management, crisis management, marketing, product management (an art), sales, leadership and most important preparation, preparation, preparation. Startups are not for the faith hearted.

Old school

A lot of the stuff he writes about is old school. You can’t start a revolution if you’re not solving a real problem. Cool technology isn’t enough. A great team isn’t enough. Plenty of funding isn’t enough. It’s creating a product or service that’s wholly new or combines existing technology in a novel way that the competition can’t make or even understand. Focus on a product that solves a real pain point that a lot of customers experience daily. Understand your customer—their demographics and psychographics, their wants and needs and pain points—is the foundation of your company. “Why will customers care?” And that question has to be answered long before anyone gets to work.


To do that, you need to prepare. By picking the right jobs (focus on learning, not money and not management consultancy), creating the connections, working with the right people, finding the mentors, reading up and becoming the expert in your field. It is doable to be the most knowledgeable. Be persistent and helpful. Look around: Get out of your comfort zone, and away from the immediate team you’re on. Talk to the other functions in your company to understand their perspectives, needs, and concerns. You could go to Google, Apple, Facebook, or some other giant company, but it’ll be hard to manoeuvre yourself to work closely with the rock stars. You’re a pebble bouncing off an elephant. There’s nothing that prepares you for starting a startup except working at a startup.

His management tips

1. You do not have to be a manager to be successful.

2. Remember that once you become a manager, you’ll stop doing the thing that made you successful in the first place.

3. Becoming a manager is a discipline. Management is a learned skill, not a talent.

4. Being exacting and expecting great work is not micromanagement.

5. Honesty is more important than style.

6. Don’t worry that your team will outshine you. In fact, it’s your goal.

The outcome is your business

Once you’re a manager, you’re no longer an accountant. Or a designer. Or a fisherman. Or an artist. Or whatever it is you really enjoyed doing. When you’re a manager, you’re no longer just responsible for the work. You’re responsible for human beings. One of the hardest parts of management is letting go. Not doing the work yourself. As a manager, you should focus on ensuring the team is producing the best possible product. The outcome is your business.


Write down a list of what you’re worried about for each project and person so you can immediately see when the list is getting too long, and you need to either dive deeper or back off. A great deal of management comes down to how you manage your own fears and anxieties. Your team amplifies your mood, so learn to modulate yourself.

Be a parent

As a manager, you have to find what connects with your team. How can you share your passion with them and motivate them? You need to tell them the why. You need to think of being a manager more like being a mentor or a parent. What loving parent wants their child not to succeed?

About management consultants

Steve Jobs once said of management consulting, “You do get a broad cut at companies, but it’s very thin. It’s like a picture of a banana: you might get a very accurate picture, but it’s only two-dimensional. Here are a few reasons why a leader may sit on your idea and then call in the consultants:

  • Delay.
  • Fear for their job.
  • They don’t have the time or don’t want to bother.
  • They know what they want but don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.

Craft a story

So what do you do when you’re stuck with a manager who’s hell-bent on driving off a cliff, ideally while throwing all their money out the window at some consultants? Brandolini’s law will be at play here: “The amount of energy needed to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude higher than to produce it.” So you need to craft a great story. Storytelling is how you get people to take a leap of faith to do something new. Your job in this moment is to craft a narrative that convinces leadership that your gut is trustworthy, that you’ve found all the data that could be gleaned, that you have a track record of good decisions, that you grasp the decision makers’ fears and are mitigating those risks.

Some general tips

  • Avoid assholes
  • Do not tolerate mediocrity. 
  • Quit on time. But before you quit, you’d better have a story. A good, credible, and factual one.
  • Predictability allows you to codify a product development process rather than starting from scratch every time.
  • Companies that build with both atoms and electrons have to worry about COGS and CAC but generally should focus on one at a time. First, knock out COGS, then move on to CAC. Build the product, then add the services.
  • No matter what you’re building, reaching profitability will take longer than you think.
  • Practice delayed intuition.
  • The best ideas are painkillers, not vitamins.
  • You need a role model to mimic or an anti–role model to avoid.
  • When raising funding, you’ll never hear “it’s not you, it’s me.” It’s always you. It’s your company, your ideas, and your personality that will be judged.
  • Any company that tries to do both B2B and B2C will fail.
  • Three times a week—Block out parts of your schedule during your workday, so you have time to think and reflect. Meditate. 4–6 times a week—Exercise. Get up. Go biking or running or weight lifting or cross-training. Eat well—You are an extreme athlete, but your sport is work.
  • The best teams are multi-generational.
  • The best way to share and embed cultural DNA is person to person.
  • An asshole at a tiny startup can be the end of the startup.
  • Look for seed crystals. Seed crystals are people who are so good and so well loved that they can almost single-handedly build large parts of your business.
  • The best marketing is just telling the truth.
  • Marketing prototyped the product narrative in parallel with product development because any big change to the product forces a change to the story.
  • Building a product is like making a song.
  • Lawyer up.
  • Stand alone as CEO—do not let anyone at work get too close.
  • The best thing about private boards is that you can keep them small—three to five board members is best.
  • Beware of too many perks.

About building a product

Making anything with atoms is incredibly difficult—it’s not an app that you can copy and update with a click. The only time hardware is worth the headache of manufacturing, packaging, and shipping is if it’s critically necessary and transformative.

It all matters

Regardless of whether your product is made of atoms or bits or both, the process is the same. Draw pictures. Make models. Pin mood boards. Sketch out the bones of the process in rough wireframes. Your product isn’t only your product. It’s the whole user experience—a chain that begins when someone learns about your brand for the first time and ends when your product disappears from their life, is returned or thrown away, sold to a friend or deleted in a burst of electrons. You should be able to map out and visualize exactly how a customer discovers, considers, installs, uses, fixes, and even returns your product. It all matters.

Make it real

Write imaginary press releases. Read “Working backwards“. Create detailed mock-ups that show how a customer would travel from an ad to the website to the app and what information they would see at each touchpoint. Make it visible. Make it physical, and get it out of your head and onto something you can touch.

Why Storytelling

Every product should have a story, a narrative that explains why it needs to exist and how it will solve your customer’s problems. A good product story has three elements:

  • It appeals to people’s rational and emotional sides.
  • It takes complicated concepts and makes them simple. 
  • It reminds people of the problem that’s being solved—it focuses on the “why.”

Your product’s story is its design, its features, images and videos, quotes from customers, tips from reviewers, and conversations with support agents. It’s the sum of what people see and feel about this thing that you’ve created.

Start with why

And it all starts with “why.” Why should I care? Why should I buy it? Why should I use it? Why should I stick with it? Why should I buy the next version? Why does this thing need to exist? Why does it matter? Why will people need it? Why will they love it?

The best story wins

If your competitors are telling better stories than you, if they’re playing the game and you’re not, then it doesn’t matter if their product is worse. So you have to find an opportunity to craft stories that stick with customers and keep them talking about you. A good story is an act of empathy. It recognizes the needs of its audience. And it blends facts and feelings, so the customer gets enough of both. So you have to appeal to their emotions—connect with something they care about. There’s an art to telling a compelling story. Read “The laws of brand storytelling” 

There is a science to storytelling

But there’s also a science. Every person is different. And everyone will read your story differently. That’s why analogies can be such a useful tool in storytelling. They create a shorthand for complicated concepts. A great analogy allows a customer to instantly grasp a difficult feature and then describe that feature to others. That’s why “1,000 songs in your pocket” was so powerful. It’s a story. A very quick one, but that’s the best kind. Quick stories are easy to remember. And, more importantly, easy to repeat. Read “Talktriggers“.

Be a delight

You need something that will make them stop in their tracks and say, “Wow. Tell me more.” If your company is disruptive, you have to be prepared for strong reactions and stronger emotions. Just don’t overshoot. Don’t try to disrupt everything at once. Don’t make the Amazon Fire Phone. You focus on making one amazing thing but forget that it has to be part of a single, fluid experience. Reviewers would get their hands on the new iPod, and it would not only deliver but also overdeliver. It would run hours longer than they expected. We did it over and over, year after year, but somehow nobody caught on. Every time was a surprise. A delight.

About intrapreneurship

Big companies are not a shortcut. Their spacious, attractive offices are littered with the skeletons of innovative little projects that died because they were set up for failure from the start. You should only create a “startup” within a big company if they can offer you something unique—some technology, some resources that you can’t get access to anywhere. You have to remember that you’ll be the proverbial gnat on the elephant’s ass, in competition with other vastly larger revenue streams, trying to earn a place at the table. There were times when the internal antibodies at Apple tried to expel us from the organization.

The conditions for intrapreneurship

One reason we managed to put together an outstanding team to create the iPod was that our team could get relatively outsized stock and bonus plans that they couldn’t get anywhere else at Apple. The other important reason was that we had Steve Jobs fully behind us. Those two things allowed us to recruit amazing people. So if you don’t have a CEO who will go to bat for you, if you don’t have compensation packages that will attract a great team, if you don’t have the resources of a giant company but all of the overhead, then don’t try to start your project inside someone else’s business. Your best option is probably to go it alone. Buy “Building the in-company change muscle“.

About VCs

Remember, once you take money from an investor, you’re stuck with them. Fifty per cent of marriages fail, but 80 per cent of startups do. And if things go south, you can end up in an estranged marriage—still legally tied together, but never speaking. When a VC writes off your company, they basically ignore you, and they won’t help you. That is why you should always pay very close attention to how a VC treats you when they should be on their best behaviour:

  • VCs who promise everything under the sun to get you to sign, then don’t deliver.
  • VCs who force the timing—who give you a term sheet to sign right here, right now—to make you feel panicked.
  • Greedy VCs who will invest only if they can take an outsized piece of your company.
  • Some VCs court very inexperienced startups with the intention of pushing them around and telling them what to do rather than allowing the founder and CEO to run the company.
  • Sometimes a potential investor sees something interesting in your company—maybe you haven’t received money from the right VCs, or you’re tight on cash, or you have an incredible breakout success. So they’ll propose a really sweet deal, but their terms will screw the other investors who have gotten you this far.

Do your research—look at their track record.

About growing teams

Growing that team the right way—breaking down whom we needed, how to hire them, how to build team processes and ways of thinking—was just as important as building the right product. A thoughtful approach to growth to avoid watering down your culture. Processes that ensure new employees are immersed in and build on your culture from day one. Hire different people. Different people think differently, and every new perspective, background, and experience you bring into the business improves the business. Hiring a diverse and talented team is so incredibly crucial to your success that you’ll want to interview every person who joins your company yourself. Read “Rebel Ideas” 

About being a CEO

People have this vision of what it’s like to be an executive or CEO, or leader of a huge business unit. They assume there’s thoughtfulness and strategy and long-term thinking and reasonable deals sealed with firm handshakes. But some days, it’s high school. Some days, it’s kindergarten. As CEO, you spend almost all your time on people problems and communication. The things you pay attention to and care about become the priorities for the company.

1. Babysitter CEOs are stewards of the company and are focused on keeping it safe and predictable.

2. Parent CEOs push the company to grow and evolve.

3. Incompetent CEOs are usually either simply inexperienced or founders who are ill-suited to lead a company after it reaches a certain size.

Steve Jobs was a parent CEO. A pushy parent. A tiger mom. He knew if we kept pushing, together, we’d figure it out. The sacrifices would be worth it.

Give a shit

The job is to give a shit. To care. About everything. You’ll say good enough is not good enough. Most people are happy with 90 per cent good. But going from 90 to 95 per cent is halfway to perfect. So you push. Yourself. The team. You push people to discover how great they can be. And if you aren’t failing, you aren’t trying hard enough.


So you push. As a leader, a CEO, and a mentor—you push even when people resent you for it. Even when you worry that maybe you’ve pushed too far, and one day you’ll get an email from someone you worked with—two, three, maybe ten years ago. And they’ll thank you. Thank you for pushing them. They realized that moment had been a turning point, a jumping-off point. It changed the trajectory of their entire career. The things you built together changed their life. And that’s how you’ll know you’ve done something meaningful.

About boards

The best board members are mentors first. One of the best things about sitting on the board of a rising company is that you can get an early look into consumer behaviour or new trends or disruptions. You want board members who are truly, deeply excited by what you’re making. Who can’t wait to hear what you’ve been up to? You want a board that loves your company. And that your company loves back. You will need:

  • Seed crystals: Just as you need seed crystals to grow your team, you want someone on the board who knows everyone, has done it before and can suggest other amazing people to add to the board or to your company.
  • A chairperson
  • The right investors: When picking investors, you’re also picking one or two of them to be board members.
  • Operators: These are people who have been in your position before and know the roller coaster of company building.
  • Expertise: Sometimes you’ll need someone who deeply understands something very specific—patents, B2B sales, manufacturing, whatever—but they’re too experienced or too entrenched in their current project to take a job at your company.

The point

The book ends with the sale of Nest to Google. It was not a happy experience and a roller coaster. Culture clashes, Jojo management, strategic differences and ultimately resignation. And when you’re a founder, leaving your company can feel like a death. But then, you have tried, you have lived, and hopefully, you’ll walk away having created something you’re proud of. Having learned and grown. And that is the point.

sensemaking cover


Sense making; morality, humanity, leadership and slow flow. A book about the 14 books about the impact and implications of technology on business and humanity.

Ron Immink

I help companies by developing an inspiring and clear future perspective, which creates better business models, higher productivity, more profit and a higher valuation. Best-selling author, speaker, writer.

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