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Tony Fadell's Advice to Hardware Startups: Focus on the Problem (Video)

Keep it simple, stupid.

Asa Mathat

It seems contradictory when a hardware specialist tells techies to stop obsessing over hardware.

And yet that’s exactly what Tony Fadell, CEO of smart thermostat-maker Nest, believes — in the beginning, at least.

“Most people focus so much on the hardware,” Fadell said in conversation with Walt Mossberg at the inaugural Code Conference, speaking about the growing wave of young hardware startups that have appeared in Silicon Valley in recent years. “So I say, don’t focus on the hardware. Focus on the problem you’re solving, and then go make the hardware.”

Fadell suggested going through the idea of marketing the product, making software mockups, working through how it works in conjunction with the iPad — essentially figuring out every aspect of how the product will work before committing to building the hardware itself.

That may sound backwards for a hardware company. But it smacks of how Apple thinks through product problems: How can a company integrate the device and its construction into every other part of how an organization works, and the companion products that may complement it?

“The first step is solving the problem, and to do that through quick iteration,” Fadell said. “The only way you can do that is when it’s at the virtual level.”

“Stop looking at the shiny bits,” he said.

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