Those People Starting Successful Tech Companies? Most Are Middle-Aged

In an interview, Mr. Fadell recounted how, after he left Apple, he and his family traveled the world and designed an eco-friendly home for themselves in Lake Tahoe. He said he was dissatisfied with the clunky thermostats offered by his contractor or visible during his travels.

“Thermostats were ugly, outdated, and didn’t help you save money or keep you comfortable,” Mr. Fadell said. He recalls thinking: “There’s something fundamentally wrong here and there’s no product in the market to address it.” So he created a new thermostat and a new company.

Mr. Fadell said he had tried to start successful companies in college and earlier in his career but they failed because he wasn’t ready.

“There were a lot of things I needed to learn to finally be able to nail it,” he said. He learned about product design at General Magic, he said, and about managing teams and financing at Philips Electronics. At Apple, he said, Mr. Jobs showed him how to go beyond designing a product; the key, Mr. Fadell said, was to design the customer’s whole experience, from packaging to messaging.

When he needed to recruit a team for Nest, he said, he was already a Silicon Valley veteran. “I’d been in the Valley for 20 years so I had a huge network of people I’d worked with before,” he said.

His thinking, as an older man, was different, too. In his 20s, he said, he was barely aware of thermostats. “College students know what college students need,” he said. “When you get older, you start to need and understand other things.”

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A lot of innovation in business benefits from experience. Youth has its triumphs, but some roads to success are lengthy. They require age and staying power.



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