Build – An Unorthodox Guide to Things Worth Making

Build – An Unorthodox Guide to Things Worth Making

Build is Tony Faddell's mix of philosophy, management learnings, and ideas for how to build a startup.

A lot of what he said really resonated with me, particularly when it comes to the idea of learning by doing. Instead of theorizing how the world should work... try building something and testing it!

The book itself is organized as a collection of various nuggets, with each chapter having a single theme or lesson.

As a meta-observation, Tony comes across as a polarizing figure. He pretty clearly says whatever is on his mind, and I think his level of being true to his own goals is one to aspire to.

What follows are the top lessons that stuck with me.

Find what you want to build and who you want to be.

"The only sin in your 20s is inaction."

Management tip: list out the top problems going on with each team or org. Do this regularly and figure out which things need fixing.

Look up: as an IC it's tempting to only look down at the problems ahead of you. This means that sometimes you'll run into a wall!

Managing well is like having kids. You want to be hiring people better than you are, and ensure that they are performing better than you could!

Great product development is all about making the intangible tangible. If you have an idea, make a mockup. Build a physical prototype. Create personas with actual names and faces so you can learn everything about your customer. — This idea resonated a lot with me, I think it’s one of Ilya’s main superpowers when it comes to landing pages. The more cheaply and quickly you can create tangibility from an idea, the stronger it will take hold. That’s part of the reason why we love whiteboards, memes, and powerful descriptions.

The power of storytelling is huge. It’s what makes people want to follow you, buy your product, and partner with you. When Steve Jobs would get up on-stage, what he was really doing was storytelling. He'd been honing that story ever since the early days of product iteration.

Pre-vs-post v1: before you launch the v1, you have no data! You have to rely on vision. AFTER you launch the v1, suddenly you have a lot more info. You know how people will receive your tool. Steve Jobs had the vision of a keyboardless-iPhone... and everyone told him "you have to have a keyboard, the blackberry keyboard is the number one thing people loved!" But he stayed firm. After launch though... he wanted to keep the iPhone apple-only to sell more macs. The team said there was no way they could do it, they would just be turning down demand!

There's an interesting concept of a company's handcuffs and heartbeat. Before you launch the v1, your product cadence is entirely up to you. It can be easy to work on something infinitely and polishing it without ever launching it. You need to set up some internal launch date so that you don't just work on the v1 forever. After that point, you are bound to external factors: conferences, holidays, customer demand.

When you take time to vacation, give your mind time to ‘rummage’. Let it explore wild ideas that are outside of your norms.

Take hand-written notes. A laptop between you and the rest of the meeting participants will put up an extra barrier and be too distracting! Instead, take hand-written notes for each meeting, and then synthesize these later.

Send out a weekly digest to your team about the top questions and concerns on your mind. There’s a nugget in here about trying to explain the current blocking factor to another person. I find that’s exactly how I think. I need to explain what’s currently happening to another person to really identify the true limiting constraints myself.

Opinion driven decisions vs data-driven decisions: know which to make when! Opinion driven is when you have no data. It's important to actively take big swings here.

Free perks will cause employees not to value them. Instead, figure out what you want people at your company to have, and then subsidize those things.