Nest’s Tony Fadell on the importance of focus and saying ‘no’

Tony Fadell is the man of the moment. Nest, the connected thermostat and smoke alarm company he founded in 2010 has just been acquired by Google for $3.2bn. I hear that in it’s three years of existence Nest got it’s thermostat into 1% of US homes and hit revenues of $100m (not sure if that’s trailing or projected). Before Nest Tony played a leading role at Apple brining the iPod to market.

At a Google Ventures event last year he has this to say about focus and saying ‘no’:

I learned the power of ‘no.’ No is really important. Entrepreneurs are told to say ‘yes, yes, more, more.’ To help you focus, to help you really understand what you’re doing, you have to say no a lot. When you say yes to everything, you get distracted. When you say no, you have to get the one thing you’re doing really right.

Note the way he makes a positive out of saying ‘no’ – it forces you ‘to get the one thing you’re doing really right’. That’s important because focus often feels like a negative – choosing not to do something, and thereby shutting off an opportunity. At startups there is a constant tension between creating opportunities to get lucky, often phrased as ‘having irons in the fire’, and going all in on doing one thing really well. Nest’s amazing success shows the power of going all in, but that’s something you can only do once you have conviction that you’ve found the thing that’s really going to work for you.