Tony Fadell is at the Grove, a spectacularly beautiful country estate outside of London. The event is Founders Forum: the ultra exclusive invite-only tech conference. Prince William is in the house. The guest list is lousy with knights and lesser officers of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. Marissa Mayer, the now ex-CEO of Yahoo, and Biz Stone, recently returned to Twitter, are mingling with the other hundred or so invitees. But this is really Fadell’s moment.
It’s almost exactly 10 years since the iPhone was released, and the media buzz is inescapable. The press is having trouble coming up with superlatives to describe the impact of a device that has sold more than a billion units. A new book, The One Device, is lighting up the intertubes with fresh gossip about “the secret history of the iPhone.” And Fadell—both the source and the subject of that gossip—is getting his due as one of the guys most responsible for turning Steve Jobs’ one-device-to-rule-them-all vision into reality.
The title of the afternoon session is “What to Build Next?” and Fadell is onstage with two other bona fide tech zillionaires—Niklas Zennström, the Skype guy; and Kevin Ryan, one of New York City’s most successful internet entrepreneurs—as well as a couple of other founder-investor types. Of the five people onstage, Fadell is the only one who helped build an object that every person in the audience has most likely used at one time or another. First Fadell helped build the iPod for Apple, then the iPhone, and then he ventured out on his own to build the Nest thermostat.
Fadell is the star of the show, and he knows it. His self-confidence is well earned but can come across as overweening—especially to those who suddenly find themselves in his shadow. “Any VC who tells you that you have to move to Silicon Valley,” Fadell says at one point, gesticulating wildly, “is being very lazy.” Two of the other people onstage are, in fact, from Silicon Valley venture capital firms, and their collars seem to squeeze a bit tighter. Fadell, in comparison, is supremely comfortable: relaxed and expansive in a pair of bright red sneakers—no socks—and a polo shirt. The moderator, wrapping things up, calls for a lightning round: a rapid-fire series of questions—with only one-word answers allowed.
What’s the biggest problem facing the world right now?
“Climate,” Fadell says. Then he adds, “We’regoingtohavetogonuclear …” before being hushed by the moderator for busting the one-word rule.
What’s the next big thing in tech?
“Computational synthetic biology,” Fadell says, bending the rules a second time.
Read more at Wired.