USA TODAY Tech Person of the Quarter: Tony Fadell – USA TODAY
SAN FRANCISCO – When Tony Fadell spent some of his hard-earned Apple stash a few years back building a home on Lake Tahoe, he was determined to improve upon ordinary in-house devices for his family. Now, his family is the world.
Fadell, 44, agreed in January to sell Nest — the company that sprung up in 2010 from that personal home-building project — to Google for $3.2 billion, and in so doing the ex-iPod-engineer instantly turbocharged his mission to “build simple, thoughtful devices that make life easier at home.”
Nest’s first product was an Apple-like smart thermostat, which was followed last fall by Nest Protect, a smoke and carbon monoxide detector. Both products from the Palo Alto, Calif., company, which retail for $249 and $129 respectively, boast wifi connectivity and app controllability.
Although Facebook’s February acquisition of mobile-messaging platform WhatsApp for a stunning $19 billion takes the quarter’s financial cake, Fadell’s decision to slip under Google’s massive wing earned him USA TODAY’s Tech Person of the Quarter honors because the deal could position his company as a key player in the mushrooming Internet of Things: the proliferation of appliances that can update homeowners and each other wirelessly.
“This is a stunningly important deal,” says Ed Zimmerman, tech group leader at law firm Lowenstein Sandler. “Nest is one of the biggest players in the Internet of Things movement, and it’s a signal from Google to inventors that if you farm here, you can shape the world and make money.”
Although the deal netted a well-regarded innovator in Fadell, Zimmerman says this wasn’t merely another Google acqui-hire.
“They certainly paid a premium because of Tony, but if he left tomorrow the company would still have value,” he says, noting that many of Nest’s 300 employees followed Fadell and his co-founder, Matt Rogers, 35, from Apple. “What they’re all about is making products that change your relationship to your home.”
From Fadell’s vantage point, joining forces with a company as audacious as Google – with its moon-shot attitude and deep pockets — decreases his financial risk when pushing into new product territories, notes Adrian Tuck, CEO of Boulder-based energy home-management company, Tendril. Similarly, Google has picked the perfect start-up with which to try and dominate a category.
“The connected home space is littered with corpses, but by focusing on everyday things with this (Nest) purchase, Google is choosing a sector that’s easy to bite off,” Tuck says. “I would expect to see Microsoft and Apple to react, maybe with deals with the Honeywells (home security) of the world.”
Although Fadell is mum on what Nest products will roll out next, everything from in-home lighting and security immediately spring to mind. In fact, ADT, a longtime player in the latter category had made partnership overtures to Fadell before the Google deal was inked.
“We hope when the dust settles there will be something to talk about,” says Arthur Orduña, ADT’s chief innovation officer, who calls the Google/Nest deal “industry transformative.”
“There’s little surprise Nest was taken off the table, after moving into this innovative space so quickly and so well,” says Orduña, arguing that as great as he thinks Nest’s products are, the company would still benefit from the resources and human touch of ADT. “What’s undeniable is Fadell is thinking hard about the home. Now, with Google behind him, it could lead to some world-changing products.”
That sort of disruptive potential is what catches the attention of USA TODAY’s tech team, and through this series we aim to make our readers aware of the innovators and deals that are likely to change our world.
With so many tech ideas never seeing the light of day or taking years to morph from prototype to ubiquitous adoptability, it’s rare to see any product – let alone two as seemingly mundane as Nest’s thermostat and smoke detector – so shake up a market category.
Clearly, Fadell is no ordinary visionary, and Google showed foresight in striking quickly to tally the biggest coup of the quarter.
About this series: Each quarter, USA TODAY’s technology team of editors and writers selects an individual or company whose news is likely to have over time the broadest repercussions on the tech and consumer landscapes.