Crafting Excellence: How ‘Build’ Reshaped My View on Making Things

Karen Hsieh
5 min readNov 9, 2023

Tony Fadell’s “Build” is my best read in 2023 👍. It isn’t just a book; it’s a journey 🗺️ through the mind of one of Silicon Valley’s most prolific creators. Without giving too much away — because this is a journey every aspiring innovator should embark on firsthand — the book unfolds like a map, guiding us through the terrains of creation, leadership, and resilience.

Build
Build, https://www.buildc.com/the-book

Great Common Sense

I resonate with the concepts he describes in the book, but he puts these into practice at a level that I couldn’t imagine and shares lots of great learnings. Like his intention for this book, his common sense from decades of experience 🏛️ gives answers when people don’t have them at first.

Follow Your Passion ❤️‍🔥. This is how you do great work. It feels dangerous and uncertain of the future. It’s proven several times in history and now. So many historical figures… and living ones, like sports athletes, Warren Buffet, etc.

As a parent, when I tell my children to follow their passion, I worry if their passion can support their lives. To protect them, I want to tell my children a proven way to make their living. It feels safer and easier. However, it’s not safer and easier because the world changes so fast. My job as a product manager didn’t exist when I started. My parents don’t understand what I am doing. 😅

Tell A Story 📖. Storytelling is how you get people to join, to build with you, or to use your product. It’s ONE story. Everything should be aligned, from the first glance at your product to the day-to-day use of your product.

Set The Standard High 🌟. Push yourself and your team. Be a mission-driven leader. It doesn’t feel good when people roll their eyes at your high standard, but they will know how much pride they feel when they do world-class work.

Constantly Evolving 💪. Like product optimization and sometimes disruption from v1, v2…v15, etc. Do, fail, learn and the rest will follow. The best thing is to learn. Learn to build yourself, your product, your business, and your team.

These four are connected.

These four are connected 🔁. Follow your passion and tell others your vision through a story. Set your vision to a high standard so you consistently improve. Because of the world-class standard, your vision is attractive and appealing to people. This would require much hard work and time to make it happen so it must be something that cannot get out of your mind. While doing so, you keep learning and polishing your story that reinforces your passion.

Inspiring Action 💡

Tony’s book is a beacon for those at a crossroads, whether you’re a fledgling entrepreneur or a seasoned executive. It nudges you to ask: Are you creating value that resonates with your core? It inspired me to re-evaluate my projects through a lens of passion and purpose, a recalibration I didn’t know I needed.

When founders describe their startup as missions that they care deeply about, and they have things that enable them to do it, it’s founder market fit. The thermostat problem was in Tony’s mind for ten years.

Someone needed to fix it. And eventually, I realized that someone was going to be me.

Build, Part IV Build Business

Tony wrote the whole chapter on how to spot a great idea — by doing it. Spend time to immerse yourself to understand the problem. Join the company, do side projects, study related information, etc.

Though most companies show their vision and mission on their website, you can tell the level of care you feel. When I look back, I wasn’t sure if I weighed this in considering my career. I thought about the job and the company but didn’t think about what problem the product or the company aimed to resolve when I joined Yahoo!, HTC, etc.

Working with people who have an obsession with the same problem sounds fascinating. 😍

A Reflection of My Journey

In reflecting on my journey, “Build” has been a mirror and a mentor. It reaffirmed that the roles we play — whether as designers, managers, or storytellers — are fluid, adapting to the needs of the vision we chase. 🔄

Tony describes himself as a product designer. In this book, you can see he oversees the marketing, technology, product, and the entire business.

I’m an experienced, well-connected product designer who’s been lucky enough to make some famous technology.

Build, chapter 1.3 Hero

Passion and learning are the keys. Because of the care and passion to make it happen, you do and learn whatever it takes beyond the limitation of your job title.

Product manager or product marketing manager — Product marketing and product management are essentially the same thing — or at least they should be.

Build, chapter 5.5 The Points of PMs

There are many discussions about the roles and responsibilities between product marketing, product design, product management, and more. It depends on the character of the company and the strength of the team. e.g., Airbnb emphasizes product designers pairing with product marketing managers. Google built the requirement that product managers must have a technical background

Practical Experience Sharing 🧝‍♂️

Tony shared many great learnings consolidated from his decades of experience building world-class products with excellent professionals. He answered questions about data vs. opinion, micromanagement, and the steps of product creation, which were long-term issues in my mind.

I highly recommend this book to people who enjoy building things. You can stand on the giant’s shoulder to view what he experienced. And he makes these vivid as if you stand aside the conversations between him, Steve Jobs, Larry Page, and Bill Campbell. 🤩

Invitation to Dialogue

I’m sharing these thoughts not to prescribe a one-size-fits-all solution but to initiate a conversation. What has “Build” stirred in you? How does Tony’s advice take shape in your work? Let’s compare notes and build not just products but legacies. 🤝

🤩 I’m happy to hear how you do data or products. Feel free to reach out to me on LinkedIn Karen Hsieh or Twitter @ijac_wei.

🙋🙋‍♀️ Welcome to Ask Me Anything.

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Karen Hsieh

Product Manager driving growth and team empowerment with a user-centric and data-informed approach, aiming to pave the way for profitability.