Within Silicon Valley power circles, being “on the beach” is a euphemism that covers a continuum of unemployment, from “retired rich” to “brief pause between high-powered jobs.” Tony Fadell has been metaphorically on the beach for six years, ever since leaving Google, which paid $3.2 billion for Nest Labs, the maker of smart thermostats he co-founded, in 2016.
On a recent Sunday afternoon Fadell was not just figuratively on the beach—he was holed up in an actual Malibu villa. (It wasn’t Fadell’s pad, but a friend’s whose name he’d rather not divulge.) Famously amped during his Nest years, Fadell was the picture of California cool on this sunny spring day. We were talking over Zoom, and he wore a multicolor Faherty pullover, pale-green Apple AirPods Max headphones slung over his bald pate. After he finished with me, he had a podcast-recording date with Rick Rubin, the music producer who founded Def Jam Recordings.
I told him he seemed at peace compared with his former combustible self. He disagreed. “I’m as feisty as ever,” he said. “I’m still a troublemaker; I still stir the pot.”