The creative spirits. The underdogs. The resolute. The determined. The indefatigable. The defiant. The outsiders. The independent thinkers. The fighters. The true believers. These are the people who have imagined, started, organized and built Sequoia-backed companies that collectively are now worth over 20 percent of the total value of the NASDAQ stock exchange. These are the kind of people we work with today. They are extremely rare. We’re ecstatic when they choose Sequoia Capital as their business partner.
The Founders whom Sequoia Capital teams with are usually part of “Gen1”, meaning the first generation. Many of them are the first people in their family to come to America. Others are the children of immigrants. Some are the first entrepreneurs in their family. Many of them are underdogs on improbable journeys. They have names like: Huang. Yang. Brin. Levchin. Lo. Vasudevan. Ferdowsi. Agarwal. Libin. Elahian. Corrigan. Melkote. Aziz. Kannan. Biswas. Musk. Collison. Mandelzis. Zuk. Mehta. Rangan. This pot-pourri of nationalities reflects our own complexion. Only one of Sequoia Capital’s senior members was born in California — thus qualifying as our minority hire. Others come from Australia, Italy, Mexico, Pakistan, South Africa, Taiwan, and the U.K.
Sequoia Capital’s recipe has been formed with our own ingredients and flavored by thousands of experiences. It is different. Most people who know us well like the recipe. A few don’t – but we don’t pretend to be for everybody. Poseurs, ingénues and get-rich-quick artists need not apply. We want to find founders and management teams with ideas and companies where there is the chance for us to be shareholders for ten or fifteen years.
We try to change with the times without getting swept away by hype. We share the sense of confidence and apprehension felt by every successful entrepreneur. We always assume that anything is possible, while simultaneously imagining that others want to put us out of business. We try to stay young at heart and very hungry. And we are always mindful of lessons learned – some painfully – that are eternal truths. Here is a sample:
We’re imbued with people who, for many years, thrived as founders and builders of market-leading Sequoia Capital backed companies, and enjoyed the experience so much they decided to join our team. The result: partners at Sequoia Capital have themselves been in tight corners and experienced many close scrapes. They know the sensation that comes from walking along the narrow tightrope that separates success from failure. They have also tasted massive success and have been around real winners and spectacular, long-lasting companies. They have started their own companies, built and run engineering organizations, built and galvanized sales forces, operated some of the world’s biggest data centers, shipped thousands of packages a day, mounted major marketing campaigns, and run the finance functions in firms that operate with high margins. This is the perspective we bring to companies with whom we get into business.
We shield ourselves from distractions. Nobody sits on public company boards where Sequoia Capital does not have a direct interest. We do not take sabbaticals. There are no four-day weeks. Meetings start on time. We dislike filing cabinets. We don’t tout the amount of money that’s been placed in our trust (you will not find it on this website).
We value teamwork over showmanship. There are no names of individuals on our front door or on the top of this website. We are skittish about the use of the first person pronoun or claims of individual bravado because they are not conducive to great teamwork. Our contribution to a company's success almost always comes from several of us, working in support of the management team, and not solely from whoever happens to serve on the company's board. Our entire team shares one space – it’s open, and it’s compact (the average square foot per person we occupy is 97 – it’s much less than Google sets aside per person).
Our job is to support founders and management teams.
We prefer not to dwell on the past because life is about the future, and there are too many examples of what happens to organizations that rest on their laurels. But having been buffeted by the vicissitudes of life for decades, we know the importance of fortitude and resilience, especially in dark times.
Some examples from Sequoia Capital’s past: Apple was formed eighteen months after the S&P index had lost almost half its value; Oracle, Electronic Arts and Linear Technology all got started when interest rates were running at 17%; we became the business partner of Cisco Systems six weeks after the crash of 1987 had wiped 30% off the value of the world’s stock markets; Microchip Technology was organized during the first Gulf War; and, PayPal filed to become a public company during one of only a handful of months in the past thirty years during which there were no IPOs in America. More recently, Aruba, LinkedIn, and Zappos allied with Sequoia Capital after the DotCom crash had put many firms out of business. In 2009, when the world was reeling from the aftershocks of the banking crisis, we helped Airbnb — then a tiny, unknown company — get off the ground.
We try to pick the investors in Sequoia Capital funds with as much care as we select the companies that we get into business with. We do so because the vast majority of profits flow into their coffers. We refuse to work to make the rich even richer, or for politicized organizations which squander money, or for self-dealers. That makes no sense.
Long ago we made charities the backbone of our client base. This means that the profits generated from the incredible achievements of the founders can make a massive difference. If Sequoia Capital’s investors had held their stakes in all Sequoia Capital companies since 1981, those would be worth about $50 billion – roughly one-and-a-half times the size of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the world’s largest private foundation.
Working for these charities brings intense meaning to what we do. It gives us a heightened sense of responsibility. If we make a great investment, it pays for educational scholarships, medical research, after-school programs for the poor, campaigns against obesity, orphanages and scores of other extraordinarily good deeds.