Seven Questions with Andrew Reed
Classic advice for founders from the Sequoia community.
Andrew Reed joined Sequoia as a partner in 2014 from Goldman Sachs. His twin brother, Will, is both his best friend and his fiercest competitor; they spend weekdays working in venture capital at two different firms, weeknights sparring in online chess and weekends trying to outdo each other mountain biking.
What is something you’ve learned that you lean on daily?
There’s an old quote called the Stonecutter’s Credo that describes hammering at a rock a hundred times without making a crack. “At the 101st blow it will split in two, and I know it was not that blow that did it, but the hundred that had gone before.” I try to remember that. In our work, you never know which days will be the biggest of your career. But if you stay focused and keep hammering, those days will happen.
I used to think it had to feel like I was running full gas, 100% all the time. But I’ve realized that usually I want to feel like I’m at about 95%, with a tiny bit left in reserve. Then when a big moment comes, I have no hesitation giving 120%. When we partnered with Tourlane, for example, things moved very quickly. I ended up emailing the founders one morning asking if we could have dinner, then got on a plane to the company’s headquarters in Berlin hoping they’d say yes while I was in the air—they did, thankfully. I felt ready to jump on that because I was comfortable with the little bit I had in reserve.
There are plenty of days when it’s hard to see measurable progress, but there is progress. I’ve learned to take joy in small moments, like getting to know a new person, perspective or market. I think this 95/120 rule holds true for the founders we work with as well. Enduring companies aren’t built overnight. Figma started building their product in May or June 2013, I think. They didn’t launch their GA product to the public until October 2016. But the entire team recognized that all of the little things were part of a far bigger picture. The companies that can make those sorts of investments and have the culture to see them through are the ones I really admire.
What one piece of advice would you give someone starting a company?
Make it fun. You only have one spin on this rock, so enjoy it. I think the best companies find opportunities that might seem silly but create huge amounts of happiness. One company we work with, Front, does a musical every year. It requires a ton of work and late nights for everyone, including their founder and CEO Mathilde, but it gives the company a personality that allows it to attract and retain great people. If you want to sustain high performance over a long period of time, it has to be more than just a “job” to people.
My own version of that is just a mindset shift. I don’t think I’m an extrovert by nature, but I can find something to appreciate in every meeting. One of the nice things about being in Silicon Valley is there are a lot of very smart, kind, and interesting people here—and a lot of very quirky people, too. That includes the people at Sequoia; I’m learning new things about my partners all the time. Because I sit next to him in our office, I’ve learned that my partner Doug literally refuses to hurt a fly.
What small change has made a big difference in your life?
I’ve started to look at outliers and anomalies as positives. I was originally trained to think every metric needed to be going in the right direction, but now I’m more interested than suspicious when something seems off. If most of a company’s users are in a certain demography or industry, for example, a business school case study might call that a “customer concentration problem.” But in reality, they may just have extreme market pull from one area, which is something you want to lean into. The world’s best companies have all been extreme outliers in at least one dimension.
I learned this the hard way. We’re fortunate to be in a business with pretty concrete feedback loops—if you’re dead wrong about a company, you’ll know it eventually. At some point, I recognized a pattern in some of the opportunities I’d missed. Certain metrics were absolutely going in the wrong direction, but others were so unique. Now I look for the one thing I’ve never seen before, and that small change has paid huge dividends for me.
What don’t you know that you wish you knew?
I wish I could transport myself into the minds of the founders I work with. Startups are emotional, and I think one of the benefits of having a good advisor or board member is that we genuinely care about you, but we can also be objective when it’s required—it’s like asking your brother for relationship advice. But at the same time, emotions often have really good reasons behind them that are hard to articulate. If I can’t get to the root of why a founder feels the way they do, I may have a blind spot.
That’s why I always ask the founders I work with how they’re feeling and what their gut is saying. I always want them to feel like they can share. That’s a two-way street, of course. I have to open myself up to them, too, or I can’t expect them to be open and vulnerable with me. Everything is built on trust, and that’s the case in our business especially.
What books are on your nightstand right now?
I read a lot of science fiction and fantasy, which for whatever reason tends to surprise people. It’s probably not what they expect from someone who played football and loves finance and numbers and metrics, but it’s just what I’ve always enjoyed. I’m about halfway through Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. It’s ambitious, but the characters are getting tired and it’s making me tired, too. I’m getting better about setting aside books I’m not enjoying, but when you’re seven volumes in, the sunk cost fallacy is hard to shake.
I just started The Expanse series, and the first two books were super fun. It’s nice to start a series that you’re pretty sure stays good. Dune is my favorite book in the world, by a large margin, but it was a little depressing to go in knowing the series would get worse over time. With The Expanse, it feels like it’s going to keep being fun.
I also just enjoy good writing. Last night I finished The Power Broker, by Robert Caro. Robert Moses was a wild character, and I think Caro is an unbelievable writer. If I could write like that, it’s all I would do.
When did you realize you were wrong about something?
One of the companies I now work with, Figma, I had originally chosen not to pursue a partnership with earlier on. When I first met them, I knew the team was exceptional across the board, but also knew how difficult it would be to build a performant design tool in the browser and then get designers to switch to a new product. After that decision, I followed the market closely and talked to design teams in our portfolio. And over a couple of months it became clear to me that Figma had done it, and that it was the future. I immediately sent Dylan an email and made sure to correct my mistake.
You do need strong convictions in this job, but they should be loosely held. Your natural instinct will be to look for evidence that your previous decision was right—it’s completely foolish to pretend that confirmation bias doesn’t exist. You have to stare it in the face. I try to maintain a beginner’s mind and remember anything is possible.
What unit of time matters the most and why?
A night’s sleep—I try my absolute best for eight hours. I think sleep is so valuable and so underappreciated. It makes you smarter, healthier, more creative. And it’s the one unit of time that’s actually dictated by your body, not by hunks of rock flying around each other. You have a set amount of energy and you need to recharge.
Like anything else, you have to make it a priority. If sleep is just what’s left over after all your other commitments, it will always get minimized—and eventually, that will make everything else worse, too. But a good night’s sleep can not only give you a fresh start, it can also be an accelerator when things are going well. After a great day, you can go to bed and think, “That was awesome. I can’t wait for tomorrow.”