Since joining Sequoia in 2008, Mike Dixon has focused on investments in health care companies, including MedExpress, Stemcentrx, Health Catalyst, and Clover Health. He believes the average human lifespan could reach 120 years by the time he retires.
Writing. It’s how I turn my feelings into beliefs. If we’re looking at a new company, I’ll sit down and, as an exercise, I’ll try to write the memo advocating for partnering with the company. By the time I’m done, it’ll be clear it’s something I have tremendous conviction in, or I’ll see the gaps in the logic.
Writing helps me know what I don’t know, so I can either ask the right follow-up questions or search out information to bridge the gap—or I’ll realize I’m not as interested as I thought. And if I come away with even more interest in a company, writing sometimes helps others on the team get there, too.
I would ask a question: “Are you really passionate about it?” And then the advice is: Make sure that you really care about this thing you are starting, because it’s really hard, and in some ways, it’s insane to start a company.
The people who start companies and succeed, usually could have done a number of other things with a much higher likelihood of success. Building a company is an invitation for hard times and potentially years of work with no guarantee of a favorable outcome. You’re often embarking on something without knowing if it’s a good idea, but you’re so in love you’re going to try regardless.
I’ve started listening to podcasts and audiobooks during my commute from San Francisco down to Sequoia—it’s an hour. I used to listen to the news or sports or whatever was on the radio, but I learn so much more listening to podcasts and audiobooks. I get onto topics I don’t have time to touch during the day, so in a way it’s this gift of two extra hours a day. Right now, I’m listening to a book about genes. I never formally studied biology, but now I have enough knowledge to follow a conversation and ask good questions.
I wish I knew what sort of mega-change was going to happen over the next 15 years a priori. I don’t mean that in some Back to the Future, hop-in-a-DeLorean-and-have-all-the-answers sort of way. I’m not looking for all the answers—that wouldn’t be that much fun. I want to know what mega-change is coming, because it would help narrow my focus. There are so many places we might go as a society and not enough time in the day to explore them all. But if I did take that DeLorean ride to 2033, the fun part would be meeting all the entrepreneurs and having them describe the path they took.
In the last 25 years, the Internet is a pretty good example of a mega-change. The scale of change would have been nice to know about in 1995, even though you still could’ve made a lot of bad investments. At least you’d have been in the right pond. I’d just like to know the right pond because they all seem so interesting.
Regenesis, by George Church, about synthetic biology. I’m having a hard time reading it because he’s at a much different level than I am, but I’m interested in this convergence of engineering and biology, which is the point of the book. I got a chance to meet him. You feel like you’re in the presence of Charles Darwin. He’s an amazing man, working on the de-extinction of the woolly mammoth, data storage in DNA, and he’s one of the pioneers of gene editing and sequencing. He’s trying to change the world in ten different ways.
Where should I start? In my previous job, at Fidelity Investments, I was wrong about a handful of stocks. I thought they would go up; they went down. There were others—I thought they would go down; they went up. You get familiar with that pain though, because the stock market stares you in the face every day.
Here at Sequoia, I’ve been wrong several times about different companies—I thought Uber was just a black-car service. I could go on and on. I’m from the Detroit area, and I never thought I’d drive a car that wasn’t built in Detroit. Wrong. I never thought I’d love California. Wrong.
I have two answers. The first answer is a decade or more. I say that because if you are going to change the world, it usually takes a long time.
On the other hand, a day is the most important for a company, because so much of a company’s success depends on getting a little bit better every day. As a company, you live by the goals in front of you, but it’s consistent, small steps that get you there. That compounding effect is really powerful. Having that muscle in a company extends to people, too—it’s a powerful way to think about personal performance and growth.
- Take small steps
- Write it out
- Maximize your commute