Jaime Bott joined Sequoia as a human capital analyst in 2010 and is now a partner leading the Human Capital team. After a difficult childhood, she says her experiences not only motivated her own personal and professional journey but inspired a passion for helping kids who are in challenging circumstances.
To approach my life with a design mindset, focusing on solutions rather than problems. I think it’s human nature to feel like things are happening to you, but I try to make things happen instead. In any given area of my life, I don’t put up with less than an 8 out of 10 for long. A one-off bad day is fine, but if something bugs me for multiple days in a row, that’s a pretty good clue that it’s not headed in the right direction. That’s when I go into problem-solving mode to figure out what I actually want and what steps I need to take to get there.
I don’t believe in reinventing the wheel, so in some cases I’ll start by finding the experts or the people who have effectively handled the problem I’m facing, and then I’ll use their guidance as a baseline but tweak it for my use case. For example, I was struggling recently with how to parent my four-year-old when he’s hitting or kicking, so I did some research and found a parent coach who could help me understand what is and isn’t typical and how I can help my son in those big, emotional moments. It’s had a huge impact on our family. In other cases, you just have to forge your own path—like when the Human Capital team built Sequoia’s Knowledge Base tool, which is essentially a wiki with answers to founders’ most commonly asked hiring questions. We wanted to pool the collective tribal knowledge from everyone on our team and in our network to ensure founders were receiving the best answers, as fast as possible.
It’s hard to choose! The first thing I’d say is to spend at least 30 percent of your time on recruiting; and 50 percent or more if you’re scaling quickly and handling some of the hiring yourself. That might sound impossible when you’re in the trenches building your product. But I’ve helped hundreds of founders, and I’ve seen firsthand that that’s what it takes. I also recommend founders take time to meet with great people even if you don’t have a role for them at that exact moment. It’s hard to take time for something that doesn’t have immediate ROI, but you never know when the right role will open up for a person—and in the meantime, they might be able to connect you with someone else who fits your current needs.
Our team also encourages founders to think about diversity from the very beginning and at every step of the recruiting process. The photos you use on your careers page and the words you choose in your job descriptions might seem like small details, but they matter. It might be unconscious, but candidates are looking for clues that tell them, “You would belong here.” It’s also critical that you instill a growth mindset culture, which helps to mitigate unconscious bias. The research shows that when companies demonstrate growth mindset, they’re more likely to attract and hire candidates from underrepresented groups—and that those diverse teams have a higher likelihood of building better products and achieving better financial outcomes overall.
A couple of years ago I got an executive coach, and it was a total game changer. Until then, I’d always thought if you do great work, good things will happen. When I started working with a coach, I realized the relationships part of the equation was equally important to doing excellent work. Again, it was that design mindset approach: “Okay, I want to have amazing relationships with my colleagues. What do I do to get there?” I think coaching is so important, especially for people who haven’t led a team before, like many of our first-time founders. It’s such a massive leap from individual contributor to CEO—you’re expected to manage all these functions you have no background in. Compared to a few years ago, we’re seeing more founders request coaching, but I think it should be standard for everyone.
I’d love to train to be an executive coach myself. I think it would be incredibly helpful in supporting both my team and Sequoia’s founders. Unfortunately, executive coaching programs are a massive time commitment, and I just don’t have room in my life right now. Something Dharmesh Shah said in his Seven Questions resonated with me: “Before I agree to add something new, I ask myself what I’m going to subtract.” There’s nothing I want to take off my plate currently, but I do think I’ll pursue coaching someday.
One is Difficult Conversations, by Bruce Patton, Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen. The premise is that you should approach every conversation by asking yourself, “How did I contribute to this problem?” That’s tough to do when you feel like you’re 100 percent justified in your position. But there’s always something—it might be an emotional reaction that you don’t realize is coming through in your body language or tone of voice. As my partner Carl Eschenbach once said to me when I was struggling with a situation, “Hey, it takes two.” At the time, I thought, “I don’t agree, this one is totally not on me!” But he was right, and I came to see how I was contributing to the problem. Once you take that ownership, you can reach a resolution far more quickly.
I also recently read How to Raise an Adult, by Julie Lythcott-Haims, which has really helped shape how I parent. Our culture encourages us to be overprotective of our kids, and I’m not the best at resisting that urge, but I’m trying. And while most of the books on my nightstand are about business or parenting, I also consume an alarming amount of sci fi set in the zombie apocalypse. One of my favorites is The Undead World series by Peter Meredith.
I’m very goal-oriented, which is good in that I finish whatever I sign up for. Every positive trait, though, has a dark side if it’s taken too far, and I sometimes push too hard to complete something without stepping back to reevaluate the thesis and making sure it is still worth doing. I have to beware of burnout, for myself and my team. Last year, for example, we wanted to experiment with different formats for events, so we did some workshops for our portfolio companies on diversity and other topics, and I also hosted several small dinners for potential candidates. They were great, but we did 25 events in all, which was way too many. This year, we’re scaling back to about six, to make sure each one is super high-impact and to free up time for our core activities.
I make sure I spend at least one hour per day on self-care. My husband and I both have intense jobs—he’s a founder and CEO—and we have three kids ages 4 and under, so life can get pretty crazy. Downtime is a must. I pick something I love, like reading or exercising or watching a sci-fi show with my husband. I’m also really into making jewelry. That one hour helps me be a happier human.
- Diversity starts early
- Get a coach
- Practice daily self-care