I’m an operator. I’ve been fortunate enough to help scale three companies from the founding stages to profitable businesses and through successful acquisitions.
I joined Sequoia because I had worked with Sequoia partners for a long time as an operator, and almost all Sequoia partners have worked at companies, started companies, and been part of the management team at companies that have done extraordinary things.
I find a variety of products and technologies interesting, but what they have in common is that they have disruptive business models.
Airbnb started with an air mattress and a radical vision of what hospitality could mean. As the seed investor, we partnered with Airbnb before it was clear to all that they could design trust among strangers, making a better way to travel and creating a way for people everywhere to belong anywhere.
If your goal is to get straight As and never speed, you're probably not cut out to disrupt an industry, which requires original thinking, an ability to see the world differently from others, and courage to challenge conventional wisdom when it doesn't make sense. (This is not saying the same as saying you should be lazy and get Cs, intentionally do bad things, break the law, and challenge conventional wisdom for the sake of it.)
A tall tale about one of my college jobs was buying whole pizzas and selling them by the slice to roommates at Harvard. It wasn't predatory — honest.
When I was contemplating going to business school after LinkExchange was sold to Microsoft, Michael Moritz (who graduated from Wharton, but never includes it in his bio) told me, “You learn more in three months at a startup than at business school.” I've been working at or with startups ever since.
When I was in a PhD program in statistics, Tony [Hsieh] would say that must be like watching paint dry, in the dark, as part of his way to recruit me into LinkExchange. I would laugh at that because, while I love math and numbers, I also had a passion for business. Dropping out was a hard conversation with my traditional Taiwanese parents.
I've been on both sides of being an operator and an investor, and I think it’s a privilege to have been on both sides.
I remember pitching Sequoia when I was at LinkExchange, at TellMe, at Zappos, so I can relate that fundraising is a pain.
The thing that culture, customer service, and fitness all have in common is that if you don't make it a daily habit, it's not going to be your core competency. Focusing on culture or customer service when it is already bad is similar to going on a crash diet and working out only when you notice when you are fat.
The 80/20 rule doesn't apply to entrepreneurship. Since most companies fail, you don’t get rewarded unless you are above the 99.9th percentile.
Those charts that show exponential growth, if you narrow it down to the very early beginnings, it looks quite flat. It takes a long time to get the flywheel going. So don't be discouraged.
Think about all the people that you've never liked working with. What values do they have? Think of the opposite of that. Maybe those should be considered values for your company.
At Sequoia, we don’t want to be treated any differently than your co-founder or your management team. We want to be there in the trenches with you, and be able to discuss any problem you have. We pride ourselves on being the first call you make when you want unconventional and prescient advice.
Who’s going to be your worst reference and why? I like asking that question just to see how introspective and brutally honest you are about yourself. If you can’t be transparent about that, we haven’t established the right level of trust yet to be business partners.
By training I’m an applied mathematician and statistician. I can definitely geek out on bootstrapping statistics.
My earliest computing memory is an abacus — which I could never use, despite my dad being the number two abacus champion in Taiwan.
My parents emigrated to the United States because they wanted a better life for me and my brother. We went from middle class to poor in that move, but my parents told us that we were temporarily poor. At the age of six, I didn't understand what they were trying to tell me. Today, I know the most valuable lesson from my parents was not that the US necessarily provides for a better life, it was that if you are intellectually curious, goal oriented, and work hard, you will figure things out.
In some ways you should ignore the climate. If you love what you're doing, you’re going to love it during good or bad times.
I didn't think raising too much money could be a bad thing until I saw how easy it is for once disciplined founders to blow through money when they start thinking certain things are not “worth” their time.
Raising a very large round might be a good vanity metric, but it rarely leads to great operating businesses.
People date for many years before they get married, and half of those partnerships still end in divorce. Why would relationships on the business side be any different? I would spend more time getting to know people before you let them invest in your company. Because if things go well, it's a five, ten, fifteen-year journey.
To this day my mother still asks me, “When are you going to go back and finish your PhD?” It’s unlikely.