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Lessons from Alfred Lin (Partner @ Sequoia)

Alfred Lin is a partner at Sequoia.Β 

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He has been with the firm since 2010, and he has led investments into companies like Airbnb, DoorDash, and Zipline. Alfred is a former operator, and a lot of his investor prowess comes from evaluating what motivates people.

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Here are some of our favorite lessons, quotes, and additional reading from studying Alfred.

Lessons

  • Identify what motivates people. If founders have no mission, they will stop hustling once they get the first big payday.
  • Marketplaces make more sense when they connect seemingly unrelated things. Opportunity rarely exists connecting already obvious things.
  • Portfolio construction changes based your price sensitivity. If you are willing to outbid other investors on certain deals, you are limited in the amount of bets you can make.
  • If entrepreneurs only want money and a network, then traditional VC firms are in danger of losing deals to new forms of capital. This is a larger risk for funds without brand recognition.
  • Interview and evaluate for culture fit. You can have the best engineer in the world, but if they don’t buy into the mission, they won’t last.
  • In order to be an investor, you have to share the mindset of an entrepreneur and know what it takes to walk that walk. Lacking empathy for the other side of the table equals no relatability.Β 
  • Be as direct as possible even if it hurts. This is increasingly rare today.
  • There is a high likelihood your company will go through cycles of being loved and hated on the long journey ahead. Understand why both are happening and develop thick skin.
  • Fast thinking is pattern recognition: you’ve seen this situation before and so you know what works to fix it. Slow thinking is first-order thinking: the ability to come up with ideas based on a flexible, conceptual framework.
  • Develop a service-first mindset. Rarely do you see companies go wrong when this becomes ingrained into culture.
  • One of the downsides of economies of scale is that companies lose its ability to offer personalized experiences to the customers that want them. The companies that maintain quality service through growth periods are some of the biggest winners in Sequoia’s portfolio.

Quotes

"Great founders are all on a mission to build a product or service that corrects something that they believe the world got wrong. They are on a mission to correct a personal problem or personal pain. They are incredibly hard working, brutally intellectually honest, and insanely curious. They are outsiders to the industry they disrupt."

"Either as a startup founder or a venture capital investor, you should not care about what others believe to be exciting or overhyped."

"Think globally and act locally."

"The story has a beginning, middle, and an end; many people forget that. The story begins with how company financials got to where they are; the middle is the analysis and conclusions; the end is how you'll monetize the findings."

"Everybody wants to provide great customer service, every company wants to have great culture. What they fail to do is make it a daily habit."

"Growth hides a variety of sins."

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