Ok, that was a totally troll title. What I want to share though is a subtle advantage that people who’ve worked at transformative tech companies have over people who haven’t. It’s not that the average employee from Google, Apple, Facebook, etc is necessarily smarter or more capable than any other person. I mean, maybe they are on average, but I’m not making the case that just because they passed a hiring screen that makes them worthwhile. There are certainly ineffective people who made it into Google and many, many special talents that haven’t yet been part of a rocketship. But there are two learnings that I’ve generally found to be more highly concentrated among those with experience at transformative companies versus those who haven’t. And I think it’s learned/reinforced in those environments, not just magically inherent to the people attracted to these opportunities. It’s like athletes who have been on championship teams pick up positive habits independent of their own skill level. In my observational experience, those who worked at e.g. Google during its early and hypergrowth years are more likely to:
1) Understand what motivates exceptional achievers
2) Know what high performance teams feel like
The telltale signs of *not* having either of these qualities are statements like “how will we be able to hire that engineer. I mean he seems interested but we can’t pay as well as his current job” or “it feels like our company’s pace is pretty good.” Versus beliefs like “this is where that engineer can make the biggest impact” and “we’re doing ok but it feels like a local maxima where performance will be good but we won’t move fast enough to find a key insight.”
Read In The Plex, Steven Levy’s book on the first decade of Google. The first few chapters detail not just the brilliance of Larry and Sergey but how top engineers, people who were in jobs that made them happy, encountered what Google was doing and just felt called to participate, almost irrationally.
I think about this not to toot my own horn (since I worked at Google), but rather in trying to understand what experiences the startups we back at Homebrew should value on their teams. And at what stages. There’s nothing worse than someone who worked at Google and (a) thinks they’re the shit or (b) assumes that every process/approach done at Google was right or right for a startup. That’s absolutely horrible. But it’s necessary to have people within a startup who are pacesetters or know that it’s ok to push harder. It’s why I tell many new grads that fast-growing midstage startups are their best first job in tech. Learn great habits from great people at a special time.
So first I try to understand if founders have not just the aptitude but the attitude to solve a big, urgent and valuable problem. If yes, I’m on the path to funding them. Then as a team is constructed – especially post A Round – how is that culture being driven throughout the organization. If it’s not there that startup will at best plateau and at worst… well, you know.
Ok, not sure I was articulate here, so if there’s confusion or other ways of thinking about this, maybe folks can chime in via comments.
Reblogged this on The Squiggly Line and commented:
I read this great article from Hunter yesterday and wanted to revisit one of the two main points he makes in it about high performing teams.
“2. Know what high performance teams feel like”
I’ve been a part of teams I’d class as high performing, as well as others I’d class as not. Reading the post made me reflect on what separated those different experiences. There is definitely a palpable sense you get when you join a team that’s really pushing itself. You get this sense that the people you’re around are all smarter than you. Not only that, but that everyone is busy DOing, too. In a work sense, they reply to your messages, quickly. Generally, they use more open tools (like Yammer, Twitter, Blogs etc) and so you can also see their communication cadence with others, on top of yours. You get this sense that to make the grade in this new environment, you’ll need to really work hard to ‘return serve’ to a lot of the incoming stimulus that enters your world. That you’ll need to not just do what you know, faster – but learn what you don’t know faster than you may have before.
When I joined Yammer a few years ago, it was certainly this experience that I felt. I remember my first few days at our old HQ in San Francisco at 410 Townsend Street. The Customer Success team I had joined was small, but growing quickly. I walked in the first day I was there and everyone came over the greet me and say hello. We chatted casually for a bit, introduced ourselves, then it was back to it. I was then showed where all the work happened. We had our own group on Yammer, which is where everyone posted about the work they were making progress on with their clients. That group sat within the Yammer network itself, which moved at a tremendous pace. It was awesome, in the truest sense of that word.
After I had the ‘tour’ and was left to my own devices, I stared at the screen in the customer success group. It was daunting. What could I possibly say that would be useful for these people? Luckily, I was distracted by someone asking for more of a chat so got stuck into that instead. In the end, it took me about 3 days to start posting on our Yammer network. I felt lost for words, but resigned myself to just getting started and getting some momentum on my side. Momentum is a funny concept like that. I believe it’s why high performing teams focus so much on being responsive to each other. Because if you loose that momentum, that mojo, as a group it’s very hard to get back.
It’s just one example, but that’s how a high performance team felt to me. Many people have left the Yammer Customer Success team in the years since and gone into bigger roles within Yammer or Microsoft itself, or have flown our nest for director-level roles elsewhere. But the high-performance culture amongst both that group of people and the teams they’ve left behind has mostly been maintained.