Sramana Mitra: As a VC, how do you figure these things out? These are not easy to figure out.
Ashmeet Sidana: It comes from good judgement. Good judgement comes from bad experiences. You have to try things. As you can see over here, I have no shortage of gray hair. Some of these have come from having done well, but some of them have also come from making mistakes.
I don’t think we have yet distilled this into a formula or a method. I can tell you that you can spend an hour with a person and walk away with a deep impression of, “Is this person truly motivated? Are they just interested in status?” You talk to a person who wants to be a CEO because they’re interested in status. You want to talk to a CEO who wants to change the world. You want to talk to a CEO who wants to make other people successful.
These are very different views why you meet people who pursue that path. That’s what you look for. It comes from experience. I actually just came back from a machine learning conference. I continue to be astounded at the amount of progress that machine learning is making in some of these new approaches. Google is very active. Netflix has a very different approach in how they manage people. Eventually, this will get automated. For now, it’s just judgement and experience.
Sramana Mitra: One of my observations about society in general is that authenticity is rare. The world is dominated by hypocrisy. As a VC, you better need to figure out how much of what the person is telling you is selling and pitching versus what really is inside. That’s not an easy thing to do in short amounts of time.
Ashmeet Sidana: It’s not easy, but it’s also not hard. Companies do it all the time. They just do it at different levels. When a President appoints his Cabinet and picks the Secretary of State, they’re making the same decision.
Sramana Mitra: They’re making spectacularly bad decisions on a continuous basis.
Ashmeet Sidana: It is hard.
Sramana Mitra: Yes. Look at the whole circus going on at Yahoo! over and over again. This company cannot find a CEO who works.
Ashmeet Sidana: You’re absolutely right. It’s a very hard business. It’s an error-prone business. That is why VCs, politicians, CEOs make mistakes when they do it. It’s okay to fail as long as you’re clear about the goal, and you can iterate towards success. A great example of that was Abraham Lincoln. He was fighting the civil war. He went through many generals. He had to choose general after general after general.
It is a great skill to be able to hire people and find the right person for the right fit. Take another example of a great recruiting decision that was made. We have a President in the second world war who had to choose who was going to be the Commander for the entire Allied Forces. You know who I’m talking about – Eisenhower who eventually went on to be a President himself. Eisenhower was not next in line to be promoted. It was a controversial decision but what a great decision.
These decisions have been made through history by people in different contexts – war, politics, business. The rules are the same. We are recruiting people and building teams. Right now, it comes from judgement. I’ve interviewed hundreds, probably thousands of people, for jobs and I’ve made my share of mistakes. I’ve had to fire people. This is not an error-free process, but you spend some time and learn about people, and you can come to some good judgement about it.
Sramana Mitra: Great! Thank you for taking the time.