What People Who Worked At Google Know That You Probably Don’t

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.

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