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Alfred Lin — Investing In Greatness

Alfred Lin is a partner at Sequoia Capital. Alfred is an investor in companies like Airbnb, DoorDash and Instacart among others. His track record as an investor is impressive, but as an operator, building companies like LinkExchange (sold to Microsoft), his own venture firm years ago that invested in winners like OpenTable, and then Zappos (selling to Amazon)… his track record as a builder is just about as impressive as an investor. As you can imagine, Alfred has a lot of insights from uniquely being at such high levels on both sides of the table. James and Alfred talk about how he spots great founders and what the process at Sequoia is really like, peeking behind the veil of one of the most prestigious investment firms in the world.

Updated on July 15

Key Smash Notes In This Episode


As a Junior at Harvard, Tony Hsieh decided to take over the student grill, but instead of selling burgers and fries like it used to, Tony would sell pizza which yielded higher margins.

Further, while most other students were only interested in running this grill in their Senior year, by taking over the operations as a Junior, Tony was able to amortize his costs over two years and to make more money.

Knowing he was the only Junior bidding on this grill, Tony was willing to be the highest bidder. He submitted his bid as "Highest bid +1 dollar," and naturally ended up winning.


Tony needed to kickstart his pizza business, so in order to secure cash upfront, he was able to give Alfred a discount, in exchange for an annual commitment.

In tern, Alfred realized that he could arbitrage his margins by simply selling this pizza to lazy roommates who were not interested in making a trip to the grill downstairs.

As as result, Alfred ended up making easy money in short amount of time, while Tony had to do all the restaurant work and then some.

This is when Alfred realized that even if you have a boring commodity business, you can make it interesting and worthwhile.


Interview for culture fit. Chance are it won't work out if you hire someone who is a good functional fit, but isn't on board with your company's mission. Hire missionaries, not mercenaries.

Take particular care at hiring senior people. They have been in the business and know how to fake the interview. The more experienced they are, the harder it is to make sure you are hiring the right person.

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