CS183c Assignment #3

The last few weeks we heard from several excellent guests, including Selina Tobaccowala from Survey Monkey, Patrick Collison from Stripe, Nirav Tolia from Nextdoor, Shishir Mehrotra from Google, and Elizabeth Holmes from Theranos. The topic of discussion was scaling beyond the tribe phase to the Village/City phases of a company.

My favorite among these was the session with Patrick (video), which I found to be rich with interesting points and mental models. In what follows I will try to do a brain dump of some of these ideas in my own words.

On organizational structure (~20min mark)

This part was quite amusing because I felt like Patrick was being contrarian by defending the standard.

On hiring (~28 min mark)

Another interesting analogy was in thinking of good people as airship carriers. Your job during hiring is to find them and steer them towards a direction, as opposed to thinking about it the other way around, where you try to find people aligned with your direction first and then build them up over time. The argument is in favor of the former order of precedence.

The last point that resonated with me strongly was the realization that it is incorrect to think about hiring on an individual basis. When you’re hiring a person you’re in fact hiring an entire cone of people in expectation, because good people in an area attract more good people like them, dramatically reducing the barrier for another similar hire.

Company communication

The misc

Misc misc

The SurveyMonkey back story was fun to hear about — a great example of an organically rapidly growing company with huge profit margins. Also, an example of a company that may seem not too exciting until you think about it more. Selina also made the interesting observation that some people have preferences towards particular stages of the company, and that some might not scale, or not be willing to scale, up.

Nirav described a very nice example of doing things that don’t scale with the early days of Nextdoor. They attracted only 170 neighborhoods in their first year, by hand. Nirav also mentioned an interesting concept of a “treadmill company” - a metaphor for a company where you can’t easily step back and enjoy the view — it requires constant struggle and active involvement. Finally, in terms of extracting value from customers without explicitly charging them Nirav mentioned two modes of operation: the demand fulfillment model (e.g. Google) and demand generation model (e.g. Facebook).

Shishir brought up an interesting idea called the “tombstone test”, as a way of determining how to spend your time. In short, if you can’t imagine something being on your tombstone then it is not worth working on. Hm!

That’s it! The insights I like the most are the ones that point out mental models that distill a situation to something that preserves most of its core dynamics, but is easier to think about. This distillation process cleans an idea, strips it from the irrelevant and preserves the core nugget of insight. The last few weeks were quite rich!



I like to train deep neural nets on large datasets.

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