Elad Gil

Entrepreneur and Angel Investor. Former Cofounder & CEO of Mixer Labs

THIS CHAT HAPPENED ON March 29, 2017

Discussion

Elad Gil@eladgil1
Hi - I'm Elad Gil. I am a serial entrepreneur, investor, and operator. I invested in AirBnB, Gusto, Instacart, Stripe, Square, Pinterest, Wish, Zenefits and other companies. I co-founded both Color Genomics and MixerLabs (acquired by Twitter) and was a VP at Twitter (where I helped scale the company from 100 to 1500 people) and PM at Google (where I incubated the mobile team). I am also chairman at Color, which uses software to dramatically drop the cost of, and broaden access to, cancer genomics and related preventative health services. I'm excited to be here - ask me anything! UPDATE: Thanks to everyone for the great questions and for taking the time out this morning! Signing off now!
Ryan Hoover@rrhoover · Founder, Product Hunt
Important question: What's the backstory behind your DBZ avatar? 🤔
Elad Gil@eladgil1
@rrhoover that would take up the whole hour! Needless to say, I am considering switching to Itachi from Naruto as a slight modernization - although obviously that is out of date now too!
Garry Tan@garrytan · Managing Partner, Initialized Capital
When you spend time with CEOs, what do you like to do to help them figure out their calendars? Suddenly folks have to go from the doing (programming, support, sales, marketing) to the care and feeding of the organization. Where are the places that first time founders make mistakes? What do you see happen over and over again?
Elad Gil@eladgil1
@garrytan I have a blog post I have been meaning to share on this. I think founder CEOs who have not managed before have enormous difficulty delegating early on when their organization starts to scale. Helpful tactics include: 1. Audit your calendar once a week (maybe Monday AM). Where did you spend time last week where you weren't really needed? Where do you want to spend more time? Does your coming week reflect that prioritization? Related - what are the 3 most important things for the company and is 90% your time going to those 3 items this week? 2. Start sending people as proxies. Do you really need to go to every sales call with the low-level middle manager in the partner organization? Do you really need to attend the engineering meeting about the UI bug? Once you see others can cover for you, it allows you to spend less time on items that don't really merit your attention. It is OK if it is only done 90% as well as you, the perfectionist did it. 3. You do not need to be in every first round interview panel. You can be the last interview for non-executive hires. 4. Strengthen your executive layer. Hiring one great executive will cause a "oh shit" moment where you realize how well things can be done without your direct day-to-day involvement. This is a truly liberating moment for every founder. Many technical founders tend to over index on attending engineering meetings and never go to any sales or marketing meetings. Eventually they realize they need to be part of the sales process so this is a big shift....
Mike Coutermarsh@mscccc · Code @ GitHub
Hi Elad! Would love to know - What's the risk you've taken so far in your career that scared you the most?
Elad Gil@eladgil1
@mscccc Silicon Valley is interesting in that it operates in 5-7 year "relevance" cycles. I.e. the people relevant in one cycle (excluding the Larry Pages of the world) tend to lose relevance in the next cycle. The hard part is to ask how you can stay relevant over the arc of a 20, 30, 40 year career in the Bay Area. Similarly, as people gain wealth they tend to lose hunger and so they slow down and stop trying to be relevant. As such, people need to take risks every 5-7 years to remain relevant, which means switching industries, trying new roles, or going for something big. This is hard to do. The biggest leap I made was going from a Ph.D. in biology to joining the tech industry (I also have a math background). Most people told me it was stupid to do this and told me to stay in bio.
Tyler Willis@tylerwillis · Asteroid Hunter
@eladgil this is really brilliant advice.
Jack Smith@_jacksmith · Serial Entrepreneur & Startup Adviser
with your role changeup a few months ago that saw you move from ceo to full-time chairman: 1) why did you select the title of "chairman" vs other options? especially given this role can often be not a full-time every day role. 2) does this role change see you free up more time to focus on other projects (I saw someone say they're working on a side-project with you, can't remember who), or are you still working on Color the same number of hours as before? bonus question if you have time: did you have any reservations about selecting the name Color for Color Genomics, given the high profile implosion of Bill Nguyen's Color startup?
Elad Gil@eladgil1
@_jacksmith for (1) there are a wide range of different "chairman roles". To your point it can be anything from full time, super hands on to "shows up to board meetings". In my case I am still at Color every day, but do not have direct line reporting responsibility. So Othman the CEO, me, and the other board members felt that this ongoing engagement with a lack of reporting was best set as "Chairman". It could have been a variety of titles. I am still working at Color every day - with the biggest issue being having a newborn which takes up a ton of time! I think something like 20% of employees at Color have young children. At a meta level, titles are really an exercise in pragmatism. For example the title "Business Product Manager" was created at Google by Susan Wojciki (who now runs YouTube) as Larry Page was unwilling to hire non-technical PMs (i.e. people without a CS degree). So Susan suggested "BUSINESS product manager" so she could hire talented people that were not considered technical enough into a product role at Google. BTW, some of the people hired as "BPMs" included Gokul Rajaram, who was an IIT CS undergrad and had an MS in CS as well. So "Technical" at Google is all relative.
Jack Smith@_jacksmith · Serial Entrepreneur & Startup Adviser
@eladgil Wow, that's awesome that 20% of the team have young kids. Congrats on your newborn! Thanks a lot for the clarity around your thought process. I think that this could actually be a great move to allow you to work on special projects; many times in companies founders or VPs (or whoever) will often try to "empire build" and stack as many people reporting to them as possible. there's actually huge benefits probably to having zero reports and being able to be nimble.
Stephen M. Levinson@stephenmarklevi · Design @Vimeo @Cameo
what books do you recommend?
Elad Gil@eladgil1
@stephenmarklevi Business, other non-fiction, or fiction?
Stephen M. Levinson@stephenmarklevi · Design @Vimeo @Cameo
@eladgil Business and fiction
Elad Gil@eladgil1
@stephenmarklevi A few good business books include: 1. Andy Grove's High Output Management https://www.amazon.com/dp/B015VA... 2. Peter Thiel's Zero To One: https://www.amazon.com/Zero-One-... 3. Obviously Ben Horowitz's book and Reid Hoffmans books are great too. 4. On management, I like the books "Managing Humans" and "First Break All the Rules"
Dhruv Garg@drgarg
@eladgil @stephenmarklevi you can see some fiction recommendations on http://parrotread.com/eladgil
Ayrton De Craene@ayrton · Code @ Product Hunt
What characteristics do great founders share?
Elad Gil@eladgil1
@ayrton I think founders who go the distance tend to have the following traits: 1. Persistence. Keep going even when things get tough (which happens at every company) 2. Adaptability. Things will change. Frequently. 3. Clear communication. Ability to communicate and sell to employees, customers, etc. 4. Fast learners. Pick things up quickly. Know how to go collect information and learn from others. 5. A nose for a good market, or luck. A great team doesn't matter if the market sucks.
Ben Tossell@bentossell · newCo
What do you believe that few agree with you on?
Elad Gil@eladgil1
@bentossell I think there should be a retirement age in politics and on the supreme court. This would radically change a lot of the dynamics around public office (and the supreme court battles)
COSTAS ANDRIOPOULOS@candriopoulos · https://medium.com/strictly-curious
Hello Elad, thank you for taking our questions. Where do you look for emerging trends (e.g. sources, events, websites, etc.) and how do you pick ventures in nascent industries?
Elad Gil@eladgil1
@candriopoulos A few quick thoughts of the top of my head: 1. What products would my company use? What is broken in how my company tries to operate that software can fix? This led to investments in Stripe, Optimizely, MailGun, PagerDuty, Zenefits, Gusto - there are all products I knew would help productivity at my own startup. 2. What are small signs of big traction? E.g. when a yoga blogger I followed starting using Twitter aggressively a few years ago, it felt like the company was about to really crossover. 3. What industries are transformative and what value chain underlies it? E.g. I think the most underinvested area in ML right now is the semiconductor layer with everyone using NVIDIA GPUs. If you take a step back and ask what is the full stack for an industry, interesting opportunities emerge. 4. I read a lot and constantly across diverse sources. Picking companies is a whole other story. For me it is market/product first and foremost, and then team, and then would I like to spend time with the team (life is short)
COSTAS ANDRIOPOULOS@candriopoulos · https://medium.com/strictly-curious
@eladgil Thank you Elad for your sharing your invaluable insights!
MHD. ASHIQUE KUTHINI@ashique_kuthini · Rectfy
Hi Elad, As an Entrepreneur who have already have a yet to release product under Social apps category I've two questions. 1. We (Team of three) built a product which is ready to launch without any funding but the product will have a rough time reaching success if the initial users are less because it's purely requiring more users since social apps need people on board to see and react to our interactions. What do you think of going for external funding for pre-launch and initial level promotions ? Or do you suggest turning maximum users in with our own efforts without any well paid user acquisition sources and wait for the reaction of the initial users (Keeping the fact that less users in the beginning will surely make a bad impression in the initial users)? 2. I've full confidence in my product even though it's going to compete in Social media apps category because it's having a definite purpose and not another social networking app imitating some of the top apps. As a serial Entrepreneur what will you suggest and what all advises you can give for me? Thanks in Advance Elad and I do appreciate that you are giving this live session for helping Entrepreneurs like me.
Jacqueline von Tesmar@jacqvon · Community at Product Hunt ⚡️
What do you look for most when making investment decisions? Is it the founder, the team, the idea, initial traction?
Elad Gil@eladgil1
@jacqvon It is impossible to argue with sustainable high margin traction, so if that exists, that trumps everything[1]. The hard part is investing in the absence of traction. At the very early stages for me it is foremost product/market. I think I differ with a lot of angels on this. E.g. what product are you building and what market are you actually in? Most angels focus on team first and foremost, but many great teams lose to a terrible market. (Marc Andreessen has great blogs on this). After market, team really matters. It is important note the team that gets to product/market fit may not be the same team that can scale the company - these are very different skill sets (i.e. 0 to 1 versus 1 to 1000). Also, you need to only work with 100% ethical people. Lastly, would I want to spend time with the team? I have had founders literally call me at 10pm on Saturday asking to meet. Would I want to pick up their call? Life is too short to work with jerks. NOTES [1] Although I would not invest in something with lots of traction if the team was unethical
Jacopo Lupi@jacopolupi · UX Designer @ Dollaropath
What are the fundamentals you look for in a company before investing?
Joshua Berk@joshuajberk · Entrepreneur | Previously @Google
Color Genomics has had a lot of success in recruiting incredibly talented people from all backgrounds, most notably those that are often underrepresented. Could you give some non-obvious tips into how you've done that? We all want our companies to represent the diverse community of the world, not just that of Silicon Valley.
Elad Gil@eladgil1
@joshuajberk I think like many companies we have a long way to go on diversity but we do work at it very hard. For example Color is now ~50% female. From day 1 we openly discussed internally that we wanted a diverse group of people to come together and drive our success, and we emphasize diversity at our weekly recruiting synch. We also explicitly sought out a broader mix of investors then is typical (which many founders forget to do and end up with 10 white male angels). Having diverse investors meant that our first independent board member was a Sue Wagner, who cofounded Blackrock and is on the board of Apple. We added her to the board only after getting to know her well and seeing what an amazing angel she is. I would summarize it as: 1. Start early. 2. Look for diversity in every role - investors, board, executives, etc. 3. Re-emphasize it when thinking about recruiting and bake it into your recruiting practices. 4. Think about how diverse employees may thrive. What programs can support a broad range of people at your company?
Nakayi Buwu@nux_b · Founder, Festlove
Hi Elad, as somebody who has been on both sides of the coin i.e an entrepreneur and investor. Two questions; what would be your advice for an entrepreneur trying to grow their user base? Also what would your advice be for an entrepreneur trying to make their start up more attractive to investors? Thanks Nakayi
Elad Gil@eladgil1
@nux_b To grow your userbase there is either something wrong with your product (i.e. it is not "10X" better) or there is something wrong with your customer acquisition (we aren't selling it to the right buyer, or through the right channel). Most startups fail because of a lack of product/market fit. E.g. you can stitch the world's best growth team onto a terrible product, and it just won't sell. Too many people try growth tactics on a product that a market does not want, and all those efforts are wasted.
Nakayi Buwu@nux_b · Founder, Festlove
@eladgil Thanks for the advice!
Edis Murtic@nextenergylabs · StudentCoin
Elad, I need to get in touch with Jack Dorsey, it’s about my companies, Nextenergylabs, Unlimited energy/battery storage for smartphone, ev:s, cities and water but also A.I Government, a.i government system that is analyzing the past and today and predicts the future wars, economic failures before they have happened, goal is to give advise to all countries in the world and U.N to prevent wars, economical failures with more, read the manifesto at: www.aigovernment.org? Can you transfer him the info?
Kunal Bhatia@kunalslab · Co-founder & Design Lead @SlidesUp
What is more fun for you? Building products or investing in them? And if you can't pick your "favorite child", what's your ideal mix of activities?
Elad Gil@eladgil1
@kunalslab I am happy with my current mix. Each has drawbacks and benefits. I think investing is much more a lone wolf activity, while building a company is more of a team effort.
Kunal Bhatia@kunalslab · Co-founder & Design Lead @SlidesUp
What is one area of preventative health that you wish would exist already, but doesn't or isn't effective/widely used?
Elad Gil@eladgil1
@kunalslab Genetic testing is underutilized in a lot of circumstances. The number one question your doctor often asks is "what did your parents have" as this is a proxy for genetics. After 20 years of testing, only a small number of people with a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation know they are at higher risk of cancer. So more access to genomics is important.
Kunal Bhatia@kunalslab · Co-founder & Design Lead @SlidesUp
@eladgil other than cost, what is the biggest challenge that needs to be solved to get everyone a genetic test? What improvements in analysis still need to be made to make each genetic test more valuable to a patient/their physician?
Elad Gil@eladgil1
@kunalslab Alas we are out of time - but this is the entire basis for the company Color!
Kunal Bhatia@kunalslab · Co-founder & Design Lead @SlidesUp
@eladgil well I certainly appreciate you taking the time to answer all our questions! I'll definitely dig some more into Color to find your take on this. Have a great afternoon!
Jake Crump@jakecrump · Community Team with Product Hunt
What are your top tips for founders looking to get their first investment?
Elad Gil@eladgil1
@jakecrump I would look for investors who have invested in similar companies to your own and have had success with those investments - they will more likely want to invest in your company. It is best to then get an introduction from someone they know or have funded in the past.
Jake Crump@jakecrump · Community Team with Product Hunt
What is your morning routine?
Elad Gil@eladgil1
@jakecrump my wife and I just had a baby, so right now it is getting up around 6am to take care of the kid! It used to be: 1. Get up 5:30am 2. Go to yoga or exercise 60-90 minutes 3. Start work
Ben Tossell@bentossell · newCo
If you had to change lives with a tech CEO for a week, who would it be and why?
Elad Gil@eladgil1
@bentossell I think running Apple for a week would be fascinating as the range of things Tim Cook does is very different from the types of product-driven organizations I grew up in (E.g. Google, Twitter). Given his background in operations and supply chain, it would be fascinating to see how he approaches the world. Also, Apple is run very differently from many other companies in terms of its stronger top-down hierarchy. Amazon would be a close #2 given the low margins and commerce focus.