June 5, 2021
Image: Felix Brönnimann/Noun Project and Protocol
Hello and welcome to Pipeline. A special thank you to Karyne Levy who has made a valiant effort to curtail my use of em dashes and has been a wonderful Pipeline editor for the last year — I hope you get to enjoy sleeping in on Saturdays now.
This week: Phil Libin thinks there are big opportunities ahead for startups, there's a new SPAC in town, Katerra shuts down, and the app that Sequoia's Ravi Gupta is "completely irrationally obsessed" with.
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"There are decades that go by where nothing happens, and then there's certain weeks where decades happen" — or at least that's how mmhmm and All Turtles founder and former Evernote CEO Phil Libin remembers the quote from his childhood going.
"That's what's happening right now," Libin told me from where he's living outside Bentonville, Arkansas. "The world is going through the changiest part that has ever happened in my lifetime."
Suddenly, hundreds of millions of people can decouple work from where they live — and that shift is an opportunity for startups. "A whole life cycle has been built around this idea that where you live is completely based on where you make a living. And for that to all of a sudden get decoupled is such an amazing and profound thing that I think it's going to change everything," Libin said.
"The scale of this change is, I think, bigger than the internet," Libin argues. He started his first company in the dot-com boom, but this feels different. "That wasn't about fundamentally tinkering with the way people had set up their entire lives and societies, which this is."
"If you believe that a good time to start a startup is like when everything is changing — because everything is getting thrown up in the air, you may as well be there to redirect where things land — then this is the best time to do it," he said. After all, it's time to build.
Many believe AI is going to revolutionize health care, from clinical applications in areas such as imaging and diagnostics to workflow optimization. Confidential computing protects the privacy of patient data by enabling a specific algorithm to interact with a specifically curated data set which remains, at all times, in the control of the health care institution that developed it.
Ravi Gupta joined Sequoia in November 2019 and has invested across the board in companies like wholesale marketplace Faire, weight-loss app Noom and life sciences software Benchling. He is a father of three and spent several years at Instacart in between investing jobs as the grocery delivery company's CFO and COO.
What is the biggest issue that you and your partners are thinking about and talking about on Monday mornings?
We're a unanimous partnership, and the idea is that we make the decisions as a team. The reason that that's important is we tell founders, if you work with Sequoia, you get all of us. I think that creates a real culture of discussion and debate in the Monday meetings of what exactly are we talking about? We're all in this together, let's get it all out. That's sort of the tone.
The underlying thing that I try to think about every time I meet with a founder is: Do you want to be on the board of this company for the next 10 years? I write that in my notebook at the beginning of every meeting so I can reference that. And the other one is: if you could only make one investment this year, would this be it? I think that's important to me because if this person's gonna devote her life to this, I want to match that energy.
So to relate that back to what we talked about on Mondays, a lot of times we ask each other those questions: Do you want to be on the board of this company for the next 10 years? If you could only make one investment this year, is this it? That is important for the Sequoia culture because we believe in founders, we believe in what they're doing. And I think that we try to hold each other to the standard of is this a person that you believe is building the future? Let's not just do deals. That's really the way Mondays go.
One other thing we do is we every week we like to ask somebody to share a quote, something that means something to them, and we talk about it, and I think that it's one of my favorite little traditions about being here is hearing the quote that people provide and why they share it.
What product or service are you totally irrationally loyal to (that's not Instacart)?
Pocket. I love Pocket. I love Pocket. I mean, I am completely irrationally obsessed with Pocket because I love to read and I love this idea that I can save things for when I have time to read them like when we used to travel on airplanes. I can't imagine what my life was like when I didn't have it.
What is a secret obsession of yours that most people don't know about?
I don't tweet, but I have a private Twitter account where I get to follow people and trends and things that I like. It's funny: Sometimes I'll text a friend, being like oh I really liked what you tweeted or what did you mean by this and they're like, "Wait, you're not on Twitter!" and I'm like "No, I'm there, I just don't tweet."
What book do you think every startup founder should read?
Most people reference Clay Christensen for "The Innovator's Dilemma." It's a seminal book, it's amazing. But my favorite book is [Christensen's] "How Will You Measure Your Life?"
A very close friend recommended it to me, and I'm really glad that he did because it just makes you ask a simple very important question. I think founders are actually inherently better at answering that than most people because they've made this crazy decision to devote their lives to something, so I think inherently they're better at this. But the reason I like it so much is I think it makes sure that you have a long-term view. If you are thinking about that, it makes some of the decisions you have to make in a company a lot easier because building the company is so hard. But if you know why you're doing it, it makes things a lot better. It doesn't make them easy, but it makes you at least have some North Star.
Aliens visit Earth, and you can only show them one movie. What would it be?
"A River Runs Through It." The reason that I love it so much [is] my dad used to travel a lot for work and he came home one day and he told me and my older brother like "I saw it on an airplane and it made me think of you guys." With that setup, it was like I so wanted to watch it of course, you know my dad told me to watch it, but it's this stunningly beautiful movie about family and about the things that you honor within a family and the things that you look past about each other and what that means. It's totally possible that I'm very biased on this because I was so inclined to like it to begin with, but I think the thing that it would show is the depth of what it means to be in a family.