Amy Sun joined Sequoia as a partner in 2018 after working as a product manager for Facebook and Uber. A lifelong painter, she says her creative process has a lot in common with company-building: she starts with an idea, then explores new directions as she goes, seeing where the process takes her.
Now at Sequoia, the results I’m focused on are great outcomes for our companies and our limited partners. Most of our LPs are nonprofits and university endowments, including my alma mater. I was fortunate to benefit from financial aid in college, and it’s important to me to do the best possible job of supporting the next generation. Day-to-day, that means when we tell a founder, “We’re going to help you,” we deliver on that promise. With hiring, for example, investors can make a lot of intros, but ultimately all that matters is whether amazing people land at your company. So we don’t walk away after an introduction is made. We do whatever it takes, from cold emailing potential candidates ourselves to flying across the country to help close key hires in person.
You can have results or excuses, but not both.
What one piece of advice would you give someone starting a company?
With DoorDash, for example, many people said there was no money in food delivery because the margins were too low. With Zoom, people said enterprise communications were crowded and a startup would never be able to compete with the likes of Microsoft and Cisco. If either of those teams cared too much about what other people thought, they could’ve been dissuaded from realizing their visions. But they chose to stay focused on their customers.
I try to do this in my daily life by seizing every opportunity I can to ask for feedback—in my work and elsewhere—so that I can improve in real time. It’s been extremely helpful for me as I learn and grow in a new role in a new industry. It’s also made negative feedback feel much more like a gift than like criticism. It’s so much better to have people tell you where you can improve than for you to struggle to understand on your own.
On a more serious note, I wish I knew how to solve big problems like climate change. The scale of that problem is so large, and aligning global incentives is so challenging, that it seems like we’re not getting anywhere—yet the situation is more urgent than ever. I don’t know the answers, but I do think it’s our responsibility to try.
I also love the book Psychology of Intelligent Analysisby Richards Heuer. It has a lot of useful frameworks for working with imperfect information, which is something we all have to do. When Sequoia is making an investment decision, for example, we often have to act very quickly and with very limited information. It’s critical to understand which one or two key things really matter.
I just preordered Dark Ageby Pierce Brown. I love fantasy and sci-fi because it gets me thinking about where technological progress will take us and how it can impact our societies. So that will be making its way to the top of my nightstand pile soon!
We have a slideof the mistakes Sequoia has made over the decades. When you see it in aggregate, it’s much easier to spot trends.
I love moments of intensity at work, as well. I remember everything about the day we gave our term sheet to Noom, down to what I was wearing. We’d been in a long day of meetings and the room was littered with paper coffee cups. But when the founders came in to present, they were so full of energy that they woke us all up! Then they left for the airport and we had to make a decision pretty much on the spot. I remember quickly hashing out the details of the term sheet, finding some Sequoia swag to give the founders, and calling to ask them to drive back to Palo Alto for dinner. And I remember feeling so grateful that they trusted us through that process at the beginning of our partnership. I want as many of those memorable moments in my life as I can get.