How To Start A Startup Lecture: How to Operate

Presenter – Keith Rabois

How to Operate

  • Operating is about how to deal with irrational people.
  • The manager’s output = the output of his organization + the output of the neighboring organizations under his influence
  • Simplify
    • Look at yourself as an editor- take a base product and keep cutting back the complexity
    • Don’t accept the excuse of complexity – everything can be simplified
  • Clarify
    • Keep asking questions until we really understand what we are working with
  • Allocate resources
    • As things get stale, change them up
    • You might want to allocate more resources to one area/project or another
    • Measure yourself on how much ‘editing’ you are doing. if you do a lot of editing and your job is getting bigger, you need to look at how to get the systems better
  • Ensure consistent voice
    • Everything should look like it was made by the same person: all packaging, all web pages, all documentation, etc. everything should feel the same.
  • Delegate
    • Any executive should not have one management style – it should be dictated by the employee depending on where they are on the delegation scale (above/below the waterline decision making)
    • Decision making process: Peter Thiel’s 2X2 grid have level of conviction on vertical, potential consequence on the X axis
  • Edit the team
    • “barrels and ammunition”  – the more people you have, the less you get done. Most great people are really ammunition, but what you really need is barrels. These are the irreplaceable people that can take an idea from conception to shipping and bring people with them
      • Barrels – start w/ a small set of responsibilities, then expand the scope of responsibilities until it breaks. Then keep them in that role. Keep testing people an pushing the envelope.
      • Watch who goes up to other people’s desks -even if they are not direct reports. Those are the people that are
    • Track the growth rate of the employees with the growth rate of the company.
    • Insist on focus – Peter Thiel said that every person needed to do just one thing right.
      • Most people will solve the smaller problems because they are not focused on that one important thing.
    • Metrics and Transparency
      • Simplify the value proposition and the company’s measure for success
      • Transparency
        • Metrics are the first step
        • Board decks shared with the employees after the board meetings + explain it
        • Create notes for every meeting involving more than 2 people so people could track what was going on
        • Every conference room has glass walls
        • Compensation transparency – it works in professional sports, there isn’t any real reason it shouldn’t be transparent outside of tradition.
    • Look at anomalies – anomalies will help point out interesting user habits and opportunities
    • Details matter
      • If everyone on the team executes at the highest possible level, the highest performance team will do everything that matters.
        • Things that don’t face the user – Steve Jobs insisted that the Mac’s circuit board
        • Give people good food, it make people good food: they won’t complain about it (distraction that prevents serendipitous interactions) and it is better for them.
        • Office environment – this is one of the most important things. It determines a lot about your culture
        • Laptops people use – they deserve to use the best possible tools to do the best possible job.
    • “every good startup is a cult” so shared working space doesn’t support that culture


  • How to create street credibility for a new manager- only promote people that were kicking ass at their position. Promote the best engineer to the VP of engineering, etc.
  • Do a calendar audit of yourself – how much of your time are you spending on everything. Write down your priority list, then review your calendar. Match your resources to priorities.
  • How should a 1 on 1 work?
    • weekly or biweekly
    • should be driven by the employee, not the manager
    • 3-4 points that the employee wants to talk about
  • Ammunition/Barrel ratio – you need to have 1 barrel for every X (10-20) ammunitions. The natural tendency is to hire more people to get more stuff done. What you should do is measure the output divided by headcount and say that the ratio will be what you are evaluated on… This will encourage people to get their job done with the minimum number of people.
  • How often do you meet with Venture Capitalists – they meet every two weeks he sees the roll more like a psychologist (like walkabouts)
  • How do you harmonize ‘details matter’ with ‘only working on A+ tasks’ – the details matter activity should be a culture that is done in the early stage of the company, but it should scale and if the CEO has to keep on doing it, it is not in the culture yet.


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