Christopher Lochhead Follow Your Different™

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138: Jess Lee: Sequoia VC Changing the Startup Game

April 11, 2018

2017 was a year of upheaval for the tech industry, and now change presents big opportunities in the diversity conversation. Does the idea of meritocracy really function in a world where inherent biases might exist? How do you identify potential in someone with no proven track record of performance? Why does “distance traveled” matter? On this episode, I dialogue with Sequoia Capital partner, Jess Lee about making diversity a priority in tech.

In a high intellectual capacity job where there’s collaboration, diversity actually produces performance and better outcomes. -Jess Lee


3 Things We Learned

VCs must prioritize what their clients prioritize

As VCs, your customers are your founders. At the end of the day, you have to be able to convince the best founders to work with you and make a difference in their trajectory. You must care about what’s important to them.


Distance traveled is a worthy metric of success

We tend to judge a person based on where they are but it’s important to know where they started. The distance they traveled to get where they are is what we should be evaluating.


Meritocracy is the ideal, but people don’t always start on an even playing field

There are inherent biases that affect how someone is considered and evaluated in their field, and these can easily taint meritocracy. It’s important to remember that the bar isn’t the same for everyone.


When it comes to diversity in the workplace, meritocracy is the ideal. However, it’s also necessary to measure the distance traveled by a person. It’s more about where they started and how far their journey has taken them, and less about having a huge headstart to get to the same point. There is something to be said for being willing and able to hire on potential. Making this a priority won’t just make us more diverse-- it will improve the outcomes for companies.


Guest Bio

Jess Lee is a partner at Sequoia Capital and the former chief executive officer of Polyvore. Follow her on Twitter @jesskah.