Managing People

5 People Ops Lessons from One of Silicon Valley’s most Experienced Executives

November 7, 2023
Lattice Team

Meet Keith Rabois. He’s currently a partner at Khosla Ventures and is widely known as one of the preeminent tech executives. Rabois has held executive roles at PayPal, Linkedin, Square and has led countless investments in emerging tech companies like Airbnb, Stripe and Opendoor.

In a recent interview on Resources for Humans, Rabois drew on his 25+ years of experience in the startup world, and shared some interesting lessons on how executives should approach people management. Here’s the main takeaways from Rabois’ interview with Lattice CEO, Jack Altman:

1) Find undiscovered talent

“You need to find people that are undiscovered, that the rest of the world doesn’t know about, because fundamentally if somebody has a lot of data points on their resume that suggests they’re amazing people, organizations like Google, Facebook, Netflix, Amazon are gonna try to attract them and they’re gonna pay more money than a startup can ever afford.”

2) Look for people who get past the wall

“Some people like to learn to swim by being thrown in the water and kinda drowning a bit and there are other people who need a lot of instruction. Basically you want the people that, kinda enjoy learning to swim by being thrown in the water and that’s one of the filters. You ultimately need people who are tenacious; the tenacity to go over the wall, under the wall, through a wall, making friends with a wall, figuring out why the wall doesn’t matter and that’s the core skill that most startups need -> Intellectual horsepower. Most companies are solving problems that other people haven’t solved or can’t solve or don’t think they can solve and sometimes that comes from pure insight married with tenacity and not giving up.”

3) Hire aptitude for upside and experience for mitigating risk

“So, generally I believe in the people with aptitude not experience. For example, at Square we intentionally hired almost nobody with any payments background or any financial services background, there was I think between 3-5 people in the organization that did out of an organization that now has thousands. At PayPal, I think the only person who knew anything about payments as far as I can remember is our general council, that’s actually a good point. There are some roles where experience is valuable so when you’re in the risk reduction sort of phase or the risk reduction role, like a general council or a CFO sometimes, you’re looking for someone with experience. But if you’re trying to create something from scratch the experience is sort of a handicap.”

4) Focus on improving the top performers, not the strugglers

“Figure out where the high leverage activity is and if you believe that you have people who have 10x value creation, improving their abilities has magnificent effects versus trying to fix people that aren’t ever gonna create 10x value. So the best thing you can do is double down on your stars even though it’s kind of counterintuitive because there’s a lot of management drag that goes into helping the people that are suffering and struggling -- your job is really to create impact, impact for your organization measured in terms of whatever KPIs the organization settles on. And the best way to do that is to make the top 10 or 20% more effective and then move more people overtime towards the top of the bell curve.”

5) Stop procrastinating, give timely feedback

”The frequency of feedback matters and the timing of it matters. People tend to procrastinate it, tend to defer almost like writing an essay in college because it takes a lot of work to do well and the news isn’t always pleasant and therefore you tend to hope it kinds goes away but it almost never does. Very few times when you want to give someone constructive feedback, does the problem every remedy itself? Does the person ever learn how to do something the way you want it done in the first place? Does he sort of respond to it? The best way to do it is to tie to whenever the object of the feedback is most relevant. So when someone has a presentation, for example, or makes an argument about a certain initiative, it’s better to tie that feedback to that specific problem because then you can help their brain adjust to “oh, I can see how I could have done this better or why it would matter” versus a generic statement 3 months later.”

If you’d like to watch the full interview, head over to Resources for Humans.