Sequoia’s Alfred Lin opens up about his big IPO year and the loss of Tony Hsieh

May 18, 2021, 1:29 PM UTC

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Happy Tuesday, Term Sheet readers! We have a guest essay from Fortune’s Michal Lev-Ram this morning. I’ll be back tomorrow.

What are the qualities that make a venture capitalist successful? After 15+ years of interviewing VCs in Silicon Valley, I still don’t really know.

Over the last few months, while working on a story about Sequoia Capital partner Alfred Lin, I’ve had the opportunity to pose this question to several founders and investors. Lin—and Sequoia—have had a killer year, which made this a prime moment to profile the normally-low profile VC. Eight of Sequoia’s portfolio companies went public in 2020 (seven IPOs and one SPAC), a roster that included two of the largest IPOs of the year: Airbnb and DoorDash. Lin is on the board of both and, according to CEOs Brian Chesky and Tony Xu, has been an important factor in their success.

Lin also experienced a tragedy right around the time he was enjoying huge wins on the professional side: His former business partner and friend, Zappos founder Tony Hsieh, died unexpectedly in a house fire last November. Lin got his start in investing when he and Hsieh launched Venture Frogs in 1999. One of their first investments, which they ended up running: Zappos. The online marketplace for shoes sold to Amazon in 2009, for $1.2 billion, and Lin joined Sequoia shortly after.

While generalizing about what makes a VC great at his or her job is risky business, I’ll admit that I was surprised by what I heard about Lin from his peers. I was expecting to hear about the former CFO’s operational acumen and analytical prowess—and I did. But when I asked about the key to his success, what most of my sources pointed to was his more emotive skill set, his ability to connect with founders and colleagues at a deep level. That’s the type of description you might have expected to hear about Hsieh, who was known as gregarious and outgoing. Lin, meanwhile, tends to stay in the background and doesn’t talk all that much (at least to reporters!).

“People think it’s scary to talk to Alfred because he seems very reserved and smart and analytical and critical,” Adi Tatarko, the co-founder and CEO of Houzz told me. “But he’s not just super analytical and smart. His EQ is very high. He can apologize. And he truly cares. This is very, very rare.”

Aileen Lee, founder of Cowboy Ventures, also spoke to Lin’s more personal side as a huge asset in his work with founders: “He’s not posting pics of himself on his yacht on Instagram, he keeps a low profile. He remembers where he came from and I think that gives him a lot of empathy.”

Lin joined Airbnb’s board in 2012, after co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky asked Sequoia for Lin to sit on his board. Chesky later asked the investor to stay on as a director, even after the company went public late last year. “He has a poker-faced countenance,” the Airbnb founder told me when asked about what makes his relationship with Lin work so well. “His voice doesn’t inflect very much when he talks. You don’t know how much he likes you when you first meet him. But he’s extremely passionate, and he’s actually emotional.”

Tony Xu, CEO of DoorDash, had a similar spin on Lin: “Alfred is someone who works a lot, and he gets into the numbers and the details and he asks tough questions. If you don’t know him that well, maybe that’s the first impression. But behind the scenes, he is a person who, first and foremost, genuinely cares about the entrepreneur.”

To be sure, being well liked by the entrepreneurs (and investors) a venture capitalist works with isn’t necessarily a harbinger of impressive returns. But at least in Lin’s case, his empathy for founders seems to have solidified his status as one of the most successful VCs to date.

For more on Lin, including how his partnership with Hsieh helped shape his approach to working with entrepreneurs, read my full profile here.

Michal Lev-Ram
Twitter: @mlevram


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- Klaviyo, a Boston-based customer data and marketing automation platform, raised $320 million in Series D funding, valuing it around $9.2 billion. Sands Capital led the round Other investors include Counterpoint Global (Morgan Stanley), Whale Rock Capital Management, ClearBridge Investments, Lone Pine Capital, Owl Rock Capital, Glynn Capital, and Keith Block (former co-CEO of Salesforce), Accel and Summit Partners

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- Telda, an Egypt-based financial firm, raised $5 million in pre-seed funding. Sequoia led the round.

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- Nordic Capital invested in ArisGlobal, a Miami-based provider of software to the life sciences industry. Financial terms weren't disclosed.

- Platinum Equity agreed to acquire Game Taco, a Sausalito, Calif.-based skill-based mobile gaming platform. Game Taco will also acquire WorldWinner, a skill-game company, from GSN Games, which is owned by Sony Pictures Entertainment. Financial terms weren't disclosed.

- Symplr, backed by Clearlake and SkyKnight, acquired HealthcareSource HR, a Woburn, Mass.-based computer software company, from Francisco Partners. Financial terms weren't disclosed.

- Top Gun Facility Services, a portfolio company of Osceola Capital, acquired Emerald Isle Landscaping, a commercial landscaping company. Financial terms weren't disclosed.

- Warburg Pincus agreed to invest in Premier Technical Services Group, a U.K.-based building compliance services provider. Financial terms weren't disclosed.


- B&C Group agreed to buy an 80% stake in Schur Flexibles, an Austria-based packaging maker, from Lindsay Goldberg in a deal valuing Schur at €900 million ($1.09 billion) including debt.

- Kohlberg & Company acquired DecoPac, an Anoka, Minn.-based supplier of cake decor, from Snow Phipps. Financial terms weren't disclosed.


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- Amazon reportedly is in talks to acquire MGM, the movie studio behind films including Legally Blonde and the James Bond franchise, for about $9 billion, per Variety. 

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- Flywire Corp, a Boston-based payments firm, plans to raise as much as $209 million in an IPO of 8.7 million shares priced between $22 and $24 each. Temasek backs the firm.

- Paymentus Holdings, a Redmond, Wash.-based electronic billing platform provider, plans to raise $200 million in an offering of 10 million shares priced at $19 to $21 apiece. Accel-KKR backs the firm.

- WalkMe, a Tel Aviv-based A.I.-based customer engagement and business insight platform, filed to raise $100 million. Insight Partners and Greenspring Associates back the firm. 

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- LifeStance Health Group, a Scottsdale, Ariz.-based outpatient mental health services company, filed to raise $100 million. Investors include TPG and Summit Partners.

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- Giga Energy, a China-based transportation company, plans to go public via merger with Yunhong International in a deal valued at up to $7.4 billion.


- Great North Ventures, a Minneapolis-based venture capital firm, promoted Michael Schulte to venture partner.

- MetaProp, a New York City-based proptech venture investor, named Monica O’Neill as a partner. 

- Sequoia, the San Francisco-based venture firm, named Anas Biad as a partner focused on Europe. He was previously at Silver Lake. 

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