What VCs Look for in Founders by Lewis Lin

Founders Matter More than the Team

“An excellent idea with a mediocre team would interest me far less than a good team with a mediocre idea.” - Gigi Levy-Weiss

65% of startups fail “…due to problems within the startup’s management team.” - Noah Wasserman, The Founder’s Dilemma

What VCs Look for in Founders

[Elon Musk is] very smart, very charismatic, and incredibly driven -- a very rare combination, since most people who have one of these traits learn to coast on the other two. It was kind of scary to be competiting against his startup in Palo Alto in Dec 1999-Mar 2000. - Peter Thiel

A lot of what we look for is understanding the founder’s grit and resilience." - Josh Kopelman, First Round

If you’re looking for certainty you wind up with boring people engaged in mundane activities. We have a fondness for obsessives on a mission. - Michael Moritz, Sequoia

You need grit to get through the entrepreneurial journey. Startups are a roller coaster of ups & downs. - Jess Lee, Sequoia

I love partnering with thoughtful visionaries who have the grit to turn their dreams into reality. - Stephanie Zhan, Sequoia

If your goal is to get straight As and never speed, you're probably not cut out to disrupt an industry, which requires original thinking, an ability to see the world differently from others, and courage to challenge conventional wisdom when it doesn't make sense. (This is not saying you should be lazy, get Cs, intentionally do bad things, break the law, and challenge conventional wisdom for just the sake of it.) - Alfred Lin, Sequoia

"Talent, integrity, and hardwork... Founding team — stubborn but listen (coachable)." - Jeffrey Paine, Golden Gate Ventures

Quake Capital

  • Original idea or insight

  • Scientific innovation

  • Startup experience

  • Industry experience

  • Communication skills

  • Execution skills

  • Deal with ambiguity

  • Poise

  • Enthusiasm

Alex Iskold, TechStars

  • Ability to grow the business

  • Intellectual honesty and curiosity

  • Complementary skills and chemistry

  • Stellar CEO

  • Domain knowledge, relevant experience and defensibility

  • Vision

  • Product focus

Christoph Janz, Point Nine Capital

  • Interpersonal skills

  • Integrity

  • Right kind of ambition

  • Right kind of person

Getting Started: Better Freelancers Slack Group by Lewis Lin

Introduction: Our Mission

Welcome to the Better Freelancers Slack group! Our mission is to request and share freelancers from different sites including Fiverr & UpWork. To get you started, here are some of the most frequently asked questions:

Getting Oriented: What type of freelancers can I request or share?

We have 9 default channels:

  1. #admin-support: Request and share admin support professionals

  2. #customer-service: Request and share customer service professionals

  3. #data-sci-n-analytics: Request and share data science & analytics experts

  4. #digital-marketing: Request and share marketing help

  5. #graphic-n-design: Request and share designers

  6. #music-n-audio: Request and share music and audio experts

  7. #programming-n-tech: Request and share programmers

  8. #video-n-animation: Request and share video and animation experts

  9. #writing-n-translation: Request and share writers and translators


There are two more default channels:

  • #announcements: Reserved for group-wide announcements from the admins

  • #misc: Any discussion that doesn’t fit into the other channels


  • Introduce yourself In the #misc channel including your name and why you joined.

  • (Optional) Share your favorite freelancer from Fiverr, UpWork, etc. in your intro.

How to Request Recommendations

“Anyone have a recommendation for ___?” is a good way to start. 😊

To get the most relevant recommendations possible, I’d recommend that you be as specific as you can.

  • Not helpful: “Can anyone recommend a designer?”

  • Helpful: “Can anyone recommend a designer who excels at removing backgrounds from photos, using Adobe Photoshop?”

How to Share Recommendations

Simply reply to someone’s request. Provide contact information AND be specific!

How to invite others to the group

Just share the instructions detailed in this post.

Better Freelancers Slack Group: What is It and How to Join by Lewis Lin


Better Freelancers is a Slack group to request and share freelancers from Fiverr, UpWork, Toptal, and other popular marketplaces.

If you’re like me, you’ve found Fiverr gigs, UpWork freelancers, and Toptal talent to be hit-and-miss. And their reviews are just as unreliable too.

We’ve got channels in the following categories:

  • Graphics & Design

  • Digital Marketing

  • Writing & Translation

  • Video & Animation

  • Music & Audio

  • Programming & Tech

  • Customer Service

  • Admin Support

  • Data Science & Analytics

To join the Slack group, request your exclusive invite here and find better freelancers.

19 Books & Articles Every Tech-Bound MBA Needs to Read by Lewis Lin


Tech-bound MBA students often ask me for my favorite books and articles, especially as they pertain to these frequently asked questions:

Introduction to Roles

  • What are the differences between product management & product marketing?

Career Excellence: Product management

  • What makes a great product manager?

  • What is the typical product development process?

Career Excellence: TECH marketing

  • What are the most important marketing principles?

Career Excellence: Artificial intelligence & machine learning

  • What’s the best resource to learn the basics of AI & ML?

Interview Prep: Product Management

  • How to get ready for the product manager interview?

Interview Prep: TECH MARKETING

  • How to get ready for the tech marketing interview?

Interview Prep: OTHER ROLES

  • How to get ready for other tech interviews?

Corporate culture

  • What is Google's culture like?

  • What is Facebook's culture like?

  • What is Amazon's culture like?

  • What is Snapchat's culture like?

  • What is Tesla's culture like?

  • What is Twitter's culture like?

There are a lot of excellent books & articles, but you'll find the ones I've found most essential below.

Wishing you the best in your tech career,

Lewis C. Lin

What are the differences between product management & product marketing?

Product Manager vs. Product Marketing Manager by Product Manager HQ

A simple, straightforward description of the two most popular roles. Includes an easy-to-scan infographic.

What makes a great product manager?


Be the Greatest Product Manager Ever by Lewis C. Lin

Featuring the ESTEEM Method™, this classic covers the six competencies product managers must master as they move from PM to CEO. A must-read for product managers new and old. Perfect for PMs of all levels.


Good Product Manager/Bad Product Manager by Ben Horowitz

Ben Horowitz is a legendary product manager that’s now one of the most recognizable VCs. Although it was written a few decades ago, this essay is still applicable today. It clearly explains what’s expected of top performing product managers, in an easy-to-read style.


What Distinguishes The Top 1% Of Product Managers From The Top 10%? by Ian McAllister

Bullet point summary of what separates top product managers from everyone else.

What is the typical product development process?


The Lean Product Playbook by Dan Olsen

Olsen’s book covers the end-to-end product development process with clarity, starting from defining your target customer to building MVPs to analyzing product metrics.

Sprint  by Jake Knapp

An elegant how-to guide on how to implement design thinking processes as a product leader.

What are the most important marketing principles?

The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing by Al Ries and Jack Trout

Don’t let the dated examples fool you. At 143 pages, this quick-read marketing classic conveys the most important marketing principles ever. I can’t say it any better: violate them at your own risk!

What’s the best resource to learn the basics of AI & ML?

Hands-On Machine Learning by Aurélien Géron

Written by a former YouTuber who developed ML-based video classification systems, Géron writes an easy-to-follow explanation of AI and ML principles without any jargon. Includes information on TensorFlow and the popular ML package: Scikit-Learn. Ideal for beginners.

How to get ready for the product manager interview?

Decode and Conquer by Lewis C. Lin


Featuring the world-famous CIRCLES Method™, Decode and Conquer provides frameworks and examples on how to tackle tough PM case interview questions including product design, metrics, strategy, and technical. Endorsed by Google recruiters and praised by Business Insider.

The Product Manager Interview by Lewis C. Lin


Decode and Conquer helps candidates get familiar with PM frameworks. The Product Manager Interview provides 164 practice problems, with sample answers, to help you master those frameworks.

How to get ready for the tech marketing interview?

The Marketing Interview by Lewis C. Lin


The Marketing Interview provides frameworks and examples on how to tackle tough marketing case interviews including marketing campaigns, pricing, launching new products, critiquing ads, dealing with PR disasters, and calculating ROI.

This book is also ideal for non-tech marketing candidates, such as those targeting CPG and financial services.

This second edition features new sections on digital marketing and marketing metrics.

How to get ready for other tech interviews?

Case Interview Questions for Tech Companies by Lewis C. Lin

This book includes 155 practice questions for many tech industry roles popular with MBA's including:

  • Marketing

  • Operations

  • Finance

  • Strategy

  • Analytics

  • Business Development

  • Supplier or Vendor Management

  • ...and Product Management

Interview Math by Lewis C. Lin

For those who want more practice with market sizing, ROI, and other quant-oriented interview questions, this resource will make you feel confident about your quant skills after a single weekend. Also ideal for consulting candidates who are looking for more quant practice.

How to understand Google’s corporate culture?

In the Plex by Steven Levy

I personally love Steven Levy’s writing and effort. As a former Googler, I felt he captured the true feel for the company culture.

Also check out How Google Works by Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg for a different (but seemingly sanitized) perspective of Google. Work Rules! by Laszlo Bock provides another ex-Google executive’s take, this time from the people operations (human resources) perspective.

How to understand Facebook’s corporate culture?

Becoming Facebook by Mike Hoefflinger

A Facebook employee’s view on the company including their early growth hacking tactics. Do note that the book can get dry. For a more entertaining, salacious (yet still informative) view of Facebook, read Chaos Monkeys.

How to understand Amazon’s corporate culture?

The Everything Store by Brad Stone

Stone does an incredible job reporting on this secretive tech company, compiling several detailed insider accounts. The J-team, compensation details, and the early beginnings of Amazon Prime is revealed in this book.

Stone’s book clearly touched a nerve. Its publication led Jeff Bezos’ wife to give this book a much publicized one-star review.

How to understand Snapchat’s corporate culture?

How to Turn Down a Billion Dollars by Billy Gallagher

This Business Insider reporter provides a detailed scoop on Snapchat’s corporate history, starting from the founding team’s Stanford years.

How to understand Tesla’s corporate culture?

Elon Musk by Ashlee Vance

Vance gives the reader an excellent perspective on Musk’s personality, explaining how Tesla and SpaceX became a juggernaut.

How to understand Twitter’s corporate culture?

Hatching Twitter by Nick Bilton

Beautifully-written, Bilton describes the larger-than-life personalities that started this company. In the end, you can’t help by feel that Twitter became a success, in spite of the founders.

How to Understand Uber from a Uber Driver's Perspective?

The Rideshare Guide by Harry Campbell

Harry Campbell (aka The Rideshare Guy) provides a detailed (and quick!) perspective of Uber's business from the driver-side, filled with insider details on the product experience, economics, and other Uber ecosystem details that you haven't heard as a typical Uber passenger.

Hiring is a Problem by Lewis Lin

Hiring is hard. You:

  • Post the job description

  • Wait for resumes to come in

  • Do rounds and rounds of interviews

  • Three or four months later you realize you’ve hired the wrong person

In addition to taking time, traditional recruiting is error-prone. Here’s are a few reasons why:

  • References can omit the negatives

  • Interviewees can say the right things

  • Interviewers’ cognitive biases lead them to hire the wrong people

  • Candidates can embellish their resumes

Hiring is not just a problem for hiring managers. In the past two weeks, I’ve also been looking for help with personal projects:

  • House cleaners

  • Handymen

  • Landscapers

And of course, I’ve been looking for help with work projects:

  • Authors & editors to collaborate on my next book

  • Mobile design experts

  • Tax experts

  • Copyright experts

  • Slander & libel experts

  • Experts on community management

If you’re trying to get things done, you’re going to need help. Whether you call it hiring, partnering, or something else - finding that special someone is challenging, time-consuming, and error-prone.

Ideally, we’d only hire or partner with those we’ve worked with in the past. The problem is we haven’t worked with very many people first hand. Over my 20-year career, I’ve only worked with 300 to 400 people firsthand. Eventually, I’ll need to work with someone outside of that 300 to 400 person network.

So what do we do? We tap friends and family for referrals. People we trust.

Introducing the ESTEEM Method™ by Kaitlin Hung

The ESTEEM Method™ is a framework of six core skills that will help master the goal of moving up the PM ladder. It’s a memory aid and step-by-step guide on how to reach the top tier after you’ve landed a job at your dream company.

Image by Lewis Lin

Image by Lewis Lin

Featured in his book Be the Greatest Product Manager Ever, ESTEEM™ is handy and easy to remember. If you want to make it to the top, you’ll need ESTEEM™ (pun intended).

Here are the components:


Superior communication skills

Tactical awareness

Extraordinary mental toughness

Exceptional team builder

Moonshot vision

1. Execution

The first competency is execution. If a PM can’t deliver a feature, product, or otherwise get things done, what’s the point?

The best execution-oriented PMs can do anywhere from five to ten times the work of an ordinary PM. They have a supernatural ability to get things done. That talented PM’s productivity is the reason for the team’s happiness. Without him or her, the team would bend and (likely) break under the collective workload.

Managers have no problem giving the best PMs merit bonuses. There’s no jealousy because those PMs earned it.

2. Superior Communication Skills

The second competency is superior communication skills.

Usually starting at the group product manager level, the best PMs tell captivating stories during critical times such as:

• Executive meetings

• Product brainstorms

• Brown bag presentations

• Sales conferences

Sometimes they tell stories with intelligence, filled with facts, numbers, or logic. Other times they tell stories with charm, developing chemistry and rapport. And the best can tell stories with heart, tugging on emotions and revealing authenticity.

During promotion time, they are hard to miss. Strong communicators get promoted at an unprecedented rate.

Strong communicators remind promotion committees of well-known CEOs such as Jeff Bezos, Satya Nadella, and Elon Musk. Not all CEOs are competent, but all famous CEOs communicate exceptionally. And there's a good reason why: CEOs must communicate effectively with their employees, customers, partners, and shareholders.

3. Tactical Awareness

The third competency is tactical awareness.

It’s a term I borrowed from soccer. The military also uses the term tactical awareness, which likely evolved from a more popular term “situational awareness.”

Those unfamiliar with the world of soccer can get thrown off by the phrase tactical awareness. They think I’m referring to rote execution or operational work.

That’s not what I mean. Tactical awareness is about:

1. Assessing the situation

2. Making good decisions, based on your assessment

In soccer, a player exhibits tactical awareness by:

1. Understanding where the nearest attacker or defender is

2. Predicting where he is going to pass the ball

3. Realizing where his teammates are and where they should be

4. Knowing where he is and where he needs to be

5. Making the right decision to stop the attacker or elude the defender

In product management, tactical awareness is about utilizing other worldly tactics that allow the best, usually starting at the director level, to:

1. Understanding what needs to be done

2. Foreseeing how others will react

3. Laying out how to achieve the goal

4. Making correct decisions – on the appropriate behaviors, deliverables, resources, and allies – to get the right outcomes

Tactical awareness is what many call the “sixth sense.” That is, as you get closer to the top, it’s no longer enough to work extra hours; almost everyone does that. Instead, you need tactical awareness; it’s what people mean when they say you need to “work smarter.”

4. Extraordinary Mental Toughness

The fourth competency is extraordinary mental toughness.

Many can execute, but few can lead groundbreaking change. Seismic change happens when a PM leader stomachs daunting circumstances and grinds through long hours.

They don’t quit. Even if they’ve failed 999 times, they’re ready to try the thousandth time, and so on.

Ordinary PMs aren’t the ones building billion-dollar businesses, inventing self-driving cars, or challenging long-held taxi regulations. The ordinary wilt when there’s a hint of resistance, whether it’s a stubborn engineer or an executive bully.

Great products are great because they’re hard to build. And many PMs don’t want to do hard things.

5. Exceptional Team Builder

The fifth competency is exceptional team builder. The best, usually starting at the VP level, call upon their deep network to quickly fill PM openings.

But that’s not the only thing that makes them outstanding. These team builders can and love to teach others how to do their jobs well, and they expect their direct reports to do the same.

6. Moonshot Vision

The sixth competency is moonshot vision.

Many CEOs communicate well, operate businesses efficiently, and demonstrate reasonable business judgment. But legendary CEOs differentiate themselves with moonshot vision. A moonshot vision is a product vision so audacious that it feels like John F. Kennedy’s 1961 proclamation to land the first humans on the moon.

Moonshot CEOs typically meet three criteria. They:

1. Propose a moonshot vision or idea that is unique, audacious, and extraordinary.

2. Describe why that vision will meet a large, profitable need.

3. Persuade, even skeptics, why the vision is feasible and, if necessary, the specifics steps to build it now.

More Counterfeit Books by Lewis Lin

Last time, I covered counterfeit versions of the Product Manager Interview.

The counterfeiters are back at it again, but this time, they’re counterfeiting Decode and Conquer and selling on Amazon. Here are some photos along with some of the key differences.

(And I apologize in advance: my original copy of Decode and Conquer is well-loved. So it’s the one that’s dog-eared and has wine stains.)


The counterfeit versions utilize bright white paper, but a legitimate copy (middle) uses cream colored paper.


In this photo, the counterfeit is on the top, and the original is on the bottom. The original has the cream paper. The fake on top has the bright white paper. You’ll also note that the print quality is different and the fonts weren’t reproduced correctly. The counterfeit on top also has a black smudge mark that’s not appropriate for a supposedly “new” book.


The fake book (top) doesn’t have the UPC symbol or the additional information shared in the original.


The spine is clearly different: the fake books are shorter. The also don’t use the same fonts as the original.

You’ve probably guessed it: the front is different too. The fake ones are shorter, as I’ve mentioned before. Also, the original book is matted, but the fake books are laminated. And you can see the original has some additional text above the book title, which the fake ones do not have.


Lastly, the back of the book is dramatically different. Yes, You see the laminate peeling off from the fake one, and the fake ones are shorter too. However, what’s most revealing is the fake ones:

  • Do not have an appropriate UPC symbol

  • The fake books have more printing discoloration, which is most evident in the author photo

  • The price is $10 more expensive at $39.99 vs. $29.99

  • And the testimonial text is shockingly different

One last tip: a sure-fire way to avoid buying counterfeit versions of my book on Amazon is to double check and purchase books sold by Amazon.com only. When purchasing, look for the Amazon.com logo.

Counterfeit Books by Lewis Lin

Over the last month

Over the last month, I suspected counterfeit versions for both The Product Manager Interview as well as Decode and Conquer.

I took a couple photos to document the differences of the fake and genuine versions. Starting with the spine (above), the most glaring difference is the counterfeit version (middle) is:

  1. Not as tall as the original books

  2. Utilizes a sans-serif font for the book title that’s a much thicker font-weight than the original


It’s harder to tell from this second photograph, but the counterfeit version (middle) doesn’t have the same color as the genuine books on the left and the right. It’s also shorter. It also some dirt and what feels like spilled water damage on the cover.


The back cover also indicates differences in color. It has a bit more of a reddish tint than the legitimate books.


For the interior pages, you can see the differences between the counterfeit copy (right) and the genuine book (left). The counterfeit’s pages are darker, the text is fuzzier, and the contrast is less nuanced. In other words, if the counterfeit one looks like a copy of an original book, it is.

Preparing for the Product Management Interview: Can It Be Done? by Lewis Lin

I remember my first PM interview a long time ago.

It happened during my on-site Microsoft interview for a software engineering role; the recruiters decided that they would have me interview for PM because I had strong communication skills. I had no idea what PM was all about! But I figured I’d play along, do what I was asked, and take this PM interview. Besides, they gave me a nice compliment. I had to reciprocate!

I still remember that first PM interview question: “How would you design a TV remote?” It was tough to answer because I had never used a remote before in my life!

I’ve come a long way since then: I have lots of experience using TV remotes now.

PM interview prep has come a long way as well. Our collective knowledge on how to prepare for those interviews have improved dramatically. We’ve got frameworks likes CIRCLES, AARM and DIGS to get us through tough product design, analytics, and behavioral interview questions.

To provide some encouragement, I’ve included this note I received from one of my readers. She successfully received offers from Google, Facebook and more last fall. And the cool part: she’s a busy mom too.

Conquer those interviews,

Lewis C. Lin


Product Manager Take Home Assignment Example by Lewis Lin


There’s a new trend in product management interviews: the take home assignment.

Take home assignments can vary in their format. They can either be:

  • Written tests that revolve around hypothetical questions

  • Written tests that revolve around case questions

  • Written tests that revolve around behavioral questions

As you can note from the repetition, take home assignments are simply derivatives of PM question categories that you’re already familiar with:

  • Hypothetical questions

  • Case questions

  • Behavioral questions

Simply apply the same frameworks and tips on solving behavioral, case, and hypothetical questions from Decode and Conquer and complete the take home assignment.

PS I’ve got more tips about take home assignments in my book, Secrets of the Product Manager Interview.

Lewis C. Lin Marketing Workshop at UCLA Anderson by Lewis Lin


I came back from last week’s CPG/tech/marketing/product workshop with UCLA Anderson MBAs. Fantastic turnout! And a group of very talented marketers!

The staff and students also snapped some incredible photos, which I’ve shared here.

I’ll be back in Southern California this week for two more workshops. I’m excited to be back in the ☀️.