- Courtesy of Andreessen Horowitz
- When they interview candidates for venture capital positions, Andreessen Horowitz looks for people who respect entrepreneurs.
- Cofounder Ben Horowitz says he specifically avoids hiring arrogant candidates.
- To suss out arrogance, Horowitz asks interviewees to share their thoughts on Adam Neumann’s career at WeWork. He wants to see whether they show empathy for Neumann, or whether they’re just trying to seem smart.
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A job at Andreessen Horowitz is a pretty sweet gig.
The venture-capital firm made early investments in Facebook, Airbnb, and Lyft; it currently manages a total of $10 billion in assets.
When the firm’s leadership interviews candidates for positions there, they want to know first and foremost that the person respects entrepreneurs, and that they know how hard it is to build a successful business from the ground up.
Recently Andreessen Horowitz cofounder Ben Horowitz has tried to suss that out by asking candidates for investor positions one seemingly simple question: “What do you think about what Adam [Neumann] did at WeWork?”
Neumann is the cofounder and former CEO of WeWork, the glitzy startup that rocketed to a $47 billion valuation, filed to go public, then crashed spectacularly in a matter of months. Neumann has been accused of hoodwinking investors and mismanaging the company, the kind of guy who reportedly walked barefoot around the office and once handed out tequila shots after announcing layoffs.
Horowitz, who just published a book on company culture titled “What You Do Is Who You Are,” isn’t trying to trick anyone by asking for their thoughts on Neumann. Instead, he listens carefully to the person’s answer and tries to discern a simple thought: “How much empathy do you have for the entrepreneur and how much do you just want to show how smart you are by crapping all over them?”
Horowitz’s distaste for bluster and bravado fits with a broader trend of hiring managers in many industries saying arrogance is a red flag. According to one survey of HR experts, confidence is the most appealing personality trait in a candidate – but overconfidence is the biggest turnoff.
Horowitz wants people who treat entrepreneurs with respect and empathy
A candidate who displayed empathy for the entrepreneur would answer the question about Neumann with something like the following, Horowitz said: “He did an unbelievable thing in that he built something that almost nobody has done, which is he built a consumer brand in commercial real estate.” The person might add, “He told that story so beautifully that he was able to raise a gigantic amount of money and fund this incredible growing operation.”
The candidate would also be wise to acknowledge that “obviously, mistakes were made.” But Horowitz wants to see the person “at least put into context what the strengths were, as opposed to, ‘that thing was a fraud from the beginning.'”
The interviewee’s portrayal of Neumann reflects how they’ll treat founders who approach Andreessen Horowitz seeking funding. Respect for the entrepreneur is “the cultural virtue that we built the firm on,” Horowitz said. Many of the firm’s partners are entrepreneurs themselves; Horowitz and his cofounder Marc Andreessen previously founded Opsware, which they sold to Hewlett-Packard for $1.6 billion in 2007.
That’s why Andreessen Horowitz makes sure to get back to every entrepreneur who pitches them. If they’re passing on the investment, they explain why. Investors are fined $10 for every minute they’re late to a pitch meeting.
Horowitz said the firm runs surveys with the entrepreneurs they’ve rejected, and if it appears that a certain investor is failing to treat entrepreneurs professionally and respectfully, “that becomes a very big problem for you here.”
Overconfidence is a turnoff for many hiring managers
Venture capitalists may be especially well known for arrogance, even if that means blasting a company or a founder on Twitter. A CB Insights survey found 88% of VCs said it’s OK for investors to publicly criticize startups.
Yet Andreessen Horowitz is hardly the only employer that screens for overconfidence.
Salesforce’s executive vice president of global recruiting, Ana Recio, previously told Business Insider that arrogance is the biggest red flag in the company’s recruitment process.
“If you walk into a room, and you have this sense that you’re the smartest one there,” Recio said, “you’re probably not going to have a good experience at Salesforce.” Instead, Salesforce wants smart people who are able to collaborate and share the spotlight.
Meanwhile, Boxed CEO Chieh Huang likes to ask job candidates to rate their knowledge of technology trends on a scale of 1 to 10. Candidates who rate themselves a 9 or 10 receive “an instant red flag.” It’s hard to be an expert on such a rapidly changing field, Huang said, and “folks who feel like they know everything are generally condescending to the people around them.”
As for Horowitz, he always tries to keep in mind the power dynamics inherent in the investor-founder relationship. “The entrepreneurs are asking you for money,” he said. It’s easy for investors to start feeling like they’re “the big person” and the entrepreneur is “the little person.”
“That’s very dangerous,” Horowitz added. Ultimately investors’ success hinges on their relationship with entrepreneurs. Start letting your title get to your head, Horowitz said, and “that quickly slides into disrespect.”