The dumbest guy in the room

I rowed crew in college. I walked on to the team and fell in love with the sport the very first time we pushed the boat from the dock and took a stroke. Looking back on those four years, I often draw parallels between rowing and entrepreneurship.

My freshman year, Joe Holland, who had raced for the national team in the eighties had taken a sabbatical to coach the freshmen team. He was a master and he loved the philosophy of rowing as much as the sport.

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When I asked him how he became such a great athlete, he said, “I made sure I was always the slowest guy in the boat. I knew I could push myself much harder if I needed to keep up with the fastest guys.”

Eight years later, I started at Redpoint. One afternoon, Tim Haley, one of our partners, told me the founding story of Netflix. Tim focused on one key component to the success of the company. From the very first days, Reed Hastings had set about building a management team of experts in particular fields like operations (for managing DVD logistics), product management and marketing.

When the management team gathered, Reed wanted to be the dumbest guy in the room.

In fact, reading through Netflix’s culture slides, you’ll find gems like:

Imagine if everyone at Netflix is someone you respected and could learn from
Adequate performance gets a generous severance package
We are a pro-sports team: We have stars in every position competing for a fixed number of seats

This management philosophy is fundamental to great teams, both in sports and in business. By surrounding ourselves with people who are skilled in their fields, each striving to be better, challenging each other, we can accomplish great things.

Dec 12, 2012

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