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Alfred Lin

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Profile

Born in Taiwan, Alfred Lin moved to New York City as a child with his family. Lin holds a B.A. in Applied Mathematics from Harvard and a M.S. in Statistics from Stanford University. He is a businessman and venture capitalist at Sequoia Capitaland, and currently sits on the boards of Achievers, Houzz, Humble Bundle and Stella & Dot. Alfred focuses on consumer internet, enterprise and mobile companies. While at Harvard Lin met Tony Hsiesh the future CEO of Zappos. In 1996 Lin dropped out of a Ph.D program in Stanford to join Hsieh as CFO of LinkExchange, the company sold 18 months later to Microsoft for $265 million. Prior to Sequoia Capital, Alfred was the Chairman, COO and CFO of Zappos.com which was acquired by Amazon.com in 2009. While at Zappos, Alfred managed all financial, administrative and strategic operations. Previously, Alfred was the VP of Finance and Business Development of Tellme Networks and co-founded Venture Frogs, an incubator and investment firm with Tony Hsieh. Venture Frogs invested in companies such as Ask Jeeves, OpenTable, MongoMusic and of course, Zappos.com.

Companies and Investments

Lessons Learned

From two, many

When asked about the optimal number of founders a company should have and why many great companies were founded by two or three people, Alfred said that when he was young, he believed more in the importance of the few founders but as he grew older and ran a bigger organization, he realized that it’s the whole integrated supporting team that’s important. While the supporting team is often neglected when the media attributes success or failure to the few founders, they are the real backbone of the venture. So managing such an organization becomes very important.

Leverage the organization

Alfred believes that after growing to a certain size, an organization needs to leverage the creativity of all its members and can’t just rely on two or three founders coming up with all the ideas. Alfred attempted to achieve this at Zappos by encouraging employees with ideas to find other enthusiasts and implement it. These could be ideas to boost internal morale (parades that seemed weird at first and became popular later) or others.

Risk conscious not risk averse

Alfred was initially hired by his friend Tony Hsieh to be in charge of finances at LinkExchange since he was thought to be good with numbers. Alfred feels that traditionally, CFOs are risk averse and emphasize controls because of the nature of the job. They want the forecast revenues and budgets to go according to plan, to prevent material risks etc. But this may shut off certain risks that add value to the company. Alfred proposes to harness these risks by investing small amounts to test them out and investing more resources if they turn out to be a good idea, instead of just shutting them down completely.

Inspiring Quotes

(On doubling engineering): Have each of your current engineers recruit another each year.

Larry Page

Alfred Lin's Quotes

The sign of a successful company is a group of people who decide that they are going to leverage it, and maybe that is really the key to its success as opposed to the two guys who come up with all the ideas.

Alfred Lin

Wowing people is never about just spending more on them. A lot has to do with showing people that you care.

Alfred Lin

It does not matter how successful you are or whether people think you are successful, business is hard, and you are going to go through rough times and hard times.

Alfred Lin

It is not just about the culture. You also have to perform your job, and we hold our employees to that standard too.

Alfred Lin

Influential Books

Dave Logan - Tribal Leadership: Leveraging Natural Groups to Build a Thriving Organization

Mentors

Mike Moritz, Harry Lewis

References


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