Bet on the jockey, not the horse

“sometimes you bet on the jockey, not the horse.”

Frequently, I like to look up stuff about a company’s CEO and company culture. I find interviews they’ve given posted online to find out how they think.

So one guy I really liked, for example, was Zillow’s Spencer Rascoff. In his interviews, he came across as a really thoughtful and good dude, who had a vision of what kind of company culture he wanted to build at Zillow, beyond profit/loss numbers etc. Zillow’s main competitor at the time, Trulia, was led by a guy who’s name I don’t remember. Everything I could find on him was very, in a way narrowly, bottom-line business focused; not very open/flexible thinking, not as broad but simultaneously nimble a thinker as what I thought Rascoff came across as. So I bought a few shares of Zillow. A year later, Trulia was bought by Zillow.

Another was Rap Genius, now Genius. I googled everything I could find about one of their founders Mahbid Moghadam. Not like there wasn’t enough public bad press about his antics (telling Mark Zuckerburg to fuck off, or trying to manipulate Google search results), despite his explanation that as a startup – in a Trumpian way – no press is bad press. Then I also found an article about some girl who was on a reality TV show who dates Moghadam. The girl came across as completely bat-shit crazy. And I thought – man, this just not good. What is this guy doing, his personal life sounds like a wreck as well, I don’t know about his judgment. My friend thought, first, I was crazy for digging as far as the guy’s choice of girlfriends. But, he said that don’t worry, Andreesen Horowitz is raising a $40m series C round, and will bring in “adult supervision.” So I went in for a few.

Of course, not long after, Moghadan was forced out after the Santa Barbara shootings, where Moghadan took to Genius to annoatate an article about the shootings with racist and misogynist comments (a final straw kind of like Trump’s Billy Bush moment).

To me, being seduced by a company’s business model or a new market but not paying attention to the leadership and company culture is like what NFL teams do year after year after year- drafting guys like Greg Hardy, Justin Blackmon, Josh Gordon, Johnny Manziel.

None of these guys are playing right now. They were total headcases. 

By contrast, I read once about how the Miami Dolphin’s prospective head coach wanted, as a condition of accepting the job, that the Dolphins draft his college QB, Russell Wilson. He said Russell Wilson was the best prepared hardest working QB he had ever coached. Miami, like many other teams, balked, citing Wilson’s lack of “prototypical” NFL quarterback size. So Wilson’s college coach declined to take the job, and Miami drafted Ryan Tannehill while Seattle eventually took Wilson. The Dolphins weren’t going to draft the jockey Brett Bielema wanted.

There is a danger in a bias toward things we can physically observe and/or measure. Just because something is intangible or hard to measure doesn’t mean if you ignore it, it won’t matter. So I think that Wall Street analysts are comfortable with numbers and all that sort of publicly available, material information will be baked into a stock price. But nobody can really measure intangibles so its sometimes like it doesn’t matter for publicly traded companies, unless its based on a cultish following like for a Elon Musk or Steve Jobs.

This is pretty much almost true of everything in life, from dating to whatever


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