Is Naval Ravikant the Nicest Guy in Tech?
There are popular investors in Silicon Valley that everyone goes to for startup advice. And then there’s Naval Ravikant. Naval is the CEO and Co-founder of AngelList, a platform for startups, investors, and job seekers dedicated to democratizing the investment process. In addition to building AngelList, he’s also actively invested in over 150 startups to date, including: Twitter, Uber, Yammer, and Shyp. Not bad taste, Naval.
He is, in short, the heartbeat of the startup world. But, it’s not just because he’s built and invested the way he has. When you ask Naval for advice, you get the feeling he’s thought a lot about whatever he tells you — his advice feels substantial and pressure-tested. You know he’s telling you the truth, but he does it with a certain signature kindness that makes him trustworthy and affable. In his words, “It’s almost always possible to be honest and positive.”
That’s the balance you’ll gather he strikes impeccably well when you read the responses from his recent LIVE Chat on Product Hunt. He answered some of the community’s questions about startups, investing, success, and giving/getting advice — you can find the full conversation here:
Read on for the LIVE Chat highlights with one of the tech world’s kindest leaders.
What are the most surprising things you’ve learned from founders you’ve advised that you think would benefit most early stage founders, companies, and products? -Sydney Liu
The best founders are extremely thoughtful and have an eye for quality. I don’t know if there’s any generic advice here that would be helpful. Startup knowledge is a moving target. Rather, I suggest you associate with and help the best founders you know. On a long enough timescale, it pays off.
What are the most important data points you’ve seen early-stage marketplaces focus on? -Kyle Kahveci
The most important thing in a marketplace is to generate and focus on the demand side (usually, but not always, the side with the money). The supply side (the side with the product) tends to go wherever the demand is.
Would love to hear about one of your low points as an entrepreneur — and how did you cope with it / get out of it? -Chandra Kalle
Every other day is a low point. They’re everywhere. Comes with the territory. Entrepreneurship is really hard and painful — I’m not sure I’d recommend it for anyone who can’t handle the extreme stress. The coping mechanisms are the usual ones, unfortunately. The happiest entrepreneurs that I know seem to be able to treat it as a game. Unfortunately, that doesn’t work for me.
How do you pick the companies you invest in? -Daniel Greenberg
I wish I could say that it was some beautifully designed checklist process, but every great company is unique and every deal / investment has unique challenges and opportunities. So it does come down to gut feel and signals extracted from team / traction / product / social proof.
Mattermark and CrunchBase are primarily data players and we partner with both in one way or another. Data is a useful by-product of what we do, but not our core business. Anyway, I’m not concerned if people compete. Our mission is to help founders and anyone or anything that helps founders helps us with our mission.
If you were just starting out again, what are the 1–2 steps you’d take to surround yourself with successful people? -Brent Summers
Figure out what you’re good at and start helping other people with it; give it away. Pay it forward. Karma sort of works because people are very consistent. On a long enough timescale, you will attract what you project. But don’t measure, your patience will run out if you are counting…
AngelList has brought some transparency to the startup recruiting and hiring process with the public listing of salary and equity ranges for open jobs. Have you seen this have an impact on the overall startup ecosystem and how it hires or fills roles, and if so, what is that impact? -Sam Houston
It has definitely had some impact; more sites and companies are doing it. The best outcome is that it lets us generate averages and data at https://angel.co/salaries . You’d be surprised how many companies hate it, though. It’s controversial. In an ideal world, we could even value the stock but that’s a very hard problem.
Any advice on developing capacity for instinctual blunt honesty? -Adam Scavone
Tell everyone. Start now. It doesn’t have to be blunt. Charisma is the ability to project confidence and love at the same time. It’s almost always possible to be honest and positive.
Where do you think hero worship/need of validation from “successful” people comes from, and how can we as a community quell it? -Erik Torenberg
Humans are hardwired to listen to authority. We’re tribal / hierarchical primates. Julian James makes the argument that the first Gods were actually dead kings whose authority we still craved. And it’s the nature of society that the people on top, either politicians or business leaders, want hero worship since it gives them power.
I think it just helps to be very aware that fundamentally, there are no adults. Everyone is making it up as they go along. You have to find your own path, picking, choosing, taking and discarding as you see fit. I choose mostly to learn from books — those are my “authority figures” — but even there I try to be very selective.
Nutrition, health, relationships, speed reading, sales, public speaking, coding, logic, basic business skills, game theory, etc. Also, statistics and the biases that come along with it. Skill vs. Luck continuum is a great concept as well.
You say you are interested in cryptocurrencies. What fascinates you the most? -Romain Barissat
It points the path for decentralization. Anything centralized on the web today (identities on Facebook / Twitter, Domain Names via ICANN, App Stores, even AngelList etc) strikes me as a short-term aberration. Long-term, identity, payments, databases, CPU, marketplaces, etc. should be as decentralized as possible. Blockchains show the way.
How have you trained your mind to focus and execute and not get overwhelmed or distracted by other ideas? -Theoharis Dimarhos
Poorly. I’m always getting overwhelmed. Mostly, I just have to remind myself to be present and to focus. It’s a constant, daily struggle to slow down, be present, and watch my thoughts. As far as I can tell, there are no shortcuts. I have to put in the hours. I read a lot of related books to remind myself.
What product or app do you love the most (and define love however you’d like) that relatively few people know about or use? -Ryan Hoover
Not sure anything is that unknown these days, especially given the existence of Product Hunt :-) I’m a big fan of Notational Velocity’s search as you type function. I wish more apps would integrate that paradigm.
What do you advise your founders to do/not do? -Junayd Mahmood
Be present. Be meditative. Form real friendships. Stay away from business networking events or friendships where there is always an underlying business angle.
Who are the top three product people you go to for advice? -Pedram Daraeizadeh
I have a great product team internally — my co-founder, Babak Nivi. Our COO and head of product, Graham Jenkin. And my friend Elad Gil, since he’s so smart and nice about everything.
What do you think are some ways one can figure out what he or she is good at? -Ekam Singh
Ask your friends or parents to be brutally honest about what you do well and poorly. Look at what you actually do in your spare time, not what you would like to do or think that you do.
What is one moment in your life that you felt truly delighted? -Kate Segrin
When my wife walked up the aisle. I felt like I was getting away with something big.
You can find the full LIVE Chat schedule here:
Editor’s Note: The Q&A has been edited for clarity and brevity.