Extraordinary talent and how to spot it (according to YC), Product-market fit, Zuck’s new toys, bias-to-action and a bunch of deals.
Gm startup riders! This week’s good stuff for your startup brain includes:
⭐ Talent: how to spot it, according to YC.
🍬 Startup Candy: Product-market fit, Zuck’s toys and bias-to-action.
💵 Deals & Jobs: 12 startup deals in Spain (>€80M).
The system can’t see talent.
— Tyler Cowen
Today we’re talking about discovering talent as a skill.
Both when it comes to hiring in a startup, when it comes to finding & funding great founders, but also generally spotting exceptional humans.
One of the most valuable and least understood resource today - especially for economic and societal development - is talent.
As I see it, there are 3 main factors contributing to this problem:
People find it very hard to discover and develop their own talent (a few frameworks to help you out if this is you).
Our education systems are outdated, atrophied and disconnected from today’s modern society. It often actively discourages people from finding and pursuing their calling.
Spotting untapped potential - smart individuals with a natural capacity for improvement and creativity - is very hard.
Today we’re focusing on the latter: society is failing to spot exceptional talent - and this has large (silent) societal costs.
Think about discovering talent as a skill, a muscle to be trained - a blend of science (process) and art (cultivating intuition and leveraging your brain’s right hemisphere).
Identifying underrated talent is one of the most potent ways to give yourself a personal or organizational edge.
— Daniel Gross
Tl;dr — Rare, transformative talent is under-represented in today’s economy. Society is doing a poor job because it too often relies on an unimaginative, “safe” and bureaucratic approach.
Last week I went to a Metallica concert - you might hate metal, but these guys are exceptionally talented. I like to think humans like these have some sort of “halo” effect around them.
When I meet someone special I always think about them as having an “X-factor”.
There’s often no single element or factor that I can point to, but it is just as obvious.
I suspect there are two things going on with everyone’s talent radar:
Rational brain: scans the environment and the person’s outputs, trying to analyze different variables to put them in bucket = xyz.
Subconscious: picks up on a broader spectrum of factors and feelings that are almost impossible to pinpoint, but that give you a very clear view of a person’s talent, if you can tap into it.
I also suspect there are 3 important factors that help develop a core sense and skill to spotting talent:
Immersion: Having been surrounded by extremely talented people - be it in life, sports, at a high performance organisation, educational institution and so on.
Calibration: Meeting lots and lots of different humans in different environments to calibrate your point of view.
Intentionality: observing one’s own thought process and physiology during and after meeting talent, trying to tap into what your subconscious assessment has been (while recognising your biases).
Extremely talented individuals are in touch with “something” (let’s call it a muse) which they are able to access by being able to regulate their rational mind’s filter - which translates into exceptional feats and/or works of art.
Here’s an example of martial artist Rickson Gracie performing a move that is incredibly hard, and yet pulls it off smoothly during a fight in Japan (fyi this is a real fight - ends up getting a submission):
I recently read “Talent: The art and science of talent search” - written by a partner at Y Combinator and an economist.
Great read, full of insights we can all apply in our day to day.
The authors talk about a bunch of traits to look out for and a few tips on how to tease these out. These are my favourite ones:
Being very articulate ≠ automatically assume talent: the authors’ recommend not to rely too much on a candidate’s ability to be articulate during an interview. According to them, usually overrated—“most of all, by people who are smart.”
High disagreeableness & high openness: using the 5 factor personality framework, this particular combination seems to often breed great talent. Disagreeableness motivates an individual to go after a new idea when others are not convinced / are actively discouraging them. Openness makes the person an innovator willing to accept feedback when needed.
Stamina: probably one of the great underrated concepts in talent search - especially when hiring top performers and leaders. This is why in fields such as medicine and law stamina tests are used upfront - in the early years. This captures it well:
“It wasn’t until my mid-30s that I finally got to see some very successful people up close for long enough to notice a strong pattern: the most successful have a lot more energy and stamina than do others…”
Compounded self-improvement: like stamina, look for the person who shows signs of improvement each time you meet with them. The very best performers don’t stop practicing for long. They are on a path toward continuously compounding learning and their own performance.
“If you meet someone three times in three months, and notice detectable improvement each time, pay attention to that. The rate of improvement is often more important than the current absolute ability”
Sturdiness: this is the quality of getting stuff done day after day, with extreme regularity - without long period of non-achievement.
Generativeness: a type of striking vitality, talking quickly, moving quickly and generally being high on life. They run lots of combinations of ideas in their heads only to understand possibilities.
Happiness (or fun-ness): an underrated quality. There’s a great ted talk on how people confuse the order of success —> happiness, when its actually the other way around.
Ethics: very important, and hard to test for:
Ethics are hard to test for. But watch for any whiff of less than stellar ethics in any candidate’s background or references. And avoid, avoid, avoid.
— Marc Andreessen
Demonstrating a language “of one’s own”: people who have wrestled so much with a particular problem / insights that they are able to elaborate their own “language” can be a sign of outlier talent (i.e. Peter Thiel talking about “technological stagnation”, “Georgist economics”).
Setting an initial interview in a public venue: seeing how candidates interact with strangers can provide cues about their ability to improvise.
Behavioural interview questions are mostly broken - try to avoid standard questions. Ask questions that “get people out of character and into themselves” to get a glimpse at the real person. Example:
“What are the open tabs on your browser right now?”
“What is one mainstream or consensus view that you wholeheartedly agree with?”
“What views do you hold almost irrationally?”
Great interview questions are either “random” or “surprising” - any question you can give canned & prepared answers to are generally bad.
Invest in your network: there is no substitute for a great pool of candidates. This will depend on your soft networks - the ones that you and/or your institution have been nurturing for years. It really depends on the people you know, who recommends you, the image of the institution you represent, network of previous employers, media coverage, social media presence and many other factors. Example: for Emergent Ventures most of the soft network behind applications came from readers of Tyler’s blog (Marginal Revolution).
“Think-big” halo: I thought this sentence was powerful: “help others dare to think in terms of higher career trajectories.”
My own conclusions about spotting talent:
Talent spotting = systems + trained intuition
Talent = (Nature + Nurture) * X factor
X factor = (attitude + mindset) * X
X can take many different forms, and is likely often best spotted by the subconscious mind, if you can pay attention to it. When you listen to Metallica’s “One”, you’ll hear the X factor 😉.
A word on helping Talent flourish, so it can be spotted…
The modern education system is flawed. This video by Ken Robinson is gold and explains why. The tl;dr:
Human communities depend upon our diversity of talent, not a singular conception of ability. At the heart of the challenge is to reconstitute our sense of ability and of intelligence.
We have sold ourselves into a fast-food model of education (where everything is standardised, as opposed to the “Michelin-star” restaurant model where everything is customised based on local conditions).
This is impoverishing our spirits and our energies as much as fast food is depleting our physical bodies.
We have to go from an industrial model of education - a manufacturing model based on linearity and conformity an batching people - into a model based on principles of agriculture.
We have to recognise that human flourishing is not a mechanical process, its an organic process.
You cannot predict the outcome of human development - all you can do is, like a farmer, create the conditions under which they will begin to flourish (a big part of this is creating a personalised curriculum).
🍬 Sartup Candy
Definition: Product Market Fit
Meta’s new toys
Tweet of the week
💵 Startup Deals
You love startups and want to enjoy a Spanish lifestyle? Come join the Spanish startup ecosystem. Here’s a list of recently funded startups:
SaleLayer (PIM) raised 24M
Idoven (healthtech) raised 18M
Panagea (biotech) raised 12M
H2site raised 12M
Zinklar (SaaS) raised 5M
The Bridge (edtech) raised 5M
Stockagile (SaaS) raised 2.5M
Samara (energy) raised 2M
Fuell (Fintech) raised 1.5M
Rungie (NFT Marketplace) raised 1.5M
Metacampus (web3 education) raised 1.5M
Zenrows (web scraping) raised 1M