Auren Hoffman (00:01.634)
Hello, fellow data nerds. My guest today is Sam Corcos. Sam is the co-founder and CEO of Levels, a health monitoring startup. Sam, welcome to World of Deaths. I'm really excited. Now, we're going to get into some of the health stuff in a bit, but Levels kind of operates in a bunch of very unusual ways.
Good to be here.
Auren Hoffman (00:30.758)
Um, and I'd love to kind of talk about it at first. You're, you're building in public, you're remote, you're asynchronous first. Um, and you, one of the things that sets levels apart is the way you use like a virtual assistance, like give me first, let's dive into that. I have got a bunch of other questions, but how do you use virtual assistance at levels?
We leverage VAs a lot. I would say about half the people on our team, maybe more, have access to an EA. And they're able to get a lot of leverage on their time. I'd say a big category of work that EAs do is they help with things like reporting, accountability. They often do first drafts of things. It's a source of labor that...
is less expensive and really just gets more leverage out of every person on your team. So we have an EA pool where if you don't have enough work for a dedicated person, you can hand off tasks to this pool of available talent. And then at some point, if you have enough work, you get a dedicated EA.
Auren Hoffman (01:33.004)
Auren Hoffman (01:37.438)
And so like maybe that EA first just supports, let's say, like the whole sales team. And then maybe it works for like an individual sales person or something.
Yeah, if at some point they end up with enough work or there's enough context necessary for them to work effectively together, then we just dedicate one specific EA to them. I would say, I think we have about 20 EAs that we work with and I think five of them are in the general pool and the rest of them are dedicated. I think I personally have three or four fully dedicated just to my tasks. So as more of these tasks build up, we add more resources to it.
Auren Hoffman (02:12.782)
Auren Hoffman (02:17.758)
and presumably like that EA is working on, let's say 40 hours a week. So you've got like 90 to 120 hours a week of things you need help with. Like what are some maybe non-obvious examples of things like you use EA's for?
Yeah, I think the one broad category that I have found is really helpful is, this is maybe a bit of an esoteric explanation, but I find that working with the EAs is really helpful in entropy management within an organization, which is as organizations get larger, as communication pathways get more complex and diffuse,
It's really hard to keep track of whether processes are being followed, whether things are getting done effectively and consistently, whether balls are getting dropped. And I found that using EAs to monitor things, send me reports so that I don't have to. These tend to be things that I either was doing in the past or I just wouldn't have capacity to do if, uh, if I didn't have EAs. So they really help with that. I would say other things they do.
Auren Hoffman (03:26.926)
So like go to JIRA and do, you know, look at this thing and see if this was checked in or this was the, and then, and then let me know if it's not, or send an email to the person on Miami half being asking for status or something. Okay. Wow. Okay. Or go and jump into Salesforce and review this. And if the report doesn't, it doesn't, it's not in this band. Like I want to know about like that type of thing. Okay.
Yeah, it's exactly right. Where, yeah, it's exactly something like that. Where...
Yeah. Like another reason.
Auren Hoffman (03:53.654)
Some of those things you think you could automate though, right? You would think you could set up like a GR alert or Salesforce alert or something, right?
Yeah, you would hope so. I would say in a lot of ways, they fill in the gaps of bad APIs, where if you just don't have software that can do this, I would say some of them, the software can get you 90% of the way there. So a recent example from yesterday, I got my monthly report on the status of our engineering documentation. And in Notion,
Auren Hoffman (04:07.694)
there's a new thing that they added somewhat recently called validation, where you validate that it is still up to date. And, uh, I think once a month my EAs go through and they check all of our engineering documentation and everyone on the ENG team agrees that it's good to have up to date documentation and that we should maintain that standard. And they went through. Yep. That's right.
Auren Hoffman (04:47.902)
This is internal, like an internal docks, okay.
And oftentimes all you have to do is look at it and say, yep, this is still valid. This is still up to date and you can check it off. And so they went through and they checked and they, they noticed that quite a number of documents were out of date. There's an owner associated with those docs and they said, Hey, so and so it's time to review this document. And they might even go as far as to like block time on their schedule to review it just so that they know that they have capacity to do it. So it's just making sure that we're.
keeping track of these things and we don't drop balls. They tend to be really good for things like that, but there's lots of other stuff we use them for.
Auren Hoffman (05:25.266)
So let's say you have like internal, like most of these, you have internal documentation, which could be like engineering, or it could just be like, HR, like your internal 409A share price or something like that. You might wanna keep up to date. How's it work like on Notion, you have an owner like from the company who's supposed to, and then like the last updated, like how does that work?
Yeah, yeah, that's exactly right. There's a field in Notion wikis called validation. And you, you say like needs to be validated every 90 days, every 120 days, whatever the cadence is, and then people go through and you just check and make sure that it was up to date and every document has an owner. And so when people transition out of the company, you transfer ownership to somebody who's still at the company. Uh,
Auren Hoffman (06:12.426)
And is that easy to do? Do you have to like find where place everything or is it just like a simple kind of transition?
It's pretty simple. I mean, I don't know if you can do like a bulk replace, but I guess, you know, people tend not to own that many documents. And one of the, I'd say the, one of the most common things that happens during these review periods is people deprecate documents and you just, this document is no longer relevant and you close it out. So that's another big part of the process. Cause as anyone knows who's worked in, even an organization that's even, I don't know, 12 people pretty quickly, you end up with a lot more documentation that is just out of date.
Auren Hoffman (06:35.915)
And you don't even, the documentation loses relevance and value because it's really hard to know what's even still being used.
Auren Hoffman (06:55.434)
Yeah, if you're not updating every month, like then it may not have any real value or anything like that.
Yep. And they do things like I have found that it's really useful to send context a couple of days before any call that I have. So my EAs will send our latest investor update, maybe some podcasts that I've done, more information about me, about the company, so that people can come into the conversation with a little bit more information than they otherwise would have.
Biggest time saver for me, which also improves productivity is, uh, I have a notion doc every day that has pages for each of my calls and they do pre-call notes, so they find the person on LinkedIn. They provide their background. They have a screenshot of the email or whatever communication method we had so that I can come into the call and it's like John Smith, who is John Smith? And I can see, Oh, contacted me on email.
Here was what we talked about. Here's the nature of the call. Here's more information about them. And then some followup items at the bottom. And they sometimes can even do those followups themselves. So it really helps me just quickly understand who they are, develop context, and also not drop balls.
Auren Hoffman (08:13.346)
And is that done like, is that done like two days before? So that like one day before you can review it or something. And, and then you get like an email from them being like, Oh, it's, it's ready for you to review, like here's the links or how do you, how do you know when to review it?
Yep. Exactly. Mm-hmm.
Yeah, so I just have a page, Sam's calls, and I just know to review it. And the answer is, yeah.
Auren Hoffman (08:31.253)
And it just links out to each thing or something, because like, let's say you have a call with Orin, like we may have had many calls in the past or something, and you may want to have like, like an Orin page. So it links to the Orin page.
It wouldn't link to the Orin page, but it would link to the specific page for the call that we have that day. And that page will eventually go into our meeting notes database. And so you could potentially link it to other related calls. Um, what, what it is being useful for is, uh, when you have back to back calls and you're jumping, you're shifting context all the time, it's really hard to know there have been a few calls before we had this process where I would have a call with somebody named Matt.
Auren Hoffman (09:08.747)
And there's a lot of people named Matt. And then I would get five minutes into the conversation and realize I was talking to a completely different Matt than I thought I was talking to. So having this sort of process really helps with that.
Auren Hoffman (09:26.204)
Oh yeah, we've all had that. Yeah, like in the Zoom world, for sure. Like we've all had those types of things. OK, that's interesting. Like, well, like, I mean, I think people are interested, like because I think even people have like a full time EA in person, like may not even know how to use that person effectively, whether it's, you know, because whether it's a virtual EA or an in-person EA or whatever, like.
Auren Hoffman (09:50.306)
How else can one use EAs effectively? Is there like a guidebook? Like, Hey, here's how you use EAs. I don't think that's like, you know, something you learn in business school or something.
Yeah, I, yeah, I, uh, I wrote an article in first round review that might be helpful to add to the show notes of some concepts on how to, how to effectively work with the EAs. Um, I think one of the conceptual things is really think through all of the things that just suck your energy throughout the day and figure out a way to offload those to somebody else.
Auren Hoffman (10:09.517)
I would say first decide whether that thing needs to be done at all. The answer is often no. People just do things out of inertia because they've been doing it for awhile. And, uh, eventually you get to a point where, eventually you get to a point where, uh, you keep pushing it. I would say a really good indicator of this is if you have something on your calendar that you're supposed to do, but you find that you keep moving it to tomorrow,
And you've been doing that for two or three weeks. That's probably a thing you should figure out how to delegate because it's clear that it's not something that you enjoy doing. Uh, for me, it's things like managing LinkedIn DMs or Twitter DMs or all these different communication tools that I have that I just don't have the capacity to stay on top of, but more than that for Twitter as a very
Auren Hoffman (11:22.462)
And you get I mean you get a lot of LinkedIn DMs and Twitter DMs like I had extremely few. Okay.
Yeah, I get quite a lot of them. Um, I would say that the quality of the ones that I get is very low, but every once in a while I get one that is really valuable. So this is the similarly with email, uh, filtering out email at this point, my EAs have enough context on what is relevant for what I need to do.
Auren Hoffman (11:50.274)
So they're like triaging your inbox and stuff like that. Okay.
Yep. Yep, so that's another one that they do that's pretty effective.
Auren Hoffman (11:57.29)
And are they like moving something to another folder for you? And you just review that folder, but you don't review like the actual inbox or how's it work?
Yeah, that's right. There's a label, which is just internally, it's just not important is what the label is. And they just, they just tag things with that and it gets put to a different folder. And I basically never look at it at this point, but early on I would check it and see every once in a while it was something that would get missed.
Auren Hoffman (12:08.694)
Auren Hoffman (12:20.498)
Okay, got it. So if it's in the inbox, it's not like they flag what's important, they more like flag what should get out of the inbox or something.
Yeah, and it's possible that the better strategy is the other way around, of like flagging as important. I haven't...filtering email is one of those things that I still don't feel like I've solved from an internal communications perspective. It is...it's just such a lossy system that figuring out how to solve that is hard.
Auren Hoffman (12:46.378)
And then I imagine that there's a notion doc for this admin that this admin owns about how to run this process and they have to keep that up to date every month or something.
Mm-hmm. That's right. And what's interesting about it is, especially in the way that we do it, is we use Loom pretty religiously. And for those not familiar, it's a screen recording tool. And every, all of the time that they spend filtering out email, they are recording on Loom. And then they post it on the process doc page. So if a new EA comes and wants to figure out how does this work,
Auren Hoffman (13:06.156)
They can actually watch every single time every person has ever done this task. And they can just learn by repetition, just by watching how other people do it and pattern match. I think, uh, when it comes to working with EAs, almost everybody I've talked to dramatically overestimates the complexity of the tasks that they're doing. If you just, if you can just watch a loom of somebody doing a task a handful of times,
Most people are able to replicate that task with 90 plus percent accuracy with very, very little context beyond just seeing what they were doing.
Auren Hoffman (13:57.634)
Hmm. And is there some sort of, um, uh, like obviously with your emails, you might get very, uh, confidential things that are in there. Are you somehow shading those confidential things out or editing those things out in Loom, or you're just not worrying about it?
Um, I think, uh, to some degree, the answer is just not worrying about it. I think that there are, there are things that are, there are things that are actually confidential and there are things that people assume are confidential. Um, a lot of this depends on the culture of the company. Um, we're, we're pretty aggressive in, in the degree of transparency that we have. And so, uh, there's the, the only thing that we really consider.
Auren Hoffman (14:31.583)
confidential other than the obvious ones like ongoing legal cases. The only thing that we have that is just consistently confidential is compensation. Things like individual performance, anything, almost anything else is something that we share with the broader company. So we're pretty open about it internally.
Auren Hoffman (15:07.97)
And I noticed you recently made a change where before individual performance was deemed confidential. Now, you know, the default is that it's open. Maybe there's like specific items there. Like if someone's having a specific personal problem that remains confidential. Like, why did you make that shift?
Yeah, that's right.
Well, so a few years ago, we, and by we, I really just mean me, wanted to make, wanted to be more open with how we run our business. And by open, I mean both internally and externally, to different degrees. For example, we share all of our investor updates. We share all of our weekly all hands publicly. They're posted on our YouTube channel. Mm-hmm.
Auren Hoffman (15:53.262)
including like revenues and stuff and expenses. Oh wow.
Yep. Revenue, expenses, all of that stuff is public on our website down on the footer, every investor update since literally the first day of the company is available and you can see what our revenues were in month one and it goes, we published those one year after, uh, after a one year time delay.
Auren Hoffman (16:15.386)
Ah, got it. Okay, interesting. Okay.
You know, the main reason is just that we, we realize that there are certain pending items in our investor updates that are probably ill advised to make public while they're pending, but tends not to be the case after a year. So yeah.
Auren Hoffman (16:31.426)
God, like we're working on this top secret product. And then, you know, six months later, the product comes out or it didn't work or whatever, then, then it's okay for people to know about it.
Yeah, that's right. So, uh, internally, uh, it's, this is one of the, uh, one of the important things that I think is important for every company we have, we have five co-founders at levels and I've been through this before of, uh, starting companies, being a co-founder and something that I've made this mistake before in the past is not being super clear what it means to be the CEO of the company.
And for every co-founder that we brought on, I was very explicit that no matter how many co-founders we have, we have one CEO. And so if everybody else believes one thing and I believe another thing, we're doing the thing that I say, because that's how it has to be in order for this to work. This is not a democracy. And so the shift to this level of transparency was one of those things where, uh, I really just had to push it through. And
I would say some people were neutral. Some people were strongly against it, but everyone was willing to disagree and commit and feel it out. And what we found is that the level of transparency internally was really helpful in terms of building trust within the company, because people knew that what we were saying was truthful. We weren't hiding things from people. Um, and sharing them externally also built a lot of trust with our customers because one of our goals has to become a
a major trust provider within healthcare. It's a category that is really lacking in trust. And so when people can see that we're super open, we're honest with everything that we say, it builds trust with your customers. So that's been another one. It also builds trust with potential recruits and employees. It's been a major, major source of value for hiring. And so maybe to answer your specific question, this transition that we made maybe six months ago, which was...
We used to exclude individual performance and compensation, and now it's just compensation. All individual performance, including one-on-ones, are default shared. It doesn't mean they're mandatory shared, but by default they will get shared, unless you say not to share a specific recording. The shift really came from recognizing that the...
so many of the things that we want to do as a company and the level of openness and trust that we had built was really incompatible with hiding individual performance where it felt like people out of the blue would lose their jobs for performance reasons. People would say, I really wish I knew because I totally could have helped them on that issue. It requires a super high level of trust to...
Auren Hoffman (19:27.67)
have a conversation in a one-on-one where I say, Orin, right now, uh, we often use the, the keeper test from Netflix. You know that one?
Auren Hoffman (19:42.516)
Yeah, it's, it's a really good heuristic for, uh, just working from like the, the space of feeling, uh, the key protest is you, you close your eyes and you imagine this person is sitting across from you. Let's say you have an employee named Mike and Mike comes to you and says, Orin, I have bad news. I, I decided that, uh, this is not the place for me anymore. And I just accepted a job at Google.
And then you reflect on how you feel. And if you feel relief or excitement that they're leaving, that is a bad sign. Like the keeper test is you should feel terror. You should feel like, oh man, we really need this person. I would fight really hard to keep them here. And if you feel anything other than that, they need to know that immediately. And you need to figure out how to get to the point where you're excited for them to continue working there. And so we've had times where I've said to people in the one-on-ones
Auren Hoffman (20:22.174)
You do not currently pass my keeper test. This doesn't mean that we're firing you right now, but it does mean that unless we figure out how to get to a point where I'm confident that you're adding value and that I'm happy for you to be here, ultimately this is not going to work out and that level and that meeting gets shared to the whole company. And then people often jump in and say, Hey, I can help with this thing. I can help with that thing. It really requires a super high level of trust and it's a bit of a leap of faith.
Auren Hoffman (21:07.53)
Auren Hoffman (21:13.206)
And it could be that doesn't pass the manager's keeper test, but there's many other people in the organization that would go nuts if this person left because they are actually valued. Maybe the manager doesn't see that. Maybe that could be helpful if other people let them know.
Yep, absolutely. Yeah. And it's, it requires a certain culture and a level of trust within an organization. So this is definitely not something that I recommend everyone try, but, uh, it's, it's been working for us because we've set that expectation from day one.
Auren Hoffman (21:44.874)
Now, because you're so transparent, I'm sure at some point you guys had a big internal debate about whether you make compensation public and you've decided not to make that public, like how did that go down? Cause I could see every argument you make just going the same way there. Cause I assume competition is like very reflective of like how someone's performing and if you rank order the compensation and the company, it would vary, you know, if you include stock would probably very clearly match the value that person is to the company. Right.
Yeah, it's very possible that we end up at some point making compensation public. But it's one of those interesting things where I, there are some case studies, Bridgewater being one of the obvious ones where increasing transparency, visibility across meetings, performance, all of these things have added a lot of value to the culture. Bridgewater does not share compensation data.
In fact, almost no company that does this shares compensation data. There are a handful of examples of companies that do. And the people that I've talked to at those companies have said it was terrible. And so I don't, I don't have really any positive data points that come from sharing compensation data, other than if you should make compensation data shared within the company or public, uh, it just becomes a constant source of tension of
Why does he make $5,000 more than me? I think I'm better than him. And it just, it becomes a huge distraction from the actual work that needs to get done. So, um, it's possible we end up there, but there would have to be a reason to do it beyond just in principle, we want to share everything.
Auren Hoffman (23:18.594)
Auren Hoffman (23:32.914)
Okay, yeah, got it. I could see how all these things would cause a lot of angst and stuff like that. Even like, why does this person get a better performance review than me or something? So, but yeah, but I agree when it comes to pocketbook issues, it's even more so. Now going back to like the assistance, like most people don't know how to manage assistance. Like, how do you train your staff to manage them?
I think part of the answer is working with an agency really helps with that because they do most of the training themselves. So we, we work with Athena. They're an agency out of the Philippines and they're on the more expensive side, but they also do most of the training themselves. They do the cybersecurity training. They, uh, they teach people how to be, they teach the EAs how to be more proactive so that you don't have to teach them how to do it yourself. Um, the.
Auren Hoffman (24:05.441)
Auren Hoffman (24:25.047)
We also have an internal program where we've had a couple people lead this internally at different points in time of the internal delegation program. This is another one of those entropy management things where I get a monthly report on how many delegations somebody has done with an EA. And if we notice that some...
Auren Hoffman (24:53.126)
I'm sorry and the EA, the Athena provide you that or how do you, is that just something they do by default or how does that work?
No, we asked them to do it. And the main reason is that the math is pretty simple in terms of how much leverage you can get from your EAs. If you have a person and their effective hourly rate, especially if you factor in opportunity costs is something like $200 an hour, and if the EA is $18 an hour, any amount of time that executive is spending doing things that could be done by an EA is just a straight loss for the organization. And so if we.
Auren Hoffman (25:27.851)
If I notice a trend, like an executive on the team has zero delegations several months in a row, it is extremely improbable that they have no tasks that should be handed off to an EA. And so oftentimes what we'll do is we'll find somebody on our team. Right now, I think it's Zach who runs legal for us. It's just he's a really good delegator and we just have him spend some time with whoever that person is. And we say, let's go through your day to day. Let's figure out what your tasks are.
And then we try to increase their awareness of how to delegate. Most people just don't even know where to get started. And so it takes a lot of practice.
Auren Hoffman (26:07.278)
Okay. Interesting. And what the, in some cases, like people might use like up workers for very specific thing. I use this person for this, but of course, like getting someone up to speed takes a lot of time. And so the, the good news about using that workers are very, very specific about this thing. They know how to like do this type of thing on Google sheets or, you know, and make this type of zap on Zapier or something like that. But what you're saying is there there's also something about like.
Auren Hoffman (26:36.642)
having a long-term relationship with somebody where they get to know you and they might not be an expert in any one thing, but they can like slowly take on things over time.
That's right. And the more context they have, the less specific instructions you have to give. You can be more declarative and less imperative. So for example, we did something recently, which was kind of fun. In fact, I have them right here. I stole this from one of our investors, Wiz, where I made magic cards for every person on our team. Yeah. And there's like a custom flavor text based on some...
Auren Hoffman (27:10.376)
That's so cool.
an interview that they did internally. We take images of them, we put those through mid journey to use their face and then like turn them into a wizard. And it was very cool. And it took me about 15 minutes to define that entire task. I explained where to get the data, how to use chat.
Auren Hoffman (27:24.215)
Auren Hoffman (27:37.942)
Now, why, why would you even do that anyway? Like, why wasn't that someone else in the company? Like, why is the CEO getting like, even like assigning that task or something.
Yeah. So I think part of the answer is I was, I had the idea. I thought it was, yeah, it'd be fun. Exactly. And in any other world, I would have probably had to say, all right, if I actually want this to get done, I have to, I have to schedule a meeting with somebody on our team who is not an EA. And then I have to teach them how to do it. And then they have to figure out how to do it and maybe bring on, it would have been a huge time suck. And basically the answer is it just wouldn't have gotten done.
Auren Hoffman (27:48.926)
You just want to do it. You're like, oh, this would be fun. Yeah.
Auren Hoffman (28:03.405)
Auren Hoffman (28:14.988)
because it would have been so much effort and so much cost. But instead it took me about 15 minutes. It took the EA a couple of days. They just, they followed the task. They had enough context to know where all the information was and what my intent was. And they were able to do it pretty quickly and get it turned around.
Auren Hoffman (28:30.114)
Now some of the tasks that you have need to be done like, you know, very real time. And you may be joining like us business hours. Some of them could be done like async or maybe even there's a benefit for them being done over the night, nighttime. I know like most of the, the virtual, uh, systems that you use are in the Philippines. So do some work US hours and some work Philippines hour. How does it work?
Yeah, so they work different schedules. My recommendation for anyone doing this has always been try to have some synchronous overlap. So I think the EAs that my primary EAs have, I think they overlap with me until about 1 p.m. I think they're synchronous until about 1 p.m. And then there's a couple others that are maybe fully asynchronous.
Auren Hoffman (29:15.298)
Auren Hoffman (29:22.465)
when they need access to a two-factor authentication key. If they're always in a different time zone, trying to coordinate that is a huge pain. So having some amount of overlap is way better than having none.
Auren Hoffman (29:33.324)
Auren Hoffman (29:38.238)
And are they, is it somehow like, are they coordinating with each other? Is there like one email address that like, and somehow they are all court and like, can kind of read that or how does it work?
Yeah, so some of them is the EA pool is done through a Google group that we set up where everyone in the EA pool is part of that and you can just send.
Auren Hoffman (29:55.2)
Is that something you figured out or is that something like Athena's like suggested for you?
That's something that we figured out. I don't know how common the EA pool concept is, but it's definitely something that we make a lot of use of. Um, the other is we try to have when individuals, in my case, I have three or four, we try to have a primary EA who quarterbacks these things, so they do a little bit of the load balancing and they also know what skills each of the EAs have so they can quarterback who the right person is to do each task.
Auren Hoffman (30:06.466)
Auren Hoffman (30:21.518)
Auren Hoffman (30:31.054)
Okay, got it. That makes sense. I would imagine that one thing that EAs can do an amazing job of is things for personal things, not just things at your business levels, but things personal. How do you use them for the personal stuff?
Yeah, it depends a lot on whether the EA is in person or whether the EA is remote.
Auren Hoffman (31:02.828)
Well, even if they're remote, I'm sure they can like get it. Someone would pick up things and do, right, so.
Mm-hmm. Yeah, for sure. The, I would say for personal stuff, this is, this is sort of, uh, we'll call it work adjacent as an example for something they do for me is they keep track of my calendar and they categorize each task and they send me a report on what my priorities were for that month. And so this is time management. It's somewhat personal, but also related to work. Uh, and that just gives me a feedback loop.
Auren Hoffman (31:18.381)
on whether I'm actually spending my time on the things that I state are my priorities, which is really helpful. There's an accountability loop there. They can do things like help you with your taxes if it's something that's really taking up a lot of your time.
Auren Hoffman (31:51.37)
Like getting all the, getting all the things in one place or finding all the stuff or categorizing things or that type of thing. Okay.
Yeah, and there's, there's a, we've had a lot of internal conversations about this. There's, there's admittedly a gray area on what is or is not reasonable to use a work EA for in terms of personal tasks. Um, the obvious, obviously useful and like clearly acceptable category is
Auren Hoffman (32:16.321)
You need help delivering something that adds value to work right now. It makes total sense. An obvious no is you have a side hustle and you're using your work EA to do a thing that generates you income completely unrelated to what you do for work.
Auren Hoffman (32:31.511)
Auren Hoffman (32:42.271)
But then there's all this middle stuff, which is like, Hey.
Auren Hoffman (32:46.71)
Yeah, well, it could save you time and that's time could be dedicated to work, right?
Exactly. It's like, Hey, can you help me plan my vacation? It's like, is that it's like, well, kind of, because it would have taken me three hours and I would have otherwise been working during that time. So it's very much a gray area and you have to, we just ask people to use their judgment ultimately is if, if you would otherwise be working during that time, then
Auren Hoffman (32:59.499)
Auren Hoffman (33:06.847)
By all means, use an EA, but...
Auren Hoffman (33:19.894)
Great. Right. If they save you, if they get you two hours more of work, well, I mean, that's, you know, that's huge.
Yeah, totally. So we asked people to use their judgment. Part of it is we have, because we have such a good accountability structure around keeping track of all the tasks. Um, some people, I wish I could remember which company does this, but the, uh, one of the companies, they had an issue with people expensing things that were personal to their work cards and their solution, instead of like creating more and more policies, which they'd been doing for a long time and didn't seem to solve anything.
Auren Hoffman (33:55.447)
They just put every expense gets posted publicly in a Slack channel. Yeah. And that's all that's the only change that they made. And like, basically what they ended up creating was a system that if you would ultimately be embarrassed by people seeing what you just expensed on the company card, then you probably shouldn't do it.
Auren Hoffman (34:02.51)
Auren Hoffman (34:06.029)
Auren Hoffman (34:15.242)
Yep. God, so it's like Mike spent like $10,000 on a plane ticket. Okay, maybe shouldn't have done that or something like that.
Yeah, it's like an extreme outlier of like, that's interesting. Everyone else is like $300 and then Mike was $10,000. I wonder why that is.
Auren Hoffman (34:32.458)
Yeah, yeah, OK. That's really, now you guys are also just generally very async. Right? I'm sure you have some meetings and some synchronous stuff, but you try to do everything async. Like, how does that, because I think a lot of companies wish they did that. Like, how does that work?
Yeah, async is really good for certain types of tasks. It's less good for other types of tasks. I think the answer is that ultimately it's a trade-off. And so understanding, I would say that remote and async are really closely tied together in a way that I don't think everyone fully appreciates.
Auren Hoffman (35:17.894)
Even if you have everyone in the same time zone remote, you're saying it has to be like more async is really important. Okay.
Yeah, remote and async are really, they're almost synonymous. And if you have one without the other, it's really challenging. So it is, it's not ideal to sit in meetings all day in person, but you can get energy from those. If you're working with people, you feel the energy in the room, you get the body language. There was nothing more soul crushing than sitting in zoom calls all day. It's just not the same. Like you can't do. I've tried.
Auren Hoffman (35:43.679)
Auren Hoffman (35:51.21)
Yeah. 100% agree. Yeah.
Yeah. So if, if you lean into the worst parts of remote, which is you're not physically co-located and you don't get energy from other people and you insist on keeping the same structure of synchronous meetings, your productivity is going to go down, your energy is going to go down. Outputs going to decrease. If you can lean into the fact that every meeting that you have is ultimately content like
If we were having a zoom call right now, this would just be content. If we recorded it, you can record a loom and you can send a video to somebody asynchronously. I think most of our engineers looking at their schedules have something like three meetings per week. And so it depends a lot on the role as well. So some roles.
Auren Hoffman (36:25.247)
Auren Hoffman (36:40.01)
Yeah, obviously if you're a salesperson you're having external, but you don't need to have a lot of internal meetings.
That's exactly right. And so it really works better for certain types of roles and, and certain types of companies as well, depending on what it is that they're doing. Um, so yeah, async is it's really valuable in certain aspects. There's a, I steal this quote from Matt Mullenweg from WordPress. He, uh, he says you should be as async as possible, but not more. And I think that's, that's where people often miss on some of these things is they assume.
Auren Hoffman (37:10.251)
Only async is the answer. But the reality is that there is a time and place for co-located, for high bandwidth, low latency communication to get that level of alignment that's necessary.
Auren Hoffman (37:28.854)
Yeah, let's just get on that. Sometimes it's like, okay, let's just get on the phone and talk for a couple of minutes or something like that synchronously. What is there a Is there some sort of template you have for meetings like that means that have to happen synchronously. Is there like, is there, I assume there's some sort of async build up with the template of the of the agenda of like, do you have does everyone who falls like a synchronous meeting use the same template in the organization.
Broadly speaking, the answer is no. There are certain meetings that are more formulaic, like our Friday forums, the team all hands, it follows a routine, which is we announced at the beginning of the meeting, this is where we celebrate our wins. We have Monday metrics where we present all of our business metrics. We dig into them a little bit more.
Auren Hoffman (38:12.919)
We do a lot of our projects. We do these kickoff meetings where we bring everyone who's working on a project together synchronously to just formalize like this project is starting now.
Auren Hoffman (38:33.718)
But like the Friday, you just, this Friday meeting you have, like, why does, why does everyone have to be on it live?
So we've tried doing it async. So we've, we've experimented with a lot of these things. The reality is just that there, it is a, the intent of the meeting is to celebrate wins for the week. And what we discovered trying doing it async for several months is that the whole point of the meeting, which is to have, you know, bring the energy of like positive it, it just, it falls completely flat when it's, when it's async. So.
Auren Hoffman (38:44.788)
Auren Hoffman (39:00.214)
Yeah, like, clap and everyone. Okay, yeah, okay.
we realize that meeting has to be synchronous and we try to get as many people to go as possible.
Auren Hoffman (39:12.022)
Now, if it's synchronous, does that mean like most of your employees are in the U.S.?
Um, most of our employees are in the U S we, this is another piece of feedback. I wish I could remember who specifically gave us this feedback, but it's somebody who runs a much larger remote company. And we asked them, if you could do it all over, what would, and you were our size, what would you do differently? And they said, we would have set clear time zone expectations no matter where you live, because where they ended up is they effectively run three different companies.
Auren Hoffman (39:39.534)
that have different meeting schedules that are completely independent. They have, they have Asia, Europe, and the U S and they have to coordinate these as three separate entities. And they said, if I could do it again, I would say, no matter where you live, you have to be available in America's time zones, which is basically California to Brazil. So if we, if we need to schedule a meeting as a team, that's the time zone we're scheduling it. And if that means you have to stay up late or wake up early, that's up to you. That's a choice that you can make.
Auren Hoffman (39:46.071)
Auren Hoffman (39:50.178)
Auren Hoffman (40:12.238)
Or like there's some core hours, let's say 9 a.m. Pacific to 1 p.m. Pacific or something like that.
Mm-hmm. That's exactly right. I think that those are the actual core hours that we have. It's 9 a.m. Pacific to 1. It might even be 8 a.m. Pacific, but yeah.
Auren Hoffman (40:26.238)
Okay. All right. That, that makes, that makes sense. Um, or, or are there other, um, uh, you know, the fact that you guys are so public and so open, are there, are there some like downsides that you've had to kind of work through?
There are a lot of, we'll call them theoretical downsides. There are a lot of risks that people perceive. I will say that I have not, I don't think that we've experienced any real like tangible downsides other than people concerned about, people are concerned that something might happen in the future. There were definitely some investors that opted out of the process going forward.
Auren Hoffman (41:06.783)
One of them accused us of negligence for sharing all of this information, but it's more of a philosophical difference, I think.
Auren Hoffman (41:17.629)
Auren Hoffman (41:21.886)
One of the things like I can imagine from like HR related things or something like, okay, you might be doing a training or not doing a training or something like that. Like I could see how those things could be, could end up being like both, both positive and a negative or something.
Totally. It's, it's, uh, HR, legal, those sorts of things. They, especially when it comes to sharing all of our one-on-ones within the entire company and having everything recorded, there were a lot of people in legal who like their hair is falling out, just hearing that that's something that we do, but the reality is that it builds trust. It also, uh, it makes it a lot harder for people to create false accusations because.
Auren Hoffman (41:42.434)
If you say X and Y happened in this specific meeting, we have the recording of that meeting. We know whether it happened or not. And so I think what people would be surprised to...
Auren Hoffman (42:12.788)
Auren Hoffman (42:17.898)
And most, how do you, how do you record, are you recording it on Gong or, you know, or zoom or something or, okay. So you just use like the cloud recording on zoom and just keep it. And then, and then, and then it's just easy to search through it. Or you're having some sort of the zoom AI is writing like the notes on it.
on zoom yeah there's just
So yeah, there's just a toggle at the organization level of default record on Zoom. And so we just turn that on. And it's worth noting that this is not a suicide pact. So we're not saying all meetings must be recorded and all meetings must be shared. We've just changed the default behavior, which is unless you say otherwise, or unless you turn off the recording, just by default, all these things will be shared. And the, we...
Auren Hoffman (42:41.695)
Loom integrates with zoom. Sometimes it's hard to get these names correct because they sound so similar, but you can, you can port all of your zoom meetings into loom and then you can share the embeds and other things through loom. So that, that tends to be the strategy that we use, but there's lots of ways you can do it.
Auren Hoffman (43:10.154)
Auren Hoffman (43:23.374)
Okay. I didn't, I didn't realize that. So you can port the zoom meetings into loom and then that's the, cause it's easier to share or you can share clips easier or something like that. And the loom AI UI is easier for that.
Mm-hmm. That's right.
Yep, that's right.
Auren Hoffman (43:37.326)
All right now getting to levels, because I love your company. We haven't really talked, but so we've talked a lot about on Oral Desk about data used for health. Um, and obviously you're tracking things like glucose and other types of things. I personally find like tracking some of this data for my own health, like a bit overwhelming and I get a bunch of blood tests and stuff. And sometimes I don't even know like what I'm really supposed to be looking at. Like.
What do you, outside of blood sugar, like what do you track personally?
So this is an interesting challenge. What we've learned over the course of building this company is that we measure almost nothing in our bodies. When you compare it to any sort of mechanical system or a software system, there are 50,000 sensors on every Falcon 9 rocket that goes to space. If you are every commercially available sensor known to man in terms of what's like a...
Auren Hoffman (44:25.516)
What's a consumer sensor? You're really just measuring blood sugar, which is the only molecule that we can measure in real time, heart rate, skin temperature, and you're using a gyro to measure your movement and that's about it. And so three of those are superficial, literally like they're outside of the skin and one of those as a molecule. And there are tens of thousands of molecules in your body that you'd like to be able to measure. So. I try to keep track of things like.
Auren Hoffman (44:44.706)
Auren Hoffman (44:50.156)
Blood sugar is a really useful one because for me, it's really been more lifestyle driven rather than health driven of why do I have brain fog in the middle of the day? It's often because of something that I ate. Um, things like movement is a really important one. Uh, I, although I work at levels and this is a health company, I, I'm not a super optimizer, I'm not a biohacker. I'm really looking for the 80 20 of how do I not die a premature death and how do I.
Auren Hoffman (45:17.803)
How do I maintain energy levels throughout the day? So some amount of movement is really important. Some amount of weight training is really important. So I try to keep track of how much.
Auren Hoffman (45:43.842)
I think you mentioned like after you maybe eat a lunch, you just take a walk around the block or something like that.
Totally. Yeah, even like a 20, 30 minute walk has a really large measurable impact on how your body responds to food.
Auren Hoffman (45:55.298)
So if you're doing like a call, you'll try to do a walk while you do the call or something, okay.
Yep, exactly. Yeah. So protein is another one. Almost everybody does not get enough protein throughout the day. So keeping track of how much protein you're getting. So some of it is, uh, as this is
Auren Hoffman (46:07.95)
And what does protein do for you?
Auren Hoffman (46:14.03)
Because sometimes I've seen this thing of like the amount of protein I'm supposed to eat and it's like, I could never eat that much chicken. Like I just, I like chicken, but not that much.
Yeah, I know.
Yeah, I think the biggest one is around muscle mass. This is what Peter Attia's new book really goes into much more detail. Uh, his book is outlive where he talks a lot about one of the strongest correlates to longevity is muscle mass. And if you lose muscle mass, you tend to die early and the ability to, uh, the ability to build that muscle is really reliant on having enough protein in your diet, uh, among other things. So, uh,
Most people, I think, uh, get about half as much protein. If I remember the data correctly as, as would be optimal. So, uh, protein is one that I try to optimize for steps. Just generally speaking, movement is one that I keep track of. It's a little bit challenging because, uh, I've noticed a trend when I'm. In programming mode and I'm just writing software. I tend to get like 300 steps per day, which is really, it's really not good. And.
When I'm doing calls.
Auren Hoffman (47:22.262)
It's like you're going from the bedroom to the kitchen or something.
Yeah, exactly. It's, it's really, I average triple digit steps during programming days, which is not, not great, but no, but when I'm doing days where I'm taking calls, I'm doing other things. I tend to get 10 to 20,000. So it's a, it's much better on those days.
Auren Hoffman (47:32.343)
Uh huh. Not good at all. Yeah.
Auren Hoffman (47:43.734)
And how do you know like, are there certain calls you're taking like literally audio only or something?
Mm-hmm. That's right. A lot of like say one-on-ones if I don't feel like I need to be at my computer I'll just take a I'll take a zoom call because they're recorded, but I'll just do an audio only and go for a walk
Auren Hoffman (47:57.45)
Yeah. Okay. Got it. Interesting. Um, and for, so you're really saying for the average person, instead of like, cause everyone's tracking, whether it's like VO two max and like, you know, 17,000 other things and they're getting blood tests every, you know, every, you know, I have friends like getting blood tests every month or every three months or something like that, you know, in some ways you're saying, okay, that, that just doesn't fit the 80 20 rule.
It's definitely, if it's interesting to you, and if that's the level of optimization that you're going for, 100%, it's useful. Um, is it the challenge with a lot of these blood tests is they're useful to give you point in time measurements. This is a, there's this concept that we've talked about internally. The concept is biological observability. This is a
Auren Hoffman (48:40.127)
A level of depth I don't normally go into, but because you have a lot of data nerds in your audience, I think it might be useful. This concept comes from observability theory broadly, which is the mathematical dual of control theory. The reality is that you can't control the system unless you can observe what is going on in that system. Observability theory is about how do you observe signals coming out of a black box, assuming that you will never be able to understand.
Auren Hoffman (49:05.59)
the core mechanics of that system. You're just, you're just observing signals coming out of it. How do you know what is the state of what is going on in that black box? So if you imagine you're trying to model metabolic states inside of your body, but you only have like the occasional like, Oh, you took 10,000 steps today. It's like, is that really enough to know my metabolic state? Probably not. It's like, well, look, here's your glucose data. Is that enough? Probably not. How much of data do you need for that?
And it turns out it's a lot more than the measurement tools that we have today. And so in observability theory broadly, there are, I would say three primary, three primitives of data, metrics, logs, and traces, which anyone who's done software development is familiar with, like a stack trace with metrics, with adding a log, these are all the same concepts and you can apply those here, which is point in time measurements are metrics. So when you get blood work done, you have a point in time.
Auren Hoffman (50:04.876)
Auren Hoffman (50:16.254)
Yep. And who knows what you even did that morning and you know, whatever. Yeah. It's like so random.
The problem, as anyone knows, exactly. Yep, exactly. It's, it's highly, highly variable. You can get trends over time and you can say in general, I can see this number is creeping up, but you can't, what you really want is a trace. You want to understand cause and effect. I did this thing, which is leading to these outcomes fundamentally.
Auren Hoffman (50:40.542)
I ate peanut butter and I did this or I did this workout or, you know, um, you know, a lot of people do monitor their sleep. That's like a common thing today where people are wearing some sort of thing to monitor their sleep. Like, how do you think about that?
Mm-hmm. Yeah, so sleep is the way that they monitor sleep is ultimately It's ultimately a computation based on heart rate and skin temperature and things like that So it is it is really it's a downstream metric. Mm-hmm Yeah, it's a downstream metric of the of the superficial metrics that the sensors pick up So there there's just there are only so many Make like fundamental pieces of data that we're able to collect
Auren Hoffman (51:02.698)
Yep. Yeah. Or how much you're moving or something. Yeah.
And so almost all of the other things that we do around strain, around recovery, those are all derivative measurements that are just based on the same underlying data points.
Auren Hoffman (51:29.622)
Now, you're pretty, a couple of personal questions. I know you're pretty hardcore minimalist. I've heard on the Tim Ferriss podcast, you said you like, I don't know if this is true that you only own like one or two pairs of pants or something, like how did that evolution to minimalism go there?
Yeah, I do have only one pair of pants, that's true.
Auren Hoffman (51:50.55)
So what do you do like when it's dirty? Are you just like, you know, walking around in your undies and stuff or yeah?
You know, I think, I think one aspect is that, uh, so I have a pair of pants. I have one pair of shorts. So I'll wear the pair of shorts when I need to wash the pants. The reality is that pants don't get dirty as often as people think they do. Exactly.
Auren Hoffman (52:04.172)
Auren Hoffman (52:10.314)
Yeah, yeah, I'll wear a pair of pants for a whole week sometimes. Yeah, like I, you know, and sometimes my, my wife and my kids make fun of me, but like, I'm like, it's not that dirty. Like maybe I put a little mustard on it, but it's fine. Yeah.
Uh-huh. Yeah. Yeah, exactly. I think, yeah, there's a lot of assumptions that are baked into these things of like, what if this, what if that, um, I remember I, I did a long backpacking trip with a friend, uh, in, in China and when we arrived, he had like two suitcases, he, he had like his, he had planned for every possible contingency. Like, what if we go hiking? What if we go?
Auren Hoffman (52:29.952)
Auren Hoffman (52:46.571)
What if we go camping? Like, what if we, what if we end up in a mountain? What if it rains? And you're like, and I brought like one small backpack with stuff. And he looked at me like I was crazy. And he was like, what if you need to do laundry? Like he brought all the stuff to do laundry. It's like, you know, people do laundry in China. You can think, what if, what if we go to the ocean and we need flip flops? It's like, you know, people go to the ocean in China. Like this is, they have these things here. You don't have to bring your entire life with you all the time.
Auren Hoffman (53:15.874)
God, it's just like, oh, you'll just buy it if you need to, but why have it? And okay, I'll just buy some flip flops and maybe I'll have to throw it away, but it's better than, you know, always traveling with those types of things.
Yeah, I think people really...
It's an interesting thing because people really over index on, uh, on disposal in terms of like environmental impact. And they massively under index on consumption. Like people will buy useless stuff all the time. They'll buy an extra house. They'll buy this. They'll buy that the amount of the, the environmental impact, however you want to quantify it of the excessive consumption.
Auren Hoffman (53:40.171)
Auren Hoffman (53:51.487)
is at least a thousand times more than the pair of flip flops that I wore for two weeks and then gave them away. People just ignore the consumption aspect of it.
Auren Hoffman (54:06.751)
Auren Hoffman (54:13.994)
Is there some sort of like minimalism, laffer curve, like, okay, too much stuff is bad, but two little like, you know, how do you, how do you know where to go? I mean, I know that we're, while we're taping this, you're like very close to having a baby first baby, which congratulations. So by the time this airs, you may, you may have one. And I know that like, once I had kids, like my stuff accumulation started going up like dramatically in my house. Um,
Oh yeah, definitely.
Auren Hoffman (54:40.65)
Like, how do you think about like, where to, where to like, is there some sort of heuristic to figure that out?
Yeah, I think there's, um, the answer is there is some lower bound. Um, it is much, much lower than most people think it is. Um, like I, I have one pair of pants. I have three shirts and at some point I tried, I realized that I wasn't using one of those shirts very often. And so I went down to two shirts and then I realized like, actually sometimes I need three shirts. And so then I, now I have three again.
Auren Hoffman (54:56.586)
Auren Hoffman (55:07.65)
And like, turns out that was my lower bound is three shirts.
Auren Hoffman (55:18.518)
And you like own a suit?
So yes, I have a suit. My assistant who's based in the US has my suits in her closet and she FedExes them to me when I need them. And then I just send it back when I'm not using it. But...
Auren Hoffman (55:30.967)
Oh, so you have an assistant in the U S as well. Oh, okay. Got it. Okay. And so.
Yeah, so I think I have a tuxedo and I have a suit and they're in her closet. And so she just sends it to me when I need it and then I send it back. I really view it as more like a costume.
Auren Hoffman (55:46.542)
Okay, why not keep it in your New York City place? Like what's the value in having your, because sometimes you just need it in, like you're going to a wedding and you just need it there.
Yeah, it's, it turns out I just, I, it is very rare that I have a situation where I need an impromptu suit or I don't have some amount, if I don't have at least a couple of days of lead time, the worst case scenario, I go to a Goodwill and I get like a jacket for $30 and then I wear it to the event and then I just give it back to them when I'm done. It's not, uh, yeah, the overhead is, is not worth it for me.
Auren Hoffman (56:07.307)
Auren Hoffman (56:18.848)
Auren Hoffman (56:22.799)
Auren Hoffman (56:27.294)
Okay. I love it. Um, now another personal question. I know, I know your wife and I'm a huge fan of hers. Um, but, and I, and you went from meeting your wife to being married in like an extremely short amount of time, which I know is very rare nowadays, maybe, maybe even in history, it's very rare, like, beside for the fact that your wife is awesome, like what decision, what was your decision making for like being able to make that decision so quickly?
Yeah, there was actually a specific process and calculation that I did with this. Are you familiar with the optimal stopping problem? It's a, yeah, yep. Mm-hmm, yep, exactly. It is, it was surprising for me to learn that this is actually a mathematically solved problem. Like there is a point where, I think this was actually a piece of advice that I heard you give.
Auren Hoffman (57:00.334)
Of course there was.
Auren Hoffman (57:05.262)
Yeah, yeah, of course, like the N over N over E. Yeah.
of, uh, that people generally overvalue optionality. And they, I think, don't know about the optimal stopping problem where they just, they think that the optimal is to wait until the end before they make a decision, but the reality is that you actually have to wait 37%. That is, that is the correct answer. And so.
Auren Hoffman (57:29.697)
Auren Hoffman (57:43.884)
It's hard to know what the N is. Like it's 30%. Like is it, do you have to date a hundred people? Do you have to date three people? Do you have to date, like it's hard to know like what the N is, right?
Totally, and you can actually, since time is finite, you can do the math on this. If you say something like, all right.
Auren Hoffman (58:02.378)
I want to be married by 35 years old or something and I can only date X number of people during that time. Okay.
Yep. It's like, I can only date X number of people during that time. And you say the N is all right. Turns out the N is 60, which is actually a lot more finite than you realize. And then, yeah.
Auren Hoffman (58:18.77)
Okay. So that basically means by like, after you, does that mean you have to date because in the optimal problem, then you would have to date 22 people. Decide specifically, you're not going to marry any of them, which is kind of weird for them and then, and then you, and then you marry the best one you meet after that or something, right?
Yeah, that would be in the like mathematically optimal case. I think in my case, it was more like doing the math made me realize that it was already past the 37% mark. And so like I, my, I'm, I'm running out of time in my life to make this a reality. And so I, on each of my first dates, I would tell people that my, my goal is to either be married within six months or to have broken this off.
Auren Hoffman (58:40.898)
Auren Hoffman (58:48.759)
Auren Hoffman (58:57.262)
And, uh, some of my dates ended on the spot, which is, you know, yeah, reasonable and, uh, and others thought that was a reasonable approach. So it's a, you know, it's, it's a matching problem, not a sales problem.
Auren Hoffman (59:15.643)
Auren Hoffman (59:25.162)
Yeah, yeah, yeah. And so like, so, and did you have like a, like a list of things or something that you were like, okay, I have this criteria and, you know, basically if you hit like eight of the 16 criteria, like I'm going to propose to you and hopefully you'll say yes. Kind of thing or.
Yeah, so I, uh, I wrote it, I put together a one pager of what I was looking for in a partner and I usually shared it on either the first or second date. And, uh, this was another one of those things where sometimes they would read it and say, this is definitely not me. Like one of the, one of the first things I had in there was that open-mindedness is something that I've learned is very important to me. I said, I, I need somebody who can be friends with a Biden voter and a Trump voter.
Auren Hoffman (59:51.723)
Auren Hoffman (59:57.932)
Whether you agree with either of them, it doesn't matter, but you have to be able to be civil and have a conversation and recognize that there are things to learn from everybody. And sometimes people would look at that and say, this is not me. Like I could not, I could not do that. And that's okay. Some of those I'm actually still friends with and they come to my salon dinners, but like it just would not have been a good match long-term. The, uh, the specific example for, for Vario, my wife was I showed her the one pager on our first date and then on our second date.
Auren Hoffman (01:00:23.019)
She showed me her spreadsheet that she had made with 64 points of what she was looking for and I realized like, oh, that's, that was a first. So that was, that was a sign.
Auren Hoffman (01:00:42.934)
Auren Hoffman (01:00:50.206)
No, no. Do you, I assume in like some of those, like maybe that particular one was a kind of a deal breaker thing. And somehow you knew that was a deal breaker. Whereas maybe you have other criteria that were kind of like, you know, definitely pluses, or maybe other ones that were like kind of negatives, but they weren't deal breakers. You're not going to get someone if you have like 20 things, no one's gonna hit all 20. Right? So how did you know like, okay, these were the deal breakers and these were the less
you know, kind of nice to haves or something. Like maybe you don't want to marry a smoker, but like if they're great and you know, just happen to smoke, okay, you'll, you'll still marry them or something.
Yeah, I did a lot of reflecting and I wrote down a lot of things and I started, I spent some time with friends to help consolidate some of these ideas. I ended up with six things that were really the only deal breakers.
Auren Hoffman (01:01:42.602)
Okay. So you have to have all six of these things. Okay. And then like, and then, but I can imagine even with six, it's hard for someone to have all six or at least, you know, maybe they're like six 50 or 60% of the way they are on some of them, but they're not a hundred percent of the way. They're
All right. Yep, for sure. Yeah. And so there's always compromise at each stage. I think the, the reality is this ties into the optimal stopping problem, which is I, I have enough exposure to the world to know how likely is it that the next person that I meet is going to be at a hundred percent for all of these things. And just being able to, this is the size into recognizing that.
Auren Hoffman (01:02:17.612)
I can continue to expand my options indefinitely and then I die. So at some point you've got to stop and you have to make a decision.
Auren Hoffman (01:02:29.323)
Okay. All right. This is, this is awesome. Now you and I are both huge fans of throwing dinner parties around one topic of conversation. We've been to each other's dinner parties and I've learned a lot from your dinner parties. Like how do your dinners work and what are some of the best practices you think for throwing a dinner party?
Yeah, so I've been hosting these for years. I've done well over a hundred of them. Um, I think there are, there were a lot of lessons learned. I think one of the biggest ones that's probably the simplest implement is that the size of the group matters a lot. Um, I think six to eight is probably the optimal number. If everyone is really engaged.
Auren Hoffman (01:03:13.55)
Mm-hmm. So that means you kind of have to invite like 10 and then some no shows happen.
Yep, that's exactly right. There's, there's some, I usually invite 10 to 12. I try to aim to have 10 people because you can't always guarantee that every person will be super like engaged. So you tend to end up with the, that number of people is kind of best. I've tried increasing it to 14, 20 people and it's just, does not work. It's just way, way too many people to have a single conversation at the table.
Auren Hoffman (01:03:30.303)
Auren Hoffman (01:03:46.698)
And you're the facilitator at your own dinners, right? So you're making sure like, you need to have like a real facilitator who knows how to facilitate the conversations.
Totally. And I would say that I'm a pretty ruthless moderator. Um, the, I've, I've experimented with a lot of different things. I've, I've tried to let the conversation just flow in whatever direction it's going to go, but the reality is people all came there for the topic that was scheduled. And so if you end up going in these random tangents, nobody's happy. And so pulling the conversation, always trying to find ways to pull the conversation back to the topic at hand is really important. Um,
being mindful of conversation monopolizers is another one to just be aware of and try to make sure that the people who are quiet, trying to find ways to engage them and bring them into the conversation. So calling on those people. I think one of the other, that's just another fundamental aspect of hosting these dinners is I've tried hosting dinners on topics that I've sort of, I was optimistically interested in but didn't actually care about.
And every time I've done those, they fall in flat fundamentally. Yeah. Yeah, that's right.
Auren Hoffman (01:04:56.142)
So you have to personally be super interested in them. Now, how do you, like I know for some people when they go to their dinners, like they let everyone know who's going to the dinner ahead of time. And then there are other dinners where it's kind of like, you just have to show up and then you, so they're going on some sort of faith of who's the, like how do you think of one versus the other?
Yeah, it's, um, I would say it's highly relevant to the intent of the dinner. So like I host these other, I host about once a month, I do founder dinners, which is only founders talking about like the real hard things that founders go through that they can't talk about with anybody else. And for those dinners, you say who you are, what your company does, how many employees you have, because that's the most relevant thing for everyone else to know. If you're. Mm hmm.
Auren Hoffman (01:05:46.506)
Do people know about that even before they show up? Like do they have a, do they get a list of, okay, Jane and Bobby are both coming to the, okay.
Yep. But also it's useful in the intros just to set context because it's relevant for you to know is this other person in the same category as me, how many employees that they have, how is that relevant to the problems that they're experiencing? In the salon dinners, I try to keep it as low key as possible, which is usually just your name and the last book you read. Those are the two things that I have people say, because if it turns into like a status competition, uh, which certain people
Auren Hoffman (01:05:57.663)
Auren Hoffman (01:06:03.275)
who went to certain Ivy League schools seem to have a problem following those rules. But if you just keep it to your name and the last book you read, it sets everyone on the same playing field where you can have really experiential conversations about people's life and their history and you don't have to measure them based on how they compare to other people in the group.
Auren Hoffman (01:06:46.062)
What about people want to connect afterwards? Are you like after the dinner, you say, OK, by the way, here's the people who went like you should reach out or how do you do that?
Yeah. I mean, people have the list, they're on the calendar invites. You could, if you wanted to do your research, you could figure out who everyone was. Yep.
Auren Hoffman (01:07:00.758)
Okay, so there is a case. Okay, got it. You could see who's coming on the calendar and you can jump in and you could email them or something if you want to and say, Hey, Bobby, like you were so interesting, I'd love to connect or something.
Yeah. And my, my EA is at the end of the dinner, send a follow-up to everyone saying like, thanks everyone for coming. My, my EA is at the end of the event, send a follow-up to everyone and say, thanks everyone for coming. Here's everyone's email address, connecting everyone here for follow-ups. And so they do have access to it. It's really just about level setting in the, in the space that we're in.
Auren Hoffman (01:07:36.167)
Okay, two more, two last questions. One is, what is a conspiracy theory that you believe?
Um, I don't know what the specifics are of this conspiracy, but I'm confident that it's real. There's something going on with insulin prices in the United States. And I don't know who is behind the conspiracy.
Auren Hoffman (01:08:00.049)
So the prices are super high.
prices, it is a thing that has been off patent for going on a hundred years now and prices keep going up and that should not be the case. It seems like nothing else follows this pattern, but for whatever reason, insulin prices keep going up, at least in the U S
Auren Hoffman (01:08:17.706)
And that's not true in other countries or something or?
This is a United States phenomenon.
Auren Hoffman (01:08:25.026)
Oh, interesting. Okay.
Yeah. Like insulin prices, I think insulin was discovered maybe 80 years ago. It's been a long time and yet the prices continue to go up.
Auren Hoffman (01:08:38.711)
And there's only one manufacturer of it or there are many different? Okay. But they've got, maybe they've got like, somehow they keep the, they have some sort of price conspiracy or something.
There's a few. There's just a small handful of them.
The, what I've read about this, it seems like a major abuse of patent law seems to be the reason why these prices continue to go up. Um, but yeah, it's the, the outcome defies what I think should be happening in this. And so I'm, I feel confident.
Auren Hoffman (01:09:08.734)
Okay. Like should you and I get into insulin business and start like, you know, coming up with some, putting things out at 10 X the cost and 10, uh, one 10th of the cost. Yeah. Okay.
Yeah, one-tenth the cost. There are people working on that right now and like, it's totally plausible.
Auren Hoffman (01:09:25.614)
All right, awesome. Uh, last question when we ask all of our guests, what conventional wisdom or advice do you think is generally bad advice?
I think one, especially for younger people, which I've, I've seen the consequence of this as people say work smarter, not harder. And I think it's bad advice because the correct answer is work smarter and harder. I think most people don't work hard enough in general. And so saying that they don't need to work as hard, they just need to work smarter is just wrong. There's to, to deliver really incredible value, especially in a startup.
You're not getting there on a nine to five. It's going to require a lot of effort, but you also should work smarter. So I would say it's, it's generally bad advice.
Auren Hoffman (01:10:12.842)
Okay, yeah, I would, I would 100% agree with that. Um, is, you know, certainly at least in my experience, like the best people I've ever worked with are highly correlated to those who worked the, you know, the most number of hours. But, you know, sometimes I think like, maybe I was ultimately better able to motivate them for whatever reason than I was somebody else. And so it's not clear, like maybe they were the best.
Yeah, exactly. Yeah.
Auren Hoffman (01:10:42.714)
not only because they worked the most hours, but they were just more passionate about that particular, you know, it's, I don't know how to correlate these things somehow. Like I don't know that like someone, if you're not passionate, you said like the dinner party, like if you didn't like it in the first place, like you can't, like if you weren't passionate, like it's hard to motivate working those kind of like really hard hours.
Yeah, for sure.
Yeah, I mean, some people, some people like what they do for work. Some people don't. I find myself just incredibly fortunate that my, my hobby is writing software. It just happens to be a thing that industry values. If I, if the thing that I liked doing was playing guitar, I would have a much harder time with it, but I'm just, just very lucky that the thing that I do for fun is also something that is, is beneficial financially.
Auren Hoffman (01:11:07.691)
Auren Hoffman (01:11:29.086)
Okay, this has been awesome. Thank you Sam Korkus for joining us on World of Daz. I follow you at Sam Korkus on Twitter or X or whatever we call it. And I definitely encourage our listeners to engage you there. This has been a ton of fun.
Awesome. Thanks, Ryan.
Auren Hoffman (01:11:44.266)
Alright, this is great. Thank you. This has been a
Sam Corcos is the CEO of Levels, an a16z-backed health tech startup. While Levels’ mission is amazing, what really sets the company apart is how Sam runs it: Levels is highly transparent, asynchronous first, and serious about leveraging delegation for maximum productivity.
In this episode of World of DaaS, Sam gives a master class on the art of virtual assistants and delegation. Levels uses a cost-effective strategy that maximizes productivity and allows team members much greater leverage over their work. Sam himself has four EAs that allow him to get an extra 90-120 hours of work done each week.
Auren and Sam also delve into transparency and building in public, a principle Sam champions as a CEO. Sam discusses the leadership skills that allowed him to build enough trust in his organization to try out experimental management techniques like radical transparency and asynchronous-first communication.
Sam isn’t just an optimizer in his professional life– he’s a hardcore minimalist (he owns just one pair of pants), a digital nomad, and a deeply intentional thinker on matters in his personal life. Sam shares the mathematical formula that led him from single to married in six months, how he thinks about consumerism, and his formula for throwing the perfect salon dinner.
Amjad Masad is the founder and CEO of Replit, an online coding environment.
Amjad and Auren discuss what the rise of AI means for coding, developers, and tech companies. Amjad shares his thoughts on consumer vs creator computer culture, why development hasn’t moved to the cloud faster, and why everyone should be able to call themselves a programmer.
They also discuss Amjad’s experience coming from Jordan to start a company in the US. Amjad shares whether he still thinks Silicon Valley is the best place for startups. They also discuss unique considerations for CEOs that aren’t talked about often: free speech as an executive, assessing expert opinion, and how investing makes you a better CEO.
Ben Horowitz is the cofounder and CEO of Andreessen Horowitz, the most influential venture capital firm of the last 20 years. Ben and Andreessen Horowitz (also known as a16z) have invested in some of the biggest companies out there, including AirBnb, Coinbase, Facebook, Instacart, GitHub and Oculus.
Prior to his VC career, Ben founded Opsware/Loudcloud, which was acquired by Hewlett-Packard for $1.6 billion. He’s also the author of the bestselling books 'The Hard Thing About Hard Things' and ‘What You Do Is Who You Are.’
In this episode of World of DaaS, Auren and Ben discuss data moats, AI vs software, and the nuances of the modern VC. Ben starts by exploring whether AI will eat the world like software has, and who the winners and losers of the AI revolution might be.
They also explore one of Ben’s best-known management concepts: wartime to peacetime CEOs, and how every CEO should be thinking about strategy and adaptability during broader tech headwinds. Ben's offers a candid perspective on how to build the right culture and what sets Andreessen Horowitz apart in the venture capital world.