Fri · Aug 5

Q&A with Daniel Yanisse

Daniel Yanisse, CEO of Checkr (YC S14), sat down with us before speaking at YC's weekly dinner.

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Daniel Yanisse

What do you believe that few people agree with you on?

I really believe that some people are 10X better than others–and not just engineers. A lot of people don’t believe there can be such a big difference.

Finding them is obviously challenging. Even the best interview process is not going to find the best talent and you’re going to make mistakes. Having good interview questions and working with with your talent team so they know exactly how to ask smart, hard questions related to domain knowledge takes time. But really there’s no easy recipe.

Like everyone I’m biased by a bunch of vanity things like education, past companies, seniority, etc. In reality those things aren’t always valuable signals. The best people we have are not from the “best” companies or the “best” universities. For us, the best people we have are uncommon profiles that have worked at relatively unknown but good companies and studied at similarly unknown but strong universities. That’s our anti-pattern.

What might the world look like in ten years?

Honestly, I don’t think it’s going to be that different than today. We tend to overestimate what’ll happen in ten years–thinking we’re going to be on Mars and there will be self-driving cars and drones everywhere. I don’t think it’s going to be that radical of a shift. Technology goes slower and slower these days.

What’s the most useful piece of advice you’ve ever received?

As a founder it was to have a good work life balance and slow down occasionally. Basically taking some time for yourself to relax and be happy. During YC you don’t really need to think about yourself and likewise for the following year. But after one year you need to find your right cruising speed or you’re going to burn out.

For me, I just don’t work on Saturdays. I find it pretty easy to disconnect, exercise, grab a drink, just hang out. I try to have some discipline about not checking email. Also I have notifications everywhere so instead of checking email every minute it’s only 2-3 times a day. Email sucks your attention automatically.

Ten years from now, how have you improved yourself?

I’m an engineer and I feel like I’ve made a lot of improvements on the people side but I feel like I can keep improving how I interact with other people. Maybe help more people, too. I’ve helped a few people with their jobs or through our business but I could do more. In the next ten years I also hope I can help people outside of work.

As an engineer we can be perfectionists and really opinionated so it takes work to not let these traits become too strong. You need to step back and do an honest self-assessment. When I was always frustrated with other people it was usually because I was frustrated with myself. The better I get at listening to and understanding other people, the happier and more zen I become. So I’m always trying to make progress there.

If you weren’t working on Checkr what would you be working on?

Something related to machine learning and computer vision. That’s the stuff I was working on before Checkr. Maybe an API for computer vision.

What book has influenced you most?

Zero to One by Peter Thiel
It taught me about strong business models–monopoly advantage, etc. I still see that in action in my industry.

Hackers and Painters by Paul Graham
It has some concepts from his essays but it was good to read. I really like the analogy between art and science. 10X engineers and other, you know, PG concepts.

High Output Management by Andrew S. Grove
This is our management bible. You don't have to re-invent management best practices.

What’s something you’d tell your younger self?

Nothing in particular. All the mistakes I’ve made were valuable learnings. I don’t feel like I’ve wasted time in my life so far.

Is there any lesson you’ve had to learn multiple times?

Yeah, one thing that still hasn’t completely clicked is that all people don’t think like me. Every day I’m like, ok, chill out, there’s probably a good reason for them to think that way. But yeah, I’m still working on that one.

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