VIDEO: Sequoia Capital partner Alfred Lin on Zappos, Zalando and solving hard problems

Alfred Lin“Alfred Lin has the Midas touch,” TechCrunch founder Mike Arrington wrote in 2009. “Every company he’s worked for has been acquired, and the smallest deal was $265m.”

Foremost amongst those golden companies is online shoe retailer Zappos, which started in 1999 and grew to hit $1bn in annual sales in 2008 and sold to Amazon for about the same amount in stock in 2009.

The story behind it is impressive: overcoming the critics who said selling shoes online wouldn’t work, pioneering free shipping for returns (and nailing the logistics behind it); overcoming an early lack of marketing budget with exceptional customer service; and trying hard to treat employees right.

Lin – a trained mathematician – played a key role (as COO) in Zappos’ success. He left the company in 2010 to join one of its investors, Silicon Valley VC Sequoia Capital. He now sits on the boards of companies including robot maker Romotive, house design platform Houzz and – according to Business Insider – is about to join the board at Airbnb.

We spoke to Lin at private eCommerce conference eSuite 2013 in Berlin this month about fast growth versus best practice; Rocket Internet’s high-flying Zappos copycat Zalando; and why it’s crucial for entrepreneurs not to settle for solving easy problems.