Enterprise Startups Technology

Why Ann Miura-Ko is “the Most Powerful Woman in Startups”

Conference Speaker Andy Rachleff on his 35 years in Silicon Valley, Wealthfront, and the power of telling stories

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Ann Miura-Ko is a founding associate at Floodgate, a seed-stage VC agency. She’s additionally a founding member of All Increase, a non-profit dedicated to enhancing variety in each funders and founders. Amongst her early investments are Lyft, TaskRabbit and Modcloth, which, as our current dialog exhibits, are solely a part of the rationale Forbes referred to as her “probably the most highly effective lady in startups.” 

We talked together with her about her educating place at Stanford, how she thinks concerning the future, and the way she makes funding selections. Ann shall be talking at this yr’s Lean Startup Convention in October about all of this and extra. 

Let’s begin off with how and why you helped discovered All Increase and what its mission is.

I’ve been in enterprise now twice. The primary time was only for a pair years, from 2001-2003, earlier than I went to grad faculty. I used to be in Boston, working for the primary time in enterprise capital as an analyst for this man who was unimaginable and a tremendous mentor. However I needed to see if there have been different unimaginable individuals within the business who have been ladies since I hadn’t encountered any. There have been none within the agency, so I keep in mind asking him if he knew of any basic companions who have been ladies within the Boston space. In a spot the place there are numerous, many enterprise capital companies, he couldn’t consider a single feminine basic associate.

I had a mother who had very low tolerance for complaining about whether or not or not there have been individuals like me both in school or at work. She all the time advised me, “That’s not the place you’re imagined to make buddies anyway. It’s high quality that you haven’t any pals in school – you’re there to study.” However once I returned to enterprise in 2008, I keep in mind eager to see individuals who have been just like me in some sense, however I didn’t see that as a lot as I might’ve hoped. I used to be in California at that time, the place there have been a handful of girls, which to me was already actually inspirational. It felt prefer it was the appropriate time and the fitting place to start out placing a voice to that. For a very long time, I felt like I ought to simply be the change that I needed to see, however I couldn’t do this on my own. The extra individuals who might be a part of me on that journey, the extra highly effective we might be collectively.

Are these the ladies who joined you to create All Increase?

Sure. We received began over informal breakfasts. It was truly actually pushed by Aileen Lee from Cowboy Ventures and Jess Lee from Sequoia Capital. This was across the time when plenty of sexual harassment points have been coming to mild. We simply appeared across the desk and Aileen stated, “I feel we should always do one thing greater than sit round and have breakfast.” That was when totally different initiatives began popping up. Initially, it was individuals choosing up and doing issues with each other that felt proper. I used to be engaged on placing collectively dinners with potential feminine operators who have been fascinated about turning into enterprise capitalists. I used to be getting calls from all these ladies and was giving them totally different sorts of recommendation, however the identical message stored popping out time and again. So I assumed, “Hey, if we might put all these ladies in a single room, ship this message to a variety of them, after which additionally usher in ladies who’ve simply been by means of that course of. How superb, how empowering would that be?”

What’s the message?

Speaking to them about what’s regular at a enterprise capital agency and what isn’t, serving to them to know how they will have energy inside a corporation, and ensuring that they’re arrange for fulfillment once they stroll in. 

It’s solutions to questions like: What do you search for in a partnership? What questions are you able to ask? What do you have to find out about your compensation? How do you develop energy inside a enterprise capital agency? The place am I within the interview course of? As a result of it takes a very, actually very long time to get to know a enterprise capital agency, and you must perceive the dynamics stepping into.  Additionally, it’s commonplace for the interview course of to take months. So the opposite factor is the way you look out for a agency that’s actually solely making an attempt to rent a lady to examine the field towards an inventory of issues that they should fulfill versus in search of you, with all your experience and the issues you already know, and placing the fitting assets behind you to be sure to’re profitable. That was what I labored on within the preliminary days.

Ultimately, I joined Jenny Lefcourt within the initiative referred to as Founders for Change, the place we’re amplifying the voices of the founders who’re demanding larger illustration and variety not solely inside their group, their cap desk, and their board rooms, but in addition when it comes to the make-up of all of those organizations. What I used to be occupied with seeing was that a variety of these founders consider that they’re not simply creating know-how, they’re creating change and tradition. They consider they want the identical help from their buyers, and meaning buyers and funds should symbolize that mindset. Well-known founders inside Silicon Valley demanded this type of change throughout the board, and in the event that they needed to see it internally, additionally they needed to see it inside the organizations that touched their group. I assumed that the voice of the founder was so highly effective in delivering that message again to the enterprise agency: if we’re the founders, we’re going to be taking a look at these points as we consider our sources of capital.

Let’s transfer to Floodgate now. To start with, I’m curious concerning the firm identify and the way you got here up with it.

We have been initially referred to as Maples Investments, as a result of my co-founding associate is Mike Maples, and we had that as a placeholder. At one level he stated to me, “Hey, do you assume that is going to carry you again?” And I stated, “Yeah, until we name it Maples-Miura-Ko Investments, it’s in all probability going to carry me again.” He then stated he had no attachment to the identify and needed to arrange our partnership for fulfillment, so we began on the lookout for one other identify. We labored with this man who’s since handed away however who was the brains behind naming the Kindle and TiVo, amongst different issues. He had this superb means of arising with the essence of a corporation and what you’re making an attempt to do, and he had an entire listing of names. We have been actually drawn to Floodgate as a result of we consider that we’re on the headwaters of change. That was the picture that we had in our minds as we have been naming the group. 

How does Floodgate complement All Increase? Do you consider them as kind of a pair, or are they completely separate? 

For me, once more, it’s all the time been if I don’t see one thing that works for me, I may be the change. I might be the one that represents the factor that I need to see. Earlier than we began Floodgate, I used to be truly fascinated with beginning my very own firm. I used to be getting my PhD in mass modeling of cybersecurity, and I needed to start out an organization in that area. This chance type of fell in my lap, and it was throughout a interval once I knew that computing was turning into cheaper as a result of I used to be going by means of the PhD course of. I additionally knew that there was large opensource software program that was obtainable. That meant that if the change was beginning on the founders aspect, then there needed to be a change on the financing aspect. 

I keep in mind once I was speaking to Mike Maples about beginning Floodgate, I acquired lots of people telling me that I ought to be a part of a big enterprise capital agency with a great identify and work my method up. What I did as an alternative was what I think about different founders really feel once they see the correct alternative in entrance of them and everybody’s telling them it’s a silly concept. You dig in your heels and also you say, “In fact that is the best factor to do.” For me, it was the worst attainable timing. I had not completed my PhD. I had an 18 month-old daughter. I feel a couple of months after I began Floodgate I used to be pregnant with my second youngster. And so, I’m making an attempt to complete my PhD, begin this enterprise agency, and carry my second baby. It’s full chaos. However, the assumption in what we have been constructing was so pure and so pressing that it’s one thing that I’m nonetheless pleased with to this present day. In 2008, because the monetary disaster was occurring, we noticed this chance and we pursued it. To me, that’s very consultant of how I consider founders react to totally different conditions, and an instance of authentically believing in a enterprise. Our focus and our values got here out of that, and the second—just like the one so many founders have – when Mike and I have been the one two individuals within the agency. We didn’t have signage on the door entrance. We needed to unclog the bogs. Every thing was both him or me. 

What are Floodgate’s values?

One is: do what’s proper. We’re all the time so near firm founders as a result of we’re there at inception, so we really feel like crucial factor for us is to do what’s proper, on a regular basis. Second, we consider that greatness is a choice. It’s not one thing that simply kind of occurs. It’s a must to get up each morning and determine to be nice and determine to demand greatness from individuals round you, and that’s one thing that we’re basically dedicated to. 

We all know that the founder’s job and founder’s work is definitely their life’s work. In any other case, they wouldn’t be doing this. And so, our third worth is that your life’s work is our life’s work. We need to deal with the entrepreneur’s undertaking or firm not as a deal however as whether it is our personal life’s work as nicely. Our fourth worth is that we search fact over tribalism, so we have now a really elementary philosophy that fact doesn’t come from any specific place or title. Each single one that walks within the door may need seeds of fact, and it’s our job to hunt that out and to know it. It’s not about the preferred individual or the preferred concept, however fairly what’s true. That will get again to the concept once we first began Floodgate we all the time considered ourselves as being house owners and never simply staff, and what that comes right down to for me is bias for influence. You’re all the time considering by means of how are you going to have probably the most influence as an alternative of how one can hold your self busy.

Does that play in to the businesses that you simply select to spend money on?

Yeah, I imply there’s lots of that as a result of once we take into consideration how we spend money on corporations, we’re not excited about only a product that folks need. To me, that’s solely a small piece of what we’re investing in. We spend money on an organization that I hope could have a legacy 30, 40, 50 years from now. These values mirror that, nevertheless it goes additional. Once I’m assessing an organization, I consider it as a full stack. We begin off on the very backside with the group that we need to see. Who’s in that workforce? What are they able to? Are they capable of construct the issues that they need to do? Are they all-in? The second degree is what we name proprietary energy, which is the secrets and techniques that they know that nobody else is aware of? Lots of these are earned secrets and techniques, so it’s as a result of they’ve had expertise in that specific area. In all probability the primary query that I ask founders is why is that this your life’s work? And, that often elicits one thing across the secrets and techniques that they know are true.

Above that’s product energy, and for me that’s about what’s the path to attending to product-market match? Then above that’s enterprise mannequin energy—so, how do you earn cash? How do you not solely earn cash when it comes to income and income progress, however finally how do you develop income and a revenue middle? Above that’s firm energy, which is actually about your group and your decision-making processes. How do you develop energy inside your group to know your values and the way you’re driving in the direction of the longer term, and in addition what’s the future that you simply’re driving in the direction of and why? After which the final, and probably most essential, is class energy: what’s a class that you simply finally outline as an organization? How do you develop the principles of that recreation so that you’ve the benefit? And when individuals consider that class, why is it that they consider your organization? All of this helps you turn out to be the king of that class. These are all of the issues that we take into consideration once we’re assessing an organization. Now, lots of these elements of that stack get developed a lot later in constructing out the corporate, however we need to see indicators that a founder and their group can truly develop all of these skillsets.

You additionally train. You’re clearly very busy, so I’m curious why you do this along with every part else, and the way it matches into the entire image.  What you are able to do in that type of a setting you can’t do at Floodgate or at All Increase? 

Nicely, I feel it’s a couple of issues. I train quite a bit. This final yr, I taught a blockchain class. I’m a co-director now for the Mayfield Fellows Program, which runs for 9 months at Stanford. After which I taught a category referred to as “Clever Progress in Startups” within the engineering division. I feel the rationale I like to show is when I’ve to elucidate issues that I do know to different individuals, it crystallizes what I do know and what I don’t know. The second cause is if you get to know college students on a really elementary and private degree, notably within the Mayfield Fellows Program, the place I’m educating 12 college students for 9 months, you develop a deep sense of optimism concerning the future. I really like the best way that these college students take a look at the world. It jogs my memory of how I used to take a look at the world and see all the chances. I feel as you enter into your 40s and 50s, you simply develop into naturally somewhat bit extra grouchy and slightly bit extra set in your methods, and I feel educating retains you perpetually younger. I really like that feeling of optimism. But in addition once I’m educating one thing and somebody has the braveness to query it, they may make me assume once more. With out that, I really feel like I might simply get extra set in my methods. So, educating is necessary to me as a way to keep optimism concerning the corporations that I’m seeing and the chances for the longer term.

Wanting on the future in one other approach, you have got three youngsters now. Do you retain them in thoughts you consider which corporations to spend money on and the world we’re all creating for them? 

In some sense, I really like wanting on the world and making an attempt to think about the place issues will go sooner or later, and clearly my youngsters are part of that future. It’s influenced me lots when it comes to how I take into consideration educating my youngsters, however not a lot the investments that I make as we speak, as a result of a variety of these investments are principally for adults. They’re merchandise which might be relevant to the individuals right here now. We’d take into consideration the influence that these companies may have on youngsters sooner or later, however for me, it actually comes again to the schooling piece, which I feel so much about. I feel quite a bit about literacy and pc science and math and statistics. I feel so much about what are the human parts of labor that gained’t be ever changed by a machine, which is basically round judgment.

The longer term can also be concerning the capacity to see round corners and picture, so I take into consideration the skillsets my youngsters want that don’t get taught in faculties immediately that I want have been taught in faculties. I take into consideration the locations like Stanford, for instance, the place we might begin to speak about ethics and the way can we get technologists to interact in that dialog. These are the 2 elementary ways in which, as I work as a VC and as I work as an educator, I attempt to incorporate how I would like my youngsters to develop up into the work that I do.

Is there an space you assume is in determined want of innovation that nobody has dipped their foot into but? Some type of pet obsession you marvel why nobody is fixing?

Oh my gosh, I’ve quite a bit. On the buyer aspect, I’ve an actual curiosity in how society has turn out to be far more secular and the opening that’s been left since individuals don’t go to church anymore. Whether or not that’s the alternatives for service, the alternatives to attach with people who find themselves not such as you, the alternatives to show your youngsters on a really common foundation the basics of what’s proper and improper and to have some sense of common values. I feel that there’s a large gap there, and also you see that gap being crammed in sort of darker methods. I’m wondering if there’s extra of a constructive alternative in that area. I haven’t seen something, however I really feel like there’s a starvation for extra connection. You hear concerning the epidemic of loneliness, and I feel these concepts are all very a lot tied to at least one one other. 

One other space I’m desirous about round connecting and having an area to precise your self is the way forward for distant work. As individuals work far more remotely and in distributed groups, there’s this very unsolved drawback round information administration. This concept pops up every now and then and other people turn into desirous about it, however individuals nonetheless use SharePoint from Microsoft and the file sharing corporations haven’t actually solved how one can keep a information base. So, as individuals develop into distant staff, how do you categorical what your experience is? I feel these issues turn into actually, actually necessary over time, so I’m on the lookout for options in that area as properly.

Okay, final one. What’s your go-to technique for stress aid? 

I really like enjoying piano. I’ve been enjoying since I used to be 4, and I’m making an attempt totally different types of piano now as a result of I’ve been principally a classical pianist all my life. I’m concerned with that as my very own private type of meditation. I’ve been actually dangerous about with the ability to utterly clear my thoughts, however I’ve realized that every time I play the piano it’s simply me, the notes, and what I’m making an attempt to play. It’s in all probability as near meditation as I’ll ever get.

The Lean Startup Co. is thrilled that Ann will ship a keynote on the 2019 Lean Startup Convention in San Francisco on October 23-25, 2019.

 

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