Q&A: Ann Miura-Ko on Her Innovators Lecture Series

10/13/2020

What does a CEO do? Or a venture capitalist? For an inside look at professional life in Silicon Valley after Yale, Ann Miura-Ko ’98 BSEE is leading the lecture and discussion series “Yale Entrepreneurs, Engineers & Innovators,” held over Zoom. Insights are drawn both from her experience as a co-founding partner of the seed-stage venture capital firm Floodgate, as well as from guests who have helped shape today’s technology sector. 

Miura-Ko, who majored in electrical engineering, extols the well-rounded education that a liberal arts program provides. Textbooks on digital circuits go out of date, she points out; Shakespeare’s plays don’t.  

“The English literature class, the history class, or the music class that I took - those are timeless and they teach you context and the nature of people, and they teach you societal lessons so you don’t have to learn them in practice again,” said Miura-Ko, who is a lecturer in entrepreneurship and co-director of the Mayfield Fellows Program at Stanford University.

A repeat member of the Forbes Midas List and the New York Times Top 20 Venture Capitalists Worldwide, Miura-Ko’s firm was one of the first investors in companies such as Lyft, Twitter, and Twitch. She is also a member of the Yale Corporation and a co-founding member of All Raise, a nonprofit committed to improving diversity in funders and founders.

Wednesday, she will be speaking with Scott Wagner (’92, Silliman College), former CEO of internet company GoDaddy. Wagner, who led a company that transformed its culture from one widely criticized for its sexist ads to what the New York Times called “a lodestar among gender equity advocates,” will discuss among other topics potential regulations facing big tech companies. Future lectures will include guests from BrightRoll, Honor, Atrium, and Twitch.

 

What are some major points people can take away from the lecture series?

With regard to a career path post-Yale, if you’re interested in the world of business and especially in the world of high tech, the typical thinking for so many students is to go into management consulting, private equity, or investment banking, but I think that’s one really critical misunderstanding. You can actually get right into the tech world post-Yale, and I don't see enough people doing that.

Also, it’s not just a world reserved for computer science and engineers. One of the beauties of a liberal arts education is that it's relevant in so many settings, and I think Yale has a really important role in preparing future leaders of the world.

In your upcoming talk with Scott Wagner, you expect to discuss the matter of regulating big tech.

It's obviously an area that there still isn’t agreement on, and it’s a big question. At Stanford, we’re making a huge push into ethics and entrepreneurship. This is a space where Yale also has incredible strength through its liberal arts program. We need people who have thought deeply about the nature of humans or about the history of the world, and who can bring that to product management. What are the principles by which we should operate these networks? What role does government play, what role does a company play, and how do we get to a point where the notion of pure efficiency is not the only thing ruling the economy? These are questions that impact policy, but also impact people in a more profound way. 

How do you decide on what companies to invest in?

We invest at a stage so early that we know things will probably change. I think it’s Mike Tyson who said “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” It’s the same thing with start-ups: everyone has a business plan until the first customer contacts - and then everything changes. So 90% of it is actually your gut; there’s no spreadsheet analysis that you can do. Often I'm asking ‘How good is the builder on the team and how good is the thinker? And how much do I love the insights that they have?’

As an example, how did Lyft’s founders impress you before you decided to invest?

They had these slides that started as a history lesson on how every massive travel innovation has changed the fabric of society - canals, railways, and then highways. Ultimately, their question was: What’s next? And their answer was that it’s not a new physical infrastructure, but a software infrastructure that better leverages everything we have. 

These were two people who desired to change something, and their knowledge was so deep, and that's what we look for.

How did your experience at Yale help you?

When I came to Yale, my whole life was very cleanly planned. And what was great about Yale was that it threw this sort of curveball at me. I came to Yale thinking I was going to be a molecular biology major - it would set me up for med school. But it turns out I didn't really like molecular biology. 

What I liked about Yale was that it was a place where I could discover this new version of myself, and what is ‘Ann Miura. 2.0.’ It gives you the freedom to do that and you don't have to be the same person you were in high school - you can evolve. And I think that stays with you post-college.

Ann Miura-Ko's talk with Scott Wagner takes place Wednesday, Oct. 14 at 7:30 p.m. Go to the lecture website for information about how to attend.