While she was studying at Yale for undergrad, Ann Miura-Ko worked in the dean of engineering's office. It was a simple, boring work-study job — photocopying, filing, organizing for the secretary. But the night before she started, her father gave her some advice.
"Remember to be world class."
Miura-Ko had no idea what he meant, and spent her first day at the copy machine racking her brain trying to figure it out. She finally interpreted it — she wasn't just going to press the start button. She would align the pages perfectly, adjust the color balance accordingly. She reorganized the office, printed labels, worked quickly and diligently. And she excelled in the position. One day, the dean noticed her and asked her to give a friend a tour. It just so happened to be the CEO of HP at the time, Lew Platt.
It was a life-changing moment.
Today, Miura-Ko is a co-founding partner at Floodgate (formerly Maples Ventures). Her board seats include Modcloth, Refinery29, Chloe and Isabel, Wanelo, Ayasdi, Xamarin, Rise, and Inscopix. She was formerly a board member and lead seed investor of TaskRabbit and Lyft. And she credits her success to her father's — a NASA rocket scientist — words.
"Commit to excellence — not only at things you think are important or things you think other people think are important, but do something excellent with everything you do," she said. "I don't think I succeed all the time at that, but knowing that that's what I should be aspiring to — that's a really important force in my life."
Miura-Ko ended up shadowing Platt during her spring break that year, and after she left, he sent her two photos. One is her sitting in a chair, talking to Platt. The other is Bill Gates sitting in that same chair speaking with him. The photos still sit, side by side, in her office to this day.
"It's about dreaming a really big dream and trying to figure out how to get there," she said. And seeing that photo for the first time changed the trajectory of her career. Miura-Ko said she has always been extremely competitive, and that has kept her striving to reach the goals her father reiterated. She had planned on becoming an engineer, then decided on medical school, then law school. But she decided she wanted business, eventually working for McKinsey and Company.
Fast forward a few years. Miura-Ko went to Stanford for her PhD, where she met Mike Maples. He asked her to start a venture capital company with him — and against all advice, she did. It was right after she had gotten married, while she was finishing her program and teaching entrepreneurship to engineering students, during the time she had a one-and-a-half year old and was pregnant with her second child.
Today she invests in e-commerce as well as big data analytics companies. They're very different mindsets, but she believes they intertwine quite well, and she likes that seamlessness in life.
"It's really interesting because they bleed into one another. My professional and personal interests are very mixed," she said. "Even with e-commerce, [my] math background and data analytics [background] is used quite often."
Since she was at Stanford, Miura-Ko has been interested in teaching. Being a mentor for students is very different than investing, where she has an "arms-length relationship." On the other hand, she has relationships with students she's known for more than five years.
"Every now and again, there's a life changing moment you get to witness. I get to witness their career progression and personal development...a mentor, I can almost be personal advocate for someone," she said. "In some ways, I can prevent them from making the same mistakes I made in my own life."
As a professor, she pushes where they need to be pushed. As an investor, she wants to offer chances to entrepreneurs she truly believes have the ability to succeed.
"[It's my] personal way of giving back. I've been the beneficiary of lots of different kinds of mentorship," she said. "People gave me a chance when there was no reason for them to do that, and I want to see myself doing that."
In her own words...
How do you unplug?
"I have played piano since I was four years old. That's a way I personally unwind and if I'm really stressed, it's the number one way I get out of my head and into a moment. I love it because my daughter and son are starting to play and it gives me something I can teach my kids that I know pretty well. And, we live really close to Stanford campus. On Saturday mornings we wake up and the kids get on bikes, my husband and I run into campus, have breakfast...then bike and run back. It's one of my most favorite things to do."
What do you like to cook?
"It's a combo of myself and my mom comes to cook. We eat quite a bit at home, mostly Asian food, Japanese food. There's a Japanese curry we make, a lot of grilled fish, miso soup and rice. I can make a full dinner for kids and family in 30 minutes flat."
What is some advice you would give your younger self?
"One thing I got right, I always followed my gut when it came to career decisions. When I went back for PhD, there was a moment where someone had suggested I go and work at Google, in 2003. I remember saying to husband, I really wanna do PhD, and I don't have a great explanation why, but I want to scratch this intellectual itch. When Google had their IPO, [I was sitting with] grad student friends...we thought, 'what have we done?!' Potentially it would have been great, I have no idea. I'm satisfied with my own path and listening to my gut. Do things you truly love in that moment, and the satisfaction you feel carries you through and allows you to shine."
What do you look for in portfolio companies?
"I look for the authentic entrepreneur. Not the notion that looking for a serial entrepreneur with 20 different ideas in their back pocket. I'm looking for someone who has one and who can't imagine doing anything other than that one thing. Often times it looks like that person has been building up their entire career to do this one idea."
- GE's Venkatakrishnan: Engineer. Startup Leader. Manufacturing Innovator. Trekki
- Laura Weidman Powers: CODE2040 Founder. Minority Advocate. Discomforter.
- Scott Sandell: VC. NVCA Chairman. Rower. Always hungry.
- CloudFlare's Michelle Zatlyn: Co-Founder. Cloud Pioneer. Limo Driver.
Lyndsey Gilpin has nothing to disclose. She doesn't hold investments in the technology companies she covers.
Lyndsey Gilpin is a former Staff Writer for TechRepublic, covering sustainability and entrepreneurship. She's co-author of the book Follow the Geeks.