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hackNY Speaker Series – Ann Miura-Ko

June 12, 2011

Ann Miura-Ko (described by Forbes as the “Most Powerful Woman in Startups“) came to speak to us as part of the hackNY speaker series. Ex-McKinsey, currently frequent Stanford lecturer and a big-time venture capitalist, it was clear that we were about to be treated to a great lecture.

She grew up in Palo Alto, California, and majored in Electrical Engineering at Yale. For her thesis, she designed robots that finished fourth in the ’98 Robocup competition – which is pretty baller.

She narrated that one of the pivotal moments in her career came when as a Yale junior, she followed Lewis Platt – then HP CEO – on his job (also called “job-shadowing”, at Princeton we call these opportunities “Princeternships“). She remembers being surprised at how generous Pratt was in introducing her to other company leaders, particularly the women.

Post graduation, she went on to work at McKinsey and although she liked it, she didn’t find it technical enough. She then went on to graduate school. She is one of the few VCs today who can actually read a math/science graduate-level paper which comes as part of a proposal that requires funding.

Some nuggets of advice –

“Don’t be afraid to ask.”

“Always seek out awesome mentors.”

“Students who get the most are extraordinarily demanding – they ask to be in board meetings…”

There are three major categories of businesses – there are these big, established businesses (like IBM), small businesses (like a pizzeria) and then there are startups. Ann Miura-Ko said she found it strange that all business schools teach strategies that are relevant only for big businesses – when so much of the class is constituted of entrepreneurs looking to do start-ups. The Mayfield Fellows Program, which has Ann Miura-Ko as a mentor, seems to be a step in the direction of helping entrepreneurs acquire start-up specific knowledge and expertise. [Interestingly enough, just this past Thursday (6/9/11), we had a talk with Tristan Harris, CEO of Apture, who was a Mayfield Fellow.]

“The moment you take an investor’s money, your obligation is completely to the investor.”

“If you want to be a repeat entrepreneur, you have a lot of things to think about.”

“The only thing you need to know about funds is their fund size.” (This way, you can figure out what sort of return they are aiming for.)

“You’re going to be very disappointed if you go for a super-high valuation in the beginning.” (When start-ups raise an initial round at an extremely high valuation, they run the terrible risk of under-performing and hence being in an embarrassing situation when it comes time to raise money again.)

“You will have to be incorporated before we can wire you any money.”

“It all depends on how big your aspiration is…It’s really what you’re looking for. If you think your company is just going to have a valuation of ~$2 million, I would say don’t raise any money…You can make a million dollars a year just making apps for the iPhone…these figures might seem high to you at this stage of your life, but as you grow older you realize these amounts aren’t nearly enough!”

On being asked about business school, she said that a lot of great relationships are formed in B-school, and that it’s a very personal. (some things in this post might not make sense because I am writing this from randomly jot-down notes. I plan to be more organized from now.)

“Do what you think you really want to do, and be awesome at it.”

^ This was the big take-away from her session. We were all very inspired by her spirit and attitude, and wiser because of her advice.


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