TERRI BURNS - PRINCIPAL @ GV
“I am privy to groups of people who have not had access to privilege – and relatively speaking, women are getting less opportunities. It’s wild that women aren’t getting their fair share when at the same time we are driving value, and bringing unique perspectives and ideas to the table.”
Meet Terri Burns, Principal at GV, the venture capital investment arm of Alphabet Inc. Prior to joining GV, Terri held operating roles at Venmo and Twitter. We spoke to Terri about her pathway from engineering to investing, building her brand, and why diversity matters in tech.
We’d love to start by hearing about where you grew up and how you got to where you are today.
I grew up in Long Beach, California and moved east for boarding school at 16. My school was an elite institution and it was the first time I was exposed to that level of access, opportunity, and wealth. I decided to stay on the east coast for college, attending NYU. I took general classes and found that my computer science class was the one I disliked the least. I stuck with it and found that I loved being in the world of startups, entrepreneurship, and innovation. I did a part-time internship at Venmo before making the decision to transition into product at Twitter. While working there, my current manager at GV reached out to me about my current role. In some form or another, all my jobs have come from Twitter!
Can you tell us a bit more about your switch from engineering to investing? How does your tech background help you or challenge you as an investor?
My first real switch was from engineering to product. That was fueled by my desire to transition into making decisions about what was being built vs. just building something from the ground up with software. Product gave me the opportunity to talk to consumers, design, and to make higher-level decisions. My second switch was from product to investing, and that was more opportunistic. The way the investing picture was painted for me was that investing is an opportunity to see the full breadth of innovation around the world.
“Investing gives you the ability to study what macro trends look like and to critically think about what the future holds. It’s enabled me to think much differently than before.”
What advice would you have for our readers who are looking to make a similar switch into investing?
I think it’s very specific to sector and firm, but to start I would advise having as many conversations as possible – talk to different partners and angels to understand different investment theses. So much of the job is having conversations with people, so being able to derive critical information from conversations will also be good training for the job. Also think about what investments you would make if you had capital. And if you have capital, maybe try some angel investing.
Can you tell us more about your role at GV and your personal investing philosophy?
GV invests across a wide variety of sectors (consumer, enterprise, healthcare, agtech, robotics, and more). In my role as a principal, I help with all stages of the investing process: sourcing, deal flow, inbounds, diligence, and support.
My personal philosophy and interests take different shapes at different times. Right now, I’m interested in both enterprise and consumer-facing companies. I’m trying to learn more about urban technology.
In an increasingly urban environment, how will we interact with each other, the environment, and those around us? And how will we leverage technology to do so? I enjoy looking at companies from a product lens and really trying to understand, “what is the core problem being solved?”
What innovation or change would you like to see in the VC industry? How does that affect how you look at potential investments?
I’d of course love to see more investments in women and URM-led companies, and for VCs to be pushing their portfolio companies to be more diverse as well. I also think there are big opportunities in city/urban tech, so more capital in companies that are effectively working with governments to make cities more livable.
You recently emceed the inaugural All Raise Summit. Can you tell us a bit about your personal interest in elevating women in investing and the most interesting insights you took away from the summit?
The Summit was so fun and really powerful. I obviously have a personal interest in elevating women in investing, and life generally, so it was exciting to have the opportunity to emcee the event.
I find myself privy to groups of people who have not had access to privilege – and relatively speaking, women are getting less opportunities. It’s wild that women aren’t getting their fair share when at the same time we are driving value, and bringing unique perspectives and ideas to the table.
At All Raise, it was refreshing to be around accomplished, hard-working women who are driven towards a cause we all care about. The community is highly oriented towards growth and success but also very mindful of thinking through how that impacts the world around us.
We love your personal site tcburning.com and the various works you’ve published across Forbes, Teen Vogue, Fast Company, and many others. You clearly have a wide variety of interests (e.g., programming, travel, diversity, design) and enjoy sharing those interests with others. Can you tell us more about how you make time for your passions outside of work and how you channel them during work?
Thank you! My website is one of the remaining things I built from scratch and I enjoy keeping it up to date. I started writing and speaking in college and then continued after I moved to Silicon Valley. Work-life balance is always tough – I still haven’t found the perfect formula – but I’m always trying to improve. I have a wide breadth of interests and it’s great that my job lets me explore companies doing interesting things in all of those spaces. It allows me to really lean into conversations with entrepreneurs.
Who are/were your mentors and what did they teach you? Did you have any great female mentors? Do you feel that’s important?
I’ve never had a super formal mentor over a long period of time, but that being said there have been so many women who have helped me in some way, shape, or form. I’m really grateful for my mother and my aunts – all smart, accomplished, hilarious, and supportive guides in my life. And of course there are women like Michelle Obama who, though I haven’t met, have been mentors to me. I just read Becoming and identified with so much of it. She’s really been on my mind!
What is an industry trend that you’re most excited about?
Branding as a service – how effectively and strongly you brand yourself is becoming as important as the actual product.
What is a favorite or most interesting article that you have read from the past few months?
This New York times article that speaks about wealth and inequality: it touches on people who accrue wealth and also claim to support upward mobility for others, while simultaneously supporting systems that keep others down.
Who is a female entrepreneur or investor you'd most like to meet and chat with?
KJ Miller from Mented Cosmetics.
What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?