In 2015, then-Twitter product manager Terri Burns penned a piece about staying optimistic despite the sexism and racism that exists expansively within tech. “America has broke my heart countless times, but I believe that technology can be a tool to mend some of the woes of the world and produce tools to better humanity,” she wrote.
“It’s hard to continue to believe this when the industry holding this power takes so little interest in the basic rights of women and people of color. I actively choose to remain hopeful under the belief that myself and many of the incredible people also working toward equality and justice in technology and in America will make a difference.”
Burns left Twitter in 2017 to join GV, formerly known as Google Ventures. Her hope has now been met with recognition. GV has promoted Terri Burns to partner, making her the first Black woman to hold that role — and the youngest ever. Making history comes with its own set of pressures and spotlight, but Burns seems focused on simply finding a new place to put her optimism and hope: Gen Z.
Read on for a Q&A with Burns about her investment thesis, role change and plans as partner.
TechCrunch: Before you were in venture, you held product roles at Venmo and Twitter. When did you know that computer science was the right field for you?
Terri Burns: I grew up in Southern California, in Long Beach. And I think I’ve always just been a really curious kid. For me, I always spent a ton of time just asking questions and I always liked science. But, I actually did not have any interest in computer science until college.
I went to NYU and I remember thinking my freshman year, major-wise, that I’m not entirely sure what it is that I want to do. By chance, I happened to apply to this program called Google BOLD. It was a week-long program for people that are a little bit too young for a full-time internship. There we just talked about all the opportunities at Google that were not engineering.
It’s funny, I grew up in California, but growing in Long Beach, I didn’t know anything about Silicon Valley whatsoever. College was really the first time I had an introduction to Silicon Valley, to technology, to entrepreneurship, to Google. Even though [Google BOLD] was a nontechnical program, I was “I want to know what this coding thing is about.” So my sophomore year, when I went back to campus, I took my first computer science class. And that was the beginning.
What’s the most effective way to get on your radar without knowing you prior? Any anecdotes for how out of network founders grabbed your attention?
Yes! In fact, I met Suraya Shivji, the CEO of HAGS, through Twitter. I knew people who were buzzing about the company on Twitter, and I proactively reached out to her to do a virtual coffee. Social media, networking events and warm intros are pretty good paths. For what it’s worth, I read every cold email I receive as well; I’m just not able to respond to all of them!
What kind of companies will you always take a meeting with?
Mobile consumer and consumer in general is definitely what my background is in, and so I’ll always have a natural inclination
in consumer. I recognize that that’s broad, but I think software consumer companies are ones that I know and I understand. So that’s something I’m always going to lean into. One of the things that I really love about GV is that we are a generalist firm, which has also been a theme for me personally and something that I definitely want to uphold as an investor. Some other things that I’m interested in [are] fintech on the enterprise side and [ … ] enterprise collaboration tools.