Q&A with Terri Burns, KF Class 24
Terri Burns (Kauffman Fellows Class 24) is an early-stage venture capital investor. She currently serves on the NYU Board of Trustees. Most recently, she was a partner at Google Ventures (GV), the youngest partner in GV’s history, focused on investing in digital consumer companies. She led deals in Locker Room (acquired by Spotify), HAGS (acquired by Snapchat), and Partiful, while also participating in board work with companies like Bloom Tech, Kitchen United, and others. She’s a Co-Founder of TLC Investment Collective with portfolio companies including Stytch, SelectStar, TRM Labs, and many more. Between both investment vehicles, Burns completely returned her invested capital and maintains meaningful markups to date. We recently sat down with Terri to learn more about what she's been up to!
You started your career in product management at Twitter, then became the youngest-ever partner at Google Ventures after transitioning to VC, and are now spending your days focused on early-stage angel investing. What has been the most rewarding part of your journey as a VC?
I think it's hard to be happy and successful as a venture investor without being a people person, at least to some degree. While meeting new entrepreneurs is cool (albeit overwhelming at times), nothing quite beats having an established rapport and being “in flow” incredible and inspiring builders. Working with these founders -and of course, having awesome returns is the most rewarding part of this work.
Tell us more about your investment focus + style.
I’m a generalist early-stage investor. I spend about 60% of my time focused on consumer companies (digital, internet), and 40% on enterprise (dev ops, data, fintech). I recently wrote about some of my thoughts about consumer investing, the state of the market in 2024, and how I approach deal-making here.
What were some of your biggest “wins” and do any career inflection points come to mind?
All of my institutional investments have either been acquired or significantly marked up, which is exciting! I also was really proud to have been named the youngest-ever partner at GV.
You recently left your role as a partner at GV. Can you tell us about making that decision and what you’ve been up to since then?
I'll probably talk about my decision, which was tough and complicated for me, more extensively on my podcast one day, but in short, I was ready for a new challenge. I'm super grateful for my time at GV --it taught me everything I know about investing now-- but I like to move quickly and nimbly, as well as focus on very early companies, which is increasingly tough to do at larger, later-stage funds.
Speaking of...tell us about your new podcast.
My podcast, the Tcburning Pod, really started just as a way for me to share my constant stream of consciousness with the world in a manner that felt intuitive and (hopefully) interesting. I try to focus my “free” time on being a creator versus endlessly scrolling (we’re all guilty of it!), and the podcast is an outlet for me to do that. I hope that through discussing some of the topics I address on the podcast, folks can walk away having learned something new for themselves, as well as about me. I talk about things like personal finances, the nuances of remote work, the pivotal decision of when to make a career shift, and more. Feel free to give it a listen on Spotify or Apple!
Outside of your investing and podcasting work, you also have a few side hustles! Namely, you serve on the NYU Board of Trustees, the youngest member in NYU's history, and you have a leadership and career coaching business, the Coaching Corner. What are your goals with both this year, and how do you balance it all?
NYU was absolutely fundamental for me in my development as a technologist. I studied computer science there and loved it. I’m happy to give back to the university as a trustee. I’m a member of a few committees, including the audit and online education and technology committee, which are really great fits for me personally.
Regarding coaching, I worked with a coach many years back and it was totally transformational. While I’m primarily known for my work as an investor, most people don’t realize that while I was getting promoted to partner at GV, I was spending nights and weekends getting my career coaching certification because I was so captivated by the practice. I love meeting individuals or teams that are seeking to level up, acclimate to a changing environment, or solve communication challenges. As a people person, it’s really fulfilling. (Shameless plug: if you or any portfolio companies are looking for leadership, development, and/or executive coaching, hit me up!)
I don't really have lofty goals this year with my side hustles other than to keep chugging along and hopefully have an impact. I've always thrived in having a busy schedule and balancing multiple priorities, so balancing it all comes pretty naturally.
You’re a practiced host and speaker, having served as a three-time co-chair of Fortune Magazine’s annual Brainstorm Tech Conference. What part of this job is the most interesting?
I love speaking and hosting, and I’m pumped that I get to work with the incredible team at Fortune for Brainstorm Tech (as well as a host of other conferences, like Most Powerful Women). The most interesting part of the job of course is getting to interview awesome folks on the main stage. I’ve spent time with astronauts, the CEO of YouTube, presidential candidates, and leaders at some of the biggest companies in the world. Over the years I’ve amassed a pretty extensive network across startups, venture capital, and tech, but my work with Fortune gives me latitude across bigger (and older) corporations. It really puts into context the massive potential startups can eventually have on public markets. It’s both exciting and humbling in that it's a great reminder that startups don’t entirely rule the business world… Fortune 500 companies do.
Over the years, how have you leveraged the KF network, and what did you enjoy most about the program?
Kauffman enabled me to make friends that I can learn from while traveling the world. The best combination! Some of my fondest memories in venture are late nights in a foreign country, giggling with friends over a fire. (Or accidentally meeting the President of Kenya!) Over the years, I've kept in touch with folks and try to maintain those friendships. And of course… doing business together is fun too! For example, I am an advisor to Caroline Lewis’ Rogue Women’s Fund. Caroline was in my forum and she’s absolutely killing it.
You've heard us talk about the Four Pillars a lot over the years, and you’re someone who has built an extremely strong personal brand. What do you attribute this to?
- How do you show up to every interaction? Something that comes quite naturally to me, that I’ve grown to be quite proud of, is being my authentic self in every interaction. I’m generally not one to switch things up, turn “on” or “off”, or try to overly impress. I’m just myself. Which, fortunately, people seem to like!
- How do you ensure you’re hitting that same standard consistently, even on “off” days? Despite always having a lot going on, I’m an extremely focused person. That focus allows me to show up in a consistent way, even when I don’t feel like it (or even realize it).
- What are you good at? What can founders learn from you? Founders can learn about product development and testing, branding, and building out comprehensive and organized internal systems. They can also learn about motivating teams and making tough decisions.
- What sets you apart from your peers? I studied computer science so I’m technical, I’m highly competitive so I’m always focused on winning, and I’m a people person. It makes for a pretty deadly combination, if I do say so myself.
- Is there anything that you would like to commit to doing a bit differently? I never know when to chill a bit, when to relax. I never have. That’s something I’m working on this year.
- What advice do you have for others who want to build their personal brand? Focus on outputs, not inputs. If you try to study other people and their brands, you’ll get into the comparison game really quickly which isn’t helpful. Focus on creating something, putting yourself out there, contributing to the world, and not too much on what other people are thinking or doing.
- What personally grounds you (people, music, habits, ideas, strategies) to allow you to be the best version of yourself so that you can make a positive impact on the world through supporting entrepreneurs? I’m a very organized, type-A, to-do list type gal. Being this way is very grounding and clarifying for me. It’s part of what enables me to stay authentic.
- Does having a supportive community full of inspirational people surrounding you create the difference between success and failure? How does one go about finding their community? It certainly helps a lot! You can find community everywhere. I’ve found it by being interested, not interesting. By listening, by trying new things, by being uncomfortable. And sometimes by bringing a nice bottle of wine.
What excites you about the venture capital landscape, and what are you looking for in your next venture role?
I think the next few years of VC are going to result in some of the best vintages we’ve seen yet. I can’t wait to get to know new, incredible founders who are building things differently. I’m ready to be heads down over the next decade, building the portfolio of a lifetime.
Anything else we should know about?
Even though I've been angel investing, I have been open to having conversations with institutional investors that are aligned with my thesis and style of investing. If you think that might be your firm, I’m open to chatting! And if you want to keep up with me, check out my website for more info.