By Kasey Quon
Public speaking was Floodgate co-founder Ann Miura-Ko’s, Ph.D. ’10, biggest fear.
During her junior high piano recitals, she struggled to say her name or the name of the piece she was performing. “I was a painfully shy student,” Miura-Ko said.
In eighth grade, Miura-Ko’s older brother had to accompany her on stage to announce her name.
“This is ridiculous,” Miura-Ko thought. “I need to get over this.”
As a freshman at Palo Alto High School, she joined the speech and debate team – entirely a personal decision.
Throughout her freshman and sophomore year, she didn’t win a single tournament. Her protective parents didn’t believe a child raised in a Japanese-speaking family could compete with English-speaking household children. In fact, before Miura-Ko’s junior year, her parents told her she had to quit the team if she lost the first two tournaments.
This motivated her even more.
In the summer, Miura-Ko immersed herself in books to prepare for the upcoming year. She convinced Stanford undergraduate students to coach her since the high school lacked funds.
She didn’t have to quit after junior year. She won the first two tournaments and eventually the Tournament of Champions in Lincoln Douglas debate.
“I think if I hadn’t taken speech and debate, I wouldn’t have gotten over it,” the now confident and articulate Miura-Ko said.
Like overcoming her fear of public speaking and winning the National Debate Championship, Miura- Ko does everything relentlessly and with “world class effort”. Growing up, her father consistently asked her and her older brother, “Is that world-class effort?” Whether it was asked during household chores or while completing a book report, the question resonated with her.
“It’s a question I ask myself almost every day on a lot of different dimensions,” Miura-Ko said. “It helps me figure out not only if the effort was good enough, but also what are they ways I would improve it if I were to do it over again.”
Miura-Ko’s world-class effort is evident. Since co-founding Floodgate in 2007, she has made successful investments including Lyft, Ayasdi, Xamarin, Refinery29, Chloe and Isabel and TaskRabbit.
An Entrepreneur From Day One
Raised by a father who was a NASA rocket scientist and a mother who encouraged exploration, Miura-Ko was an intensely curious child.
When Miura-Ko was six years old, her father bought her a PCjr. She didn’t just use it as a normal computer. The young Miura-Ko wanted to dissect it and see how it functioned. In the third grade, she realized there was no Japanese font for the PCjr. For her science fair, she created her own. This was the start of the determined entrepreneur.
“I would develop interests and I would be relentless about pursuing them,” Miura-Ko said.
As a four year old, Miura-Ko would play on the piano until her parents told her to stop.
“There are certain things if I wanted to do it, I would be relentlessly persistent in asking my parents for help in doing it,” she said. “And then also doing it myself.”
Throughout her childhood, Miura-Ko didn’t have a set a career path. She dreamed of being many things such as a farmer. She also wanted to be a doctor, but she soon learned she was afraid of blood and hospitals.
During her junior year at Yale University (B.S. Electrical Engineering ‘98), she had a chance encounter with Hewlett Packard CEO Lew Platt. Platt offered Miura-Ko the opportunity to shadow him for a week over her spring break.
After the externship, Platt sent Miura-Ko two photos: one of Platt sitting on a white couch and talking with Bill Gates, the other of Platt sitting on the same exact couch talking with Miura-Ko. [see photo]
“I don’t know if I saw Bill Gates so much as a role model as much as almost a pivot in how I saw the potential in myself,” Miura-Ko said. “It took someone like Lew Platt, CEO of Hewlett Packard, to allow me to see that in myself.” Miura-Ko aspired to create her own Bill Gates success story.
PhD Student, Venture Capitalist and Mom: Making it All Happen
The odds were against Miura-Ko when she had to make the decision to co-found a venture capital firm. It was 2008 and the nation was in the midst of a financial crisis. She was also still competing for her PhD in Quantitative Modeling in Computer Security at Stanford University — all while she was pregnant with her first child. Miura-Ko had originally wanted to become a technical founder of a company, but found the opportunity to be an investor alluring. She was determined to have it all.
“Knowing what the rewards are of doing all of those things… How could you not do it? So what would you actually leave out?” Miura-Ko said. “There was no part of it I wanted to leave out. I wanted to be a mom. I wanted to found Floodgate. I needed that PhD. I devoted so many years of my life to it. I needed to finish it.” To this day, Miura-Ko sees this as her proudest accomplishment.
Floodgate cofounder Mike Maples still doesn’t understand how she it handled it all. “If she decides something is important to her she doesn’t go halfway ever,” Maples said. “She has this incredibly strong will to overpower the subject of her interest and relentlessly get better and smarter at it. It takes incredible amount of mental stamina to do that.”
“You make it happen by doing the things that you need to do like waking up whenever you needed to. But then, also asking for help in the right places,” said Miura-Ko. She learned to be unafraid of asking for help and often reached out to her husband, parents and friends for support. “It was a whole cheerleading section and a support structure that allowed me to do it.” Her support system allowed her to take the risk to pursue her dreams.
Miura-Ko is now a mother to three children. Maples admires Miura-Ko’s drive to manage the work-life balance. “She has crazy high energy like a hummingbird,” Maples said. “You have to film that a thousand frames a second.”
Whether it’s reviewing a startup pitch, advising portfolio companies or raising her three children, Miura-Ko is sure to do it with tenacity and “world-class effort.”
Contact Kasey Quon at kquon ‘at’ stanford.edu.