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How We’ll Win

How We’ll Win is a year-long exploration of the fight for gender equality.

REINVENTING VC

In an industry full of men, leading VC Megan Quinn is changing the face of investing

By Leah Fessler

Megan Quinn understands the importance of taking risks. She was a recent Stanford grad when she got a call from a friend inviting her to apply for a job at Google. This was still early in the days of the Silicon Valley titan; Quinn knew nothing about the company beyond its iconic white homepage.

Still, she decided to go for it—and made it past 18 rounds of interviews, during which she mispronounced co-founder Sergey Brin’s first name and had to answer questions like “How would you organize a bookshelf?” When she received an offer, Quinn told Recode that she “was still like ‘eh'”—but took the job anyway.

Quinn spent seven years at Google, eventually overseeing the development and launch of Google Maps. She was also one of Google’s first product managers without a technical degree—a gap she filled with her lifelong cartography obsession.

Following Google, Quinn moved to the mobile-payment company Square when it was just a 20-person startup. Originally hired as the director of risk, within her first two weeks she realized that Square had no roadmap. So she took another chance and emailed CEO Jack Dorsey: “‘Hey, I’m the new girl here. Don’t want to step on any toes, but here’s like six or seven things I would do differently as we think about building out this product engine across engineering design and the PM function.'” He wrote back, “‘Congratulations, you’re our head of product.'”

“Curiosity, confidence, and hustle have been the cornerstones of my career.”

While leading Square’s strategy and development of products, Quinn grew close to Square board member Mary Meeker, who was a VC at Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers. When Kleiner asked Quinn if she’d consider early-stage venture capital, she was floored, and accepted.

After leading a number of the firm’s early-stage and growth consumer investments, Quinn moved to Spark Capital in 2015, attracted by their high number of female general partners. (Just 7% of all VC partners are women.) “To the extent that there’s more women [at a firm], more women will see women who could potentially be them in a few years,” Quinn told Recode. “I think it’s already in the proof. We’ve just recently hired another woman on my team. I’m not saying that my partners wouldn’t have hired her if I hadn’t been there, but I don’t know that she would have wanted to join an all-male group.”

In an interview with Quartz, Quinn explains why America’s tech industry demands a global talent pool, and how curiosity overpowers her persistently nagging sense that she’s under-qualified.


1. What’s your big idea that other people aren’t thinking about or wouldn’t agree with? Why is it so important?
“The way that we think about work and talent and jobs is going to rapidly change over the next five to 10 years.”

An important theme that is floating around the edges of the technology industry is the question of where the job opportunities of the future will be located, and who will have access to those opportunities. The confluence of a number of industry realities is driving a reimagining of a centralized tech workforce in a few select “tech hubs.” The cost of living in major metropolitan centers (like the Bay Area) continues to rise while the engineering talent crunch is exacerbated by the volume of investment into new startups. And yet technology collaboration tools (like Slack and Zoom) are getting better at efficiently connecting distributed teams than ever before.

As a result, the way that we think about work and talent and jobs is going to rapidly change over the next five to 10 years, and I think there are many reasons to be optimistic about this evolution. The assumption that employees need to work and live in the same place will be challenged (people will be able to work from anywhere, regardless of where their HQ is located), and the way talented workers are identified and cultivated will look different (we will focus on skills and work product over grades and résumés). Talent is distributed everywhere, but opportunities have so far only been available to a select few. The reality is that we will need to tap into the human potential and talent around the globe for the technology industry to continue to grow.


2. What behavior or personality trait do you most attribute to your success?

In nearly every job transition in my career, I have felt under-qualified for the role. I’ve never felt like I ticked all the boxes or had all the requisite experience. But my curiosity gets the better of me, and I’ve accepted anyway, confident that with hard work I’d figure it out along the way. For me, curiosity, confidence, and hustle have been the cornerstones of my career.


3. If you could make one change to help women at work—at your company, industry-wide, or on a policy level—what would it be?

I believe companies should acknowledge the realities and needs of today’s working families and pursue mandatory maternity leave and childcare subsidies. The technology industry can be a leader here. Research has shown that caregiving responsibilities (for both children and the elderly) still fall primarily to women. This, therefore, makes it harder for women to achieve equal pay and rise through the ranks to leadership positions in the workplace.

There is a mountain of data that shows supporting families helps to level the playing field for women at work. One example from Silicon Valley was when Google increased paid maternity leave by one month to four months total: the rate at which new mothers quit dropped 50%.


“The most interesting and rewarding careers aren’t ladders.”
4. At the start of your career, what do you wish you had known? What, if anything, do you wish you had not believed?

The most interesting and rewarding careers aren’t ladders. Transitions between job functions, companies, and industries lead to a more diverse set of experiences to draw from as a builder and leader. Innovation and creativity are found at the seams of our experiences.



5. When in your career did you feel most despondent, and what did you do to turn it around?

When I left Google after nearly eight years for a leadership role at Square, it was a true shock to my system. I went from a company of 35,000 people with established teams and processes to a 20-person startup with big ambitions but little organization. The transition from a sure thing to a not-so-sure thing was exciting, overwhelming, and a bit terrifying.

After a week, I thought I had made a mistake, and called my former VP at Google, Marissa Mayer, to ask for my role back. She met with me in a makeshift “conference room” (it was a closet) at the startup and told me she wouldn’t let me come back until I had been at Square for a month. Her mantra was “wait five minutes”: that any time you’re about to give up, whether it’s waiting for a bus or acclimating to a new job, you should hang in there for just a little bit more time to see if the outlook changes.

She was right, of course. A month later, I hadn’t just acclimatized to my new role, but was invigorated by the variety of challenges and unknowns. It was a lesson in patience.


6. A key part of success is building strong professional relationships. What practice do you use to cultivate them with your colleagues?

Slack is the single best tool I’ve seen to foster collaboration and camaraderie in the workplace. It’s lightweight and flexible, so it lends itself as much to informal banter as “serious” information dissemination. In an era of mobile ubiquity, distributed teams, and GIFs, Slack is where work happens, but it’s also where relationships are built.


7. What’s best advice you ever received, from who, and why?

Someone early in my career told me, “At most companies you’re entirely replaceable—a cog in a machine that will continue to work whether you’re there or not. The most rewarding work comes from not simply ‘getting on a rocket ship’ and hanging on for the ride, but from working at places where the trajectory of the company is meaningfully different and better because you’re there.” It’s advice I continue to pass on to others to this day.


8. If there’s one thing men can do to improve women’s life at work, it would be…

Talk less, listen more.

This interview is part of How We’ll Win, a project exploring the fight for gender equality at work. Read more interviews with industry-leading women here.