When you’ve already worked at Google for over a decade, co-founded a successful startup, used your talents to help a non-profit, and earned degrees from Stanford University and Harvard Business School — what’s next?
For Minnie Ingersoll, the answer was venture capital and a move away from Silicon Valley.
After graduating from Stanford with a computer science degree, Minnie joined Google in its early days — when the company still had fewer than 500 employees. After working there for almost 12 years, she moved on to co-found Shift, a site selling used cars online. (Her co-founder and Shift’s current co-CEO, Toby Russell, was a recent Technori guest.) From there, Minnie left to work as COO of non-profit Code for America.
Having spent so much of her career in the tech bubble, Minnie saw the drawbacks of putting Silicon Valley on a pedestal. The Southern California native made the move to Los Angeles — which is where she joined TenOneTen Ventures as a partner in February 2019. She also co-hosts LA Venture, in which she and fellow TenOneTen partner David Waxman interview investors based in Los Angeles.
Over the phone, Minnie explained the rush of giving entrepreneurs their very first funds, and what she learned from her time at one of the most famous companies in the world.
From ‘nerdy academia’ to Silicon Valley
Scott: I want to dive headfirst into your background and how you got to this spot.
Minnie: I’ve been in tech my whole career. I grew up in Southern California. It was a nerdy, academic household, and I ended up going to Stanford. First I thought I wanted to be a math major, but it really was not where things were happening in the mid-90s at Stanford, so I transferred into the computer science department and pretty much stayed in tech since then.
I finished Stanford computer science, and I was at a startup called LivePerson. LivePerson IPOed in March 2000, and the whole bubble burst. So I went to business school, because I didn’t know what I was going to do: everyone was saying dotcom is over, and I was a computer science person! I went to Harvard Business School in Boston, and I immediately knew that I wanted to get back to tech, and back to Silicon Valley, and startups.
At the time, there were very few Silicon Valley and tech jobs, no one was recruiting from HBS, and people from HBS weren’t necessarily looking for jobs at startups. So I went to Google when it was 500 people, and I thought it was huge — but of course it doubled in size every six months. It was an amazing ride. That was a good move, Google was great. There were obviously times when it was not great, and I can tell you stories of things that were good, things that were less good. But I stayed there for almost 12 years.
Beyond Silicon Valley
Scott: What do you think are the key components that need to happen for LA as a market to be successful, and also for you at TenOneTen?
Minnie: I’m doing a podcast partly because I think exposure and knowledge of the ecosystem are really important. Our podcast has a similar premise, which is help entrepreneurs identify who else is in the ecosystem, what do they like to invest in, and who’s writing checks for the thing that you’re working on. At TenOneTen we’re in LA, but we are not focused on the industries you might think of for LA — digital media, for instance, or e-sports. We’re a fairly nerdy fund: we tend to invest in software companies, in engineers-turned-entrepreneurs.
I’m right across the street from the Caltech campus, and I feel a lot of affinity for the entrepreneurs coming out of Caltech and the universities here in LA. There are tons of universities here, but the engineers graduate and move to San Francisco, because they think they have to do that in order to have a career in tech. And so I think that exposure and building that snowball that’s rolling down the hill — in a positive way — of having people stay in the city that they’re from, and not feel like they need to move to San Francisco.
San Francisco is also becoming less attractive on its own, so naturally we’re going to see a lot of growth at these other cities, because it’s very hard for someone who isn’t yet making a big Google salary to up and move to San Francisco. I think that we’re going to, by necessity, be coming up with new options.
Scott: Why are you so invested in building up Los Angeles as a tech hub?
Minnie: It’s complicated, but I think Silicon Valley has reached its saturation, and it’s important that the rest of the country be represented, and that innovation is able to come from everywhere, and we’re not getting too isolated in our Silicon Valley bubble.
We really need people who can thrive in their local communities. Moving back to the city that I grew up in, it feels like home. It feels like I’m invested in the community, I want this community to do well. I’m actually in the house that I grew up in, and this community is one that I care deeply about, partly because it is where I’m from, versus feeling like you’re more of a transplant somewhere. I think it’s important that people are able to have careers in tech, say, without feeling like you graduate with a degree in engineering from a top university in Chicago, in LA, and you need to move to Silicon Valley if you want to start a startup.
Google and goals
Scott: What did you take from Google when starting Shift and looking at founders with TenOneTen that you think is the key thing a founding core needs to have culturally in order for you to feel that it’s going to be a good ride?
Minnie: I love that Google realized that it was more than just a public company, that it had a larger societal role to play. Obviously there’s been a lot of backlash against tech companies for not doing more, and I agree with that: I do think that tech and our business community generally needs to do more. But it was one of the things that I loved the most about Google.
At one point I was part of the access team, which was bringing more people online at faster speeds and lower prices. And during the Arab Spring we were discussing how people could get access to information when their government was trying to repress access to information. We had a proposal for doing some live streaming of Al Jazeera News in the Middle East, but it was going to be very expensive for Google, and there was going to be no revenue associated with this endeavor. And I remember our CFO at the time, Patrick Pichette, said, we need to all remember that Google is half public company and half movement. When your CFO is telling you, stop talking to me about revenue: this is an important moment in history that we need to step up to, that was inspiring to me, to be part of an organization that had tremendous power, but also recognized that it did.
Scott: What do you hope to achieve over the next few years?
Minnie: I want to feel like I’m leaving a better society for my children. Not that I personally feel like I’m going to be responsible for that, but I want to feel like our society is going that direction. That is the big picture.
On the small level, at TenOneTen, we do early stage tech investing, and I actually don’t want that to change. I love being able to give founders their first institutional check. It’s this huge moment where someone is going from a dream to being able to have enough capital to move forward in a significant way, and yet they’re also not at a stage where it’s about spreadsheets. I’m not a Series B leader, private equity person, who wants to slice and dice the numbers. I want to be investing in a team, and in a vision, and in a dream. I don’t want to move away from that, I think it’s my special skill.
I’ve been a product manager and I actually like it when there isn’t necessarily product market fit, and I get to work with entrepreneurs and roll up my sleeves and help iterate before it’s off to the races. I like some of that. I like where we are and I want to stay there, but I want to be part of that in an inclusive way that builds a strong society.