Skip to content Request a Demo

Is Purpose Working? Episode 8 Transcript: Featuring Deborah Quazzo, GSV Ventures

Deborah Quazzo:
It’s Deborah Quazzo, managing partner of GSV Ventures and co-founder of the ASU GSV summit. It’s hard to remember what day it is these days, but it’s October 14, 2020.

Chris Pirie:
Welcome to learning is the new working, and I’m going to hand over to Dani and Stacia who have a set of questions for you. And thanks for joining us.

Dani Johnson:
Thank you, Chris. Awesome. Hi, I’m Danny Johnson and I’m here with Statia Gar. We’re the co-founders of red thread research, and we’re collaborating with Chris Pirie on this purpose-focused season of learning as the new working. And today we have Deborah Quazzo with us, Deborah. Thanks for your time. And for sharing your insights with us today, we’ve had the opportunity to participate in your conference, your ASU GSV conference for years. And this year I know that the conference was virtual, but I heard, I think I heard you say that something like 27,000 people registered, which is we had , large registration. Yes, it was great. I was, I was thrilled to run a session on coaching and Stacia and I both had the opportunity to listen to your ladies lunch session with Gloria Steinem as well, which we thought was amazing. And so you’ve introduced us to some really fabulous and interesting technologies over the year end, where we’re thrilled to, to, to have the opportunity to chat with you today throughout the year.

Stacia Garr:
So, Deborah, we’re going to start off with some quick questions to introduce you and your work practice to the folks who are listening. We’re also going to be touching on your organization and career history. So just to kick us off what part of the world do you live in and work in and why? I live in Chicago most of the time. I don’t think I’ve ever been here this long. I live on an airplane two or three days a week minimum, but I’ve been very much here with my husband and the cat, occasionally my children. And we also have a home in San Francisco, so we do go back and forth a little bit and in normal times but moved here many decades ago, downtown Chicago is a great place to raise, raise children for someone who wants to be in an urban, urban setting, which I did. And we did. And so were our three all grew up here in, on, on Lake Michigan, on Lake Michigan and went to school here and one of them moved back so

Stacia Garr:
Well that’s a success, right. I think, I

Deborah Quazzo:
We have one in LA, one in San Francisco. Yeah.

Stacia Garr:
Okay. Well one in each location at least. Yep, exactly. So then can you tell us what’s your current job title and how would you describe the work that you do?

Deborah Quazzo:
Yeah, I think that my current job titles are two things. It’s a, the managing partner of GSP ventures, which is our venture fund focused on education technology, primarily early stage investments, although some portion of the funds later stage investments and co-founder and sort of whatever general manager of the, the ASU GSV summit that you all talk, reference mill that earlier there we view them as part of a platform where we’re singularly focused on the education technology sector globally. And and we view the ASU GSV summit as a flywheel for our investment activity and vice versa. So we typically would have 5,500 people live in San Diego for the summit. As you pointed out Danny, we had, you know, we ended up at 33,000, some registrations for the summit we’ve had. So the VR, the virtual moot was really actually fascinating and fun and fun at the end of the day. And, and we do, we do view them as the two organizations is sort of inextricably linked over there, separate, you know separate teams and all that sort of stuff. But they do drive each other all over all around education innovation

Stacia Garr:
And we have a lot of learning or HR professionals who may not have much exposure to kind of the venture capital and the investor world. Could you just kind of simply introduce what you all do and kind of how that then flows through to something they might see like a degreed product, for instance?

Deborah Quazzo:
Yeah, absolutely. So we look at at the education space as a, as a pre-K to gray arc of our continuum of learning and workforce skills. And so we look for investment all across that spectrum. Obviously there’s only a part of that spectrum that’s relevant for for HR leaders or L and D leaders, et cetera. And that frankly, that would be both higher ed and adult learning, workforce learning, enterprise learning. We are investing in companies that are, you know, we, we invest in seed and series a companies in all of those across, across all those sectors. Although we have plenty in the and I say higher education and workforce, because I think as, as most everyone at this point, who is in those important jobs realizes that there there’s a very much a coming together of the higher education and the workforce sector.

These are, these are continuums, they are not silent on the historically. They’ve been very siloed, you know, K-12 silo, higher ed silo workforce. So I loaded, I think, you know, I think it’s a very positive development. The siloing is being, you know, very much broken down and and you know, one feeding into the other and vice versa and, and, and then, and, and, you know, in a, in a lifeline and a movement to lifelong learning which I think is also something that was, was not embraced for a long time and is very much been embraced today. So we’re, we’re looking at we’re, we’re, we’re very, we’re biased towards platforms. So degreed, for example, in the enterprise space is a platform they’re content neutral. And they, they sit in the enterprise and they help companies and, and their employees look at look at, you know, make skills, assessment, personal skills assessments, and then and then direct them to personalize learning pathways that, that can enhance their their career career mobility actually at the end of the day. But it’s but it’s an open-ended, you know, platform play in the, in the enterprise market around learning. We’re also in Guild education, which I think is a really important provider of this sort of creating this continuum between higher education and the workforce. And they’re there, they have an enterprise platform that is, that is basically supporting enterprises and delivering higher education to their employees and in this case, frontline workers.

Dani Johnson:

Kind of along those lines, Debra, I mentioned that you have introduced us to some really interesting technologies over the year. What are some of the broad trends you’re seeing around learning technology and especially for the workplace that CLS and talent leaders should be paying attention to?

Deborah Quazzo: What are we seeing we’re seeing we’re seeing all kinds of trends and I’d actually say this, this, that is one trend, the, the continuum between formal education and the workplace, and that, you know, we actually view the workplace as sort of art today or fourth education system, and that you have early childhood or K-12 higher education now, you know work work is now school and vice versa because, because of the need to up-skill and re-skill and address job, all these things we’re seeing other trends like Hollywood, we have a, we have a theme called Hollywood meets Harvard, which is just about driving better learning engagement. I mean, how do people improve learning experiences so that employees are more engaged and more likely to learn? We’re staying at modernization. I think I’ve, I think I’ve interviewed from all the Athena, but that’s in the compliance space around harassment issues.

And it’s a very, very modern delivery of learning. It’s, it’s received incredible uptake by some really great companies. So I think they’re there, we’re seeing very big trends around, around things like that. Knowledge as a currency is another theme we’ve had for a long time, which is really that you know, a degree you know, your, your sort of formal degree or whatever that you got out of our traditional system is no longer enough. You’ve got to have lots of other things that, that, that flow liquidly, whether it’s certificates, whether it’s badges, whether it’s whatever that people are going to need other learning credentials and to give them additional professional currency as they move forward. So we’re seeing a lot of I think very fruitful trends.

Stacia Garr:
Definitely. So a lot of what you shared in many ways could be seen as, as purpose-driven, you know, this focus on education pre-K to Gregg, et cetera. But does that part of how GSB ventures operates? So do you all have an explicit purpose statement? And if so, what is it?

Deborah Quazzo:
Yeah, so we have we have a very formal the way we look at comp. We’ve always had a framework for the way we looked at, look at companies, we call it the five PS, something we’ve been working that we’ve used for over 20 years. And it’s, it’s basically our framework for evaluating every investment that we make. So it’s, you know, the first P is people obviously there’s no shortage of great ideas, but if you don’t have the right people executing, you will fall flat product, the products obviously gotta be differentiated and an important potential and predictability. And then the, the fifth P is purpose. So we are actually not an impact fund. I mean, we, we don’t label ourselves as an impact fund, but we do believe very, very strongly that every investment we make has if it doesn’t have impact, it’s not going to have financial return.

So, and that’s particularly, I think it’s particularly relevant in the education market. And, you know, if you aren’t, if you aren’t addressing enough learners and then you aren’t having the kind of impact that’s going to really change things. So, so we do have, we do have a strong commitment. We also believe that companies with purpose are, have stronger cultures and are going to inherently have stronger outcomes. And so, so it is a, it is a very explicit commitment on our part. And certainly there are plenty of companies in the education technology space that, that, that basically, you know, address a very small part of the market and perhaps a very high income part of the market. And that’s, and lots of people will, will make very, have made and will make successful investments there, but that’s not going to be where we, that’s not where we we’re not, not an area we pursue.

Stacia Garr:
And just again, for our listeners sake, would you mind just clarifying kind of the difference between an impact fund and how you characterize yourself

Deborah Quazzo: Yeah. Impact what impact funds are now real, very formal and growing category of the sort of private, private capital, and they can, and they can address a whole host of areas. They could be green technology, they could be ag food culture, they could be. But education is, is an area where there, there are a number of funds that are, that are impact funds. They have they have they’re, you know, very strong, they have stated returns that they have to deliver against impact that are, that are provided by the, the funders of those funds. When you in sometimes impact funds have delayed longer, longer time horizons for returns and, and lower returns thresholds. The important thing for us is that we want to be a market return driven fund. So we want to be we want to, you know, we want to be the most successful education technology company fund in the world, but certainly our objective or, you know, on behalf of our, the people who who’ve supported us and backed us through their LP investments. So we want to be, and we do believe that that company, that if, if there’s an extenuated return profile or a term profile, that’s longer than a, than a market return profile, it’s then perhaps the organization’s not having the kind of impact we needed to have. So we wanted, we were, we want to be a market return driven fund. So we want to be, you know, comped against venture capital funds that are doing the
same. Yeah

Stacia Garr:
And that’s the reason I asked you to kind of clarify that is one of the themes we’ve had going through the podcast has been this question of, you know, organizations or in your case funds that are directly focused on purpose versus those that kind of incorporate purpose into all of the other things that they do. You know, more akin to the stakeholder capitalism model versus the shareholder capitalism model. So I think it’s really interesting to kind of see that you’re thinking about that in, in a similar way to what we’ve been talking about across all these different organizations that have been on the, on the,

Dani Johnson:
So Deborah, we know that a lot of your techniques, I mean, almost all of your technology is education focused. You’ve also introduced us to a few that are more diversity and inclusion focused. Yup. We know that’s very intentional. Talk to us a little bit about how your organizational purpose shows up in the work you do. And I’m thinking specifically, because I just participated in the ASU GSB conference. It’s always a very aspirational. No, you guys worked, he worked very hard to make it inclusive. So talk to us a little bit.

Deborah Quazzo:
Yeah. Yeah. Well, thank you. I, you know, we have worked really hard really the whole, for the whole 11 years that we worked on the summit. So we, you know, our mantra is that all people have equal access to the future through, through innovation, scaled innovation in education. And, the, you know, we believe that equity and access are, you know, critical, critical, threads that have to run through that, or we’re not going to get to, you know, we’re not going to get to the end goal of all people having equal access to the future. So we, we leverage the ASU GSV summit to, to really about many of the, I mean talk about lots of themes and we have artificial intelligence or, or,whatever. But one of the really important threads is,equity and access. So this year we had,ua full day dedicated to truth and reconciliation and a series of conversations, and actually two full day dedicated in the second day, it was one of the channels. And we had everyone from, Isabel Wilkerson who just wrote the extraordinary book Caste that Oprah is actually very focused on.

And if you haven’t read it, you ought to read it tomorrow. It’s, it’s just such a one of the best books I’ve read in a long time to Eddie cloud is a Princeton professor just wrote a fantastic book called begin again about James Baldwin to to Michael Sorrell is the president of Paul Quinn. And HBCU has actually been ranked as the best HBCU, I think, three years in a row, I think thanks to Michael’s leadership that had fantastic talk. So we, we really are incredibly intentional one. We want, we make sure we will keep getting better, but we had 153 panels and every single panel had a woman or person of color on it. And that number of those panels had all women or all people of color. And we ha so those things are really important. It’s really important that we’re, we’re in we’re reflecting, reflecting real life, and it’s real important to the conversations that we’re reflecting real life.

And then, and then we ha we hold a host of other events like we gave two amazing men Nate Davis and Carlos Moreno, the innovator color awards this year. They’re both incredible people. Who’ve done a great work when once a CEO of of K-12 dot com public company, the other is the CEO of big picture learning, which is a very extraordinarily progressive school global school manager. And then we have a power of women awards. And so we, we really do work very hard to elevate issues of equity across private. We’re also really fortunate in that the sector does attract entrepreneurs disproportionately in a positive way who are women and people of color. So we we invite you know, 400 ish companies, CEOs, or founders to present every year at the summit. Actually this year, we had a competition where people applied one and got the position through a comp competition. and, and, and every year,a third, a third of those companies are founded and, or led by women and, you know, a third to 40% somewhere between 34 and 40% is where it kind of moves between. We’d love to get it to 50%, but we feel very good about the 30,u34 to 40. And then about, about a quarter of the companies are founded and are leveraged people of color. so, you know, very, very proud of our sector that it’s got that kind of diversity, that those numbers reflect in, in leadership of innovate innovation, leadership

Stacia Garr:
Yeah. Well, I want to move this on Debra to talk a little bit about some of the changes that we’ve seen with regard to purpose, and I kind of alluded to this shareholder capitalism versus stakeholder capitalism. And when talk specifically about the business round table, statement of purpose from last fall about delivering greater value for all stakeholders and the move away from shareholder primacy. So when we get your perspective on that statement, you know, either then, or in the year that’s happened since then.

Deborah Quazzo:
Yeah, I think, you know, it’s certainly recently been a lot of criticism of whether that was just you know, it was just not, you know, not enough actions followed on that. Recently I feel like, but I think, you know, it’s interesting to me, I mean, I actually think it’s not, not unlike what I said about, we’re not an impact fund, but if we are, if every investment we make is not high impact, then we’re going to fail financially. I actually think that, I mean, the way at least we were, we think that that you should be able to address you, you have to be able to address all constituents in our organization and we’re, and we’re to have, you know, to have successful financial outcomes for all the constituents in the organization, whether you’re an employee or a shareholder.

And we’re fortunate to have companies in our portfolio that actually really support things like, you know, support elements of that, like, like Guild education actually. We’re, you know, we’re, we’re companies like Walmart and Disney and Chipotle and waste management. Others are really making massive commitments to educate their frontline workers who either, you know, from everything from a high school equivalency certificate up through full college degrees and then through certificates and skill, you know, skills related to skill accretion. So I think that, that, I think learning is, I mean, embedded learning in a, in a corporate elevating learning and within a corporate setting is a really important piece of this because it, you know, it’s that it’s such a fundamental way that companies can show their commitment to their, to their stakeholders, their not, you know, their, their employee stakeholders, but it’s also going to have benefit for their shareholders stakeholders and their, you know you know, all the way around.

So I think the, I think the I think there, there is a, there is a path here where you can, you can elevate financial outcomes through doing the right thing for all of your stakeholders, your stakeholders, and it, you know, it’s just, it’s, it’s delightful to be able to sit in the seat that we all sit in, where we can watch learning, be applied as sort of a weapon in a positive way by, by corporate leaders to get at those objectives. And I, and I, and it’s an important, it’s an important weapon and we’re seeing for the first time, and we can see it in right now can be, you know, we have, we have exposure to a lot of corporate learning companies and, you know, we’re in a, we’re in a recession, depression, whatever you want to call it.

And typically corporate learning companies would be, would, would see massive degradation in their revenues during, you know, during down economic downswings. Cause it’s the first thing that companies cut. We’re not seeing that. So obviously obviously if you’re if you’re laying off half your workforce, you’re just not going to have as many people in seats to take corporate, to take learning, to you know, to consume learning. But learning is a, for a low benefit has come into play for the first time ever during this pandemic. People are working on learning as a layoff benefit. We’ll see where we get there, that will probably require some other, you know, additional structuring like government help and things like that. But, but it is I think it is really it makes me feel optimistic that it is now being as opposed to being the thing, you know, the thing that was dispensable, you know, easy to dispense with first, when you had to cut things it’s actually being now viewed as at least by many companies increasing numbers of companies as a weapon to, to improve overall outcomes

Stacia Garr:
And can you explain a little bit more, what you mean by learning as a furlough benefit? What does that look like?

Deborah Quazzo:
Well it is so you know, through tuition reimbursement, tuition benefit plans that support, you know, that, that, that provides tax advantage support for delivering learning to your, to your employees. Those, yeah, there, those have been you know, actually Guild sort of led the way in creating a similar, you know, cause for a load, employees are still, technically employees are on furlough, but companies like Disney when they went, you know, cause they had to furlough such a massive chunk of their company actually elevated their, their alert, their learning benefits to those furloughed employees. I mean the elevated the visibility of them and they, and they encourage their use. So it’s, it’s actually, so it’s extending the concept of learning through tuition, reimbursement, tuition benefit plans into the furlough cycle. Hmm.

Stacia Garr:
Yeah. With the idea being that they can take advantage of this time, where they’re not working to, to learn and

Deborah Quazzo:
To develop precisely. Yeah. Stacia Garr: I want to kind of zoom in a little bit on this more specifically for you an investor. So as I understand it, when we’re talking about stakeholder capitalism, it means, you know, we’re not putting the shareholder first we’re, we’re at least equally considering employees, customers, suppliers, partners, even society at large. Has that influenced you when you’ve thought about investing in companies that are kind of explicitly stakeholder capitalism companies? Cause it, it might mean that other people get kind of benefits before you as, as a shareholder in the company.

Well, you know, we’re in, we’re typically investing very early, right? So we’re, we’re investing in startups. And, and so that probably makes a difference cause we just, you know, we don’t, number one, they’re not making money, they’re losing a lot of money. And I do, you know, one thing that we do believe passionately in startups give you an interesting case. We were, and we had this in our recent investment where, you know, someone was, was, you know, the team, the founding team, it was white men. And and, and we raised in other, in other other investors came along with us raised the need to to, to, to address issues of diversity now. And, and that is hard when you’re starting is hard. If it’s not, if it’s not obvious or easy and because your team isn’t it, it’s hard to add one more thing to early stage startup menu, but you have to.

So because if you don’t start early, it’s very hard to recover later. So we had a really good conversation about, you know, and, and the company went out and took immediate action, which was great. Cause that, cause that is so, so when you’re dealing with early stage companies, it’s really about how are they, how are they building their culture to address, you know, to address issues of equity and access out of the gate and that’s cause that will make a very different company down the road. I, you know, in, in terms of, so it’s hard at the business round table obviously is big companies. So they they’re, they’re thinking, you know, differently than, than our business, you know, they can think differently than our businesses do. And so what we’re trying to do is help companies think about exponential growth and what we do, what we say, what we strongly support is the idea that exponential growth can be best accomplished with you know, through not only a great idea and a great technology and everything else, but it can be best accomplished through diverse teams and and, and being very intentional about our support of that in our, in our, you know, monitoring of that, frankly. So I think that’s kind of how we, you know, how we, we, as early stage investors have to think about it and, and act on it. And we’re, you know, we’re pretty active. I mean, we’re active in the whole area of, you know, female VCs getting funded female startups and people of color startups, founders getting funded which, you know, all, all, all of those groups are still underfunded. You know, the, the category I sit in is is a woman, a female, we’re a female owned firm and and a majority female run investment or equal 50, 50 equal investment committee, female male. And yeah, I mean, so, you know, so we’re, so we’re pretty passionate around these topics and, and, and carry that over into our portfolio company, construction and, and management.

Dani Johnson:
We, we love that Debra about you and the organizations you pick. I’m kind of curious about, I mean, we talked to a lot of of startups as well, and we have noticed that they skew white and they skew male. There is about, you know, how much of a, a luxury purpose is when you’re doing a startup. And I know you’re, you might be a little skewed because you look for those that are, that are actually going after purpose as well, but sort of, as you look at the broad landscape of things, is purpose something that most entrepreneurs are considering.

Yeah. I mean, see we’re so, I mean, from where we sit it’s, so you know, I, you know, I’ve picked an area where purpose is so important, right? And so if we you know, so I’m sort of bad, I’m a bad person to ask because we’re operating in places where we’re entrepreneurs for the, you know, are generally trying to, you know, try and change the world and have big impacts that medicinally try and drive financial returns, high financial returns, but they’re, but they really are trying to have massive impact at scale on learners, you know, across this pre-K to grade spectrum. So and certainly there are, there are entities and I, you know, as this referred to before that, that I, that within the education technology sector, they’re not going to have purpose. And I, you know, that’s just not where we operate and and it is, it is hard for me. I mean, I, I a long time ago as, you know, a general investment banker at Merrill Lynch and and it, it would be hard for me to get out of bed every morning if I didn’t align with founders who really had, you know, had purpose at their core.

Deborah Quazzo:
Yeah. do you have a sense for purpose-driven organizations versus maybe the rest, as far as success goes?

We believe that we, we really, and we believe this has become more relevant this year. It’s become more relevant over the last few years, you know, it’s generationally more relevant that that organizations are going to have, you know, are, and should have higher performance. And because, because it’s just gonna mean that you’ve got a better culture, you’ve got people who are more committed in your culture. They’re going to work harder. They’re going to, you know, I mean, we see, we actually see it in recruiting our companies can often you know, ed tech is hot these days. It took a long time to get here, but it’s, and and, and people on top of being hot people really do love. And by the way, one of the reasons it got hot is because you had some great, you had great founders coming out of other sectors. Having had success at Google or wherever, and financial success and starting companies and wanting to start companies in an area they really cared about because they had kids or because you know, something. So it’s really it’s really, you know, we do, we do believe purpose is going to drive higher, better outcomes for a whole host of reasons. And I, and I think it’s, it’s very much you know, generational change that’s, that’s, that’s happening. It very actively happening.

Stacia Garr:
You mentioned purpose in particular, around attracting people to this, this space, the ed tech space, but then also in terms of attracting talent, do you have any other perspectives on kind of the role of purpose, particularly within a startup where everybody is so small, everyone’s working so hard, the role of purpose in enabling developing, retaining talent and how important that is in those startups where you think purpose is very clear, versus maybe those words a little less clear.

Deborah Quazzo:
Yeah. I, I think w you know, startups are really hard, right? They’re really stressful situations. And even if it, even if it’s great, it’s stressful. I mean, even if nothing goes wrong, which is almost never the case, I mean, you know, it’s almost, it’s impossible not to have something, something go wrong in some cases, something really wrong. And I think that, that, I mean, I can see two situations. I certainly can’t talk about, but in our own portfolios where, you know, at the end of the day they weren’t purpose-driven, and when things went wrong, it really, they really had wound or they weren’t serving enough. So I do think, I do think that in a, in a, in a highly stressful environment and you can look at outside of ed tech and I look at, you know, like Airbnb and I have so much respect for, you know, Brian Chesky and, and I don’t, you know, I don’t know him, but I certainly have watched. And I it’s like, well, how do you, how do you mean that? But that is a company with purpose that he’s been able to instill purpose in, in in something you wouldn’t naturally think about as having purpose. Education’s a little easier to think about not as naturally having, but but I do, I do think in a world of high stress the fact that you’ve got purpose and you’ve got a real feel, you’re in an environment with purpose, you feel like you’re, you’re doing something that’s moving the ball forward for mankind, yourself and mankind. It just makes that stress so much more manageable.

Stacia Garr:
And what about the flip side of that? So are there any unique challenges you’ve seen in startups as they’re trying to scale up if, if purpose is a big deal for them?

Deborah Quazzo:
I think sometimes company, yeah. It’s companies, shouldn’t be confused about whether their philanthropy or a company. And I think sometimes companies in education get confused about that. And they ended up not, you know, doing not, not not having enough market, you know, market mechanisms in the back of their, you know, cover, sorry, commercial instincts, probably a better term not having the adequate commercial discipline and building out the business. And I had a call today with a wonderful, lovely set of really smart human beings. But but you know, it, it it’s too, if you want it, if you want to build a philanthropy, build a philanthropy, but if you want to build a company, it’s got to have, you know, the undergirding of, you know, a real commercial viable, it has to be viable. It has to be sustainable, has to be viable. And I think sometimes people get mixed up in the purpose has to be about viability at the end of the day. And and it has to, it has to support viability, I guess, is there a better term? So yeah, I do. We certainly do see that that problem in, in the education technology sector makes a lot of sense. We want to move to our favorite topic 2020 this happened, what is it over?

Dani Johnson:
It’s a good question. COVID happened obviously a lot of social inequality happened. We’re just really interested in how those events have affected your operations and how you guys work and people.

Deborah Quazzo:
Well, we, you know, so I mean, COVID was in the tragedy that it is, and it was, and will be what it’s done in terms of learning loss for low income kids is something we won’t know for, you know, probably it will affect us for years to come, unless we can find aggressive ways, accelerated ways to address it. I think actually digital learning will be one of the ways you’ll have to be used to address it because you’re going to be doing more learning than just in the physical setting. I think that, that the issue we, we pivoted, you know, we took our event virtual. We did a whole series of events. We, we were able to take the conversation. We have great partnership with the Gates foundation that we’ve had for a long time and Henry hip’s there. And it, Henry has been such a sort of inspiration and mentor for me around how Henry’s African-American and he around making sure we’re having lots of dialogue around equity and racial equity and everything else. And so we had a series of conversations in the spring. The first one I should moderated by Henry and with four leaders of the, of the black community across the education spectrum. And we who called themselves the elders, even though one of them is younger than I am, but and it was an incredible conversation. In fact, Harvard business school is going to teach a case study using that, that panel discussion as the, the redone, and then have Henry come in and participate in the zoom in the zoom class this fall, which we’re very proud of.

And then we had S and then we had two more conversation, one with white leaders moderated by Carlos Watson. And then we had one with young, young younger leaders from the education sector who’ve been extremely involved in the black lives matter movement. And so, so we’ve tried to and which was fantastic conversation be hard, but really incredible conversation. All of them were hard. And so I think that what we’ve tried to do, what, what 2022 does is like, took something that we always cared about and tried to push for. We we’ve tried to make it more real. We tried to make it more central, we tried to make the con you know, a dialogue we’ve tried to have it be actionable. So so it’s, it’s, that’s been, that’s been good. I mean, really good is discouraging as the things that have happened this year have been. And yeah, I mean, those are the changes. Those are the big changes of one just to move virtual. You know, the other is just that our companies for the most part are exploding in a good way. And so the silver lining for us of, of COVID is that, you know, digital learning has become front and center. It’s, it’s, it’s, it’s important. It’s, it’s what people are talking about all over the world. You know, every, across the pre-K to grade spectrum and, and, you know, and that has made us pretty busy.

Dani Johnson:
So I, I love I love your mission. I love the fact that you’re, you’re trying to make the future equal for everyone equal access to the future, I think is how you, how you said earlier on, you mentioned the two areas where you work that probably have the most impact on organizational learning and development is probably just stuff you do for organizational learning and development, as well as college. So secondary education. The more, the more I look at this problem, and this is sort of an aside Debrorah, but the more I look at this problem, I mean, it’s broken from headstart programs. It’s broken from preschool on up, and I’m just wondering, you know, how, how can organizations, do you have any ideas for how organizations can help solve this massive problem? That’s going to take 20, 20 at least 20 years to work its way through the system?

Deborah Quazzo:
Well, I think that organization, I am encouraged by, you know, the silos breaking down, right. I think that the fact that, that w many universities who really used to repel the involvement of corporate, you know, of the employers are now embracing employers. So we have, you know, we have so many you know, great online. I mean, whether it’s Western governors or Southern New Hampshire, or you know Arizona state or Purdue, or we have so many great universities with their online programs that are serving working adults, right. And they’re, and they’re, and they’re, they’re working directly with employers to understand and embed in curriculum what those working adults need in order to have equal access to the future. So, very encouraged by that. I also encouraged by, you know, even reaching down into high school where we’re beginning to see, and we actually had a lot of this program at the ASU GSV summit this year, where we’re seeing a lot of companies, I mean, places like Microsoft have been doing this for a long time with their P-TECH high schools model, but really seeing an active engagement by employers in the educational systems. Because, you know, again, if, if, if learning isn’t relevant, I mean, particularly for low income kids, if there’s, I mean, you know, the abysmal results we’ve shown it part of is just like we’ve failed to prove that it’s relevant to be sitting, you know, in a class or now on zoom or whatever, to, to the future. And so we’ve got to create relevance, and I think the engagement of employers and internships and and, and things that make it, make it tactile are really encouraging and and exciting. So I think that the more that employers get, get involved with higher education with K-12 education, too. So that we’ve got these countries, that these are a continuum as opposed to silos, I think the better. And and I think, you know, bringing younger, younger people, high schoolers, et cetera, into, into the realization of what work looks like and the understanding that that learning is lifelong, and you can, you can learn new things and you’re going to have to learn new things for the rest of your life.

Deborah Quazzo:
It’s just no more taking your degree or your high school diploma or your four year degree or your two year degree and, and, you know, filling up your gas tank. And as my partner, Michael, Mel will say, you know, driving off into the future, that that’s all she wrote, right. I mean th th this, that ain’t gonna happen anymore. So I think the more that we can help instill that earlier and make it make learning fun, make it engaging and fun and real. I think that’s, that’s that’s what businesses can do. I think it’s actually been, COVID interesting because employers have been sitting at home with their children. I mean, so employers, employers and employees are now very actively part of the K-12 learning process, you know, good or bad. And and so I think you’re going to have a lot of parents who are also employers and employees coming out of this with new views on what they should be doing. So I, I, I’m hopeful for a level of sort of employee and employer activism inspired by what they saw at home. And we’ll see how that goes.

Stacia Garr:
I think that’s an inspiring and optimistic take on what’s happening. And I, and I absolutely hope you’re right.

Chris Pirie:
This is having a terrible effect on, or appears to be having a terrible effect on, on, on women in particular. Uthere was a report out from McKinsey, I think last week that said, you know, there’s been an astonishing sort of knock back of progress we’ve made around the workforce. It’s pretty, that’s pretty sad, but I,uyou know, any silver linings we can find out of this year is good. Sorry, sorry to butt in!

Speaker 2:
No, no, I agree. I think that, I think the, I think the yeah, hope hopefully that will even itself back out. It does prove that women do all the work, but which we’ve always known. But it’s true on this podcast, but I do think once, once it gets back to I do have a husband who actually does have to work, but it depends how you define work, but it’s a, it’s a it will be interesting to see what parents, I mean, we’re already seeing, and we just invested in a company called Class founded by Michael Chaisson, who was the founder co-founder of Blackboard and long time CEO of Blackboard. He was at home watching his kids do zoom, realized that zoom is not a teaching and learning platform. So he’s building on the zoom SDK that the product that is going to, to make zooming a teaching and learning platform, not just for K12, but actually for higher education actually probably has great application in the enterprise. And he will get there and it’s, it’s been fascinating. The attention that’s gotten, everybody, everyone he showed it to been has like, you know, the product is just rolling into beta, but everyone who has seen it is wanting to buy it. So I think you are going to see some creativity come out of this. That is good. And some innovation that is, that is, that will be very good for the future.

Chris Pirie:
I can hold my tongue no longer. Sorry, who just Debrorah, who would you talk to if you were doing a series of conversations on this topic of purpose and its relationship to talent and learning, are there any startups that you, that are doing this really well?

Speaker 2:
Yeah, I think w this will go K-12 so I think there’s a startup called Remind in the K-12 market that we invested in our first fund. The CEO there came in, he was not a founder. He came in really to turn around the business, which he’s done really nicely, Brian Gray and Brian’s are very experienced. He ran Bleacher report. Was it early Yahoo executive really talented technology and tech, talented CEO. I have his statistics on what they’ve done, he and his head of talent to turn that company from a company that was not adequately diverse. It’s a decent employee for a startup. It’s a decent employee size. I mean, his numbers are just jaw-dropping in terms of what he’s been able to do to create a workforce at remind that reflects racial and sexual equity. He’s, he’s great at it because it is hard to come in and do that.

Deborah Quazzo:
You know, when the, when the car’s already running down the highway. Yeah. It’s changing all the tires, but he’s been great. I think Rachel, Rachel Carlson it Guild is another great example. Obviously female CEO female chief, her head of engineering is of woman. She’s got, she’s been, you know, I think it’s, it, it, it helps when you’re a female leader. I think you attract great woman probably more easily, but but they’ve had incredible intentionality and building out, and this is a company that has grown extraordinarily quickly before, you know, it it’s an enterprise, you know, enterprise SAS business. And, and that has seen incredible growth over just four and a half years. And they’ve done that with an incredible commitment to equity and access. I think she would be, she would be great to talk to yeah, those are my two ideas.

Stacia Garr:
Great. Well, I know where I’m getting close on time. So Debra, I have two personal questions for you, one that we didn’t share before. So you mentioned several times within GSV, you know, that you have a 50, 50 representation on the on the board and a number of other statistics, but yet obviously, as you also mentioned, the percentage of female venture capitalists is, is very small. So I’d love to hear a little bit about kind of how you think your, your approach and the perspective you’ve brought has influenced GSV and, and also what you might hope to see more broadly in the VC industry.

Deborah Quazzo:
Yeah, I think that what would I like to see more broadly? I think that I, you know, I do, I do believe in the power of diversity. I, I, and we actually, as a firm while we’ve done incredibly well with racial diversity, we’ve not UN sorry with sexual diversity, we have not done as well with racial diversity. That’s something we’ve got to, we’ve got to reverse. But, and I think so it’s really important to be also transparent about what you’ve done well, what you’ve not done well. I think that, I think that there is, you know, I’ve been on enough boards and things that are both diverse and not diverse. And I think the quality, and I think it’s just indisputable. The quality of your decision-making is better when you’ve got, you know, when you’ve got, you know, voices represented around the table that are different. Um and so that’s, hopefully that’s kind of what we’ve brought to the table I brought to the table. I think that I think it is still a struggle to, you know, I think, you know, doing things like it’s still hard to raise money. I, you know, we’ve done fine, but you know, you know, we have a very, really nicely high-performing portfolio. It should be, you think it would get easier. It doesn’t get easier. It’s much easier people, it’s just human nature. It’s just easier to fund or whatever people who look like you. And and I think there’s a lot, there’s been a lot of lip service to this topic, to this, to the topic of, of putting support behind female VCs and also putting support behind female founders. But I don’t think it’s, I don’t think the reality has been the lip service has translated into reality.

Deborah Quazzo:
And I think you find that a lot of women would have know female VCs would agree with that. There are a lot of great initiatives going on. All a group called All Raise has gotten out is out there, you know, very visibly to support equity women and people of color in, in fund management and in venture and in front, you know, funding ventures. So I think, so I think there’s really good energy around it. And I think it’s just, I don’t know how long it’s going to take to translate. It’s, it’s hard to, if you’re a, if you’re a limited partner, it’s hard to go away from the traditional models that are, that are successful to put, to allocate resources into new newer, and perhaps an untested people just, you know, who are, who happen to be diverse. So that’s, that’s a challenge. And hopefully that hopefully that challenge changes or evolves over the next it’s, you know, afraid it’s gonna take 10 years, but, but if you look at it, for example, university endowments, you know, they’re in and they ha they don’t disclose it. A number of them have done studies, including my own Alma mater and, you know, they’re, they’re female representation and their managers and those are not just venture, you know, all kinds of fund money managers is like, you know, low single digits. Wow. So, you know, I think pressure needs to be, you know, and that that’s, I think pressure needs to be placed on, you know, organizations like that who, who serve, you know, serve diverse, you know, are there to serve diverse students. Therefore they should be, that should be reflected. That should be reflected all the way through their organization.

Stacia Garr:
Yeah. Well, my final question, and this is a related, in some ways, I think is what inspired you to do the work you do? So was there a person and incident and observation that inspired you to do this type of work?

Deborah Quazzo:
Yeah, I mean, that’s a great question. I, I, you know, I, I got involved my Porter in Silicon Valley, Michael Moe had written a bunch of research starting really in the mid 1990s before we worked together really identifying this education sector. So I really, I totally credit him with getting me hooked on why this would be a great area to work in professionally. And then, and then I started back, you know, went from there into also doing my sort of philanthropic energy. Also goes here, goes into education. And his, it was a commitment. He, you know, he had a commitment very early on that it was in this massive chunk of GDP, highly fragmented, incredibly dysfunctional, very little technology in a week management teams, and yet a really critically important problem coming back to the issue of giving all people equal access to the future. Um so I, you know, I give him, you know, incredible kudos for identifying the, you know, what, what ultimately took longer than we would have liked, but but identify clearly identifying why the sector should be a sector and why it should be successful and why that was important to the world that it was successful. So I think, you know, that’s, you know, Michael inspired me there. I think, you know, I happen to have you know, we grew up in a family with two incredible parents who are, who were incredibly committed in their own personal work and philanthropy to educational advancement for everybody. And so that helped that that was a lot. And then I, you know, I just loved it. I mean, you know, it’s, is it more fun to go call on a company that makes breakfast cereal or is it more fun, you know, call on a company that’s really trying to, trying to change people’s lives meaningfully. And I don’t mean to demean what anyone does, but it, but it, it was just in the roles that I was in as an investment banker and then ultimately an investor. It was just a lot, a lot more fun inspiring to get out of bed. And yeah, so that’s kinda how I ended up there.

Stacia Garr: Great.
Thank you. Well, if people want to learn more about you and your work how can they connect with you?

Deborah Quazzo:
Absolutely. I am you can, you can see you can go to the ASU GSV summit website, if you want to watch any of the videos from our major or amazing summit that occurred last two weeks, that’s incredible and it’s free, so you can go on and, and it’s also pulling into, anyway, they’re incredible talks, Jon Meacham on John Lewis on his new book on John Lewis is to die for, for example. And you can get me through, I’m just de quavo@gsb.com and, you know, I’m on LinkedIn and all that sort of stuff, but I’m happy to happy to connect with anybody. We you know, w we care a lot about the workforce space and and it’s important to the future. So

Dani Johnson:
Thank you so much, Debra, thank you for your insights. It’s provided a really unique point of view and we really, really appreciate it. Awesome. Thank you guys. Talk, see you later. Bye

Download Transcript



Discover other episodes in the series