03 February 2021

The Bottom Line of Purpose | Is Purpose Working Podcast Episode 8

Dani Johnson
Co-founder & Principal Analyst

TL;DR

  • This is the 8th episode of our podcast season: Is Purpose Working?
  • In this episode, Dani Johnson and Stacia Garr of RedThread and Chris Pirie of Learning is the New Working interview Managing Partner at GSV Ventures, Deborah Quazzo.
  • We discuss the emergence of knowledge as a ‘currency.’
  • Deborah shares how learning is starting to be seen as an important weapon by corporate leaders to improve overall outcomes, and how she sees all parts of Education and the workplace training coming together.
  • A special thanks to our season Sponsor, NovoEd for their support!

Listen

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Guest

Deborah Quazzo, Managing Partner at GSV Ventures

DETAILS

Does Purpose help the bottom line? It’s a fair question, surely—maybe, ultimately, the best question we can really ask ourselves in business as the idea of a move away from purely shareholder capitalism to stakeholder capitalism takes off. Perhaps the ideal community to seek a hard-nosed answer here is the VC (venture capitalist) world, for whom the conditio sine qua non of an investment has to be that it will pay back, at multiples.

Focusing on all our now fast-interlocking conversations on our central question of ‘Is Purpose Working?’ is that today, we have the definitive answer: yes. In fact, it’s actually the companies that have Purpose that end up with strong cultures and stronger outcomes.

There’s a lot to take in to see why our guest, Deborah Quazzo, Managing Partner at GSV Ventures, an early stage venture capital fund investing in education and workforce technology entrepreneurs, is so convinced of that fact, but we hope we have intrigued you enough to listen in to see her logic and proof… but it’s also just such a pleasure to listen to the fusion of a deeply ethical mindset and razor-sharp thinking Deborah brings to her job.

Just one example among many: her rhetorical question about why she does what she does: Is it more fun to go call on a company making breakfast cereal, or on a company that’s really trying to change people’s lives meaningfully? Deborah and her team have been active for many years disrupting the $6 trillion education technology sector. Having helped amazing names like ClassDojo, Degreed, and RaiseMe, among many others, get out of the lab.

Equally important to her is her work on the annual ASU GSV Summit: now in its 12th year. The Summit celebrates innovations and innovators across the global “preK to Gray” learning and talent landscape and this COVID, virtual year attracted a staggering 33,000 online attendees. So tune in to hear how this predominantly Chicago-based Ed tech sector investment ninja has been putting ‘Purpose’ as one of the ‘5 Ps’ a startup has to have before she even looks at them.

Hear about VC money, Purpose, diversity and what a VC does, as well as:

  • How Deborah sees all parts of Education and the workplace training coming together
  • The emergence of knowledge as a ‘currency’
  • Why what GSV does is not the same as what an impact fund tries to do
  • 2019 Business Round Table statement… are we actually seeing enough action by companies?
  • How Learning is starting (at last?) to be seen as an important weapon by corporate leaders to improve overall outcomes
  • Her conviction that exponential growth in an Ed tech company will come not just through great technology, but through diverse teams
  • What inspired her to get into the Ed tech area

Resources

Webinar

This season will culminate in a live online gated experience (a webcast) where we'll review and debate what we've learned. Seats are limited. Secure your place today, over at www.novoed.com/purpose.

Partner

We're also thrilled to be partnering with Chris Pirie, CEO of Learning Futures Group and voice of the Learning Is the New Work podcast. Check them both out.

Season Sponsor

Global enterprises rely on its collaborative online learning platform to build high-value capabilities that result in real impact, with its customers working to deliver powerful, engaging learning that activates deep skill development, from leadership to design thinking and digital transformation, as well as driving measurable business outcomes.

TRANSCRIPT

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.

Dani Johnson:
Hi, I'm Dani Johnson and I'm here with Stacia Garr. We're the co-founders of Redthread Research, and we're collaborating with Chris Pirie on this purpose-focused season of ‘Learning Is the New Working.’ And today we have Deborah Quazzo with us. Deborah, thanks for your time. And for sharing your insights with us today.

Deborah Quazzo:
Thank you.

Dani Johnson:
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 you say that something like 27,000 people registered.

Deborah Quazzo:
We had a large registration, yes.

Dani Johnson:
It was great. 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 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?

Deborah Quazzo:
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 in normal times. But we moved here many decades ago. Downtown Chicago is a great place to raise children for someone who wants to be in an urban setting, which I did. And we did. And so our three kids all grew up here on Lake Michigan and went to school here and one of them moved back.

Stacia Garr:
Well, that's a success, right? To get one of them back?

Deborah Quazzo:
It is. Yeah.

Stacia Garr:
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 general manager of the ASU+GSV Summit that you all referenced a little bit earlier. We view them as part of a platform where we're singularly focused on the education technology sector globally. 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, Dani, we had, ended up with 33,000-some registrations for the summit we've had. So the virtual move was really actually fascinating and fun. And we do view them as the two organizations is sort of inextricably linked although they’re separate teams and all that sort of stuff. But they do drive each other 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:
So we look at the education space as a Pre-K to Gray arc of our continuum of learning and workforce skills. So we look for investment all across that spectrum. Obviously, there's only a part of that spectrum that's relevant for HR leaders or L&D leaders, et cetera. And that would be both higher-ed and adult learning, workforce learning, enterprise learning. We are investing in companies, in Seed and Series A companies, in all those sectors although we have plenty in the, and I say higher education and workforce, because I think as most everyone at this point who is in those important jobs realizes that there's a very much a coming together of the higher education and the workforce sector.

Deborah Quazzo:
These are continuums, they are not siloed on the historically. They've been very siloed, K-12 silo, higher ed silo, workforce siloed. I think it's a very positive development. The siloing is being, you know, very much broken down and, you know, one feeding into the other and vice versa in a lifelong, in a movement to lifelong learning which I think is also something that was not embraced for a long time and is very much been embraced today. So we're looking at, we're biased towards platforms. So Degreed, for example, in the enterprise space is a platform. They're content neutral. And they sit in the enterprise and they help companies and their employees look at, you know, make skills, assessment, personal skills assessments, and then direct them to personalize learning pathways that can enhance their career mobility actually at the end of the day. But it's an open-ended, you know, platform 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. They have an enterprise platform 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, Deborah, 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 CLOs and talent leaders should be paying attention to?

Deborah Quazzo:
What are we're seeing? We're seeing all kinds of trends and I'd actually say this one trend, 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, and work is now school and vice versa because of the need to upskill and reskill and address all these things. We're seeing other trends like 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 introduced you all to Athena, but that's in the compliance space around harassment issues.

Deborah Quazzo:
And it's a very, very modern delivery of learning. It's received incredible uptake by some really great companies. So I think they're very big trends around things like that. Knowledge as a currency is another theme we've had for a long time, which is really that you know, 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 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:
So a lot of what you shared in many ways could be seen as purpose-driven, you know, this focus on education Pre-K to Gray, et cetera. But does that part of how GSV Ventures operates? So do you all have an explicit purpose statement? And if so, what is it?

Deborah Quazzo:
Yeah, so 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 used for over 20 years. And it's basically our framework for evaluating every investment that we make. So 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 got to be differentiated and an important. Potential and Predictability. And then the fifth P is Purpose. So we are actually not an impact fund. I mean, 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.

Deborah Quazzo:
So, and that's particularly relevant in the education market. And 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 we do have a strong commitment. We also believe that companies with purpose have stronger cultures and are going to inherently have stronger outcomes. And so it is a very explicit commitment on our part. And certainly there are plenty of companies in the education technology space that basically, you know, address a very small part of the market and perhaps a very high-income part of the market. And lots of people will make very, have made and will make successful investments there, but that's 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:
Impact funds are now a very formal and growing category of private capital, 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 an area where there are a number of funds that are impact funds. They have stated returns that they have to deliver against impact that are provided by the funders of those funds. Sometimes impact funds have delayed longer, longer time horizons for returns 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 the most successful education technology company fund in the world, but certainly our objective or, you know, on behalf of the people who who've supported us and backed us through their LP investments. And we do believe that if there's an extenuated return profile or a term profile, that's longer than a market return profile, it's then perhaps the organization's not having the kind of impact we need it to have. So 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.

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 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 a similar way to what we've been talking about across all these different organizations that have been on the podcast.

Dani Johnson:
So Deborah, we know that a lot of your technology, 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. 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+GSV conference. It's always very aspirational. You work very hard to make it inclusive. So talk to us a little bit about that.

Deborah Quazzo:
Yeah. Yeah. Well, thank you. We have worked really hard really the whole, for the whole 11 years that we worked on the summit. So our mantra is that all people have equal access to the future through innovation, scaled innovation in education. We believe that equity and access are 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 leverage the ASU+GSV Summit to really talk about many of the, talk about lots of themes and we have artificial intelligence or whatever. But one of the really important threads is equity and access. So this year we had a full day dedicated to truth and reconciliation and a series of conversations, and actually two full—a day dedicated to it and 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.

Deborah Quazzo:
And if you haven't read it, you ought to read it tomorrow. It's just such a one of the best books I've read in a long time, to Eddie Glaude, a Princeton professor just wrote a fantastic book called ‘Begin Again’ about James Baldwin to Michael Sorrell is the president of Paul Quinn, a HBCU has actually been ranked as the best HBCU three years in a row thanks to Michael's leadership that had fantastic talk. So we really are incredibly intentional. We want to 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. So those things are really important. It's really important that we're reflecting real life, and it's real important to the conversations that we're reflecting real life.

Deborah Quazzo:
And then we hold a host of other events. Like we gave two amazing men, Nate Davis and Carlos Moreno, the Innovator of Color Awards this year. They're both incredible people who've done a great work. One’s a CEO of a 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 really do work very hard to elevate issues of equity. 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 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 and got the position through a competition. And every year, a third of those companies are founded and/or led by women, 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 34 to 40. And then about, about a quarter of the companies are founded and are led by people of color. So, you know, very proud of our sector that it's got that kind of diversity, that those numbers reflect in leadership, of innovation leadership.

Stacia Garr:
I want to move this on, Deborah, 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 Roundtable 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:
You know, there's certainly recently been a lot of criticism of whether that was just–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 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 you should be able to address you, you have to be able to address all constituents in our organization to have, you know, to have successful financial outcomes for all the constituents in the organization, whether you're an employee or a shareholder.

Deborah Quazzo:
And we're fortunate to have companies in our portfolio that actually really support things like, you know, support elements of that, like Guild Education actually. Where companies like Wal-Mart and Disney and Chipotle and Waste Management and others are really making massive commitments to educate their frontline workers who either, you know, have from everything from a high school equivalency certificate up through full college degrees and then through certificates and skills related to skill accretion. So I think elevating learning within a corporate setting is a really important piece of this because it's such a fundamental way that companies can show their commitment to their employee stakeholders, but it's also going to have benefit for their shareholders stakeholders and their, you know, all the way around.

Deborah Quazzo:
So I think there is a path here where you can elevate financial outcomes through doing the right thing for all of your stakeholders, and, you know, it's just 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 corporate leaders to get at those objectives. It's an important weapon and we're seeing for the first time, and we can see it in right now, we have exposure to a lot of corporate learning companies, and we're in a recession, depression, whatever you want to call it.

Deborah Quazzo:
And typically, corporate learning companies would see massive degradation in their revenues during down economic downswings because it's the first thing that companies cut. We're not seeing that. Obviously, if you're laying off half your workforce, you're just not going to have as many people in seats to take learning, to you know, to consume learning. But learning as a furlough 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 I think it is, really it makes me feel optimistic that 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 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:
So, through tuition reimbursement, tuition benefit plans that support, you know, that provide tax advantage support for delivering learning to your employees. Those have been, you know, actually Guild sort of led the way in creating a similar, you know, because furloughed employees are still, technically employees are on furlough, but companies like Disney when they went, you know, because they had to furlough such a massive chunk of their company, actually elevated their learning benefits to those furloughed employees. I mean, they elevated the visibility of them and they encouraged their use. So it's extending the concept of learning through tuition reimbursement, tuition benefit plans into the furlough cycle.

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

Deborah Quazzo:
Precisely. Yeah.

Stacia Garr:
I want to kind of zoom in a little bit on this more specifically for you as 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 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 because it, it might mean that other people get kind of benefits before you as a shareholder in the company?

Deborah Quazzo:
We're typically investing very early, right? So we're investing in startups. And so that probably makes a difference because we just, you know, we don't, number one, they're not making money for the most part, 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 had this in our recent investment where, you know, someone was, you know, the team, the founding team, it was white men. And we raised, and other investors that came along with us, raised the need to address issues of diversity now. And that is hard when you're starting. 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.

Deborah Quazzo:
Because if you don't start early, it's very hard to recover later. So we had a really good conversation about it, and the company went out and took immediate action, which was great. When you're dealing with early-stage companies, it's really about how are they building their culture to address issues of equity and access out of the gate because that will make a very different company down the road. So it's hard. The Business Roundtable obviously is big companies, so they're thinking differently than our business, you know, they can think differently than our businesses do. So what we're trying to do is help companies think about exponential growth. 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 being very intentional about our support of that and in our monitoring of that, frankly. So I think that's kind of how we as early stage investors have to think about it and act on it. And we're pretty active. I mean, we're active in the whole area of female VCs getting funded, female startups and people of color startups, founders getting funded. All of those groups are still underfunded. The category I sit in is a woman, a female, we're a female-owned firm and a majority female-run investment or equal 50-50 equal investment committee, female male. So we're pretty passionate around these topics and carry that over into our portfolio company, construction and management.

Dani Johnson:
We love that, Deborah, about you and the organizations you pick. I'm kind of curious about, I mean, we talked to a lot of startups as well, and we have noticed that they skew white and they skew male. There is about how much of a luxury purpose is when you're doing a startup. And I know you might be a little skewed because you look for those 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?

Deborah Quazzo:
From where we sit, you know, I've picked an area where purpose is so important, right? And so I'm a bad person to ask because we're operating in places where entrepreneurs are generally trying to change the world and have big impacts. They’re certainly trying drive financial returns, high financial returns, but they're, but they really are trying to have massive impact at scale on learners, across this Pre-K to Gray spectrum. And certainly there are entities I referred to before that within the education technology sector, they're not going to have purpose. That's just not where we operate and it is hard for me. A long time ago as a general investment banker at Merrill Lynch, 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.

Dani Johnson:
Do you have a sense for purpose-driven organizations versus maybe the rest, as far as success goes?

Deborah Quazzo:
We believe that 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 purpose-driven organizations are and should have higher performance. And because it's just going to 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, hot, and people on top of being hot, people really do love it. And by the way, one of the reasons it got hot is because you had great founders coming out of other sectors. Having had success at Google or wherever, 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 we do believe purpose is going to drive higher, better outcomes for a whole host of reasons. And I think it's very much, you know, generational change that's happening. It’s very actively happening.

Stacia Garr:
You mentioned purpose in particular, around attracting people to 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:
I think, you know, startups are really hard, right? They're really stressful situations. And even if it's great, it's stressful. I mean, even if nothing goes wrong, which is almost never the case. It's impossible not to have something go wrong, and in some cases, something go really wrong. And I think that, I mean, I can give you 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, they really unwound or they weren't serving enough. So I do think that in a highly stressful environment, and you can look at outside of ed tech and look at, you know, like Airbnb and I have so much respect for Brian Chesky and I don't know him, but I certainly have watched. But that is a company with purpose. He's been able to instill purpose in something you wouldn't naturally think about as having purpose. Education's a little easier to think about as naturally having purpose, but 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 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 purpose is a big deal for them?

Deborah Quazzo:
Companies shouldn't be confused about whether they’re a philanthropy or a company. And I think sometimes companies in education get confused about that. And they ended up not doing, not having enough market mechanisms in the back of their 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 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 viability. It has to be viable. It has to be sustainable, has to be viable. And I think sometimes people get mixed up. Purpose has to be about viability at the end of the day. And it has to support viability, I guess, is the better term. So yeah, I do. We certainly do see that that problem in the education technology sector.

Dani Johnson:
We want to move to our favorite topic, 2020.

Deborah Quazzo:
When 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.

Deborah Quazzo:
COVID was 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 we pivoted, you know, we took our event virtual. We did a whole series of events. 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 Hipps there. And Henry has been such an inspiration and mentor for me 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 actually moderated by Henry and with four leaders of the black community across the education spectrum and who called themselves the elders, even though one of them is younger than I am, but it was an incredible conversation. In fact, Harvard Business School is going to teach a case study using that panel discussion as the read in, and then have Henry come in and participate in the Zoom class this fall, which we're very proud of.

Deborah Quazzo:
And then we had two more conversation, one with white leaders moderated by Carlos Watson. And then we had one with younger leaders from the education sector who've been extremely involved in the Black Lives Matter movement, which was fantastic conversation, really hard, but really incredible conversation. All of them were hard. So I think that what we've tried to do, what 2020 did to us like, took something that we always cared about and tried to push for. We've tried to make it more real. We tried to make it more central, we tried to make the dialogue, we tried to have it be actionable. So that's been good. I mean, really good is discouraging as the things that have happened this year have been. And yeah 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 COVID is that, you know, digital learning has become front and center. It's important. It's what people are talking about all over the world across the Pre-K to Gray spectrum and that has made us pretty busy.

Dani Johnson:
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 said it. 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 can organizations, do you have any ideas for how organizations can help solve this massive problem? That's going to take 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 many universities who really used to repel the involvement of corporate, of the employers are now embracing employers. So we have so many great online, whether it's Western Governors or Southern New Hampshire or Arizona State or Purdue, we have so many great universities with their online programs that are serving working adults, right? And 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’m 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 learning isn't relevant, I mean, particularly for low-income kids, if there's, I mean, you know, the abysmal results we've shown, part of is just like we've failed to prove that it's relevant to be sitting in a class or now on Zoom or whatever, to the future. And so we've got to create relevance, and I think the engagement of employers and internships and things that make it tactile are really encouraging and exciting. So I think that the more that employers get involved with higher education, with K-12 education so that we've got these, that these are a continuum as opposed to silos, I think the better. And I think, you know, bringing younger people, high schoolers, et cetera, into the realization of what work looks like and the understanding that learning is lifelong, and 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 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 that ain't gonna happen anymore. So I think the more that we can help instill that earlier and make learning fun, make it engaging and fun and real. I think 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, employers and employees are now very actively part of the K-12 learning process, you know, good or bad. 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'm hopeful for a level of sort of employee and employer activism inspired by what they saw at home.

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

Chris Pirie:
This is having a terrible effect on, or appears to be having a terrible effect on women in particular. There 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 women in the workforce. It's pretty, that's pretty sad, but any silver linings we can find out of this year is good. Sorry, sorry to butt in!

Deborah Quazzo:
No, no, I agree. Hopefully that will even itself back out. It does prove that women do all the work, which we've always known. But I do think once it gets back to—I do have a husband who actually does half the work, but it depends how you define work—but it will be interesting to see what parents, I mean, we're already seeing, and we just invested in a company called ClassEDU founded by Michael Chasen, who was the co-founder of Blackboard and longtime 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 K-12, but actually for higher education, actually probably has great application in the enterprise. And he will get there and it's been fascinating, the attention that's gotten. Everyone he’s showed it to has been like, 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 will be very good for the future.

Chris Pirie:
I can hold my tongue no longer. Sorry, Deborah, 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 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 very experienced. He ran Bleacher Report, was a early Yahoo! Executive, really talented technology and tech-talented CEO. 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 great at it because it is hard to come in and do that, you know, when the car's already running down the highway. Yeah. It's changing all the tires, but he's been great.

Deborah Quazzo:
I think Rachel Carlson at Guild is another great example. Obviously female CEO, female chief, her head of engineering is of woman. I think it helps when you're a female leader. I think you attract great woman probably more easily, but they've had incredible intentionality and building out, and this is a company that has grown extraordinarily quickly for an enterprise SAS business. 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 great to talk to.

Stacia Garr:
Great. Well, I know where 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 very small. So I'd love to hear a little bit about kind of how you think your approach and the perspective you've brought has influenced GSV 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 do believe in the power of diversity. We actually, as a firm, while we've done incredibly well with racial diversity, we've not—sorry with sexual diversity—we have not done as well with racial diversity. That's something we've got to reverse. But 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 there is, and 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. Hopefully that's kind of what we've brought to the table. I think it is still a struggle to, you know, doing things like—it's still hard to raise money. We've done fine, but 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 just human nature. It's just easier to fund or whatever people who look like you. And I think there's been a lot of lip service to this topic, to the topic of, of putting support behind female VCs and also putting support behind female founders. But I don't think the lip service has translated into reality.

Deborah Quazzo:
And I think you find that a lot of women female VCs would agree with that. There are a lot of great initiatives going on. A group called All Raise has gotten out there, you know, very visibly to support equity women and people of color in, in fund management and in venture and in funding ventures. So I think there's really good energy around it. And I don't know how long it's going to take to translate. It's hard to, if you're a limited partner, it's hard to go away from the traditional models that are successful to put, to allocate resources into new, newer, and perhaps untested people just, you know, who are, who happen to be diverse. So that's a challenge. And hopefully that challenge changes or evolves over the next, you know, afraid it's going to take 10 year. But if you look at it, for example, university endowments, you know, they don't disclose it. A number of them have done studies, including my own alma mater and, you know, their 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. I think pressure needs to be placed on organizations like that who are there to serve diverse students. Therefore, 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, an incident, an observation that inspired you to do this type of work?

Deborah Quazzo:
Yeah, I mean, that's a great question. 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 I went from there into also doing my sort of philanthropic energy also goes here, goes into education. And it was a commitment. 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. I give him, you know, incredible kudos for identifying what ultimately took longer than we would have liked, but clearly identifying why this 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 Michael inspired me there. I grew up in a family with two incredible parents who were incredibly committed in their own personal work and philanthropy to educational advancement for everybody. And so that helped, that was a lot. And then I just loved it. I mean, you know, is it more fun to go call on a company that makes breakfast cereal or is it more fun to go, you know, call on a company that's really trying to change people's lives meaningfully? And I don't mean to demean what anyone does, but it was just, in the roles that I was in as an investment banker and then ultimately an investor, it was just a lot more fun and 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:
You can go to the ASU+GSV Summit website if you want to watch any of the videos from our amazing summit that occurred that last two weeks, that's incredible and it's free, so you can go on 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 [email protected] and, you know, I'm on LinkedIn and all that sort of stuff, but I'm happy to connect with anybody. We you know, we care a lot about the workforce space and its importance to the future.

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.

Deborah Quazzo:
Awesome. Thank you, guys. Talk to you later. Bye.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dani Johnson

Dani is Co-founder and Principal Analyst for RedThread Research. She has spent the majority of her career writing about, conducting research in, and consulting on human capital practices and technology. Her ideas can be found in publications such as Wall Street Journal, CLO Magazine, HR Magazine, and Employment Relations. Dani holds an MBA and an MS and BS in Mechanical Engineering from BYU.