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How Jill Greenberg Used Data for Her Path Into VC

04 May 2021
Growth Profiles: How a CapitalG Tech Investor Used Data to Forge a Path into Venture Capital

As part of our ongoing Growth Profiles series, today we’d like to introduce you to Jill Greenberg, CapitalG VP and technology investor.

In her own words, you’ll learn about Jill’s journey from operator to investor, the biggest opportunities she sees as an enterprise data investor, and her advice for founders and investors who are looking to find their way. Enjoy!

Background: What is your role/focus at CapitalG, what did you do previously? What motivated you to join the VC world?

Yeah! I’m a VP on the investment team, focusing on all things enterprise technology. Recently I’ve been most excited by anything in the data space — which can range from companies leveraging proprietary data to generate insights to more technical data infrastructure and analytics companies.

Prior to VC, I came from more of an operating background. I got the entrepreneurship bug while I was at Stanford, and started an ed-tech company that went through Y-combinator. It was an amazing experience and I really learned the fundamentals of bringing a business from 0 to 1 — a lot of “move fast break things” energy. After that, I wanted to learn the fundamentals of running a business at scale, so I took a job as the CEO of a PE-backed business where I learned much more discipline around unit economics and scalable programs. Two very different experiences. Both very hard!

My favorite parts of every job I’ve had have come down to two things: (1) smart, passionate, high energy people, and (2) opportunities to learn new things. I have a bunch of friends who are investors, and I always looked at what they were doing with a bit of jealousy. In fact, I once asked, “Do you basically just learn, talk to really smart people, and find ways to support them?” They responded “Basically, yes” and I was sold.

Being around smart people with high energy is always super inspiring. It doesn’t feel like work. Passionate entrepreneurs that are excited about what they’re building and want to teach you about their area of expertise — it’s the best. I’m getting pumped just thinking about it!

Ok, so why the interest in data? Where’d that passion come from?

I want to spend my time as an investor working with and helping exceptional people build truly transformational businesses. When I think about businesses with the greatest potential to be genuinely transformational, data businesses are a no-brainer — given how the world is unfolding.

There were two constants across my YC experience and my PE-backed experience: the importance of people, and the importance of data. Everything we were building, every single decision, was informed by data. I felt blind without it. I saw how much more power I had as data tools evolved even over a ~5 year period. I strongly believe that the next generation of transformational companies will come from the data category.

For me it isn’t just about picking the right industries. I also want to be able to ACTUALLY help the founders I work with. That is a huge driver for my focus on data companies. We have an exceptional network of experts through Google that can help get me up to speed on the technical aspects of the data category, and who also serve as amazing advisors and product partners for our portfolio companies. I’m super grateful for the network we can tap through GCP and BigQuery, and the advice we can pull from some of our companies who have seen major success like Looker, Collibra and Dataiku is invaluable.

The other day a founder we were meeting with told us: “You guys don’t just say ‘How can I be helpful?’, you actually just show up and be helpful.” I literally did a celebratory dance on the Zoom call because that’s what I care about most.

What are the biggest opportunities in data that you think founders should be aware of?

I’ve been focused on businesses that solve two problems: time to insight, and high quality data. Every single chief data officer and data user we speak to immediately brings up at least one of those challenges. It makes sense. The entire reason data infrastructure and analytics tools exist are to surface reliable insights to inform business decisions and products.

It’s amazing how much budget large enterprises are willing to spend in these areas, and I’ve seen some super innovative technical approaches to solving these problems. There are tons of interesting companies building within the data reliability and observability space, and building out the next generation of the analytics stack. We’re really excited to partner with them.

What about personally? What are you interested in outside of work?

My nieces and nephews, and sports. If I can get a basketball game going with my niece, I’m golden.

But since my brother and sister probably don’t want me talking about their kids, I guess I can elaborate more on sports. I’m a huge Boston sports/Tom Brady fan — Go Pats, (and also now Tampa Bay Bucs), but honestly, I will watch literally any live sporting event. Now that I live in SF, I love going to Giants games and Stanford games…but I still won’t root for anyone but Boston teams. I will go to every game in a Red Sox hat and Patriots jersey.

My favorite event of the entire year is March Madness. I normally take the first Thursday off from work and watch games all day with friends. To me there is nothing more inspiring than watching the culmination of so many years of practice, knowing genuinely that anything can happen. I honestly get chills just thinking about it.

What can founders expect when working with you? What’s your “style” as an investor?

Basically everyone I have ever met has told me that I bring A LOT of energy to everything I do, so that’s what my companies can expect. I try to make everything fun (and sometimes that means I have to sing Mr. Brightside live via Zoom or send around a video of a choreographed dance I did to “work from home.” No one really asks for it, but I just feel like it’s necessary).

I also care a lot about the people I work with and will figure out a way to get things done for them. 100% of the time. I’m not always the right person to answer every question, but I have spent a lot of time growing and collaborating with an amazing network of people around me with some unbelievable experience. I pride myself on figuring out who the right person to help is, and finding a way to that person, whatever it takes.

With so many things happening, what advice would you give someone looking to find their footing within the tech/investing world?

The tech investing world is so much fun because it is definitionally always changing. There are endless amounts of learning curves to go up — you are trying to figure out how to become a good investor, while also trying to learn as much as you can about a specific industry, while also trying to learn as much as you can about a specific company. It is non-stop learning…which can be both inspiring and overwhelming. I’ve tried to make it less overwhelming by picking a few markets and themes I really care about, and focusing in on those. I’ve found that it helps me make better investment decisions and better support my founders.

I had no experience in investing before coming to CapitalG but I have been able to get better just through genuine curiosity and a willingness to work hard. Hustle and creativity matter so much in tech, and those are things that anyone can have if they’re willing to work.

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