Pictured: Gillian Munson. Photo courtesy of usv.com.
By Colton Williams
The Babson Center’s Bryan Viewpoints Speaker for 2020 was Gillian Munson, a venture capitalist at Union Square Ventures, one of the world’s largest private equity firms. Munson visited Sewanee on January 29, where she stopped by classes and gave a lecture, titled “Venture Capital Today: The Fascinating Ride of an Internet Entrepreneur and Investor.”
Munson is the operating partner at Union Square Ventures, headquartered in New York City. She runs the firm from an operations perspective, while also investing as a venture capitalist. Venture capitalists infuse capital into a company, typically at its early stages, to help fund the company’s growth. The investments are made as equity, so that if the company succeeds, the venture capital firm owns a component of the company, and if it fails, they lose their money. The firm focuses on technology, and has made investments in notable companies such as Twitter, Etsy, MongoDB, Cloudflare, Coinbase, Carta, and Duolingo.
Over the course of Munson’s career, she has worked both operated and invested in companies. “My career has gone back and forth between operating companies and investing in companies,” Munson said. “I’ve actually spent more time in the investing side, so early in my career, I was what they call a sell-side research analyst, so the best way to think about that is the folks that get on CNBC and say ‘buy this stock, sell this stock,’ that was what I did.”
Before joining Union Square Ventures, Munson worked as Chief Financial Officer at the public company XO Group, and at the investment bank Allen & Company.
Though Munson has worked in many different capacities, she sees the essential thread in her career as being “a student of business, and trying to operate businesses and invest in businesses using those skills together.”
Munson didn’t always know that she wanted to work in venture capital, but she did always have her eye on the financial world. “I knew in college that I might want to be in business,” Munson said. “I liked working with numbers, and I felt like some job that got me somewhere in the financial world would make sense.”
After graduating from Colorado College with a degree in economics, Munson, who is originally from the East Coast, kept moving west before eventually landing in San Francisco.
“I started to interview with people in that business,” Munson said, “and ultimately found someone who was a research analyst, and I was so fascinated by what his job was that I said ‘oh, I want to do that.’”
Critical for Munson is the point at which her career began. Most of her career has been spent working in the technology sector. “I’ve always tried to keep moving forward to things that are interesting along the way,” Munson said, “and I’ve been really lucky because my first job was in the technology investing business, and that was in 1992.”
Since then, the technology market has grown exponentially. Munson even joked that when she went to college, there was no internet and no computers: she was armed only with a Smith Corona word processor.
“So I hit it at the right time,” Munson said. “It’s a fascinating industry and a fascinating business that’s changed people’s lives immeasurably. It’s been such a fun industry to be in, I can’t imagine being in another.”
Though ‘Big Tech,’ as it is often called, is constantly under scrutiny, Munson sees both advantages and disadvantages to the ubiquity of technology in everyday life.
“I think that the remarkable increase in progress as a result of a connected world is tremendous,” Munson said. “There’s a lot of human progress as a result of tech.”
In addition, Munson also addressed some of her concerns about technology, including the oversized share of the market held by Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, and Google, as well as disruptions in political processes aided by technology.
What most concerns Munson, however, is the social side effects of technology usage. “Right now, we are seeing rates of depression in young folks that are sort of unprecedented,” she said. “… technology sometimes makes that worse.”
In her advice to students entering business or any other field, Munson said “I really believe in staying positive and working hard. It doesn’t always happen, not everyday is great… but in general I just think that there’s a lot of opportunity out there and with a great education like you guys have here, and a little creativity, people can craft together really interesting, fun careers.”
Munson, who clearly enjoys her work and career, advised students that though work is work, they should enjoy what they do. “It is the majority of your life,” she said. “So you might as well have fun doing it.”