From Google for Startups to Startup Weekend to Rise of the Rest and beyond, Mary Grove is passionate about community-driven change, and helping make it happen.
Mary Grove is passionate about community-driven change, and this theme has guided her entire career.
She joined Google when it had only 2000 employees, and by the time she left it was up to around 75,000. Over 14 years, she went from working on the IPO deal team to starting Google for Startups.
Google for Startups’ very first partner was Startup Weekend, which Mary helped to spread from a few dozen to 140 countries, vastly broadening its impact.
Today, she’s a partner at Rise of the Rest Seed Fund, the co-founder of Silicon North Stars, and on the Advisory Board for the Techstars Foundation.
Mary talks with Brad Feld about the joys of empowering entrepreneurs across the globe, and the transformations she has seen.
This is #GiveFirst at scale. We love it.
Companies, resources, and people mentioned in this podcast:
Becoming, by Michelle Obama
Be Fearless, by Jean Case
Google for Entrepreneurs – became Google for Startups
UP Global – acquired by Techstars
Edited highlights from the conversation:
Google for Startups, Startup Weekend, & Techstars
Brad: Let’s start off by hearing a story about how you ended up at Google working on Google for Entrepreneurs.
Mary: Sure. I had the great privilege of joining Google in 2004. I was coming out of Stanford on my way to law school, and I thought I would just pause for a year or so and take a job at what was then a small company called Google. I joined the legal team back in 2004, and I actually worked on the IPO deal team for my first year, which was a fascinating and wonderful experience, with the process of going public and really being part of a very fast growing organization.
When I joined Google, we were about 2000 people. When I left almost exactly a year ago, Google was about 75,000 people. So it was a great 14 year run where I learned a tremendous amount, and I’m super grateful for the experience.
Brad: Going from a startup of 2000 to 75,000 employees is quite a change.
Mary: It really was. And it was really remarkable, Brad, to watch our co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin on that journey and see how they were able to scale the culture.
As the organization scaled to be that large, I had the opportunity to travel to probably about 40 different countries to visit Google offices, and I was always so struck by the fact that each office had its local flavor and honored the local country, but really also had such a consistency of culture and spirit. I’m happy to talk more about some of those values, which are certainly core core lessons that I carry with me today.
Brad: You were at Google for a long time, but there was a shift in your role at some point from the operating business in the legal group to this new thing that got created called Google for Entrepreneurs. My guess is many of our listeners know what Google for Entrepreneurs is, but maybe talk about it for a few minutes, how it got started, and what your initial involvement was.
Mary: After my work on the IPO, we were a public company. I then spent the next six years as a part of a team called new business development, which was led by Megan Smith, one of Google’s most amazing leaders. I worked for her for six years and that team was really working on early stage product, business development, expansion into emerging markets. That’s where I truly fell in love with the company—certainly the culture, but also what was happening on the business and product side, particularly around access.
I spent a lot of time working on emerging markets and very emerging markets. We had a project called the bottom 20, which was looking at the twenty least connected countries in the world from an access and infrastructure perspective. We put together a cross functional Google team focused on how Google could help both from a Google Inc. perspective and also from a Google.org philanthropic perspective. I had the opportunity to spend time in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Gaza, the West Bank. Really, through that journey, what was most exciting to me was the opportunity that entrepreneurship created in these markets.
Google could have a direct impact. If we could help fuel and foster startup communities, that would build a platform for true economic development locally and globally.
Fast forward to 2011. Our senior leadership team at Google recognized that so many teams across Google were dabbling in activities supporting startups, but there wasn’t a consolidated, proactive effort around this. I had the opportunity to give some thought to that, based on the work that I had been doing on Megan Smith’s team, and essentially pitch what became a new team.
That’s Google for Entrepreneurs, which today is called Google for Startups.
Essentially our mission was to bring the best of Google’s resources to accelerate the growth of startups and entrepreneurial ecosystems. That included our capital, our talent, our technology. That’s actually what led me to the journey to meeting Startup Weekend and ultimately Techstars. Google for Entrepreneurs was a really amazing part of my Google experience. Through that we partnered with about 60 organizations, who I really believe are best-in-class groups like Startup Grind, Startup Weekend, Techstars. You name the continent, we were able to be there supporting the greatest community leaders. And it was a great time.
Brad: Our first introduction was made by Mark Nager around Startup Weekend on some kind of video thing that we did together around 2011-ish talking about startup communities. I’m not 100% sure that’s right. But that’s what I kind of vaguely remember.
Mary: I think we did a Google hangout.
Brad: What are some of your recollections around those early experiences that you had with Startup Weekend and it’s evolution towards what ultimately became UP Global?
Mary: Startup Weekend has a truly dear place in my heart and my memory. We started Google for Entrepreneurs back in 2011, and immediately we believed that partnerships would be a fundamental part of the work. There would be some direct work that Google did in the field, but really the way to get scale and impact was by working with best-in-class partners.
The very first partnership we ever signed was with Startup Weekend in 2011. I had attended an early Startup Weekend a couple of years back when I lived in New York City. I was really, really impressed with the format, so I caught up with Mark Nager and told him that we just believed in the power of this 54 hour event format and the fact that it was all about community-driven change. Our partnership really was to enable Startup Weekend to take that model and expand it from a few dozen countries ultimately into 140 countries. That was important in Google for Entrepreneurs’ history, because we found a partner who so fully aligned with us from both a mission and an execution perspective. They assembled a fantastic board with really great talent, which is how I was connected to you—and the rest is history.
Brad: What was your first memory of Techstars and your first involvement with Techstars?
Mary: We got very involved with Startup Weekend, which ultimately became UP Global, as you mentioned. Then when UP Global and Techstars merged, our relationship only continued to grow from there. Through Google for Entrepreneurs, we expanded the partnership with Techstars to continue to support those programs, as well as additional work including the Techstars Foundation. I was very struck by the scale and the breadth of Techstars in terms of the geographic reach, the sector reach, and the consistent quality across the board, which I think is really, really hard to achieve at scale.
Another touch point I have now is in my new home city of Minneapolis, where this past year I served as a mentor in both programs here, both the Techstars Retail and the Techstars Farm to Fork accelerators. Those were really fantastic—to get to actually see a full program from start to finish, to meet every one of the companies and even follow up with them. I’m still in touch with some now in due diligence for investment opportunities, and that’s just from two of the programs. I continue to enjoy that relationship.
The third piece is that I am on the advisory board of the Techstars Foundation, which I just absolutely love. I think that’s the embodiment of the Gift First mantra, which Techstars has always had. Formalizing that in the form of a foundation that not only supports entrepreneurs directly, but supports the community leaders who enable them—there are so few groups out there that do that. I myself also run a nonprofit called Silicon North Stars, and I know firsthand that it can be hard to find organizations who actually fund the organizations doing the work. I really applaud Techstars for the foundation initiative.
Rapid Fire Round
Brad: What’s your favorite city in the world?
Mary: I would say New York City. I had the opportunity to live there for five years during my time at Google, and I just felt like it was an extraordinary melting pot of hopes and dreams, energy and electricity, and the exposure to so many different cultures. It’s not a city that I spend much time in these days, but it is very close to my heart and one that I deeply love.
Brad: Great. Second: an impactful book that you’ve read recently.
Mary: I’m just about to finish up Jean Case’s book Be Fearless, which is her newest release. We talk a lot about how to create a strong culture of entrepreneurship. I do believe that so much of it is the culture. By that I mean this lack of fear of failure, embracing this notion that it’s okay to put it out there, to iterate quickly, to get harsh feedback immediately, and to pick up and keep moving on. I really appreciate all of the stories that she weaves in. They’re very practical advice that is super helpful for any entrepreneur, but especially for those who are just starting out. It can be a daunting journey.
Brad: I read a prerelease of the book and I thought Jean did a fantastic job. I’d echo that recommendation: it’s inspirational as well as instructive. Jean did a great job of not just curating the stories but also weaving her own experience through those stories. It’s a fun one.
Next up: favorite charity and why?
Mary: This is a very biased answer, and I’m not sure if I’m allowed to self plug here, but the charity that is dearest to my heart is a nonprofit called Silicon North Stars, which my husband Steve and I started together in 2013. At the time we were both living in Silicon Valley and working at Google. We recently moved to Minnesota. Steve is from here originally. I was born in Iowa and we both have a ton of family here in the Midwest. We started to look at Silicon North Stars as a way to really build a bridge from the communities we were from to where we lived. Our mission is to inspire and educate young Minnesotans towards futures in tech. We specifically target economically underserved youth. Every year we choose a cohort of a couple of dozen rising ninth graders and we take them on a trip to Silicon Valley for a week, expose them to all the magic there, come back to Minnesota, and then provide them with year-round programming and support for the next four years of high school until they start college.
This was a personal passion project. We bootstrapped it because we were both very privileged to come from entrepreneurial families, who to me embody the American dream. We wanted to give others that opportunity as well. We’re very grateful that the organization has scaled. Now we’re back in Minnesota, so we’re actually expanding the program for 2019. I should mention, Brad, that Techstars has been hugely helpful locally.
Brad: Homestretch. Last question. Who is a person that you’ve never met—either alive or dead—who you’d love to have dinner with?
Mary: I would say Michelle Obama. I’ve also just finished reading Becoming, her memoir, and I have always been a huge fan of the causes that she advocates for. I would love to have the opportunity to dine with her and to really pick her brain on how to apply some of those themes to our daily work and our daily life.