Interview with Sarah Guo from Greylock — Building Trust from the Ground Up

In this episode of the Masters of Data podcast, I speak with Sarah Guo, general partner at Greylock Partners — a venture capital firm in Menlo Park, California. In only 5 years with Greylock, Sarah has already cemented a reputation as a savvy operator that understands what it is entrepreneurs go through and also maintains an impressive network of relationships beyond the C-Suite that gives her unique insights. The world of startups moves incredibly fast, and venture capitalists have a very unique vantage point from which they can synthesize a really deep understanding of what innovation is actually going on. That is literally part of their job. We connected during the recent Sumo Logic user conference Illuminate to discuss some key ideas surrounding building trust, the ethical treatment of sensitive data and how to position yourself as a brand your clients will trust regardless of your company’s size.

To help set the stage for why client trust is so crucial in today’s business world, Sarah shares with me a little about her own journey. Sarah has been at Greylock, which largely deals in enterprise and consumer technology investments, for roughly 5 years. And as she notes, the choice to come to Greylock was an opportunity to be a part of the great entrepreneurial journey across a broad range of technologies and try to move the needle for the companies she works with. The real value she sees though is how Greylock is beginning to change the tide with respect to customer care and trust with the companies they invest in. It’s no doubt that the current trend in the business world is for people to have increasing expectations when they’re interacting with a company. As Sarah and I discuss, customers today are really just asking “Do I trust you? Do I trust you with my data?”- which fuels their choice of working with a company or not.

The start-ups that Sarah and the Greylock team partner with understand the need to take these questions to heart now more than ever. As Sarah shares with me, one thing that companies are going to have to reckon with over the coming years is not just security of customer data, but having responsible encryption. She notes, there are so many product decisions that have a security and privacy angle today, that we’re going to see those skills and that thinking embedded in the product organization. But as she fears, there are not enough people out there that have the broad range of understanding needed to make these product decisions. The challenge then is that more people need to understand data security from a technical perspective, something Sarah sees in the upcoming generations. As she and I discuss, looking at the surveys around how millennials choose the brands that they want to be in business with or even employed by, reveals the need to take their concerns seriously. Why should this be such a concern to brands looking to acquire more customers? As Sarah sees it, millennials, Gen Z, and the following generations are so fluent with internet services, communication tools, and smartphones, that they just have a better sense of what it means to be surrounded by this technology all the time. Therefore they’re more cognizant of what is happening with their data. Because of this real concern, Sarah and her team talk about the decisions around consumer privacy, customer trust, from the very beginning of their processes.

A final area of discussion is centered around the future of technology as it relates to security and trust in industries not yet reached. In Sarah’s estimation, one area that has been neglected (because people are afraid of the pace of adoption) is real world vertical businesses. What she has in mind is anything from construction, to manufacturing, to real estate, to finance and banking, and insurance since many of these industries are slower adopters of new technologies for regulatory and structural reasons. While these industries have been slower to adopt changes historically, this makes them prime candidates for new ventures moving forward, creating opportunities she believes that firms like Greylock can bring real impact to.

Outbound Links & Resources Mentioned

The Masters of Data Episode is here on iTunes. You can also find it on Stitcher, Spotify, and your favorite podcast app.

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