How This Ex-Google Exec & CEO Paved Her Way Into Opportunity (with Ulu Ventures' Miriam Rivera)

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This is a podcast episode titled, How This Ex-Google Exec & CEO Paved Her Way Into Opportunity (with Ulu Ventures' Miriam Rivera). The summary for this episode is: <p>“Part of the reason I think diverse teams outperform is because a lot of the times you have people that are hungry to succeed and you have people who are not just doing it for themselves.”</p><p><br></p><p>Miriam Rivera paved her own way into tech. Growing up a Puerto Rican in New York, Miriam found her way to a private high school in New Hampshire, went onto Stanford, which introduced her to tech, and from there, onto Google.</p><p><br></p><p>Miriam learned a lot of things on this journey, like what "old money" vs "new money" looks like, the value of ownership, and the importance of diversity from the top down. </p><p><br></p><p>She and Elias get into all of these learnings on this week's episode of The American Dream.</p><p><br></p><p>Be sure to hit the subscribe button to get new episodes when they drop every other Tuesday.</p><p><br></p><p>In the meantime, be sure to leave a ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ review and share the pod with your friends. You can connect with Elias on Twitter at @eliast and @DriftPodcasts.</p>

Elias Torres: Hola. I'm Elias Torres, co- founder and CTO of Drift. You are listening to the American Dream podcast. Did you know that Drift is part of just 2% of VC- backed startups, led by Latin American founders. Well, I'm on a mission to change that. On this show, you will hear from leaders who have achieved their own version of the American dream. We'll talk about what the process looked like to get there, the obstacles they faced along the way, and the work we still have to do to build the new face of a diverse corporate America. foreign language to the American Dream podcast. Today, I am joined by Miriam Rivera. Miriam is the CEO and managing director of Ulu Ventures, an early seed stage venture fund, focused on IT startups. After a five- year run as a Google deputy counsel, general counsel, and helping the lead the team from 85 million to over 10 billion in revenue, Miriam realized it was Google's diverse leadership that influenced the company's success. At the same time, a lot of Google's engineers were moving back to their home countries to raise capital for startups. So thinking there should be no need for entrepreneurs to leave the country just to fundraise, Miriam started Ulu ventures with the mission to fund it startups, to help make the VC world look more representative of the United States as a whole. Today, Miriam is going to tell us more about this experiences. So let's get right into it. Miriam, welcome to the show. foreign language.

Miriam Rivera: Gracias, Elias. foreign language.

Elias Torres: Yeah. Wow, so you're from Puerto Rico. We were talking a little bit earlier.

Miriam Rivera: Yes, that's right.

Elias Torres: Were you born there or in the United States?

Miriam Rivera: I was born in New York, like a lot of Puerto Ricans. But I grew up in Chicago, actually, before coming to California and making my home here. The weather is much more similar and better here than it was in Chicago, let's put it that way.

Elias Torres: Chicago does not look like Puerto Rico at all. Puerto Rico, I was telling you, I just went to a Bad Bunny concert in Boston, and I watch a documentary recently about him that cover a little bit of the history of Puerto Rico. So I was getting educated through music and through this artist journey, which is unbelievable. And one of the things that I love about him is that he's so proud of being Latino and making Latino culture and music and art global, and that people across the whole world are learning Spanish through his songs and that they love him. And he says, " I don't want to change. I don't want to be American. I don't want to sing in English. I want to sing in Spanish, and people in the United States are liking me without me having to play music they like. I play what we create here in the island." It was a powerful message.

Miriam Rivera: I saw that, MTV Awards. Yeah. There's a billion Spanish speakers in the world. So it's one of the most spoken languages in the world. And Puerto Rico, being such a small island has had a disproportionate impact on music around the world, and certainly in terms of the dance music and salsa, and now with rap music as well. And I think it's partly because it is such a syncretic, with lots of people from origins in Africa, Europe, as well as Indigenous people.

Elias Torres: Love that, love that. How many years at Google?

Miriam Rivera: I was at Google for five years, between 2001 and 2006.

Elias Torres: Right. My good memory. I remember I just read that. So five years, but you saw a critical path on the revenue growth, the acceleration, the explosion of the revenue.

Miriam Rivera: Yeah. They were dog years, is how to think about it. We went from being an$ 85 million revenue company the year that I started to being a$ 10 billion revenue company within five years. And so, that kind of growth is one of the fastest growth that existed at that time in US history. I think Facebook has grown at a similar level. And so, there are a few companies that have this growth trajectory. And I think another factor is there's a few companies that have this kind of impact on how we live our lives. And one of the things that I'm really proud of, about the work that I did at Google, is that we made the world's information universally accessible and useful. That's the mission. And I remember, I worked in the library when I was a kid in high school. I went to the library to learn how to do things, like file my parents' taxes so I could fill out the FAFSA, so I could apply for financial aid to go to a private high school and then to go to college. And the librarians were always really helpful. But if you remember, there used to be books that were locked up behind the counter. They were only for reference, or sometimes you had to ask for permission to see a book, like Our Bodies, Ourselves. And now, with Google, there's so many things that used to be locked up in offices or in buildings, archives, libraries around the world, that are available to everyone 24/7. And I think that's one of the things that I'm most proud of about the work that I did at Google.

Elias Torres: Yeah. And it's good. There's a lot of controversy with companies like Amazon. I mean, we got Microsoft, Facebook, Amazon, Google, Apple, these are another echelon of companies affecting the way that the whole world lives. And Facebook is under a lot of controversy because of the information, how they distribute information and what can be done through those channels, versus what Google had a really good model and made information accessible. That was very novel at the time in many ways, and really changed the world to be able to have all that information at the fingertips. Very fortunate. There's so many things I want to ask. I think we can talk about how you got there, which is you already gave me a little hint of that and just shows who you are. It's like what a Latino child, daughter of immigrants has to do, which is go to the library, help them file taxes. How many Latinos do I know that have a little business on the side, that that's how they live? And they're like, " I'm not reporting my taxes. I get this little cash. They're going to take my money." And I see the conversations families have to have to say, " No, you got to start filing this information if you want to have some sort of Medicaid or retirement in the future, or Social Security." And you went and did that as a young child, right? Tell me more, tell me more. So show people how it has to be done when you're an immigrant.

Miriam Rivera: So we were a big family. We had five kids. My mom was raising the five of us by herself after a certain point. And I remember she used to give me 50 cents for the bus fare to go to the library, because I was a big reader. And I would pocket the money, walk to the library, so I could get an ice cream cone with the money instead. And I didn't realize I was probably giving myself positive reinforcement for going to the library, both in the form of books that I liked to read, but also in the ice cream, which I didn't get too much of. So that was part of how I developed the love of reading was reinforcing with ice cream. And then when I went to high school, I did go to private high school. I went away to boarding school for a couple of years, and then I graduated, ultimately, from a private school in Chicago, before coming out to Stanford. And then I stuck around Stanford for 10 years and earned four degrees there. Although, there were times when I was working in between those years. And that gave me both confidence in terms of, I was competing with some of the best students in the country at these schools, in high school and in college. And I was performing at very high level within that population. And so that gave me self confidence. And then, two, it gave me a real sense for the kinds of skills that I would ultimately use in my work. And it was kind of funny, because I would tell my kids, I was a good student and that helped me be a good lawyer, because I actually like reading, writing and talking. And a lot of what you do in the law and also in venture capital has something to do with some of those skills. So it was definitely good preparation.

Elias Torres: And Latinos are really good at talking, so we got that just at birth. I love hearing the stories of really successful people. And there's just so many things are going on my mind right now. Because, I don't know, I'm assuming, but what you did, this is the access that we normally don't have. By you figuring out one way or another to go to that private school and to go to that boarding school, put you in a group of people that, for you, it was the obvious thing, it was, you were going to apply to Stanford. I did not have that circle of people in my high school. I went to Leto High School, in Tampa, Florida. And there was a lot of teen pregnancies, there was a lot of gangs, there was a lot of people... The ones causing those pregnancies and they're like, " Well, we got to now work at Home Depot and we're going to have to start a family." And that was what my circle of people. And I went to USF because it was down the road from my house, and it's like, I need to pay in- state tuition. I'm like, how do I make it in there? One time, when I moved up North, when I graduated, they said to me, " Oh, the schools of the North they're great schools." And I was like, " What does that mean? What are the schools in the North, right?" This is me after I graduated college. I did not know Harvard or MIT existed. I did not what Ivy league was. I was like... I just recently learned that, I don't know, about 10 years ago. And so, you going there opens up. It's just influence. And in that confidence that we all lack, I'll say now, that performing at Stanford, anyone can do it. I think that it's, there's people, the grit that people have built in, the intelligence, the talents, the problem is that there's an access problem, and there's a little bit of a preparation that you need. But you were building that through the boarding school, through the private, that allowed you to feel confident to be there. Tell me more about that. How do we replicate that to others?

Miriam Rivera: So I had just these amazing teachers, I have to say. When I was in middle school, and I was in a middle school like yours. Pregnancy was not that uncommon in my middle school, to be honest, right? And so, that environment was one with a lot of challenges. And I also feel, in a way, it was easier to be a girl in terms of navigating my neighborhood. There were not a lot of girl gangs with gun violence. Whereas, in my neighborhood there were definitely gangs and they were typically recruiting boys as early as middle school and high school. So I think that created the potential for more trouble at that age than maybe I had. And even when I went to boarding school, we lost a couple of the African American students that went home and didn't make it back, because they were gunned down in Chicago. One of them in Chicago, one of them in Boston.

Elias Torres: Wow.

Miriam Rivera: So, the kids that were going to these schools were from these areas as well. And I think that's one of the reasons why it did increase my confidence is because, even though we might not have gone to the same kind of schools, we didn't live in the same kinds of neighborhoods, our capabilities were the same. And you're right, we wanted it more, let's put it that way, in terms of grit and the foreign language that you have to have, I think, to succeed. Which is part of why I think diverse teams outperform is, because a lot of the times, you have people that are hungry to succeed and you have people that are not just doing it for themselves. They're thinking, " I've got to support my mom," or" I've got to support family members." And so, that gives you additional motivation, which also is very important, in addition to preparation, as motivation. And so, for me, that was how I got started on that path. I literally had a teacher who came to me and said, " Hey, this scholarship program, A Better Chance, is coming to Chicago. They're sending kids to boarding schools, where 90% of the kids go to college, and you should go to this event." And I'm like, " Okay, I'll go to this event." And pretty much when I saw the story about how all these kids go to college, I'm like, " Okay, where do I sign up?" And then I just did all the other things that were required, like figuring out how do I get a fee waiver for the test? How do I get to the place where they're going to do the test on the weekend? We didn't have test prep in those days. But they would send you the booklet, and I made sure to prepare. And then took the test, did the written application and was able to get in. And then I went. And then, one of the good things was, I was in a very different culture and community than what I'd been in before. I went to Phillips Exeter Academy, which is in New Hampshire. It was in a town of 10, 000 people, I think 98% of whom were white, and I'd never been in such a place before. And so, it was very foreign to me, but doing well there felt like, okay, if I could do well here, I can do well anywhere, like that song about New York. And so, I ended up deciding, well, now that I know I can do this, I can go to college from a different high school that's in Chicago, in a more diverse community, that I feel more comfortable in. So I did go and transfer to a private school in Chicago, and from there came to Stanford. So it's also about trying to choose environments where you feel you're going to be more successful. And I do think that, for a lot of students, it's about the community. Do you make friends? Do you know faculty members? Those are two of the things that are most indicative of whether a student actually completes college. Because if you don't feel like you belong, it's going to be hard for you to do all the work that you need to do, to do well in your classes.

Elias Torres: Yeah. That's such a last piece of wisdom you dropped, that's magical. I mean, it's so simple. And I only got access to Harvard, I applied for my master's and I got rejected. Even though I had the people that wrote Unix. Most of the people that recommended are fellow scientists at Google now. They were IBM fellows, and they still said, no, I didn't have the experience. And I took classes on the side at the extension school, and I had to befriend or show up or force myself into the office of the teacher, so the professors from undergrad, until they wrote me the letters. And then I felt like I had some connection. But imagine me showing up at Harvard and not knowing anything, trying to walk into that campus, no idea. And then New Hampshire, not enough said, I don't like driving through New Hampshire. You stop at those gas station, rest area services and I feel scare there.

Miriam Rivera: I have friends that live there. But it's all about getting to know people and them getting to know you, and you can feel safe anywhere. Because I used to feel safe walking in my neighborhood, partly because my mother was a woman who was respected in our community. She worked at the public health center, people knew her, the kids' parents knew her, so they didn't really mess with us that much. So I think that's helpful, too.

Elias Torres: What a great role model to have your mother be respected, serving the community. There's a code, there's a code that people don't... At all classes, economic classes, political classes, if you have true respect and you do the right thing, people respect you. And that's something that we always got to carry with us. Beautiful story. And so, you're at Stanford and that's basically one step away from Google. Stanford right into Google.

Miriam Rivera: I think-

Elias Torres: That's the ticket.

Miriam Rivera: ... it was maybe20- something years or something. So I won't say it was straight to Google. But I will say that, because I came to Stanford, I think I probably moved in a direction that would lead me to Google. And also, because I was in a private school... An odd thing is that in the late'70s and early'80s when I was in high school, I was learning how to code. So I had three years of coding as part of my math curriculum in high school before I came to Stanford, so I had an awareness of technology. And then during that time was when the personal computer came into existence, right? And so, I had literally learned on the old mini computers. They used to be in a refrigerated room and you'd be at a terminal and that's how you did your computer science homework. But in terms of the college experience, very soon after arriving, the Apple computers came out and we were moving from typewriters to computers. So I had early exposure to that in a way that I think even a lot of other parts of the United States didn't have such early access. And so, I think it's Malcolm Gladwell, in Outliers, he really talks about how sometimes just being early to something is part of why you can end up being successful in something. And I believe that that's been true fortuitously, just by planting myself in Silicon Valley. So I was early to the personal computer revolution, and then I went into software after I did the JD- MBA and I was doing enterprise software. And then because of the 2001 bust, I ended up moving to Google, which was moving to the internet. And I'm old enough that when I graduated law school and business school, I was working on an IPO for the first- generation search engine companies, and there were 39 million users of the internet in the entire world. So that is early. And at Google, I was in the first 1% of the people that were hired. And so, by being early, you sometimes get access to opportunity, like the early bird catches the worm is that saying.

Elias Torres: Yeah. No. I'm old, too. I'm old. My father got... I got started with... I lived in LA with him in the'80s, and I had this IBM PC that I had WordPerfect, monochrome, dot matrix printer, and there was the Apple IIC computer at the school, that I was the only one turning in a typed, a printed homework. Because everybody was just handwriting them, and I was just tinkering with that in the garage by myself. I think being early, being in places is just amazing. I always felt, at the beginning of the internet, I have a friend that joined Google really early, Kevin Gibbs, and he was doing app engine. He went there in 2003 to Google right, I think, before or after IPO. And then we also had, I remember using Netscape and working on those things early on, Netscape 0. 0 Andreessen. And I felt I missed a little bit of that bandwagon. I know people were moving to California early. So I always felt like, " When am I going to catch the wave? When am I going to catch the wave?" And my first job at IBM was building chat bots in 1999. And then he came back. I think that that's a great encouragement to give to people, to go where places are new. The problem is that Latinos might not have the leisure, the disposable income, the ability to be in those places, because they're stuck in a zip code. They're stuck providing for their families, they stuck struggling with poverty and trouble in their lives, and they cannot be where this new things are happening, whether it be cryptography, whether it be AI, whether would be augmented reality, VR, but a lot of-

Miriam Rivera: Well, that's really changing so much, right?

Elias Torres: Yeah.

Miriam Rivera: Because the internet itself has enabled people to be producing technology in various parts of the world. And it can happen in the hood, it can happen in Florida, Texas, et cetera. I certainly think doing it in Silicon Valley gives you potentially greater access to capital to do it. But in terms of the technology, enables people to be able to do it around the world and around the country. And I don't think you have to be as physically mobile as you used to have to be in order to get opportunity.

Elias Torres: Is changing, but I feel like you still need people around you to talk, to inspire you, to hire you. Miami's picking up, getting some crypto concentration, which is great. The Valley's still great, Boston, New York, Chicago has. But you still have to go from the poor area and the gang- ridden areas to, you have to go find where they are. You went to Exeter, right? You went to Phillips, right? You went to the private schools, and it's a different circle. And I think that we should encourage people to fight, like you did, to find a way there, because there's a way. There's always a way. Imagine it through this podcast we can encourage thousands of children, Latino children in the United States, to apply to all these boarding schools and bombard them and fill them with applications. And they say... Out of thousands, they accept a hundred in each school or 20. Imagine what those people are going to do when they get to your age and in your career, and lives will change.

Miriam Rivera: And I think you're exactly right, that a lot of the times, it's others that help inspire you to look somewhere or look for opportunity. And that I was fortunate in having those great teachers. I remember this, the SVP for engineering at Google, Alan Eustace. He was from Florida, and his father basically encouraged him to stay in Florida for college. And he didn't have that fancy degree, but he still ended up being the senior vice president for engineering at one of the best engineering companies in the country. So I think it's always a matter of where you are, do the best that you can in that environment, and hopefully that will create its own access to other opportunities.

Elias Torres: Yeah. The one I know is Bill Coughran?

Miriam Rivera: Yeah. I met him, and I think he's at Sequoia, too, as a-

Elias Torres: He's at Sequoia now. Yeah.

Miriam Rivera: ...inaudible partner.

Elias Torres: Unbelievable, that this people... Just being at the right time at the right place. And what we need to do is get Latinos in the right place at the right time. Encourage them to, because we got plenty of people. So a couple of questions I have. So Google, you're being quoted saying that part of Google's success is diverse teams. I mean, I cannot picture that. Tell me about this. You were inside. I cannot, I wasn't inside.

Miriam Rivera: Well, part of it was, in the original group of vice presidents, there were 13 vice presidents in the founders. And when you think about that group, they had three women in it, which is already a lot compared to even now, I think, and then there were two people that were immigrants. They were immigrants from Iran. And one of them at 12 years old had asked his mom, " We need to leave Iran," because his father had died and he was the man in charge. So they moved to London and then they moved to California and he went to San Jose State, and that's how he broke into the tech sector. And one of the founders is the child of immigrants, Sergey Brin is a child of immigrants. And so even though it's a relatively small group of people, there's some diversity in that community. And then the first general counsel of Google was an African American and he was the son of a Tuskegee airman. And the first CFO of Google was a Cuban American. So it was more diverse as a leadership team than I think a lot of the times people expect. And I'm not saying it stayed that way, but for me, it was a point of inspiration. Because I would see people from different walks of life in these rooms, making these decisions around companies, and do we do this deal? Do we not do this deal? What product do we create? And maybe because I'm Puerto Rican, I feel a lot of affinity towards immigrants. We're Americans, but I feel like Puerto Rico's a different country in its own right. And so, just seeing all these engineers that were coming from around the world, from Latin America, from Mexico, some of them from the Caribbean, some of them from Brazil, some of them from India. I related to them because of my background, feeling like an immigrant here in my own country, if you will, in the US. And so, to me, seeing that diversity and seeing how many of the best engineers were people that spoke other languages, they were people that had different skin color, that felt like it was empowering to me, as well as the fact that some of the leadership team included women, and included women that had children, too. There's a lot of the times when I had worked in environments, like law firms, where some of the women partners had been able to do that, but only because they didn't have children or families, necessarily. And I don't think you should have to sacrifice to that extent to succeed, that you don't even have your own children or have a family of your own.

Elias Torres: Yeah, I totally agree. At the risk of staying the wrong thing, there's a lot of controversy right now and people don't want to hear the words work hard to achieve great success, right? People want to have this super crazy life- work balance. I'm pro work. I like working, but never, never against not supporting mothers and children. I have three children that I was able to raise with my wife, with Alejandra, during startup years. I was going to school, I was working at IBM and through four startups. It has to be done. You have to have flexibility for that, because if not, the world will end if we wouldn't support such a thing.

Miriam Rivera: Right. I mean, think for many of us, it's one of the most meaningful things that we do in our lives is have and raise our children. I'm not saying you have to have children, right? I have a inaudible-

Elias Torres: Right, right, right. If you can, and you want to-

Elias Torres: ...but

Elias Torres: it's going to be hard.

Miriam Rivera: ...just have a career.

Elias Torres: But it is hard. It is hard to have children, even if you were dedicated full time and you had all the money in the world. And it's hard if you have to work and get it.

Miriam Rivera: inaudible.

Elias Torres: Super challenging. I think, is it Jorge Reyes, George Reyes, is that the CFO?

Miriam Rivera: Yeah. The first CFO of Google.

Elias Torres: And there was a name I remember. There's a guy, was it Brazil... Barroso or something? There was a engineer.

Miriam Rivera: He was one of the first Latin American engineers inaudible-

Elias Torres: Brazilian, I think, was right?

Miriam Rivera: Brazilian.

Elias Torres: He was the one creating the chips and the computers for the data centers. I remember he came and spoke at Harvard. That's so awesome, right? Maybe is a story that is not really told much of that diversity. And it was really encouraging when I see Latinos hidden in these organizations, building great things and not value enough, undervalue, underappreciated, under marketed, because we need role models. Like this guy, the chips that he built, the computers, I heard him speak. He was a genius. He was the one who made those computers super inexpensive. Just laying there, flat open chip so you can just discard them and just build as many as you can. An unbelievable genius there. That's great. You talked about old money. Do you know what I'm talking about? Old money, new money, East Coast, West Coast. What is that about? Tell me, you've seen it both. Is Philip Exeter is old money?

Miriam Rivera: So when I went out... Yeah. Obviously, a lot of the folks that have gone there include some of the leading families in the country. You might know their names, because they're on the buildings in New York City, for example. And I had, obviously, never come from that world, where if somebody's name is Getty, it really is a Getty or it really is a Rockefeller or that kind of thing. So it was an interesting environment to go to. And I think people, because of that they're... And I'm saying there's a lot of opportunity as well for people that go out East and that break into some of these inner circles, if you will, through school and through working in companies like that. But I felt coming to Stanford, it was again, early days in some of these changes in our technology. And that kind of technology is always about new waves and new things that are coming into existence. And so, it creates, I think, more opportunity to potentially get onboarded into a new area of technology as it's gaining primacy. And so, that was something that I didn't necessarily know coming here as an undergraduate, but I had that sense of that it would be a place of greater opportunity for a person who really didn't come from much. And I came sight unseen to Stanford. I had been able to visit some of the other schools. Because I remember buying a 99 or $ 199 Amtrak ticket, and I could see as many schools in a week as I could get to with that$ 199 ticket. But I hadn't been able to come this far. And so I came. And in many ways, I think that really was a land of great opportunity for me, that I wasn't sure how it would work or that I would work in tech, initially, at all. But just being in this environment where you see people creating things from scratch that didn't use to exist and you see them scaling companies that start in a garage or a dorm room, and then they're eventually going public on the New York Stock Exchange or NASDAQ is a pretty intoxicating form of opportunity.

Elias Torres: Yeah. I couldn't agree more. I have such a bias. I would like every Latino in this country to study CS and force their way into tech en masse. And people will be like, " Well, Elias, not everybody wants to do it." It doesn't matter. Just study it, figure it out. Even if it's a low GPA, go do it, learn it, watch it. And then you can say, " I like working with my hands. I like art. I like this." And then you can go and say, " Well, go create and build anything you want." But you got to see this firsthand or whatever hand you can see it. But it's like, because just being in tech and creating and building and taking companies public or selling company now excites me about how do you build any other kind of organization for any other kind of purpose? It's such a powerful experience that allows you to go conquer the world.

Miriam Rivera: I agree with you this idea of creating. That for most of us, we're consumers of technology, but we're not creators of technology. And one of the advantages that we have as Latinos is that many of us are bilingual, bicultural. And I just think of technology and coding as learning another language system. And so, you've already got one, you can learn the others.

Elias Torres: Yeah. My daughter is studying computer science at Northeastern, my two sons are in high school, and my middle son, he's going to be a computer science. He's going to do it. The youngest, it's an artist. He loves drawing stuff. So I'm not pushing him at all, but he hears a lot of conversations. And the other day I had to take a test, an aptitude test, long story. He took it. He scored better than me without practicing, without nothing, he just did.

Miriam Rivera: That's awesome.

Elias Torres: 18- second question, 50 questions. Boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. And he's great at math, but he's a great artist. And so, I said to him, " You're really smart. You can do computers." And he's like, " No, dad. But it's like another language. I don't understand it. It's Chinese. It looks scary." And I said, " If you could do that test and if you can do the math and if you can draw, you're more than capable of learning that. It's so easy. And I think that stuck with them. And I like that. There's a Carla Brodley, she was the dean at Northeastern, computer science. And she's working with the Melinda Gates Foundation. And she's pushing for this interdisciplinary education and promote dual degrees instead of single degrees, because it'll expose people, how do we mix everything with CS? So you can have economics, you can have biology, chemistry, physics, law, whatever, and just mix it all up. And that way, people have less classes to take that are wasting their time or pruning them out. What's it... weeding them out? That tech instruction that you got in high school just created so much power in you, because you were less afraid of it.

Miriam Rivera: Yeah, absolutely.

Elias Torres: You were like, yeah, whatever. It's like, " What's the big deal?" Which is great. It's overconfidence, maybe, but it puts you in the right spot, right?

Miriam Rivera: And I think this idea of trying to get kids to be creators early. With my daughters, I try to get them both to take computer science in high school. One of them did, the other one. But the one that did, she started in middle school in a STEAM program, so it was also around the arts and Maker Studios and computing. And so, she has a different sensibility, where she's probably more artistic than she is... She's very good at math and science as well, but she really enjoys photography. And so, she's created her own website and she has her own photographs up there and her award- winning pictures. She's willing to put herself out there in designing something that displays her artistic skills, but through the use of technology. And I think you have to have both these days. If you're running any kind of business, you probably have to have a website and you probably have to have some ability for people to interact with the things that you create or sell. And oftentimes, the more facile you are with technology, the more that you can do.

Elias Torres: Absolutely, absolutely. I have a thing where my kids, in order for them to get a phone, they have to build an iPhone out that I can install from the App Store. And so without it, they don't get a phone. So my daughter has a phone since seventh grade and my son did the same thing. My youngest artist did not want to do the app. And so I said to him, " Well, you can do a showing of your art. And if you do a showing, if you do 20 drawings, rent a place, host your art, invite people." I was going to make him sell one, but he... He hasn't done it. So guess what? He doesn't have a phone yet. He's 16. So we were like, he has to build an app or do the showing. And so, I'm giving him that option. All the friends are like, " Build your app, Lucas. Just build your app. Get it done, so you have a phone."

Miriam Rivera: Yeah, that's great. I mean, I think if you're going to use it to play all these different apps that kids have on their phones, he should know what it takes to create one. And maybe that is the best incentive he can have to not just be a consumer of technology, but to be able to create it. And I'm not saying he has to be a coder his whole life, that's not what it's about. But I do think it helps you be effective in other areas of your career if you have that and you want to work in tech, which is one of the fastest- growing sectors for employment, and also for a lot of jobs that have the benefit of ownership. And that's another concept that I really encourage. Entrepreneurship really comes with one great advantage for many, which is that you can own part of the company that you're helping to build and create, and that that can create wealth for you. But it also gives you skills in thinking like an owner, which I think helps anybody to do a better job at whatever work they do. And hopefully, if they create their own company, they'll have learned a lot of lessons working in a different environment that they can apply to building their own businesses. And for most people, building your own businesses is one of the pathways to build personal wealth.

Elias Torres: Yeah. It is, it is. I struggle a lot and I'm trying to educate myself, because a lot of people... I move around many different circles, economic circles, and people always asking me, " How do I not depend on the check every day? Or, " How can I get out of this place? How can I buy a home? How can I buy a car?" And sometimes I see it is very hard. When people are like, " How do I become like you?" And I'm the only path I have is you have to be a business owner. You have to be... Recently, and now I'm pushing for... I had Adrian Mendoza inaudible, and he's like, " Well, you have to be an investor and you got to be an LP to funds. You got to play at that level of high returns." That's not the only places. Even the stock market's not going to necessarily make you wealthy, generationally. You have to create, or you have to invest in the early days and be an owner, be a funder. It's the only advice I have. And I like the way you were able to distill it to creators, what I was trying to say earlier, that when you learn to create, it's just creation. A lot of people get stuck in that creation. A lot of people tell me they have an idea, but they don't know how to start.

Miriam Rivera: And I think that idea of being an owner, creating things... I would tell my own daughters, if you want to be a photographer, one of them wanted to be a chef until she actually started working around restaurants, realized how hard that work is. She's like, " I think I want to be an eater and I don't think I want to be a chef anymore, mom." " Yep, that's fine." But I had always told them, I want you to learn a lot of the skills around building a business so that if you do want to be a chef, you know how to run your own restaurant. You can't make money in a restaurant if you don't know how many turns you can do on the tables. You don't know how much of a margin to charge on your wine, and you have to understand what it's going to cost you. That's all business. And you can't run a good restaurant without knowing how to manage people and how to get them to show up to work on time and motivate them to give good customer service. So there's a lot about learning business that you can learn in a business that you've already worked in, whether it be somebody else's or your parents or a small one that you create yourself, but you learn a lot of the same skills and they apply across the board, whether you're trying to build a Fortune 500 company or you're trying to run a McDonald's franchise, or you're trying to run a family restaurant. And I wanted them to learn both, things that they can create. Why do we learn how to write? We create a lot of things with writing. I used to create contracts that would be deals that could be generating billions of dollars of revenue for a company like Google. Those were just words, talking, reading, same thing you do at school every day. And then, in terms of running a team, I took a lot of classes in social psychology, psychology, organizational behavior, just a lot of the business classes that I took around human resources, and accounting and finance and all of those kind of things. You have to use them in any kind of business that you build, whether it be a small business or a big business.

Elias Torres: I love that. I love that.

Miriam Rivera: And partly, they give you the tools to research any kind of business that you think you might want to do and to learn from other people. I've done a lot of information interviews with people over the years, like this, to just learn about careers in law, when I was wanting to think about going to law school or go to business school, and try to understand how people use the skills that they get in those schools, in the careers that they're pursuing. So I think there's just so much that you can... They give you the foundations to learn anything, right?

Elias Torres: Yeah, absolutely.

Miriam Rivera: And that's why they're helpful.

Elias Torres: Yeah. And at every job, you're going to need to know how to write and how to talk. Latinos, it takes us six to eight generations to create generational wealth. And so, to do that, we're going to have to continue working harder, so we can reduce that and make it one or two. That's my camp.

Miriam Rivera: But you see what a difference you're making already in your child's life by investing in her education. And I think a lot of us that are Latinos, we do that in business and we do that in education, too. We help mentor the next generation at both work and at school.

Elias Torres: Thank you so much. That was really cool. I feel like, I hope people get out of this what I think I'm getting out of it. We were distilling everything. We were talking about VCs and work and success, but in the most fundamental levels. And I hope people catch that, that the stuff that we're talking about is so powerful, but it's at the really core, core of human nature of how we go about doing those things. Thanks for listening to the American Dream podcast. Make sure to hit subscribe, so you never miss when a new episode drops. If you like this episode, please leave a six- star review wherever you listen to your podcast. And if you're interested in learning more about my American Dream mission, subscribe to my newsletter, linked in the show notes.


“Part of the reason I think diverse teams outperform is because a lot of the times you have people that are hungry to succeed and you have people who are not just doing it for themselves.”

Miriam Rivera paved her own way into tech. Growing up a Puerto Rican in New York, Miriam found her way to a private high school in New Hampshire, went onto Stanford, which introduced her to tech, and from there, onto Google.

Miriam learned a lot of things on this journey, like what "old money" vs "new money" looks like, the value of ownership, and the importance of diversity from the top down.

She and Elias get into all of these learnings on this week's episode of The American Dream.

Key Moments:

  • (3:38) The dog years of Google
  • (7:26) Miriam’s journey to Google
  • (20:33) Elias’ tech journey
  • (25:58) How Google’s diversity made it successful
  • (32:00) Miriam’s experience meeting people from “old money” vs “new money”
  • (34:53) Elias’ bias toward computer science
  • (41:42) The great advantage of entrepreneurship 

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