Sarah builds conviction fast, regardless of the temperature in the room. She has an infectious energy that we’ve benefited from tremendously at Slack.Stewart Butterfield,
CEO and Co-founder of Slack
What was your personal journey to becoming an early stage investor?
Sarah — I never thought that the questions I was fascinated with— which political and economic institutions would benefit the greatest number of people— would lead me to venture. After college, I spent a year in Ghana at a ‘think tank’ learning more about their democratic institutions. I quickly realized that I could be a much more effective and authentic agent for change in a country where I lived and would spend decades rather than years— the US. ‘Distracted’ by a man named Barack Obama, I returned to Washington, DC. On a daily basis at the White House, not only was I lucky enough to be part of a small team working for Larry Summers drafting the response to the Great Recession, but I also learned from great minds about how our understanding of economics was evolving in response to the crisis. Back in SF after graduate studies in economics and business, I returned to my favorite bookstore, City Lights, and heard the author Dave Eggers who shared a poem about San Francisco as “the city of yes.” Spending my days with founders who think about what could be possible that doesn’t yet exist, and problem— solving with them and their teams to create something new in the world is an incredibly fulfilling experience.
Are robots coming for our jobs?
Sarah — Many people fear the ‘rise of the robots’ and the elimination of jobs. With almost every major technological advance, societies anticipate a permanent transition to a higher level of unemployment. However, data shows that historically we return to the same, natural level of employment in the medium term. I do not think this time is different. The advent of the internet and artificial intelligence will be similar to previous forms of technological innovation— some jobs will be ‘replaced’ by new technologies and new jobs will be created. It is important to acknowledge the near term impacts of these broad macroeconomic shifts that can have a meaningful influence on the lives of individuals. While I expect the natural level of unemployment to stay around 4.5% (excluding times of economic crisis) for the foreseeable future, I do think that workers most directly impacted by automation (likely relatively lower waged workers) will face higher rates of unemployment and wage pressure in the near term. As a society, with such significant macro shifts underway we should think through what support is necessary to make sure the economy is working for everyone.
How has your love of art shaped your investment philosophy?
Sarah — My two favorite artists are Picasso and Marcel Duchamp. There’s a quote of Picasso’s that I love”It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.” Picasso reduced subjects to their fundamental elements. He understood the core ideas behind something— shape, color, form—and made something beautiful out of them. I think to be a really great technologist and founder, you have to break something down to its first principles and create something that didn’t exist before. As an investor, I feel the same. I need to gain mastery of what I do, but also push past what has been done before and think about how the future will be different.
What I like most about Duchamp is that he took art into the conceptual realm and made art about ideas. I invest in design-first products for this reason. I think really good tech products are about ideas. They are smart, brilliant, and simple. Getting to that simplicity at the essence of something is what Duchamp accomplished. He was also provocative and a contrarian, and I like that both Picasso and Duchamp challenged the status quo.
Sarah invests in companies that define the future of work and communication. She is particularly interested in productivity, AI and new digital economies, having led investments in Notion, Gather, Quill and Linear. She is a board director at Grid.ai and Instabase, an observer at Pitch and was previously an observer at Slack.
Before Index, Sarah was at Alphabet's CapitalG where she spent four years investing in companies including Looker (acquired by Alphabet), MultiPlan (NYSE: MPLN), and Oscar (NYSE: OSCR).
Prior to CapitalG, Sarah was a policy advisor on the National Economic Council at the White House during the Obama Administration. She also worked as a consultant at McKinsey & Company and spent a year in Ghana as a Fulbright Scholar. Sarah received a B.A. in ethics, politics, and economics from Yale College, an M.P.A/I.D. from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, and an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School. Sarah is a term member at the Council on Foreign Relations.