Ann Miura-Ko has been referred to as "the most powerful woman in start-ups."
Miura-Ko is a co-founder and partner at Silicon Valley venture capital firm Floodgate. She currently sits on the boards of Lyft, Ayasdi and Inscopix, and has in the past sat on the boards of TaskRabbit, Refinery29 and Xamarin.
The star VC also holds a coveted spot on Forbes' ranking of top investors, the Midas List, and lectures in the School of Engineering at Stanford University, where she got her Ph.D. in mathematical modeling of computer security.
After graduating from Stanford in 2010, Muira-Ko worked at Boston-based Charles River Ventures and McKinsey and Company before launching Floodgate. In the earliest stages of her career, she had a hard time envisioning herself achieving the kind of success she has now. There weren't women she could look up to.
"I remember asking one of the partners if there were any women that they knew that [were] in this industry, and they didn't," Miura-Ko tells CNBC's Julia Boorstin. "There isn't a multitude of people where you could just point to that person and say, 'That's the person I am going to be in 10, 20, 30 years.' And I think that's what's tough."
Indeed, even today, the percentage of women in investment decision-making positions in the venture capital industry is only 11 percent, according to a survey released at the end of 2016 by the National Venture Capital Association and Deloitte.
Instead, Miura-Ko depended on unlikely mentors to help her envision her future career.
After growing up in Silicon Valley with a NASA rocket scientist as a father, Miura-Ko went to Yale. While giving tours of the school, she ended up showing Lewis Platt, the CEO of Hewlett Packard from 1992 through 1999, around campus. He would become a key figure in Miura-Ko's professional development.
"He invited me to follow him and shadow him during my spring break," says Muira-Ko. She took him up on the offer.
Perhaps the most impactful part of her time with Platt was what he sent to her after she left.
"When I returned back to my college campus, he had sent me two pictures," says Muira-Ko. "One was a picture of myself, sitting next to Lew, talking to him. The second picture was Bill Gates, who had visited that week. He was sitting exactly where I had sat."
Her most influential mentors have been people who "just passed through my life over a couple of weeks to people who have mentored me for years," she says. "Those people have literally put a picture in my head of who I should be and have caused me to believe in things that I probably wouldn't have myself."
While having help creating an ambitious vision for herself was critical to her eventual career, Miura-Ko also says looking back, she wishes she had stressed less about her career plans.
"I used to always try to have a 10-year plan, which was totally excessive," says Miura-Ko. "And I always wanted to know not only what was next, but what was after that. What I discovered along the way was that my career was emergent. I actually only knew the next step, and I only knew it when I found it.
"If I hadn't stressed out so much, I think I would have been in a better place on that journey and I would have enjoyed the journey more."
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