As a successful venture capitalist, Kathryn Gould, MBA’78, knew the value of hard work and creativity as well as the thrill of nurturing a good idea into a successful business. Perhaps it was not much of a surprise, then, that the high-tech startup expert happily spent her retirement developing a boutique winery in the Sierra Mountain foothills.
“I often walk among my grapevines and think how grateful I am for my life right now,” she said in the 2014 University of Chicago Booth School of Business convocation address. “But if the vines had come first, without the adventure and hard work, it wouldn’t be nearly as sweet.”
Gould, 65, a University of Chicago trustee, died Nov. 26, 2015, of cancer. A trustee since 2002, she served as chair of the Investment Committee from 2006 to 2010.
Gould earned a 90 percent internal rate of return over the course of her investing career, making her one of the most accomplished venture capitalists in the field. She was featured on Forbes magazine’s “Midas List” of best venture investors in technology and in 2005 received the Chicago Booth Distinguished Entrepreneurial Alumni Award. Her extensive service to the University included membership on the Council for Chicago Booth, which she joined in 1998.
“Kathryn lived a life of purpose and consequence,” said Mary Lou Gorno, MBA’76, vice chair of the University Board of Trustees. “She was a tough and demanding editor of life dreams. Kathryn found the highest expression of her talent in business and the highest expression of her love in family and friends.”
Gould made her mark in a field previously dominated by men, refusing to let that history limit her.
Steve Blank, a successful high-tech entrepreneur, described Gould in a 2014 blog post as “twice as smart and just as tough as the guys,” and said that she was a role model for all venture capitalists and CEOs.
Foundation Capital general partner Steve Vassallo said on the firm’s blog that Gould “would have been a giant in any industry, but she chose venture capital. We will always be grateful that she did.”
Referencing her cancer near the end of her convocation speech, Gould told the graduates, “you’ll notice that I haven’t said anything about ‘live a balanced life’ or ‘live every day as if it’s your last.’ I just don’t buy that—especially for where you are in life. You need to work really hard right now, until you find your obsession, and then you’ll work even harder…but balance? Not so much.”
Gould was known for putting hard work and creativity into all her obsessions, from computers to marketing to music to developing a good cabernet.
She earned a BS in physics from the University of Toronto in 1973 and worked as a physicist at Argonne National Laboratory before earning her MBA from Chicago Booth in 1978. She moved to Silicon Valley and became vice president for marketing at Oracle Corporation when it had just a couple dozen of employees. She started her career in venture capital as a general partner with Merrill, Pickard, Anderson & Eyre in 1989.
Soon she realized she got joy from starting companies rather than running them. She co-founded Foundation Capital, which worked with startups in their formative stages. The firm was an early investor in Netflix, Envestnet, Financial Engines and Lending Clubs, and by 2015 was managing more than $2.7 billion in funds invested across financial services, consumer computer software and other technology-based firms. She continued to mentor colleagues in venture capital after her retirement.
Gould also was a private pilot and an artist. She was a talented amateur violinist who invested some of her own money to commissioning new orchestral works, benefitting composers. With her husband, Allen Stewart, Gould bought Battle Mountain Ranch in 2009 and began a new career making premium cabernet sauvignon wine under the name Battle Mountain Vineyard. Stewart said Gould’s planning for her final arrangements included a memorial at the Battle Mountain Ranch Chapel.
“She loved the great outdoors,” Stewart said. “She once proclaimed, ‘I am much happier sleeping out in the dirt than in any fancy hotel!’” Stewart said that if he could use one word to describe his wife’s love of life and everything she did, it would be “intensity,” because that reflects how she played, lived, loved and worked.
Gorno said Gould’s strength of character was evident in all the phases of her life.
“Kathryn was intelligent, tenacious and fearless, possessing a remarkable inner strength that was conspicuous during her final journey,” Gorno said. “She marshaled all of these strengths in an unsparing search for excellence, not just for herself but also for others. Kathryn’s friendship was a source of inspiration, wisdom, and most importantly, limitless humor for me.”
Gould is survived by her husband, Allen Stewart, and her son, Alex Gould. Stewart said the family asks for donations to the Kathryn Gould Sarcoma Research Fund through the V-Foundation, by visiting the website or by sending an email to Julie Allegro at Julie@fyrfly.vc.