CPP Investments opened its San Francisco office in March of 2020, and brought in seasoned tech leader Judy Wade to lead the new San Francisco team. With more than 30 years running and advising technology organizations, Judy oversees the company’s growth strategy in the Bay Area, working to build the firm’s reputation and reach and identifying investment opportunities in disruptive technology and innovation.
Before joining CPP Investments, Judy was a venture leader at McKinsey & Company, where she led a global practice serving start-ups and their investors. She was also an entrepreneur-in-residence at Kapor Capital as well as president and CEO for game developer Hands On Entertainment and medical device and artificial intelligence company AliveCor.
Recently, Judy sat down with CPP Investment’s editorial team to talk about the goals and opportunities for the firm in Silicon Valley.
Q: What advantages does CPP Investments bring as it establishes itself?
JW: It’s not necessarily the size of our purse. This ecosystem is awash in capital. Capital is no longer a differentiator in the Valley. What matters here is social capital—it’s who you know. Social capital is how you get economic capital and the ecosystem trades on reciprocity, a sort of giving to get. If we want to become part of this ecosystem, we need to provide value.
There are three kinds of value we can provide: first, our geopolitical and global insights. I know, for example, that what we’re doing in Asia, and what we think is happening in Asia, would be of value here. That insight can also include sectors—for example, insight into real estate or retail. It’s providing insights to tech from an industry or a geography perspective.
The second value is our relationships, particularly inside our portfolio. Recently we held a Chief Human Resource Officer meetup where Chief Human Resource Officers from five or six of our portfolio companies heard pitches from three start-ups that provide solutions for Human Resource departments, including one that created a platform to connect companies to candidates of colour. Now we’re considering a digital salon where we’ll convene Chief Financial Officers from early stage companies through public companies to discuss how the CFO role changes as companies mature.
Our third value is what I call our principles. Not only our CPP Investments’ Guiding Principles of integrity, partnership and high performance, but the principles which underpin our investment beliefs. There are ways for us to talk about our views on twenty-first-century risk and opportunities, like diversity and inclusion, for example, or climate change. This also includes governance. We can help young companies with best practices on a range of governance issues.
I also think our ability to invest across a company’s entire lifecycle is distinctive. The fact that we’re not on a five- or seven-year fund cycle is an advantage. I recently spoke with the CEO of one of our portfolio companies, and he said the one reason he was excited to have us as a partner is he knows we’ll be a long-term partner. Every financing deal he does takes a lot of his time and his company’s time, so having that long-term perspective is both valuable and distinctive.
Q: Are there technologies on the horizon that you’re particularly excited about?
JW: I think the food revolution is here to stay. How quickly it will move from niche to meaningful sales is the key question. Some of the opportunity will be in companies that are trying to revolutionize agricultural technology. Some will be companies using plant-based food replacements like A Perfect Day (a recent addition to the CPP Investments portfolio that creates plant-based dairy foods). And some will be new delivery mechanisms, whether it’s new kinds of grocery stores or healthy delivery options.
A second theme is around remote work, which I think is also here to stay—maybe not all the time for everyone, but more work will be done remotely in the future. Software development is work that you can do remotely with less friction, and there are tons of tools that make it easier to develop software remotely. There’s so much more potential out there for technology that could help us do better with remote work. I’m excited to see what new tools we’ll see that will help us collaborate and build culture in a remote environment.
A third area is customers having more control over their data. Right now, everything’s built off cookies and retargeting and we all know our data is out there. I’d really love to see some progress on how we can have more transparency and management of our data and, on the other side, how we can benefit from our data. I’m very happy to have my daily newsfeed or participate in clinical trials, but I should potentially be able to benefit from that in some way. So, I’m interested to see what happens there from a tech perspective.
I’m also interested in new ways to identify and root out systemic bias in investment decision-making. We bring a set of human behaviour biases to all of our decisions, whether that’s availability bias, overconfidence bias, or anchoring bias. It’s particularly acute in the tech ecosystem because, when you’re creating something new, you don’t have data to rely on. And those systemic biases also, by definition, affect who we hire and who we fund. I believe these biases are the cause of blind spots around the negative consequences of the tech that is created. Our focuses at CPP Investments on diversity and inclusion, and on twenty-first-century risks, are two examples of how we strive to overcome these biases.