Terri Burns

Year of Graduation: 
2012

“As much as I recognize some of the forces that were outside of my control, I also recognize those that were in my control, and I have a lot of pride for them.”

When Terri Burns ’12 first heard the buzz about a new app that allowed high school students to virtually sign one another’s yearbooks during the COVID-19 pandemic, it took her back. Back to her childhood in Southern California, when she and her friends would sign each other’s elementary and middle school yearbooks with a certain abbreviation. 

HAGS, short for “Have a Great Summer,” is the name of the app and the company that Burns introduced to her colleagues at GV (formerly Google Ventures), the venture capital firm backed by Alphabet, Inc. Intrigued by the app’s blend of intuitive product design, consumer social experience and nostalgia, Burns reached out to the three HAGS co-founders, who range in age from 18 to 23, to learn more. 

In September 2020, not long after that first virtual coffee date, GV led a $1 million investment in the startup’s first seed round of funding. Thanks to Burns, HAGS is now one of the first companies in GV’s portfolio founded by members of Generation Z (those born between 1997 and 2012). After its virtual yearbook success, the company plans to expand into more social content for teenagers, providing them with innovative opportunities for online connection and fun.

“We wanted to learn from this team,” Burns says. “We were excited by the entire generation that was around this product, and we wanted to be able to put dollars to work in a space that we think is up-and-coming.”

Shortly after the HAGS announcement came news that Burns had broken some barriers of her own. After three years as a principal on the investing team, she became (at age 26) the youngest partner at GV, and also the first Black woman in that role.

“There were a number of people who took chances on me, who opened up doors for me,” Burns says of her success. “On the other hand, I’ve put a ton of time and effort and dedication into my job and my story and the work that I do every single day. As much as I recognize some of the forces that were outside of my control, I also recognize those that were in my control, and I have a lot of pride for them.” 

When she was at Exeter, Burns could not foresee the eventual path her career would take. She was fascinated by courses like the Religion Department’s Global Ethics and the history course Why Are Poor Nations Poor? Outside of the classroom, Burns spent much of her time dancing: She was on the Poms (Exeter’s cheerleading and dance team), joined the Belly Dance Society, and took dance as her sport. To this day, she counts her dorm mates in Gould House among her closest friends.

It wasn’t until her sophomore year at New York University that Burns discovered computer science, ultimately declaring that her major, and embarked on her journey into the tech world. After graduation, Burns headed to Silicon Valley, where she worked as an associate product manager at Twitter, focusing on user experience.

During that period, Burns connected with a partner at GV, who became a mentor. Soon, a position opened up for someone at the outset of their career, who was new to the field of investment but possessed a degree of operational experience in the tech world. She turned out to be an ideal fit. 

In addition to her work with HAGS, Burns looks forward to finding more opportunities to support the next generation of startup executives. “Gen Z is coming up in age and building, creating, and shaping the cultural landscape,” Burns says. “I absolutely love the opportunity to meet and work with incredible, smart, driven entrepreneurs every single day.”  

Editor's note: This article first appeared in the spring 2021 issue of The Exeter Bulletin.