It’s been one year since I, like Harry Stebbings would describe in his podcast, stumbled into the wonderful world of VC. I couldn’t ask for a better set up and colleagues, in the likes of Michael and Gabriel , and the wonderful support and mentorship from the team at Jungle Ventures.
I’ll like to share a few quick notes on some lessons learned, and also observations along the way. These are far from exhaustive I am sure.
The pace of decision making is quite different. When you are an operating executive, especially when you are in a start-up, you need to make decisions quickly as the cost of not moving fast enough is higher than the cost of mistakes. In most situations, the downside cost of mistakes can be limited, as the feedback cycle of each decision is fast and you get a chance to course correct. On the contrary, one almost has to slow down decision making in investing as the cost of mistake here is high, and the feedback cycle is long. It should be a calculate and deliberate decision, and to a large extent a very uncomfortable environment for me. A lot of the time I wonder if I’m actually making progress, or I’m just getting busy without moving the needle.
It’s about people.
What surprised me is how much the people factor weights in the business, from building relationships with founders, colleagues in the industry from other VC firms and potential (and current) LPs, VCs spend a lot of time managing these different stakeholders and relationships. It’s interesting to think of the VC industry of the few industries which incentivize participants in the ecosystem to be good actors for the long run (H/T: Anjney).
(Not) knowing it all.
This sounds cliche, but I truly feel that VC is a really humbling profession. Day in and day out I work with truly smart and driven founders, and I meet many more from different pitch meetings and demo days. It’s both humbling and scary to learn about many cool new technologies and innovation gaps in many industries, and at the same time I can’t help but think about how much I don’t know. In some sense it’s a really subtle but important shift in mindset between operating and investing – in that when you are executing, your job is to provide the answers but when investing the job is about asking the right questions and getting comfortable with not knowing it all.
Bitter work (苦活）
I recently had the opportunity to have lunch with the legendary Jenny Lee from GGV, and what she shared struck a chord with me:
VC is hard work. In Mandarin, we call that 苦活, which literally translates into bitter work. The real work starts post investment when you are working with the founder, it is a 24/7 service oriented work. One minute you could be interim CFO trying to help the founder with cap table modeling and budgeting, the other you are playing the head of HR, listening to founders and providing emotional support. It’s highly unstructured work, and the glory (should the company succeed) belongs to the founder, not you (rightfully).
I am sure there’re much more lessons to be had, and much more work to be done, and we are just getting started. Interestingly my one year anniversary coincided with this piece of wonderful news: https://techcrunch.com/2016/05/31/seedplus-is-an-early-stage-fund-focused-on-finding-global-startups-in-southeast-asia/ so that’s one happy happenstance.
On that note, if you are a founder looking to build a globally disruptive start-up from Singapore and beyond, I look forward to partner with you. If you have questions about fundraising, or start-ups in general, I am happy to talk to you. You can find me on Twitter at @tianglim.