As a student at Wharton, I have had the opportunity to gain exposure to the venture capital world. I started my journey by joining a US-based venture capital firm as an Investment Associate, where I spent two months gaining first-hand experience about the venture capital industry and the consumer technology space.
Having graduated from National Taiwan University, and worked overseas in Asia and the U.S, I was exposed to different perspectives and cultural contexts. Having worked in a US-based VC before, I wanted to understand how it is like to work in a Southeast Asia VC firm.
I decided to apply for a fellowship at Monk’s Hill Ventures (“MHV”), a venture capital firm investing in early-stage tech companies, primarily Series A, in Southeast Asia. It was a different kind of experience as it was a remote fellowship due to Covid-19. Nevertheless, I was able to work closely with the investment team on deal sourcing, evaluating deal opportunities, and structuring deals.
During my stint, I learned a lot about the venture capital industry and the Southeast Asia tech startup ecosystem. Apart from conducting research and attending various virtual networking events, I also met (virtually) with many interesting founders.
Here are some of the biggest takeaways from my fellowship experience:
The meaning of “Entrepreneurs Backing Entrepreneurs”
My experience at MHV taught me to reflect on what makes an ideal founder-investor relationship. What stood out to me was how the company devotes time to give advice or coach founders, even when they have decided to pass on a company.
For instance, one of the most memorable calls I had was with a founder who wanted to get Michele’s advice on marketplace growth given her prior experience at Turo and Udemy. Despite knowing the company was too early for us to invest in, Michele took the time to share insights and advice, which was deeply appreciated by the founder. There were also other instances where I saw our partners and associates provide constructive feedback and pushed founders to think - despite knowing that the company was going to be a pass.
At MHV, we believe in “Entrepreneurs Backing Entrepreneurs”. During my time here, I have come to understand what this really means. Firstly, having been a founder allows you to provide other founders with advice on what works and what does not. Secondly, helping founders to grow and scale (despite not having any near-term returns) is key to cultivating long-term founder-investor relationships. Thirdly, an investor’s role in coaching founders is crucial in building the Southeast Asia ecosystem, where having the right people and resources in place is key to scale one’s business. Investors who have been founders themselves tend to be more empathetic and are motivated to give back to the ecosystem.
Taking a nuanced approach to SEA investments
What fascinated me the most is theSoutheast Asia startup ecosystem. While overall trends in the region could be seemingly similar, the nuances between each market are what it takes to pick the right winner in the space. Personally, I find that the hard part of being a venture capitalist in Southeast Asia is the ability to grasp these nuances. You do not need to know everything, but you need to know the characteristics of each market well to ask the right questions.
For example, I was looking at a Singapore-based Earned Wage Access (EWA) company that offers paycheck advances for employees. Despite knowing that this is a trend that has gained great success in the western markets, it was only until I spoke to other similar companies across Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam that I realized there is a huge difference across the various markets.
The differences in corporate landscape and market readiness have implications on which market is likely to take off first and the suitable go-to-market strategy. This knowledge eventually informed us about the decision of the market and company we wanted to bet on.
Own your opinions and find people who are willing to invest in you
The fellowship experience also helped me learn and grow as a VC investor. A mentor once told me that the most difficult thing in investing is not about the black and white, but the gray areas that you need to get comfortable with. You learn to tackle these gray areas through apprenticeship by seeing how people make decisions at meetings.
I found myself learning the most from the debrief meetings I had with the partners after each founder call. For instance, despite knowing that the company was going to be a pass, the partners would ask me for my thoughts before sharing their rationale on passing. In the beginning,I was hesitant to share my opinions because I was worried about being “wrong”, but then I realized that it is more valuable to own an opinion that you can defend. Therefore, always have a view. Besides, only when you start sharing could you have discussions on diverging opinions and learn from them.
Also, find someone willing to invest in you. I think the best part of my experience is the people-centric culture at MHV. This is embodied in the trust and time people placed in me since the first day I joined the company. From encouraging me to take founder calls on my own, to doing weekly one-on-one meetings with me, I was given many opportunities to grow and learn. This is also the kind of environment that I would aim for future VC endeavors.
Despite not being able to meet the team in person, I have enjoyed my fellowship at Monk’s Hill Ventures, getting to know everyone, and learning from each person. I am grateful for this experience and would highly recommend the fellowship opportunity to anyone interested in the inner workings of a Southeast Asia VC firm, with deep operating experience in tech.
Eva Huang was a Fellow at MHV in 2020
The application for MHV Fellows 2021 is now open. Learn more about the program here.