Women re­main un­der­rep­re­sented as both startup founders and an­gel in­vestors. An­gelCen­tral of­fers to change that.

Women re­main un­der­rep­re­sented as both startup founders and an­gel in­vestors.

Norway-Asia Business Review - - Contents - CHEYENNE HOL­LIS

While there are more fe­male founders now than three or four years ago, en­cour­ag­ing more women to be­come in­vestors might trig­ger a larger shift.

An­gel in­vestors play an im­por­tant role in the startup cycle. In many cases, they fill the gap be­tween seed fund­ing and the rais­ing of ven­ture cap­i­tal. The sup­port of an­gels makes it eas­ier for star­tups to sur­vive dur­ing a crit­i­cal time in their ex­is­tence.

Ms Huang Shao-Ning, Part­ner at An­gelCen­tral, has ex­pe­ri­ence as both a founder and an an­gel in­vestor. In 2000, she teamed up with her then friend and fu­ture hus­band, Lim Der Shing, to start Job­sCen­tral. It would go on to be­come one of Sin­ga­pore’s largest job por­tals be­fore Ca­reerBuilde­r pur­chased it in 2011. She stayed with the com­pany un­til 2014.

These days she is work­ing with her hus­band and re­tired cor­po­rate gi­ant Phey Teck Moh to help Sin­ga­pore’s startup scene with An­gelCen­tral. The or­gan­i­sa­tion’s goal is to cre­ate an in­formed, ac­tive an­gel com­mu­nity for South­east Asia by host­ing ed­u­ca­tional ac­tiv­i­ties, cu­rated deal flows, fund­ing syn­di­ca­tions and more.

Sin­ga­pore placed eighth on the 2017 Women En­tre­pre­neur Cities In­dex which ranks global cities based on their sup­port for high-po­ten­tial women en­trepreneur­s. Ms Shao-Ning notes that while she has seen an uptick in fe­male founders, this is only part of the startup equa­tion.

“Per­son­ally, I am on a quest to find more women an­gel in­vestors. When we have more women an­gels, we in­crease the chance women-led star­tups have of be­ing able to meet with and be vet­ted by po­ten­tial in­vestors,” Ms Shao-Ning says. “Also, at the ne­go­ti­a­tion ta­ble, hav­ing a woman on the other side does make the air less sti­fling and daunt­ing.”

Of Ms Shao-Ning’s 18 an­gel in­vest­ments, women founders lead six of them and five boast women CEOs. A pair of these firms re­ceived se­ries A fund­ing, two more are close to seed fund­ing and an­other was ac­qui-hired by an In­done­sian con­glom­er­ate. She be­lieves the women in her port­fo­lio are suc­cess­ful, but doesn’t limit this suc­cess to sim­ply the busi­ness world.

“Us­ing a broader def­i­ni­tion of suc­cess where life and love are con­cerned, most of these amaz­ing women are hap­pily mar­ried, en­gaged or get­ting mar­ried soon. In fact, one just gave birth to her first baby,” Ms Shao-Ning points out.

And while these suc­cess­ful wom­en­founded star­tups now com­prise a good por­tion of her port­fo­lio, this wasn’t ini­tially by de­sign. The key was sim­ply not rul­ing them out be­fore meet­ing with them. Over time, Ms Shao-Ning has learned more women in­vestors will cre­ate more op­por­tu­ni­ties for women founders.

“I once thought of do­ing a wom­en­led fund to in­vest in women founders. I hap­pened to meet an Is­raeli ecosys­tem builder around this time and I told her about the idea. She said, ‘it was not nec­es­sary since the fact that a woman in­vest­ing in star­tups was al­ready a big first step,” Ms Shao-Ning re­calls. “I didn’t quite get her at first. But look­ing back at

my own be­hav­iour, and now my own port­fo­lio per­for­mance, I got what she was say­ing. Hence my quest to find more women in­vestors.”

Al­tru­ism and busi­ness don’t usu­ally go hand-in-hand. Per­for­mance mat­ters and af­ter Ms Shao-Ning and her hus­band up­dated their port­fo­lio last quar­ter, they found some­thing ex­cit­ing.

“We re­alised our an­gel port­fo­lio is do­ing bet­ter than some of the funds we have in­vested in. I don’t know what is the con­tribut­ing fac­tor, but I would like to think it’s the women founders in my port­fo­lio,” Ms Shao-Ning re­ports. “I think I read some­where that women CEOs tend to drive stronger sales num­bers while con­trol­ling costs bet­ter. I would strongly rec­om­mend any in­vestors to al­ways lis­ten to a woman-led startup, be­cause they are usu­ally well run.”

Hav­ing also been a fe­male founder, she has some ad­vice on what they can do to in­crease their chances for suc­cess when seek­ing out fund­ing.

“Women founders need to make sure they learn the proper in­vest­ment lan­guages and styles. On one hand, women tend to come across ei­ther as less con­fi­dent, as we tend to use more col­lab­o­ra­tive lan­guage; On the other hand, we are per­ceived as overly ag­gres­sive when we adopt fully mas­cu­line in­vest­ment speak,” Ms Shao-Ning states. “It is not easy, but we re­ally need to be self-as­sured while try­ing to build rap­port with the in­vestors in the room.” From Founder to In­vestor The jour­ney from founder to in­vestor is a chal­leng­ing path. Many of the early startup founders now fo­cus on as­sist­ing the next wave of com­pa­nies make their mark. This is in stark con­trast from what Ms Shao-Ning found when launch­ing Job­sCen­tral at the turn of the cen­tury.

“I was from the era where in Sin­ga­pore there war no ecosys­tem, ad­vi­sors or men­tors for star­tups. We had to learn pretty much ev­ery­thing on our own. In hind­sight, I re­alise what re­ally helped was our abil­ity to make de­ci­sions fast,” Ms Shao-Ning says.

She adds, “We had to fig­ure out a lot of things on our own. These in­cluded prod­uct de­sign, team man­age­ment, work­flow plan­ning, pric­ing and the big one, how to do sales. We re­ally did not have a lot of pre­vi­ous work ex­pe­ri­ence, given that we were fresh out of school. I think we were for­tu­nate that the first few key de­ci­sions were made right, so con­fi­dence in our­selves re­ally mul­ti­plied. That re­ally helped us in the sub­se­quent years.”

There were other is­sues she faced along the way. Job­sCen­tral needed to find its own niche in a crowded mar­ket­place and it was fac­ing an up­hill bat­tle in some as­pects for things that were be­yond her con­trol.

“As a young founder, I ex­pe­ri­enced age-based dis­crim­i­na­tion in the first few years. I had been told, ‘tell your boss to talk to me, you are too junior and wast­ing my time’,” Ms Shao-Ning re­counts. “I learned how to carry my­self very fast. I had to be assertive with­out be­ing of­fen­sive.”

A will­ing­ness to learn is some­thing all startup founders need to have. Ad­di­tion­ally, they have to un­der­stand both the mar­ket and how what they are do­ing fits into it.

“Fun­da­men­tally, most busi­nesses ex­ist to fill a gap, pro­vide a so­lu­tion or a prod­uct that users need now. So user ac­cep­tance and will­ing­ness to pay for it is a very clear in­di­ca­tion if you are on the right track,” Ms Shao-Ning ex­plains. “Founders, es­pe­cially tech­ni­cal founders who feel they are god-sent and that their prod­ucts are must-haves-by-ev­ery­one when sales have been non-ex­is­tent, have to re­ally un­der­stand what the mar­ket is telling them.”

It isn’t just founders who are faced with chal­lenges. In­vestors must also nav­i­gate hur­dles in what is be­com­ing an in­creas­ingly com­pet­i­tive field. With more founders than ever be­fore look­ing for fund­ing, sep­a­rat­ing the ex­cep­tional from the av­er­age is an im­por­tant skill.

“As an in­vestor, the chal­lenges have been in eval­u­at­ing busi­nesses, how to pick the right ones, how to read be­yond the deck and how to man­age the founders post in­vest­ments,” Ms Shao-Ning notes.

Be­ing an an­gel in­vestor is even riskier. Ms Shao-Ning es­ti­mates that there is nearly a 90 per­cent fail­ure rate. This makes it more im­por­tant to iden­tify how the process works be­fore writ­ing a large cheque for what you think might be the next big thing.

“An­gel in­vest­ment is a high-risk as­set cat­e­gory. Those in­ter­ested in be­ing an­gels should pick up some of the an­gel in­vestor guid­ance books. There are also work­shops, like the ones we or­gan­ise at An­gelCen­tral, that go through some of the fun­da­men­tal eval­u­a­tion frame­work,” Ms Shao-Ning says. “If you are go­ing to in­vest your hard-earned cash into a high­risk startup, you should at least spend a few hours at­tend­ing a class or do­ing your homework on the sub­ject to know how it works.”



Above left: Fam­ily is an im­por­tant part of Ms Huang Shao-Ning’s life and she has col­lab­o­rated with her hus­band on sev­eral projects

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