May 16th, 2019

Ernestine Fu: from Founder to Investor at Alsop Louie Partners

You joined Alsop Louie as a venture partner. Many people may not know what that role entails – particularly because it can vary from firm to firm. Could you describe your role? What has been the biggest surprise or challenge of the role? The most rewarding part?

I truly enjoy working with smart, ambitious, and committed entrepreneurs every day. I get to roll up my sleeves to help build teams and develop strategy, and I’m constantly learning about what it takes to build a great business.

When I started at Alsop Louie in 2011, my role was focused on sourcing deals, conducting due diligence, negotiating term sheets for financing, preparing for internal partners meeting and LP reports etc. I also built out a college campus program with the vision of connecting university research and ideas with venture capital funding.

Since then, my role evolved to also taking on board seats, representing the firm in our startups investments, sometimes in the role of chairman. I work closely with our portfolio CEOs to help build their businesses, from developing demos and the product roadmap, to striking partnerships with larger tech companies, to building a sales teams and path to monetization.

I find it rewarding to be in the trenches with founders, developing the overall strategic direction and vision of the startups we invest in. What we do is much more than just writing a check.

You have a wide range of professional experiences across tech and non-profits, that have led you to both your role at Alsop Louie and as an angel investor. How have these experiences shaped how you work with startups?

I’ve been blessed with rewarding experiences that have taught me few things:   

  • Don’t be afraid to takes risks. Who dares, wins.

  • Whom you work with is more important than where you work.

  • The one most adaptable to change, not the strongest or most intelligent, thrives.

When imagining angel investors, most people have a preconceived notion of what to expect. In reality, there are many paths that angel investors take, and the reasons they choose to invest. What was your first investment? How did you learn about the opportunity, and decide to pursue it?

My angel investing started with two autonomous vehicle companies, Zoox and nuTonomy.

While researching autonomous vehicles during my graduate studies at Stanford, I became obsessed with meeting founders seeking to commercialize the technology. I wanted to learn about every startup emerging in the sector.

Cruise was the first company I wanted to invest in the sector, but our firm Alsop Louie passed on it, despite having previously backed the founder in another venture. I wanted to personally invest a small amount, but I was still in school and didn’t have spare capital to invest.  

When Zoox and nuTonomy came along, I didn’t want to miss out on another opportunity in the space. So I personally invested a small amount out of my savings. Fortunately, both companies have since gone on to do well -- one got acquired, another is valued as a “unicorn” company.

When investing, I think it's important to find a sector you’re passionate about and learn about the people and technology in the space. Also remember to rely heavily on gut-instinct, something that can be honed with experience.

What is your reaction to the Women in Venture Report findings that show that there are still relatively few women in venture capital? What do you think it will take to increase the representation of women in venture capital, angel investing, and in the startup ecosystem more broadly?

We all need to do our part to create a global movement that promotes inclusivity. The report’s findings are dismal unfortunately. And the situation is even worse than the numbers indicate.

Numbers do not equal influence, and women in leadership roles still do not necessarily hold equivalent power. Women have made some progress in growing their presence in leadership roles; however, many women in senior positions are unfortunately not in roles that allow for line promotion to CEO or Managing Director. We need to increase female representation in leadership roles of title, authority, and influence in order to truly move towards gender equality.

We aren’t having enough conversations on gender diversity. We need to inspire real dialogue and action among all stakeholders. There’s a lot more to do in order to level the playing field for women in business.