Interview: Jenny Yang
When something doesn’t feel right, change it. This was Jenny Yang's experience when she started her career, and she continues to make decisions based on her intuition. As an early-career engineer, Jenny realized she didn’t really love the work and accepted an offer to work in product marketing for Nortel in Hong Kong.
This shift in her career trajectory seeded her interest in innovation, leading to a range of roles that included consulting work with Bain & Co., BCG in Toronto, and as Senior Director of Venture Capital at BDC.
Surrounded by diverse people and opportunities in Hong Kong, Jenny’s eyes were opened to the limitless possibilities of what she could do with her future. More recently she co-founded Metafor Software (acquired by Splunk in 2015), Aida (acquired by Vision Critical in 2017), and her CV now includes seasoned angel investor, entrepreneur, and mentor.
Current Job: Angel Investor & Partner, Panda Angel Partners; Senior Advisor, MaRS Discovery District Currently Located: Vancouver, BC / Toronto, ON Education: B.A.Sc, Electrical Engineering, UBC; MBA, INSEAD
Jenny started angel investing in 2015 as a way to try and attract more Chinese investors to tech. “Chinese investors often invest through traditional avenues, like real estate, and I wanted to bring more of that capital to a different investment stream. I started co-investing with a group and we founded Panda Angel Partners. I was also drawn to angel investing through my VC experience at BDC. I had already done it very profitably, but for someone else, so it seemed logical for me to do this using my own capital.”
Her first investment was from a small fund that ultimately invested in a total of three deals. “That first deal was a total write-off!” she recalls. “It had growth for six months, and then it just went down. But the other two are doing very well -- one has closed a Series A investment with a tier 1 Silicon Valley VC, and the other is growing profitably and will likely be doing a Series A soon.”
“Panda Partners has no specific investment thesis. We don’t limit our options. We just find deals we like and go for it. Personally, I gut-check and make sure I believe in the founder. I also love deep technology. And finally, the market sector. Is it an area I think will have exponential grow?”
Advice for Aspiring Angel Investors
“You need to be psychologically prepared to lose money.” Jenny’s advice is to invest smaller amounts by going in with a group. “I look at it this way: if you’re on your own, an investment of 25-50K might be one deal, but with a group it’s that much for say, six deals. You need a portfolio, and you need to build it in different ways based on what you are comfortable putting at risk. The benefit of how we work at Panda is that, as individuals, we put very little at risk because we group our money together into a bigger fund.”
“It’s important to recognize the process you use to work through potential deals. When I get excited my brain tries to justify the investment, no matter how it looks. When I see this happening, I poke holes in it. I get comfortable with what could go wrong to see the real risks. To be really good you have to be creative and be able to connect dots that aren’t obvious.”
“My primary motivation is that I get to help people build new new things. I’m still an engineer at heart!”
Unlocking Women’s Capital
Jenny would like to see women pair up with other women angels to learn first-hand how they think about deals. Helping other women understand the ecosystem could alleviate some of the fear around taking the first plunge. “Learn intuition from experienced angels, and build your own at the same time. You won’t really understand it until you’ve done at least five deals. It takes deals to build that intuition and trust, but launching the process with a mentor is a good start.”
“Honestly, I attribute lots of things in life to luck. I don’t think I got to where I am because I’m so smart, it’s partly just because I got really lucky. I see founders who are brilliant, and for whatever reason their idea doesn’t take off. And others...I see them fumbling along and then BOOM. You have to be on an even keel and believe in the role of luck in all this. The undetermined is what keeps you coming back.”
The Hard Thing About Hard Things, by Ben Horowitz
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