Evy Chang wears many hats. She is an early-stage investor at VU Venture Partners, an investor relations manager at Wiziin, and also a board member of Girls in Tech Vietnam.
She’s been on both sides of the table, having fundraised for her startup in Vietnam under uncertain times and later invested all around Asia, so it’s not an understatement to say that she has been at the very core of the startup and investment ecosystems.
We invited her to share her knowledge in the Vietnamese market and experiences working in the sector as a female venture capitalist.
Whitney: Could you tell us some of the most important points you look for in startups as a pre-A to A stage investor?
Evy Chang: Early-stage tractions that demonstrate some preliminary results are what we first look at. For example, do you have customers that already buy your products? Do you have anything to prove that you stand out from the crowd?
Past this filtering stage, we will then find information from the pitch desk to gather some more information about the company, and there are some points I tend to pay more attention to.
The market matters as much as the team
Is the targeted market big enough? With a bigger market to target, there’s a greater chance to hit the goals. According to the flying pig theory, even a pig can fly high up if the winds are strong enough. It’s true that identifying the right market and trends put you in the position of the windy spot.
The founder mindset is replicable
I believe founding a business requires a very specific mindset and headspace. While experiences vary, the entrepreneurship mindset is replicable. If the team members have had previous experiences in starting up a business, and even better – a successful one, it would be a sign for us that the founder knows what to expect.
Built from a well-rounded team
The team composition is crucial too – does the team consist of a good mixture to cover different functionalities? Do you have members for internal operations and for external communications, respectively? These are some good questions to consider about.
Don’t just back down, learn how to face confrontation
Whitney: Have you found it particularly difficult to succeed in this sector as a woman?
Evy Chang: As a young woman, especially in the Taiwanese culture, we are always taught to be modest. Even when young girls are being praised, parents shrug it off and dismiss compliments. I think this contributes to the innate sense of self-doubts for many Taiwanese people.
But as a venture capitalist, you will be frequently challenged and called upon to defend your views. Very often in such situations, we tend to take a step back, though not necessarily in the technical sense, it’s more of a breather for us to pause and think, “well what should I do next.”
I often become self-aware and doubt myself in face of confrontation, but after taking the time to contemplate I will take the next step and either prove myself right, or wrong.
Boiling down to self-identification
Whitney: Would you say that fewer women are attracted to working as venture capitalists?
Evy Chang: I think that is the same question as asking whether or not a woman can be an engineer. I once asked my Vietnamese friends who started up a coding camp why statistics show that only about ten percent of women are working in tech in Vietnam.
Their response was that the tech sector isn’t a good fit for women’s personalities, because women like to socialize and interact with people. But that’s just generalizing because women also have varying personalities, so rather than asking whether a certain job fits a certain gender, it’s better to ask if a certain job fits a certain character.
However, that’s not to say that stereotypes and gender roles are going to go away overnight.
Whitney: What is it like to work in this sector as a woman?
Evy Chang: The venture is a business about strategy, people, and mindset, especially in early-stage investments where relationship management is crucial.
As a venture capitalist, I have to make many phone calls every day and constantly stay in contact with the founders.
Adding that to the general gender assumption that women are less confrontational, and that we as the ‘fairer sex’ are more sensitive and tactful, being a woman also brings you advantages, it’s never black and white. Instead of assuming being a woman is a disadvantage to ace certain roles due to certain characteristics, some may rightly serve as strengths too.
So I suppose if one wanted to look at it that way, they could say that my feminine predisposition has contributed to making me a better communicator. To that, I’d say it’s important to let your disadvantages serve you and turn them into your favor.
Whitney: Do you have any suggestions for women willing to step into being a venture capitalist?
Evy Chang: It’s ok to doubt yourself, but after self-doubt, you must take the next step. Don’t be intimidated by the majority of men in the industry. You can restate and justify your opinions, and it’s okay to do so.
How to enter a new market like Vietnam?
Whitney: You’ve managed a startup company as an entrepreneur in Vietnam. What is there to watch out for those who want to expand their market to Vietnam?
Evy Chang: Whether your company culture can connect to the local culture is key. Finding the key surviving elements in the new market that would allow your business to nurture in is pivotal, too.
Take live streaming as an example, fast internet speed for streaming events to flow smoothly without having sporadic lags here and there is important so internet speed would be the key element for your business to grow in a new market.
Identify the ‘why’ behind behaviors
Evy Chang: Even if consumers in the targeted market behave the same as your original ‘comfort-zone’ market, it’s often likely that the reason behind those behaviors differ, so it is critical to identify the ‘why’ in order to really hit the pain points.
Say you observe everyone in Vietnam rides on a motorcycle and you want to introduce ride-sharing services there. But ride-sharing is about solving last-mile problems, which only comes to mind when you want free mobility options in the city center to avoid going on the congested public transport that you think, ‘I want to rent a scooter.’
Since there’s no public transportation in Vietnam, there’s actually no ‘last mile’ problem to cope with. (But note, meanwhile, Vietnam is actually building the first metro!)
Why does Vietnam have a strong startup culture?
Whitney: Why did you choose to go to Vietnam and join a startup instead of going to Indonesia where some of your family live?
Evy Chang: The market mindset was the decisive factor. The proportion of the Vietnamese people with a startup mindset is much larger than that in Indonesia, due to the historical background and the culture.
While most of our Taiwanese parents lived in a safe, prosperous era, their counterparts in Vietnam physically went through the deeply traumatic Vietnamese war in the 1970s and survived, so it’s relatively recent in time and space. I believe that resulted in having a stronger desire to create a better life.
Angel to pre-seed investment stage is more popular in Vietnam than in Taiwan.
In comparison with Taiwan, the angel to pre-seed investment stage is more popular in Vietnam. This is because Vietnam, like most Southeast Asian economies, jumped from Industrial 2.0 directly to Industrial 4.0, and those that witness people making a fortune out of jumping onto the industrial 4.0 wagon realize there is a huge potential in the new service market. So they join the ride with a progressive mindset.
Up and coming in Vietnam
Whitney: What is the current trend of the Vietnamese market?
Evy Chang: Generally speaking, e-commerce, edtech and fintech have been in high demand in recent years. According to a market report, Southeast Asia is likely to become the fastest growing market for e-commerce due to a tech-savvy population and growing smartphone usage.
Born into the internet era by default, Gen Z existence is built on top of the internet.
For startups aiming for the Vietnamese market, especially B2C, it is important to influence Gen Z. The generation of Gen Z is a group of adventurous young people willing to try new things, spend money, and do things that have a symbolic meaning. For example, they care about personal experiences, sustainability, and ESG.
Vietnamese people hold strong opinions toward environmental-friendly issues. Did you know that plastic straws were eliminated in Vietnam a long time ago? They have replaced plastic materials with environmentally friendly materials such as rice and bamboo. So if enterprises have products tapping into sustainability, it would be a good communicating point with local consumers.
Special thanks to Vivien Wang for peer-reviewing.