Maggie Vo: “Leadership is not defined by your age”

People often make funding decisions in things that they are related to or familiar. There are limited VC opportunities for women, minorities, and people of color since most venture capital funds are still dominated by white men. One way to address this is to have a more diversified group of people holding senior positions in […]

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People often make funding decisions in things that they are related to or familiar. There are limited VC opportunities for women, minorities, and people of color since most venture capital funds are still dominated by white men. One way to address this is to have a more diversified group of people holding senior positions in VC funds and the due diligence or pitching process needs to be more data driven than based on the founders’ background or ethnicity.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Maggie Vo, CFA — General Partner, Chief funding Officer of Fuel Venture Capital.

Maggie Vo is a finance expert with more than a decade’s experience in the public markets, analyzing and managing funding across a wide spectrum of asset classes, both traditional and alternative.

Born in Vietnam, Maggie began her career in finance at Prudential Vietnam Fund Management and, later, Prudential Property funding Managers in Singapore, gradually cultivating a rich network across Asia. She focused specifically on private equity real estate, in addition to driving efforts around fundraising, deal prospecting, valuation, and due diligence for the fund.

In the U.S., Maggie then accepted the position of Portfolio Manager at Blue Shores Capital, where she managed the boutique hedge fund’s flagship Global Long Short Equity strategy. She was responsible for the development of proprietary models and oversight of the fund’s risk-management process, a duty that has fundamentally informed Fuel Venture Capital’s proprietary downside risk-mitigation funding theory.

Maggie’s transition from the public markets to the world of venture capital was spurred by the realization that value is continually shifting to actors in early-stage private-market deals. As General Partner and Chief funding Officer of Fuel Venture Capital, Maggie spearheads due diligence processes that determine prospective funding and capital deployment and steers valuation analyses of existing portfolio companies. Perhaps most importantly, Maggie acts as an instrumental source of guidance for the executives of Fuel Venture Capital portfolio companies as they troubleshoot through the challenges of entrepreneurship in the fast-paced, high-stakes technology sector — from recruiting and sales strategies, to company culture building and corporate governance measures.

A member of the CFA Society of South Florida, Maggie holds a B.S. in Financial Economics and Mathematics from Centre College. She is fluent in Vietnamese.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you please share with us the “backstory” behind what brought you to this specific career path?

I have been in the fund management business since the beginning of my career, initially getting my start at Prudential, a large financial institution, and later working at a boutique hedge fund in South Florida. My passion is funding, and my goal back then was to build a broad understanding of all the asset classes — not just drink the Kool Aid that gets passed around, but really learn how to mix the Kool Aid to the best advantage. I honed my skills and accumulated experience from working for an equity fund in Vietnam, a property fund in Singapore, and a global long-short hedge fund in South Florida. While in my position as a portfolio manager, managing a global long short equity strategy, I noticed a couple of things:

  1. Shifting from Public to Private: Assets under management found its way from the public market to the private market. Investor focus was pulled outside of the traditional asset classes and into alternative asset classes, especially private equity and venture capital, spurred by all-time low interest rates and expensive equity markets which implied modest return and increasing volatility in the coming years.
  2. Staying Private Longer: Technology companies are not leaving the private market until they are much older and generating substantial revenue, which benefited private market investors with longer growth runway and more value creation at the expense of public market investors. One example of this is Amazon, who went public three years after it was founded with 31MM dollars revenue, compared to Facebook, who went public at 9 years old with 4B dollars revenue.
  3. Aging Public Market: Most public companies are now larger, older and in more concentrated sectors, thus the public market no longer offers the full breadth of opportunity it once did. And investors will miss the exposure to fast-growing companies without tapping into the private market.

These reasons prompted me to transition to the private market, specifically towards venture capital, where I can offer my clients access to exponential returns since there is more value creation at the early stages of a company life cycle. In my current position as the General Partner and Chief funding Officer of Fuel Venture Capital , I can be more hands-on and leverage my knowledge and experience to help founders and create an impact on startup companies.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

I’m a fan of Malcom Gladwell, and his book “Outliers,” in particular, resonated with me. “Outliers are those who have been given opportunities and who have had the strength and presence of mind to seize them.” I left home (Vietnam) when I was 17. I came to the U.S. by myself with a sole goal to study, get a degree, work hard, and accumulate as much knowledge as possible, so that I’d be ready and equipped when a great opportunity came my way.

You can control the amount of knowledge you gain, the effort you put in anything. The only thing you can’t control is when the opportunity comes. I call that the luck factor. So the best you can do is be ready when it comes so that you can reach out and grab it.

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson” quote? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?

The concept of going that extra mile is one I live and breathe by and always promote. “You will not be remembered by simply doing what is required of you. The extra mile you are willing to go is what lifts you above the crowd”. And it only takes one person to notice the extra effort you put in to open the next chapter of your life. In fact, that is exactly how I landed my hedge fund job, from an encounter on a plane and then would go on to become the first female General Partner of a venture capital fund after only one year at the firm. I believe that everything I have accomplished today is the result of my mentality of going the extra mile.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Leadership is not defined by your age, the position you hold or the type of jobs you have. Leadership is based on your knowledge, your attitude, your integrity, that makes people listen to you, respect you, follow you and be inspired by you. With that, you can help unlock people’s potential.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Back in the day when I managed the global long short equity fund and analyzed public companies as potential funding, I often came up with strategies or advice for the companies. However, I would get frustrated since I could not add significant value to the company due to the lack of access to the company beyond investor relations. The desire to contribute to a greater good prompted me to join the venture capital world, where I am now able to maximize the value of my knowledge and experiences to support entrepreneurs and to add significant value to portfolio companies.

The United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This is of course a huge topic. But briefly, can you share a few things that need to be done on a broader societal level to expand VC opportunities for women, minorities, and people of color?

People often make funding decisions in things that they are related to or familiar. There are limited VC opportunities for women, minorities, and people of color since most venture capital funds are still dominated by white men. One way to address this is to have a more diversified group of people holding senior positions in VC funds and the due diligence or pitching process needs to be more data driven than based on the founders’ background or ethnicity.

Can you share a story with us about your most successful Angel or VC funding? What was its lesson?

I consider every funding Fuel Venture Capital makes a success because I know the amount of careful due diligence that happens before to ensure a founder and his or her company merits funding and support, and any time we get to help a promising entrepreneur and their team try to turn an idea into a reality and solve a problem for everyday consumers or market-shifting enterprises, that’s a win. Our most recent success, I would say, was having reached a major milestone alongside a Fuel Venture Capital portfolio company called Soundtrack Your Brand, the leading global B2B music streaming platform. It will soon make an announcement about that milestone, and I’m really looking forward to it. They are poised to be a gamechanger in the music industry.

Is there a company that you turned down, but now regret having turned down? Can you share the story? What lesson did you learn from that story?

I don’t yet have any regrets about companies we’ve declined to invest in, but I can say that in my past life when I was a portfolio manager, I did not recommend buying Facebook because at the time social media was totally new, and the outcome of Myspace had been an utter disaster. What I would later learn from my due diligence process is that the product/business concept is just one factor. There are other crucial factors to consider when determining whether a company merits funding, such as market readiness, overall team experience and expertise, go-to-market strategy, etc. It’s about the sum of the parts.

What are your “5 things I need to see before making a VC funding” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Traction (Timing) — Has a company proven that there is significant and sustainable demand for their product or service? Evidence of market validation or early product-market fit can be shown through maintaining consistent growth in KPI’s, usually growing customer list, consistent revenue growth, a shortening sales cycle, and closing significant partnerships, or other other metrics including user engagement and retention for pre-revenue companies.
  2. Team — Who is your CEO? Does he or she have unique experience or expertise in the industry they are developing a company within? Who have they hired to run operations, lead the sales division, devise a marketing strategy, etc? The team has to be composed of people with multidisciplinary backgrounds, a proven track record or some other form of relevant credibility that tells me this company is in good hands and has a chance of edging out the competition.
  3. Market (Landscape of Opportunity)- What is a company’s TAM, or total addressable market? Your company may not be a good fit for venture capital funding if it is creating and marketing a product or service that is very niche and serves only a narrow segment of consumers or clients. Also: Is the market saturated, or is it nascent and full of opportunities? What is the potential to expand the current market?
  4. Competitive advantage (Defensibility)- How will you stand out from other companies doing something similar to what you are doing? Have you identified a loophole no one else has? How sustainable is your business model, compared to other companies in your industry? Is your product or service superior in a material sense that will influence customers to choose you before other, similar options?
  5. Scalability (Growth Potential)- Can your company achieve economies of scale, meaning can it grow across new markets, new revenue streams and new divisions to create efficiencies that lend themselves to exponential growth? If not, you may necessarily not be a candidate for venture capital funding.

If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

I actively work to promote gender diversity/parity not only in venture capital, but also in the world of business. I’ve made it a goal to serve as a mentor to younger women in the firms where I’ve worked, including Olivia Gaudree, our core analyst at Fuel Venture Capital. She and I are both members of Women in Finance, a nonprofit organization dedicated to achieving gender parity in senior leadership and funding roles. At home, I try to be a good role model to my daughter, Thea by encouraging her to be academically curious and diligent.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?

Jeff Bezos — no doubt about it. I recently read every one of his letters to Amazon shareholders, and tuned into the antitrust Congressional hearings that took place this summer. Altogether, they solidified him as one of our generation’s most inspiring leaders. He wasn’t born with a silver spoon in his mouth and he had quite a few challenges to overcome. Once he broke into a successful career and was earning six figures, he chose to leave a cushy job to start an online book store, which back in 1996 sounded insane. And thinking back on it, it’s amazing that it all began with books and how much Amazon has since grown. It touches every part of the consumer marketplace and the enterprise-level cloud computing. All this despite the fact that the company almost went bust when the dot-com bubble burst in the early 2000s. Amazon’s share price went from 116 dollars to 6 dollars. Today a single Amazon share goes for more than 3,000 dollars. I wholeheartedly admire Jeff Bezos’ innovativeness and willingness to think big and experiment.

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