Maggie Vo of ‘Fuel Venture Capital’: “Purpose in life”

Purpose in life: Being a mom has changed my perspective on life. No matter what is happening around you, you always have someone who really needs you, so even if the world is falling apart, you have to hold it together for them. This same thinking applies to my job; whatever is happening out there, […]

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Purpose in life: Being a mom has changed my perspective on life. No matter what is happening around you, you always have someone who really needs you, so even if the world is falling apart, you have to hold it together for them. This same thinking applies to my job; whatever is happening out there, I still manage people’s money and it’s my responsibility to be a responsible steward of their investment. No excuses. It helps keep me motivated.

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Many of us now have new challenges that come with working from home, homeschooling, and sheltering in place.

As a part of our series about how busy women leaders are addressing these new needs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Maggie Vo, CFA, Managing General Partner and the Chief Investment Officer of Fuel Venture Capital. A finance expert with more than a decade’s experience in the field, Maggie began her career in the public markets, analyzing and managing investments across a wide spectrum of asset classes, before transitioning to the private markets as a VC.

Born in Vietnam, Maggie got her start with Prudential Vietnam Fund in Singapore and, later, Prudential Property Investment Managers, gradually cultivating a rich network across Asia. She focused on private equity real estate, in addition to driving efforts around fundraising, deal prospecting, valuation, and due diligence for the fund.

Maggie later joined Blue Shores Capital in the U.S. as Portfolio Manager, where she managed the boutique hedge fund’s flagship Global Long Short Equity strategy.

Today, at Fuel Venture Capital in Miami, Maggie spearheads due diligence processes that determine prospective investments and capital deployment and steers valuation analyses of existing portfolio companies. Maggie guides founders in the Fuel VC portfolio through company development and growth initiatives — from recruiting and sales strategies, to company-culture building and corporate governance measures.

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 love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

My passion is finance, and investments in particular. I’ve always been interested in those things, early on in my education. Once I started my career after college, 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 about the usual three — stocks, bonds, cash — but really learn how to mix the Kool Aid to the best of my ability — meaning, find the greatest upside and seek alpha (returns) with some creative expertise. 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 revenue, compared to Facebook, who went public at 9 years old with $4B 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. Venture capital offers exponential returns because value creation happens at the early stages of a company’s life cycle.

In my current position as the General Partner and Chief Investment 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.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started at your company?

My knowledge in the fund management business, my CFA designation and my experience from the public markets allowed me to add significant value to Fuel Venture Capital since day one. As a result, I was promoted to Chief Investment Officer from an analyst position shortly after joining the firm and later became the first female General Partner. This was remarkable — that kind of upper mobility was in line with my ambitions, so I was ecstatic from that perspective. But it was also symbolic, at a more general level.

For one, I could one day look my daughter, Thea, in the eyes and tell her that, while the odds are stacked against women and minorities in the world of business, with perseverance and hard work you can get a shot at success. That’s very important to me. My promotion was also a positive signal to one of my colleagues, Olivia Gaudree, who is by all intents and purposes my mentee, after having worked together at Blue Shores Capital for a number of years. For her to see me advance that way is motivating, and I want her to know there’s room for growth and room at the top, not just at our fund, but in this industry.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I always say that our portfolio companies are like my kids, and I can’t pick favorites. But given how recently we invested in this one company, and where the most chatter is in the tech industry right now, I’m really excited about working with and further developing Ubicquia.

Based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Ubicquia makes interconnected systems of sensors that plug into streetlights or utility poles, consisting of both hardware and software, to make cities smarter, safer, and more connected, while helping governments and utility companies save energy and money and improve public safety. Their technology is deployed in more than 150 cities across the US and Latin America with expansion plans in 2021.

Ubicquia has also developed advanced small-cell technology to densify the network, which plays a really important role in the road towards full 5G integration. With larger numbers of people working from home and scattering everywhere not just in an office, this technology will help satisfy the demand for faster speed and lower latency Internet, no matter where.

As the CIO of Fuel VC, I am excited that we were able to build an investment position in a company like Ubicquia, which not only adds significant value to cities and their residents but also plays an important role in the 5G network rollout.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

As a woman, it is not easy to hold a senior executive position in a fast paced and male-dominated business like venture capital. And obviously things get more challenging if you have young kids and I am a mother of a 4-year old daughter. With my type of personality, I would never want to be really good at something and then fail at another thing. So every day is a balancing act.

However, I am very lucky because I have a great partner, my husband, Dan. I believe that in life you can date different people, but when looking for a partner in life, you have to find someone who complements you — adds strengths where you’re not so strong, and vice versa.

Dan and I are a tag team, especially these days with us working from home and Thea learning from home using telepresence tech provided by our portfolio company OhmniLabs. When I have to take an important conference call, he knows that he needs to supervise our daughter through a lesson or a meal. And I do the same for him. I am thankful for that relationship we have, because I know not all working women today are as unfortunate, according to some recent national surveys about the increased burden on working mothers amid the pandemic.

Another thing I love about my relationship with my husband is our professional synchronicity — we can always talk about each other’s work and learn something new. I work in venture capital and tech, and he is a software engineer. We’re always bouncing ideas off one another. It’s a really stimulating dynamic, and just one more way we look to support each other. Without him, I wouldn’t be where I am today.

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Can you articulate to our readers what are the biggest family related challenges you are facing as a woman business leader during this pandemic?

I believe the biggest family-related challenge during the pandemic is that you suddenly have more jobs to do but less help to do them.

Dan and I decided to keep our daughter, Thea, home from school this semester due to the pandemic, so I’m juggling school and parenting every day — it feels like two full-time jobs. I know this is the case for so many families around the world today, and I really sympathize with all the parents voicing their concerns and challenges because it really is so tough. On the one hand, you become the teacher to make sure that your kid can fully engage in her virtual learning. You also become their only playmate to help them with social development.

Making matters more complicated, though, is the fact that we can’t call in for extra help. Thea’s grandparents, who are typically very involved and a big help to Dan and me, are obviously in a high-risk group amid the spread of the virus, so we wouldn’t want to endanger them in any way by having them over. We can’t hire a babysitter. Playdates — usually a great way to help your child engage with friends and give yourself a bit of free time — are also out of the question. It’s definitely been tough.

Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?

When there is less time to do things and less help available, it is very important for us to learn how to be efficient, independent and helpful to each other. I prioritize things and take advantage of every single minute. Until the day is over and it’s time to rest, I try to optimize my day as much as possible.

That rule also applies to the youngest member in my family. It was important to Dan and me that Thea, from an early age, understand the importance of independence and self-reliance. One way that’s manifested during this period is that she’s learned that, if I’m on a work call, that means, no talking loudly, no asking for mommy, finding a way to occupy herself. We had a chat about it and she’s been responsive and really cooperative about that, and Dan helps reinforce.

However, no matter how fast and how efficient I am, I realize that I can never finish all the work by myself. As a senior executive, it’s also important to delegate, which is harder than it sounds because it requires extra thinking on your part to know how to best delegate to the right person and provide clear instructions and define expectations. It also requires trust in your team.

Some people fall into the trap of trying to do it all themselves because maybe they are afraid that someone else will not do it as well as they will. But what that creates is a cycle where the people working with you are not empowered to learn and take initiative, and you’re not becoming a better manager and properly leveraging the help you’ve hired, which can be accretive in so many ways other than just help with work you’d otherwise do yourself. Your colleagues — ideally — bring a different perspective, different skill sets than you, so it’s important to integrate them and delegate.

I find that, based on my experience working with other women, we tend to fear handing over responsibilities to others because it might appear that we are not capable of doing it all. It’s important to get over that fear, and squash that perception. We all should want to grow, and help others grow.

Can you share the biggest work related challenges you are facing as a woman in business during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?

Due to the pandemic, our work and personal lives have become one. The joke these days is, we don’t work from home — we just live at the office.

For those of us who are parents, working from home, with our kids around, trying at the same to handle the daily chores at the house, makes it hard for everyone to assign specific time to each role and not have everything mixed up. While I’m a huge proponent of optimization, I’m also adamant that there are some parts of your work that should not be multitasked.

In our society, women are judged more harshly on their work ethic if they are mothers because there is an assumption that we’re stretching ourselves too thin because surely, we’re devoting ourselves full time to our kids, while also trying to get the work done. So how could it all be done perfectly? Men, even when they are a father of five kids, let’s say, aren’t burdened with those same assumptions. So when one of our kids all of a sudden appears in the background of the Zoom call, women worry their commitment to work could be questioned.

For me, the challenge has been staying cognizant of the fact that my colleagues and our partners are certain in my commitment to my job because it’s never waivered. So really, it’s just been about staying confident and not letting something imaginary concern me, because I’m lucky to work with people who believe in me and know I’ll get it done. And of course I have to continue to deliver the work to maintain that trust and confidence.

Can you share your advice about how to best work from home, while balancing the needs of homeschooling or the needs of a family?

Balancing between work and life is a constant act and it never stops. And it is quite a challenge since both require a substantial amount of commitment. You don’t choose just once — you carry them both on your shoulders, shifting your balance according to the changing priorities.

I balance it by remembering that both my career and my family are investments in my long-term happiness and wellbeing. But sometimes you have to prioritize one over the other because of importance or urgency, and you have to do your best to schedule for those priorities. For example, Saturday is the day that my husband and I spend with our daughter. Work is only a priority if there is a special deadline, and even if that’s the case, I’ll try to work extra hours the night before until I finish a certain task to meet the deadline, or I would take Sunday to hang out with Thea and Dan, instead.

Another piece of advice I’d give, above all else, is to do what you love or all the prioritization and time-management won’t work because you won’t want to do it.

Can you share your strategies about how to stay sane and serene while sheltering in place, or simply staying inside, for long periods with your family?

The pandemic has brought countless challenges. I stay sane by always reminding that I’m one of the lucky ones –I still have a family to love and a career that I am passionate about.

To me everything is a variable in an equation. If one variable goes slightly wrong, that can mess up your whole equation, or in this case your life. Right now the important variables are in place, the fund is performing great, the portfolio companies are doing well, the kid is safe, the husband is happy, the parents are healthy, that means I should be happy already regardless of the pandemic and the whole reality around it. To me those are the main factors that keep me going in life.

There are some things in life that you can’t control, but you can control the way you live your life and how this affects the people around you; your coworkers, your kid, your husband and your parents. Remaining calm and valuing what you have right now is, in my opinion, the best way to handle the situation.

Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”? Can you share your “5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.

1. Technology: We have found ways to leverage technology to maintain a semblance of normalcy throughout the pandemic, and even found better ways to do traditional tasks, like grocery shopping. It’s more clear than ever before how much of a role all these advancements play in our daily lives, and how technology will have an even larger impact in the long term. We realized that, for those of us who have a certain amount of privilege, we don’t have to wait for the future for certain advancements to be part of the present. You can stay home and have food delivered to you. File your taxes without ever seeing a CPA in person. I look forward to a point when these luxuries will be commonplace across all socioeconomic rungs, not just the upper rungs, because that’ll create not just a more equitable society, but a more advanced one.

2. Community: It feels like people are coming together for the greater good like never before — whether in research or fundraising efforts for local organizations and small businesses. We are in this together.

3. Purpose in life: Being a mom has changed my perspective on life. No matter what is happening around you, you always have someone who really needs you, so even if the world is falling apart, you have to hold it together for them. This same thinking applies to my job; whatever is happening out there, I still manage people’s money and it’s my responsibility to be a responsible steward of their investment. No excuses. It helps keep me motivated.

4.Time to grow personally and professionally: We’re all juggling a lot nowadays, but there is a bit more free time than before — because of fewer social engagements, less commuting, etc. So you have some time for home-improvement projects, or reorganizing the garage, maybe redecorating a room in your house. You learn to make bread, or cook something new. You find happiness in simple things. That’s a big light at the end of the tunnel.

5. More gratitude: When things are back to normal, you will (hopefully) have gained a greater appreciation for things that maybe you previously took for granted, like benign able to take your kid for a playdate or going out for a meal at your favorite restaurant.

From your experience, what are a few ideas that one can use to effectively offer support to their family and loved ones who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?

I think that whenever we have a problem, if you keep circling around it inside your head you will only make it worse it’ll add to the stress. I believe that if I am struggling with something, other people might be going through the same thing, so I ask for advice from people I trust — my family or my close friends, even my partner in Fuel Venture Capital, Jeff [Ransdell].

When you talk to people, it is not only helping you, but also helping them. With that in mind, this is also the perfect time to reach out and check on your family or friends, because we should all be doing that regularly, but especially during tough times. Even if you haven’t spoken to that person for months or even years, it’s never a bad time to reconnect with them and check that they are doing okay.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” We all know what that quote is trying to say, but I’d add that your ability to succeed on that philosophy is defined by your outlook on life.

I am convinced that 95% of your life is defined by how you chose to see things and respond to them. Anything that happens to you, you can view it as a positive or negative. When you choose to view it as a positive — a challenge to overcome, rather than an obstacle that will hold you back — you’re giving yourself power to persevere. That creates confidence, experience and so much more.

There was a moment when the pandemic and all its circumstances really got me down. I told myself, “I can sit down and complain about what’s happening to me, but that won’t make it go away. I can’t direct the wind, but I can adjust the sails”. So I turned all of the negative feelings into positive energy to initiate a new project both at home and at work so that once we get on the other side, I can be proud of my accomplishments and know that I have made the best out of the challenging situation.

How can our readers follow you online?

You can find me on LinkedIn:

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

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