Hosted by Rita Yang
The conversation was recorded at the end of 2020. We sit down with GGV Capital managing partner Jenny to get her take on memorable moments, new habits developed during lockdown and her hope for 2021.
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Rita Yang 00:45
Hi, Jenny, welcome to the show. It’s nice to have you back.
Jenny Lee 01:20
Always good to be back here, Rita.
Rita Yang 01:22
All of a sudden, 2020 is coming to an end, what a year. If you were to describe your 2020 in one word, what would that word be? And why?
Jenny Lee 01:33
Well, I think if I have to describe this year with one word, it would be resilient. It is a year of resilience,
Rita Yang 01:42
How so? Can you tell us more about that word?
Jenny Lee 01:44
Well, I think this is the year where everybody is put to test. Whether it’s companies trying to figure out how to work how to survive in the midst of COVID, or on the personal level, how do you work at home with family. I think for a lot of people right across the world as well, it’s really a change of lifestyle. And to be able to really move on and get ahead. You need to have that level of resilience, to be able to see, the light at the end of the tunnel, and to be able to surpass all the challenges to try and move just one step ahead.
Rita Yang 02:43
Can you tell us one or two interactions, you have had that are most memorable throughout the year, either in person or via zoom?
Jenny Lee 03:02
Well, first of all, with our founders, starting in January with the with the COVID erupting in China, it’s really about working with them by seeing how they deal with the challenges of trying to make sure that the people are safe. And then after that trying to make cash works for their business. Not many startups are in the luxury position where they are cashflow positive, and they can continue to work from home and have business comes running in. A lot of it requires being out there closing deals and doing R&D. I think that with the founders, the most memorable part is really to see our founders being able to respond within 24 hours, how they get computers and to the teachers at home within 24 hours, be able to conduct classes online, you know, for their students, and these are education companies. And then we go down to companies that get affected where the factories are closed and how they ensure that they are deploying inventory around the world to figure out how to make that next delivery. So, you know, there are so many stories, it’s really hard to pinpoint exactly one. It’s about working with them brainstorming what it means to have the cash one way to see that next page to flip the next page. And for some companies that are a little bit more prepared and a bit more mature, they can do more than just surviving. They can actually mount attack, even further charge their growth for other companies. As for earlier startups that are trying to get the product out. It’s about working with them and helping them also, to figure out what’s the next step. If you have to cut a lot of headcount reduction, a lot of people have had to take a direct hit in terms of their pay the company’s expense. 90 plus percent of our companies, our CEOs, really took the issue by the horn, and really addressing the issue. So, I think you could probably write a book that the trials and, you know, challenges that our founders have gone through. Yeah, I think it makes us stronger. As an investor, you feel like, this is why we’re here for that we can be there with them, whether it’s advice, whether it’s, you know, helping them to figure out the right path forward, you know, what makes sense to cut what makes sense to preserve, and also in some cases where we have to step in and, you know, offer the helping hand? You know, we cannot do it for all companies, but you know, definitely we’d like to be able to help as many as we can, as well. So,
Rita Yang 06:09
Yeah, it also shows characters of the founders that we invested in. What are some of the things that you think were highly unlikely or even impossible, but actually became possible for this year?
Jenny Lee 06:25
Well, yeah, so I, you know, I also drive the fundraising, you know, responsibility within GGV for our US dollar fund. And I think historically, if you want to fund raise, you’ve got to be on the road, right? There’s a reason why the roadshow where you go out there, meet with investors have that face to face conversation, followed by a more intensive face to face due diligence process with our partners and investors. 2020 is really eventful year, it’s also our 20th year anniversary. And, you know, the whole 20th year, you know, fundraising has always been one where it’s about face to face meeting. It’s about making that connection. Well, and so as we enter fundraising year, this year, with COVID, the challenge has always been can this be done? Is it possible to convey the story of GGV to investors who may and some of them have not met us in person, they have not come to our offices have not seen our folks, in many cases only see me on video?
Prior to this, if someone tells me that you can do an entire fund raise, not a small fund, but one the kind of the size that we have, online, I would say that’s impossible. In this period, a lot of the impossible becomes possible. It’s really about planning, making the communication, doing the extra work having the extra meeting. And, and we did it right, so in two and a half months after 250 meetings. That’s a lot of hours. So you know, we were able to do this in one of our shortest fundraising history in our largest fund today. That would probably rank the highest in this year’s impossible. Now, it’s possible right now, I think that I think funds are doing it. Investors are getting accustomed to this format of due diligence as well. And so hopefully, you know, sets a good precedent going forward, when we don’t have to travel the world usually takes six to nine months to cover all that meetings in so many different countries. Yeah. And literally, you know, we did it 24 hours’ time zone, but it on Asia time. So that was amazing.
Rita Yang 08:56
Incredible. So, I still remember, at the very early of this year, when we did another interview for, I can’t remember what it was for, but you mentioned that you actually became more efficient while we’re working from home. So how have your working style evolved this year? What are the you know, new habits or productivity hacks that you have developed from working from home? I mean, even prevent yourself from working too much, you know, because it’s kind of hard to separate work from life if you’re living at home at work.
Jenny Lee 09:30
In the past, we are always on the road. Whether it’s fundraising, whether it’s looking at deals, whether it’s making the investments, whether it’s outside or within China, travel is such a big part of what we do. For the last 20 years, I’m always on the road at least once a week and that’s just on average, right? Usually it’s six, seven times right every day. We are always in some form of train or airplane and stuff. Now the productivity actually goes up even more, right? If I thought that I was working 18 hours, literally you can do 24 hours. You can cover many grounds. As I was saying, even fundraising, you know, morning time, I was covering Asia, meetings and Asia investors and taking portfolio meetings. Come afternoon, Europe wakes up, and then we are on a European time. And, you know, once we hit the night, as you remember, like, 6 or 7pm, that’s when East Coast wakes up in the US. And then I have East Coast meeting all the way to like midnight, that’s when West Coast wakes up. You really can go. So, I would say that. It’s very productive. It’s very efficient. It’s amazing. You know, how much you can get in just through the power of technology? I called my assistant and said, you need to give me 15 minutes break. I need to have time for your lunch and dinner else is not going to work the 24 hours. I think that making sure that the schedule is well managed becomes really important. I think in the past, we will say, Oh, it’s fine, right? You can have some nighttime, or you’re going to have two hours off when you’re on the plane. But today, you don’t get that.
Also, I was I was stuck in Singapore for the previous five months. And while they did not, you know, fully open up, but certain things are still open. Right? So really, you know, making sure that on weekends, I have some hours of where I am out there, walking the place and at least getting some downtime, in the outdoors? Because that’s very important, right? How do you recharge? If you’re doing 18, 20 hours a day? How do you ensure that you recharge and can come back? It’s not trivial. Our US colleagues have been working from home for the last 10 months. The challenge is multi-fold. So, I think I think one is the mindset has to be even more structured. And then I think we have to assist ourselves by making sure that the schedule allows for those breaks where before. We got to utilize those times the right way. Also, it’s the depressing time with what you hear from the media, about the challenges that people face. And then of course, immediately, you know, in our work, we also see it unfolding every day. And it’s also very important during this time, to make sure that, you know, psychological health wise, you always stay kind of tip top in the positive mode. Right. And I think that’s important as well, right to make sure that, you know, with all that information, explosion on the web, that you don’t get yourself, you know, into a downward spiral, which, which can happen very easily when you don’t have the day to day interaction of work and with colleagues.
Rita Yang 13:45
Yeah, it’s amazing. Like, every time I jump on a zoom call with you, you’re like, super energetic and very excited. I think it’s really hard to maintain that level of energy. What are the one or two things you can share with us that have helped you to maintain, you know, a really good state while working from home jumping on like, 20 zoom calls a day?
Jenny Lee 14:08
Well, so it’s a personality. I’ve always had a very positive personality, and I don’t angst a lot about what’s going to happen three days down the road, right? So I’ve always worked very well by being ultra-focused on the task at hand. And so, if today I have 10 calls, or 20 calls, I’m going to focus one at a time, right? So, I look at my schedule every day ahead of time, or the night before ahead of time, make sure I’m prepared well in advance, but I don’t anxious about things that’s going to happen. You know, two, three weeks down the road. I know it’s hard. I think a lot of people angst about what’s going to come and then they get all stressed up. So, for me, I think over the years, because of the challenges I’ve seen them face that comes in so many different ways and so many different angles, I’ve realized that the most important thing is to be in the moment, right? When you’re doing this, like be in the moment when I’m when I’m having the conversation, you know, with the CEOs be there for him, right hand down? Well, don’t be thinking about the next meeting, right? Just be there, get the meeting, make sure that, you know, your CEO has his chance to discuss his business, and that we truly, you know, give it all. I think, for those of you who knows me, I’m seldom late for meeting unless I really, you know, over run from, you know, previous other considerations, but most of the time, I’m always there. And when I’m there, I do not step away for a phone call, or, you know, go answer other stuff, right? or emails, I think it’s really about, you know, if the task at hand, give it all. And then when you move on, you know that you have given this all right, and so there’s no regrets. And when there’s no regrets, you don’t look back and say, Oh, I should have done it better.
If there’s one advice I give people, I think that would be one advice is that, you know, it’s okay, life is tough, it’s always tough. No one’s ever said that it’s going to be easy What we do every day really is just about facing the challenges one by one, we don’t have to solve 10, we just have to solve them one by one. Before you know it, you have all 10 resolved.
Rita Yang 16:28
That’s very wise. Let’s talk about macro for a minute. This year, definitely a lot of things happened still unfolding as you mentioned, how has the circumstances changed the way you look at the role investors play in society? Or if it changed at all?
Jenny Lee 16:47
Well, I think that the role that investors play really depends, right? For GGV, we are in a very, very fortunate position, because we are technology investors. Right. And I think that as technology investors, you know, what we have been doing, whether it’s 10 years, 20 years, in historically, or 10 years, 20 years, you know, 50 years going forward, it’s really all about, you know, investing in product innovation and technology, that can change the world, that can create jobs in ways that we don’t think about before, but it’s possible, right going forward. So, we are more of a forward-looking set of investors. And I think that in that sense, COVID just really puts in an engine, right to accelerate and reinforce that what we’ve what we are doing, or what we have done, really is very meaningful, right? The fact that if the wall is a completely offline, everything that we are doing today would not be possible, not possible to have people working through cloud environment, having online fitness, having online education, the fact that, we’ve had all these years invested helped to move forward technology advanced means that at this timely moment, that a lot of those tech products, tech services, cloud services, economy services will now put to use right and more consumers. Now, you know, if they were not onboard, they are now on board. If they, they thought that online education was not for their kids, well, guess what? Well, thank goodness we have that because the kids can continue to be engaged at home and to learn. In that sense, I am very happy that the role that we have chosen, the sector that we have chosen, has investors usually have significantly help to prepare us better. And I think that as tech involved, all that computing power that help us get to a vaccine within 12, 18 months to attack the virus. So, I am thankful, very happy that governments around the world will today, see this not just has a good to have, but the must have in order for economies to be better prepared. I always give kudos to the entrepreneurs who are the ones who create miracles. And so, I would, I would say that investors do take a co-driver role. And then that the changes, you know, all the miracles that we need to see in the world actually comes from entrepreneurs, you know, who, who will rise above the noise. And that’s why I said, it’s a year of resilience because the guys, you know, the folks that, you know, the founders, the leaders that can truly emerge to these times, they’re going to be great leaders going forward as well.
Rita Yang 20:24
Yeah, speaking of entrepreneurs, what are the three or one most exciting founders or companies that you’ve met this year that made you go, “Wow, this is amazing how no one has done this before?
Jenny Lee 20:37
Well, I would say that there’s no specific wow moment, because I, I do work with pretty cutting-edge companies as a robotic space, like autonomous flying autonomous cars. So, I think it takes a lot to wow me. By I would say that what we have done a little differently is in the past, you know, I’ve we’ve always been very focused on working with entrepreneurs in our coverage area, right. Like, you know, if I look at education, I spend a lot more of my time in China, with Chinese entrepreneurs, with some of the, you know, very interesting investments coming out for Asia, right? I think with COVID, we actually cast our lens wider. And so, we are also able to meet with companies like Labster who is based in Europe, and who’s using their technology to try and provide kind of lab simulations to students around the world.
I think the other little piece of that change is that we are seeing more deals. And so the typical deals that may not fall within our coverage lens, today are getting that meetings. So, so I think from that perspective, definitely meeting interesting companies that we would not have otherwise engage with or even invest in. But today, the barrier to having that meeting is a lot lower right. In the past entrepreneurs who say come meet me in the office, or today even if I’m willing to fly, there’s no plane that would get me there. I think there’s definitely a mindset change, not only now and but also on entrepreneurs’ side as well. So that I think it’s good, it’s good. It’s just surfacing more innovation and allowing, you know, the suitable and right investor and founder to come together.
Rita Yang 22:36
Yeah. You didn’t mention that the Agora IPO this year, you know, you were supposed to be in Shanghai and to do the virtual IPO on stage, but you were stuck in Singapore back then.
Jenny Lee 22:50
Right. Yeah. So no, definitely. I think we also had so many IPOs this year. We love all our companies. But yes, I think you know, other than fundraising, right, which is huge. Whether it is Agora, WPS, Xpeng, or Airbnb, you have to be on the road to do the roadshow. There’s that fixed 10 to 14 days where you go and meet with investors. And sometimes they cover the US, Europe and Asia route, and you have that face to face. But today, you know, Agora’s IPO was done in four days, right, four days of online roadshow, and the bell ringing was actually that they brought NASDAQ to Shanghai. So instead of instead of going to NASDAQ, to ring the bell there, literally, we have the stage brought to Shanghai, right. And there’s a virtual bell ringing. So I think that’s also saves a lot to saying, in the past, you would think that’s not possible. But even for entrepreneurs, the world is also coming to them, as well. And I think it’s just creating a lot of, as I said, right, mindset change people. People are, you know, taking it the guys who can survive, I think, why not? Let’s do it this way. And so they can keep the business going. They can continue to keep the innovation running. And so I said, I think it’s amazing year, in that sense, a lot of, you know, a lot of challenges, a lot of stress, you know, but on the other hand, for every sad story we have, I think there’s also another brief story down the road. Yeah,
Rita Yang 24:36
yeah. Last question is just on the future. What are you most excited for 2021?
Jenny Lee 24:42
Well, everybody is hoping that everything gets better. It’s kind of weird to have, you know, China back to work, and then some regions are still under lock down. So definitely love to see the world economy come back. If not fully, but at least on pathway to get back to where it is. I think human beings generally social in nature, and while we can survive with this new environment, I think that it’s still generally hopeful that it can come back to normal right for at least some sense of normality with workforce and people, that’s on the macro side. We would like to see a more globalized world, we always believe that, together in strength, we can face more challenges, and we can resolve more issues. And so I think going forward as well, we hope that whether it’s world economy, or differences in views that they can all, at least sit down and resolve this, I think a more global world where resources can be shared lessons can be learned, I think that makes for a better global economy. On the micro level, GGV has come a long way 20th year, and 2021 will be our 21st. year. So hopefully, it will really be a milestone setting one for us, whether it’s from our new fund that is now ready for deployment, or our portfolio companies getting ready to tap the capital markets and are continuing to grow to be category leaders, we like in our portfolio to continue to grow from strength to strength in the last year, I think, you know, all these years, we’ll be building a GGV platform to where it is today. I think we are at, at our best, right? I think this adversity has also shown strength in all our colleagues everywhere, like everywhere I turn, I see the GGV strength exemplified by each of our colleagues. I hope that as we go forward, that this string continues to be strengthened that unity continues to be there, and that we can create more exciting, you know, new stories and new outcomes for investors. Yeah.
Rita Yang 27:30
Thank you so much, Jenny for spending the time with us looking back here. 2020. I look forward to seeing you soon in person. Great.
Jenny Lee 27:39
Very good. And hopefully I’ll get to be back in China soon. Yeah.
Rita Yang 27:44
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