Pocket Sun never expected to be an entrepreneur. It was only after she lost her corporate job in her early 20s and went to graduate school at the University of Southern California, where she studied entrepreneurship and innovation, that she realized business ownership might be the path for her.
Since then, Sun, who was born in China and is 25, has moved to Singapore, built a global community of women entrepreneurs called SoGal, and started a female-led millennial venture capital fund that invests in diverse entrepreneurs called SoGal Ventures. In 2016, she was named to the Forbes 30 under 30 Asia in Finance and Capital list.
We visited her in Singapore to hear about challenges women entrepreneurs face there. Her candid advice is a must read for women who are thinking about starting companies.
This interview was originally published on Prabha Dublish’s blog featuring international women entrepreneurs. Edited excerpts of the interview follow.
Can you tell us a little bit about how SoGal began?
SoGal started as a global community for female entrepreneurs. I founded it in November 2014 in Los Angeles and quickly grew it from a student organization to a global movement. From Los Angeles, the network expanded into San Francisco, New York, Shanghai, Beijing, Vietnam and more.
I realized building communities was great, but what really mattered to women’s businesses was the capital to grow. If female entrepreneurs aren’t given sufficient capital, then they aren’t given the same opportunities as men to prove that they are not only worthy of investments, but also capable of building “unicorn” businesses. This drove me and my business partner to start SoGal Ventures, which is the world’s first female-led millennial VC firm.
My partner and I have done 27 investments in the past 15 months, and these startups are on a rocket ship. As newcomers to the VC world, we were doing everything we could to validate ourselves and build a solid track record. We entered the VC industry with eyes wide open, knowing that it’ll be an uphill battle. People have doubted us before, but the same people are now publicly recognizing our rapid growth and success thus far. We recently made our very first investment as SoGal Ventures, and oh man, that felt so good!
Were you someone who always wanted to be an entrepreneur?
I never imagined being an entrepreneur until I lost my corporate job and had to go to grad school. Out of the five business schools that accepted me, USC gave me the best scholarship offer, so I moved to L.A. to study entrepreneurship and innovation. That’s when my perspective started to change. Looking back, what I’m doing today is way beyond my wildest expectations. You gotta believe that everything happens for you, not to you.
What challenges have you faced being a first-time female VC?
Only 1 percent of alternative assets go to female fund managers. We are in a really tough field, but this also means that we may be onto something big: changing the existing power dynamics. In May 2015, I took an executive training course at Stanford with 33 VCs from 15 different countries who were a lot more experienced than me. Being in the same classroom with them helped me realize that I had no problem being in that conversation, and that I had a lot of unique value to add. I knew what they were talking about. That was such a relief! Trust me, believing in yourself is more than half the battle.
I also met my business partner Elizabeth Galbut in the program, and we decided to start a fund together. The process of building a VC firm from the ground up is a lot of trial and error. We went from looking to other firms to see how it’s done, to finally finding our own voice. And that’s powerful. We represent something entirely different and new. Elizabeth and I have done more in the past 2 years than most people do in 5 to10. You have to constantly tell yourself that you can do this and there’s nothing you can’t learn. It’s really about doing and learning and doing again.
The whole journey has been super rewarding. Before founding SoGal, I loved my corporate job and was content with that life because I didn’t know any alternatives. Millions of others don’t know their potential either, and the doors will stay closed unless you kick it hard enough. Things are more difficult in our head than they actually are.
Raising money is never easy, especially when you’re a first-time fund manager. But we’re building the first millennial VC fund investing in diverse entrepreneurs in the U.S. and Asia. We have a lot of inbound interest and a high success rate because we are so different, which makes us stand out.
First Round Capital reported that teams with female founders perform better than all-male teams . Why do you think that is?
Men and women are equally competent to build really great companies. The matter is whether women are given equal opportunities to build great companies. I absolutely believe that investing in women is good business.
From my experience, women are more responsible with other people’s money. Women have really sharp intuition about people, which makes them better at managing teams. The world economy is also leaning towards women. Women make the majority of purchases and shop for everybody in the family. So who knows what will sell and how to trigger a purchase? We do. I think women are very sensitive to trends and behavioral patterns, so when they are creating a business, they already know what works.
We often think that men are solving big problems, but if you think about the biggest problems in the world — like poverty and education — women are at the forefront for social change. Yet somehow, men tend to get the top seat and get paid a lot more. Women before us fought for what we have today. So it’s our responsibility to continue fighting for future generations to have equal opportunities.
How can we bring men into the dialogue and avoid alienating them as we move towards gender equality?
Men are under tremendous pressure right now because women are entering traditionally male-dominated industries and taking over. Nobody ever taught men how to deal with the power shifts, and some men are a bit confused about how to be around women in a professional context. But equal rights means less pressure on men, too. It’s important that we think about stereotypical characteristics that we assign to both genders. I don’t think anyone’s capability should be judged based on gender.
Do you have any advice for college students looking to become entrepreneurs or VCs?
SoGal started on a college campus, so I love college students. It’s really important to recognize what you were taught growing up may not be true, such as women are better at housework, or men are better at science. When other people tell you something can’t be done, question why they say that. If you are onto something meaningful, it’s going to be hard. You are going to figure out things for yourself, and that’s the best part. Entrepreneurship is the best way to grow as a person.
I used to be so envious of those working at corporate companies, but now I realize that I can make way more impact as an entrepreneur. Go beyond your school, and learn more about interesting organizations, initiatives and change makers. Find your tribe.
Many college students choose finance or consulting over entrepreneurship. How do you figure out what to do?
When I was in college, I was in the ballroom dance club, the symphony orchestra, school plays, taking photographs for the newspaper, and volunteering for the on-campus TEDx event. It opened my eyes to see different things and made me a better person. Many people never explore certain career paths because they never thought it was an option. The future belongs to those who have “slash” lives, i.e. are a songwriter/author/designer/coder. We cannot be defined by one thing anymore. We are way more interesting than that.
Prabha Dublish is an undergraduate business student at Babson College in Wellesley, Mass., and co-founder and president of Womentum, a nonprofit pay-it-forward crowdfunding platform that allows anyone in the world to donate to women entrepreneurs in developing countries.