Welcome to the Information Age series on Diversity & Inclusion Champions. This week, we speak to Pocket Sun, CEO of VC firm SoGal Ventures.
On the road to a career in marketing, Pocket Sun took a detour into entrepreneurship.
It wasn’t intentional.
She needed to stay in America and signed up to study a one-year course called Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the University of Southern California.
“I thought I could finish the degree and go back to my corporate route, but apparently that did not happen,” she says laughing.
“When I entered the program, I had no idea that I would be interested in entrepreneurship. I went in with no expectations, but ended up with a life-changing experience.
Today, Sun heads SoGal Ventures with her business partner Elizabeth Galbut, which bills itself as the world’s first female-led international VC fund.
“I realised the course was not just about starting a business on your own, it was also about injecting an entrepreneurial mindset in everything that you do, so everything from going to work to how you design your life and how you look at your relationships,” Sun tells Information Age.
“Everything could be reframed under the entrepreneurship spirit.”
And the one problem Sun wanted to tackle?
“Women as a minority in the entrepreneurial ecosystem was one of the strongest problems that I felt and wanted to solve,” Sun says.
Frustrated by the lack of female guest speakers in her course, Sun took it upon herself to set up SoGal for female entrepreneurs to come together and help each other.
A course Sun undertook at Stanford University called VC Unlocked cemented her resolve.
“Through that program I was able to meet so many female investors for the first time in my life,” Sun recalls.
“I was surrounded by a lot of women investors, and that was super inspiring, and I was also encouraged during the program to start something on my own in venture capital instead of throwing my resume around and trying to find a job in VC that might not even respect my opinion, or I might not even enjoy the work environment.”
Sun decided to take a leap of faith and invested $US1,000 in a Miami-based facial recognition company.
These days, Sun invests much bigger amounts in companies she believes in.
“Our investments went from $1,000 to $10,000 to $100,000 to now writing much bigger cheques, and everything just happened within the past three years,” Sun says.
“It's been amazing to see that growth.”
Sun’s biggest investment has been $US400,000 in a digital health start-up, EveryWell.
To date, she’s invested in just one Australian company – The Right Fit – a platform for brands and agencies to find creative talent, and hopes to invest in more.
What’s VC all about?
“When I think of venture capital, it really is your conviction about the future,” Sun says.
“It is about building a holistic vision for what the world would look like or should look like in your opinion.”
Sun says that in the past three years, there’s been significant change in the VC landscape, with many firms “that have been around forever” bringing on female partners for the first time, and a lot of the new firms are founded by diverse teams.
“These are super exciting changes, and I want them to happen faster. I want diverse people to own more capital allocation so that they can make meaningful capital contributions to new directions,” Sun says.
One area Sun keeps her eye on is social media.
“Social media is one of the most important ways for us to observe and evaluate a new business. We see how they perform on social media and that becomes a big part of what we think of the company. Whether it's digital native, whether it could have massive appeal for the new generation.
In fact, she says anyone can get in front of her to pitch an idea on any of the social media platforms but says ideas aren’t the be-all, end-all.
“Ideas really don't matter,” she says. “It's really about your execution and what you feel that you can really devote your life to. I feel like certain problems need a certain kind of people to solve, so there needs to be this founder-problem match.”
Women, she says, need an extra push to get going on an entrepreneurial path.
“I think women sometimes just need a little encouragement, a little fire to light up what's inside of them,” she says.
“I think that's super exciting, because that's how it happened for me. I had no idea that entrepreneurship was my calling, but I was inspired by people around me. I was inspired by the different stories I heard.
“Just because of these stories and feeling that I have nothing to lose, really, I decided to do something and SoGal went from a tiny little thing on one campus to a large global network, to an actual fund, to now over 60 investments just in the past three years.
“I think women as a demographic, our needs, our requirements and how we do things has been put on the sidelines in the past. I think there's trillions and trillions of business value to be created when we just take women seriously.”
* In case you were wondering, Pocket is her real name! It’s a literal translation of her Chinese nickname.
Join us for breakfast at the ACS Innovation Hub in Sydney to hear from inspirational women Monica Wulff of Start-up Muster, Siobhan Hayden of HashChing, Allison Reid of Equal Reality and Iris Chan of FusionGrove. Our special International Women’s Day event is on Friday 8 March 2019 from 7.30am. Details and tickets here.