Stay Away from the Rose-Colored Glasses” with Jane Leung, Chief Investment Officer at Scenic Advisement

I had the pleasure of interviewing Jane Leung, managing director and chief investment officer at Scenic Advisement, a boutique investment bank for the private sector. Jane manages the wealth management group, a first-of-its-kind wealth management service that blends public-market and private-market investments, introducing active valuation, execution competency and risk management across both asset classes. She was previously a managing director at BlackRock where she worked for several years in Hong Kong leading the company’s iShares division.

Jean: Can you share your story about how you got into the VC space?

After spending the majority of my career in the public institutional markets, I returned to San Francisco from Asia because I wanted to have an impact in the sector that was, and still is, driving the local (and global) economy — technology. I joined Scenic Advisement because the company was at the forefront of bringing an institutional and transparent approach to the opaque private markets. Its work with many private companies at various stages of growth and development was hugely compelling and refreshing to me, and a great way to blend my expertise with an area of interest.

Jean: What kinds of startups do you typically work with?

At first it was mostly late-stage, pre-IPO companies, those who, if public, would grow to become some of the largest companies on the listed exchange. But now, as the trend of private to public continues to grow, we are meeting more and more mid- (and sometimes even early-stage) startups across technology — all areas, from fintech, cleantech, AI, biotech and healthcare.

Jean: What do you look for in the management team of your investment companies?

Execution, execution, execution, which happens only as a result of superhuman persistence and true grit. I place great importance in ensuring the team is using the “whole brain” and that they are leveraging their skills and personalities that are complementary. You can achieve much more from such a combination than a company that is filled with all the same sort of people and thinking.

In my experience, having worked with investment companies and VCs for over two decades, it is crucial that everyone is able work well together — which can prove challenging at times if you’re in a small-team environment. Differences in personalities and working styles are exponentially exacerbated in a startup environment. Everyone has to be passionate about what they do and motivated by the same things (at least to a fair degree), otherwise the startup will fail.

The ability to pivot and move swiftly is also key. While there has to be an overall plan and vision, things can move at lightspeed, the ability to be nimble is critical.

Jean: Can you share a story of a successful Angel or VC Investment? What were some of the highlights?

As Scenic is an investment bank that is focussed on secondary and primary capital raises for leading private companies, we don’t invest directly on behalf of our clients. We work as an intermediary with an institutional investor that has made an investment in a company that (may) eventually go public.

We cater to founders, employees and investors of private technology companies. Why is this important? Because more technology companies are choosing to stay private for longer, creating more circumstances in which shareholders might want to liquidate some or all of their holdings, rather than wait for a payout from a public offering. Private tech companies are approached regularly by investors or Angels wanting to give them capital in exchange for part ownership. But the industry is changing: the reality is that today companies are not always in need of cash, or as don’t always need as much as an investor is willing to offer. In these cases, companies work with a bank like Scenic Advisement to help shareholders value and transact shares on behalf to others.

Jean: What is one piece of advice you would give a start up?

Make ambiguity your friend. There is no black and white, particularly when it comes to being an entrepreneur. Everything is always in a state of flux and changing. Being comfortable with that fact, going with the best information, and adjusting as necessary is the key to success.

Jean: Do you have a favorite book that made a deep impact on your life? Can you share a story?

The Little Prince — by Antoine de Saint-Exupery. There are so many morals from the story that I continue to live by on both a personal and professional level:

  • Remember to look beyond the surface — this comes in handy when evaluating companies, investors, founders. Things are not always what they seem and digging deeper is rarely a futile attempt.
  • Judge yourself first — this is far more difficult and usually more important than judging others. Self-awareness and being self critical (to a point, of course) is the best way to achieve personal growth.
  • Don’t forget to enjoy your life — take a moment and take it all in. Life is short. It’s important to work and play hard. This may seem obvious, but many people don’t do this very well. Don’t feel guilty about stopping to smell the roses and be grateful for the things you do have, not what you don’t.
  • Don’t put all your trust in what the experts “know” — sometimes the best advice comes from where you least expect it.

Jean: What are your “Five Things I Wish Founders New Before They Pitched To Me” and why?

  1. It’s really about the people, less the business.

Think we’re all about to be replaced by robots? Think again. We were once working with a SaaS company whose founder, though in some ways very self-aware and tuned in, just didn’t realize that one of the biggest issues with the company was himself and his inability to lead and inspire. There is no point in having a great idea if you can’t execute it seamlessly — the reality is to have a successful business you just can’t do it all yourself, despite what you might think.

2. Stay away from the rose-colored glasses. 
Great founders are passionate about their business and are dynamic and evangelical about spreading the gospel of their mission. This is absolutely necessary. It is also imperative to be able to be self-reflective and look through with a critical lens and don’t be afraid of sharing issues with investors. They can’t help you if they don’t know. I once had an investor hear complaints from one of the business’s clients — it happened in a roundabout way and the investor was taken off-guard and unable to support the Company.

3. There is no such thing as ‘no’. 
One thing that separates the survivors from the corpses is the crazy persistence that seems innate. The most successful entrepreneurs I have known are rarely deterred and always looking for a different angle and way to solve the problem. They are hugely resourceful and can create value out of the most challenging circumstances.

4. There is always a competitor out there. 
Even if you think you have come up with the greatest thing since sliced bread, there is always someone/something out there that will keep you from being able to realize your dream. I have seen many entrepreneurs being too cocky and secretive because they think that they’ve latched onto something that no one else has. Regardless of whether that is true or not, market efficiency means that inevitably others will be on top of you, if they are not already. Don’t be disingenuous or naïve.

5. Know your audience. 
I have met a number of entrepreneurs who adopted a spaghetti-on-the-wall approach and didn’t put much thought into which investors to approach. Not all investors are created equal, but more importantly, you want to find someone who is the right fit and/or can be a true partner. To increase the chances of getting the funds you need, you need to do your homework and figure out what the investors’ interests are. Market research is just as important here as it was for researching your new business idea.

Jean: Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. 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? He or she might see

Dominique Crenn — finally getting her due. She is one of the world’s best chefs that happens to be a woman. Her aesthetic is incredible and she is so driven, opinionated and an innovative and thoughtful business-woman. I admire her hugely and think she is a great role model for men and women alike.

-Published on August 2018