Announcing Hyphen Capital
Over the past decade, I’ve been building a community of Asian-American founders in Silicon Valley. It started out with a small dinner I arranged with a few of my fellow founders when I was working on my first company. At the time, I felt like I was lacking community with other founders, especially those who had a shared cultural upbringing and challenges. I’ve shared a bit about my experience in my essay Bamboo Ceiling? Build Your Own House. There are many groups for other founder communities but I wasn’t aware of any specifically for East or Southeast Asian-American founders. Our dinner that night reminded us of how important it is to have that unique fellowship of breaking from the conservative career paths our immigrant parents wanted for us to pursue our entrepreneurial dreams. That gathering planted the seed for what would grow to become the Asian-American Founders Circle (AAFC) with over 200 fellow builders.
AAFC has become a support network for founders to help one another both personally and professionally. Starting a company can oftentimes be the loneliest job in the world, but it doesn’t have to be like that. Having peers on the journey or being mentored by those who have gone down that path before you can make a huge difference in morale and confidence. But beyond moral support and mentorship, having the network helps open doors for business opportunities and capital.
My vision for the group was that it would be a community of Asian-American creators. People who took a bold risk to veer off the beaten path of stability that they were expected to take and forge a new one. We have the founder of an animation studio who created a hit series on Netflix. We have the founder of one of the most successful boba retail chains in the country. We have the founder of an organization that combats sexual harassment, discrimination, and retaliation in the workplace. We also have the founders of companies of household names like DoorDash, Zoom and Twitch. The group has seasoned founders of public companies and unicorns, but it also has first-time founders who are just getting started. We are all learning from one another, no matter what stage of company we are in.
The first criteria of admission into the group is humility. There’s no room for pretension or thinking you are any better than anyone else, no matter what your LinkedIn profile or bank account say. We are a community that holds one another up in the hopes that we can inspire the next generation of Asian-American founders. This includes explicitly supporting Asian-American women founders who have to overcome even more adversity to succeed. I am proud that our group is over 40% female, despite being in the predominantly male Silicon Valley, and I hope to maintain that ratio and intentionally increase it as we grow. We’re a group of cheerleaders who are always rooting for each other to succeed. We aspire to see our peers win an Emmy award, earn a Michelin star or ring the bell at Nasdaq on IPO day.
In an effort to more tangibly support my fellow Asian-American founders, I’ve decided to start a syndicate called Hyphen Capital. There’s no more impactful way to help someone take the leap and pursue their dream than cutting them a check to break them free from the shackles of their day job and the guilt and doubt of their parents. There have been too many times that I wanted to help a young entrepreneur that I believed in, but couldn’t help them enough. My goal with this fund is to bring together the community of peers and give the next generation of founders the financial backing to get them started on their journeys. With the support and power of the network, we can help mentor, partner and open doors for new founders to improve their odds of success. The syndicate will also allow the community to participate in the upside of each of our businesses as they grow, giving each of us a vested interest in one another. I will be curating LPs to create a valuable network of experienced professionals that will have advice and access from product to go-to-market to fundraising and more. Our investor network includes founders of some of the most successful startups in the past decade such as Steve Chen (co-founder of YouTube), Sam Yam (co-founder of Patreon), Kevin Chou (co-founder of Kabam), Albert and Mike Lee (founders of MyFitnessPal), Eddie Kim (co-founder of Gusto), Kevin Lin (co-founder of Twitch), Eric Wu (co-founder of OpenDoor) and Patrick Lee (co-founder of Rotten Tomatoes).
I decided on the name Hyphen Capital because we are cross-cultural entrepreneurs and investors who bridge both East and West. Many of us grew up in a Western world that values independence and individuality, a culture that promotes and rewards taking risks and being bold. We also grew up in Eastern families and homes that encouraged filial piety, humility and diligence. The hyphen bridges our two worlds that we straddle every day of our lives and represents who we are as a generation of third culture kids. Together our community will leverage our shared experience as a strength and advantage.
I never could have imagined that a small dinner nine years ago would have become what it has become. My only hope is that it continues to grow with new Asian-American founders that can inspire others to take a chance on themselves. Hyphen is my concrete way of helping people take that chance. I will be focusing on pre-seed investments, possibly the first money in, because that is the check that can change the course of a person’s life. If you’ve been working at a desk job or are an unhappy doctor or lawyer, and you have a big idea that you’ve been wanting to work on, that check plus access to a network like AAFC could be what you’ve been waiting for. It’s one thing to fund a company that already has traction and has access to capital, it’s another to fund someone with nothing more than their talent, grit and an idea. If this sounds like you, email me at email@example.com to see if there’s a fit. We’d love to support your endeavors to bypass the bamboo ceiling and build your own house.
If you’d like to become an LP in the network and invest in the future of Asian-American entrepreneurship, please reach out as well!