Fang Yuan is a Vice President at Baidu Ventures, which was the most active firm in the artificial intelligence space last year, working with entrepreneurs to transform and reconstruct the world through artificial intelligence with portfolio companies such as Covariant.ai, Lightelligence, SalesHero_, and Subtle Medical.
Prior to Baidu Ventures Fang worked at Comet Labs, an early stage AI & robotics fund, as an Operations Director. Previous to Comet, she did business strategy & operations for two “unicorn” startups. Early in her career, Fang was a consultant at Oliver Wyman Financial Services consulting, focusing on general management, operational and IT improvements for major corporations globally (US, Canada, Brazil, Mexico, Nigeria, etc.).
Please enjoy this Q+A with Fang Yuan.
What is your / your fund’s mission?
We are the non-strategic investment arm of Baidu, launched in early 2017 with a $200MM first fund. Our particular focus is on AI and robotics applied to specific industry verticals such as healthcare, transportation, agriculture, retail, etc. We’ve made ~40 investments in North America. Our goal is help our founders create an impact on the world through AI & robotics applications.
What is one thing you are excited about right now?
Better and better AI infrastructure and tooling, which will hopefully make it easier for everyone to train and deploy AI models going forward.
Who is one founder you think we should watch?
Anand Agarawala at Spatial. I think the vision of AR collaboration that he’s bringing into the world is very special because, ideally, this type of technology will allow us to no longer be geographically constrained.
What are 3 top qualities of every great leader?
- Humility / knowing when and how to delegate
- Diligence / drive
What and when was your very first investment? What struck you about them?
Covariant.ai (used to be called Embodied Intelligence). I think the team is incredible (the NYTimes ran an article about them when they started their startup, see below) because they’re extremely talented technically, super driven, and yet also business oriented (i.e., listens to their customers). It’s hard to find that combination.
What is one question you ask yourself before investing in a company?
Do I believe that these are the right founders for solving this problem and can we help them accelerate their mission and vision?
What is one thing every founder should ask themselves before walking into a meeting with a potential investor?
Do I know what types of companies this investor is interested in and how I fit into that picture? Knowledge is power and a lot of (easy) research can be done online beforehand.
What do you think should be in a CEO’s top 3 company priorities?
- Focus only on what’s truly important
- Hire the right team and keep them engaged
- Know when to reach out for help
Favorite business book, blog or podcast?
Books that are good not just for business but for life (which I think also make you better at business): The Meditations (Marcus Aurelius), On the Shortness of Life (Seneca), How Will You Measure Your Life (Clayton M. Christensen), Difficult Conversations (Douglas Stone), Non Violent Communications (Marshall B. Rosenberg)
Autobiographies / biographies: Call Me Ted (Ted Turner), Shoe Dog (Phil Knight), Autobiography of Andrew Carnegie (Andrew Carnegie), The Snowball (Alice Schroeder), The Power Broker (Robert A. Caro), Alibaba (Duncan Clark), The Everything Store (Brad Stone)
What is your favorite thing to do when you’re not working?
Reading! I’ve got ~60 books in my bedroom alone, my bookshelves are falling over because they’re overloaded with books and I read everywhere I go (walking down the street, crossing the street, in the Muni, etc.).
Who is one leader you admire?
Madeleine Albright. Incredibly sharp but also warm and delightfully funny. She started in politics in her early 40s after a traumatic divorce and built herself into the most powerful female official in American history in about a decade — that’s an amazing story!
What is one interesting thing most people won’t know about you?
I’ve spent a lot of time living, studying and working abroad in emerging markets — specifically, ~4.5 years across China, India, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, Nigeria, and Trinidad. I speak four languages (English, Chinese, Spanish, Portuguese) and really love traveling and exploring other cultures.
What is one piece of advice you’d give every founder?
Ask yourself if you truly see yourself fulfilled working on this startup for the next 7–10 years. And since humans are notoriously bad at being able to predict what they’ll be like in the future, ask yourself if you’d be doing what you’re doing even without any funding (if you can still do so) — would you do this for free because you believe in it that much?
How can startups reach you?
Startups interested in an opportunity to pitch Baidu Ventures can apply here.