Jennifer Lum is an entrepreneur, angel investor, startup advisor and active Network Leader at Village Global. She is also the Co-Founder and COO of Forge.AI, a data company that creates fuel for intelligent machines.
Below are 5 questions Jen answered for Village about her experience as an operator/angel learning from and balancing both.
1. Why did you start Forge.AI? What excites you most about the opportunity?
I cofounded Forge.AI with Jim Crowley and Jack Crowley. The three of us first started talking about building Forge twelve years ago (2006), following the acquisition of m-Qube, where Jim and I worked together. We saw enormous potential and a growing market opportunity for technology that could allow computers to read and reason over unstructured data. Jack had been focused on these technologies for awhile, but we needed to wait for the market to mature. With the emergence of cloud computing, GPUs, and the growing adoption of ML across the Fortune 500, we saw our market opportunity starting to open and decided (in early 2017) that it was finally the right time to start our company.
Today, most of the world’s information is not immediately usable by computers. Organizations who incorporate any text or speech-based information (news, SEC filings, etc) into their decision making, are investing a lot of time and money into transforming the information into a structured format that can be used by computers for modeling or analytical processing.
We’re most excited about the opportunity to help accelerate and improve the way that organizations gather information and evidence to make crucial decisions that drive their businesses. By providing our partners with access to increased information coverage via our streaming structured data, we enable them to analyze and model information in new ways and in real-time.
2. What are the advantages to being an operator who is also an active angel investor? How do these activities reinforce each other?
There are a few ways that being an operator and an angel investor help to improve the way I’m able to perform in both roles.
- Active networks (customers, talent, investors, advisors) — Through my operating role, I encounter people and companies that can be helpful to my portfolio as an investor. I’m able to make mutually beneficial introductions and connections. This can be especially powerful when I’m operating in the same market as a portfolio company.
- Thought/Discussion partner — I’m working on my fifth startup and I’ve been involved with several others as an investor, board member, and advisor. I’m able to share my experiences and observations as someone who’s been in the trenches and also talk through scenarios regarding different aspects of company building.
- Perspective — The perspective that I gain from interacting with other founders helps me discover new ways to think about building and managing my own company.
3. You have invested in 30+ cos and, in addition to your work at Village Global, spent time mentoring startups at MIT and Harvard as well as other schools and startup hubs: What is your approach for evaluating and choosing the entrepreneurs who are going to create the future?
I’m fortunate to live and work in a thriving innovation community where I’m surrounded by entrepreneurs who are tackling all sorts of challenges. As an angel/operator, I don’t have a lot of time to actively hunt for new investment opportunities. Most of the opportunities I evaluate are from entrepreneurs in my network who are starting new companies or trusted friends who refer companies to me.
I focus on three criteria:
1. Domain Knowledge and Experience
- Do the founders have deep and direct domain knowledge and experience?
- Through their experience, have they developed unique insight on a market and/or problems and opportunities to be solved?
2. Conviction and Grit
- Do the founders demonstrate true conviction and passion for the problems they are solving?
- Have they demonstrated real grit and perseverance in challenging situations in the past?
- Have they been able to inspire others to buy into their vision? Team members, academic or industry experts, customers, etc.
3. Product and Market Opportunity
- Do I understand and believe in the need for the product that the founders are building?
- Do I believe that the founders are focusing on a big and growing market?
4. You recently sourced and led investments in Evisort and Thoughtblox on behalf of Village. What’s the backstory and what got you to say yes?
I was introduced to Jerry Ting (CEO) by a friend who’d met Jerry at an event at Harvard Law School. Jerry and his cofounder Jake Sussman started the company while studying at Harvard Law and were determined to jump into Evisort full time post-graduation. They had the domain knowledge and experience to understand the problems and opportunities in the contract space and they had great familiarity with, and access to, their target customer, lawyers. I was impressed with Jerry’s sales acumen and recruiting skills and was excited to get involved with the company alongside Village Global.
A friend suggested that Brad Glisson (CEO) should speak with me. Since we both work in the same WeWork building, it wasn’t too hard for Brad to find me. I was intrigued by the company’s origin story and how it was rooted in Brad’s research. I was impressed with how much Brad had built with limited resources and how he’d assembled a notable advisory board and operating team. After speaking to some large potential customers, I grew more excited about the problems Brad was looking to solve through ThoughtBlox.
5. How can you best help founders…What’s your superpower?
I enjoy being a thought partner to founders — actively discussing priorities and issues and helping them explore options. My superpower is helping founders find ways to connect the dots and grab on to new ideas, opportunities, and people.