Ffmh5th Edition Meet The Mentors

We’re thrilled to introduce an awesome line-up of new mentors joining us from Vertex Ventures, Patamar Capital, Wavemaker Partners, Ascend Vietnam Ventures, Qualgro, Click Ventures, TinMen Capital, Sovereign’s Capital! As each session is only 13-minutes long, founders, it is essential that your due diligence and learn more about the mentor’s background, their investment strategy, what they enjoy discussing with founders and their top tips for office hours below.

In the fifth edition of Female Founders Mentoring Hours, we’re heartened by the number of returning mentors and new mentors alike joining us to achieve the same vision. As Cocoon Capital plans to run FFMH every 4 months, do drop Lauren (lauren@cocooncap.com) an email to find out how you can join the programme!

Please check out the rest of the series from the first four editions of FFMH here.

 

Khush Topandasani, Vertex Ventures

Khush Topandasani

Khush Topandasani is part of the Vertex Ventures South East Asia and India Investments Team. She sources and invests in early stage high-growth tech start-ups seeking venture capital funding. Prior to joining Vertex, she was a Product Manager at Citibank where she also completed her Management Associate Program. Khush graduated with a Bachelors degree in Accountancy from Singapore Management University (SMU) and previously worked at EY Singapore and Starwood Hotel & Resorts Singapore.

What is unique about Vertex Ventures?

Vertex Ventures invests in early-stage start-ups seeking institutional venture capital funding across Asia, with a focus on Singapore, Indonesia and India, among other emerging hubs of innovation in the region.

Vertex is a member of Temasek holdings and is one of the longest operating venture capital firms in Asia (> 30 years). In addition to South East Asia and India, the Vertex Global Network comprises Silicon Valley, China, and Israel, providing a unique platform for our portfolio companies by leveraging the combined experience and resources of our extensive network globally. Our successful portfolios include Grab, Patsnap, FirstCry, 17Live, Nium, Validus, HappyFresh, Sunday, Tanihub, Warung Pintar, and others.

What investments do you enjoy looking at?

Being sector agnostic, we focus on Series A opportunities in SEA and India across various categories such as Consumer Internet, Enterprise Technology and Fintech amongst others. Some of our theses are consumption upgrading, empowering SMEs, enabling commerce/services for the masses, enabling market transparency/efficiency in B2B Enterprise.

Which part of an investment do you enjoy most discussing with a founder?

1. Personal – Understanding their background, prior experiences and motivation that led them to start a venture.

2. Business – Understanding the vision for their business and how they will tackle the problem in the market they are solving and plans to scale.

3. Relationship – What kind of criteria/value add do they look for in an investor?

What are your 3 top tips on how to make the most of the mentoring hours?

1. Prepare all questions you have in mind prior to the call

2. Set context surrounding the discussion and topic/industry covered

3. Open up on personal and professional motivation & challenges faced.

What advice are you giving to startups on how to navigate COVID-19? Are you giving the same advice to scale-ups (post-series B)?

1. Ability to manoeuvre and be agile in challenging times (eg finding new opportunities to pivot to, new business lines to open)

2. Manage cashflows, extend runway as long as possible since fundraising may not be as easy.

 

Sandra Surya, Patamar Capital

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Sandra is the Associate at Patamar Capital. Previously she was the Chief of Development at Koperasi KASIH Indonesia (KKI), a social enterprise that empowers Indonesia’s poor to exit poverty through microfinance services. Prior to KKI, she was one of the Directors and founding members of ChapterW, a Singapore-based award winning social enterprise that empowers rural women to become solar light entrepreneurs. Early in her career, Sandra worked at the Royal Bank of Scotland and Louis Dreyfus Commodities before making a decision to venture into the social impact sector.

What is unique about Patamar Capital? 

We have two funds that are actively investing in Southeast Asia at the moment. Here’s what makes each of them unique:

Patamar II: We’ve spent the last 15+ years backing companies serving Asia’s “mass market”, or the emerging middle class. We were the first VC firm in Southeast Asia focused solely on low and middle-income consumers. In addition, we’re strongly committed to being close to the companies we work with, and as such have in-country teams embedded in six countries across Southeast and South Asia.

Beacon Fund: This is a new fund seeded by Patamar Capital which represents a long-term commitment to changing finance to work better for women-led businesses. We’ve noticed that many of these businesses are not the ‘blitz-scaling’ (often cash-incinerating) companies targeted by traditional VC firms – and that’s not a problem, it’s an opportunity. Beacon aims to contribute to closing the gender financing gap by providing appropriate capital and support to sustainable, moderate growth companies which are not a good fit for the traditional VC model and severely underserved by banks.

What investments do you enjoy looking at? 

I enjoy looking at investments aimed at (i) disrupting the value chain that proves to be inefficient, such as in agritech and FMCG, (ii) improving the lives of Indonesians in lower tier cities, and (iii) delivering strong impact while having solid business propositions to scale

Which part of an investment do you enjoy most discussing with a founder? 

Business model, scaling up, personal development

What are your 3 top tips on how to make the most of the mentoring hours? 

1. Prepare your questions so you can maximize the time,

2. Nothing is off-topic if it significantly affects the performance of your company, so ask me anything, and 3

3. (Applies to both the mentor and participants) aim to build relationships as connections from mentoring hours might be useful in our respective journey

What advice are you giving to startups on how to navigate COVID-19? Are you giving the same advice to scale-ups (post series B)?

For most startups in the uncertain economic environment, it is advisable to stay on top of your cash- have a buffer and manage it accordingly. This could be by reducing costs, planning to fundraise earlier, and (if you already have investors on your cap table) have close communication with your internal investors to update, discuss, and learn their commitments of a potential internal round should things go not as planned. Once that’s taken care of, companies need to learn how to adapt to COVID19 situations, such as by (i) identifying pockets of growth and actively pursuing the opportunity, and (ii) being brutal in assessing the reality of your business, what works, what do not, what need to change – and act accordingly.

When growth is capped by external conditions, it is the best time to look internally and optimize your business, setting the foundation to emerge stronger once the pandemic is over. This advice would be applicable across different series, and of course not applicable for sectors/companies that get a tailwind from COVID19 where you can use this opportunity to win the market. For later-stage companies, when possible, place more focus on the path to profitability when you can’t scale and burn as aggressively. 


Phuong Tran, Wavemaker Partners

Prior to Wavemaker, Phuong was one of the founding members of Vietnam’s local VC VinaCapital Ventures, where she sourced, executed, and added value to seed and Series A investments. She also worked as a project coordinator to develop a joint venture project between a Singaporean petrochemical firm and Vietnam’s largest refinery (Dung Quat).

What is unique about Wavemaker Partners?
Our fund focuses on B2B, deep tech, and the less obvious startup opportunities. We believe value = opportunity – perception.

What investments do you enjoy looking at?

Sectors wise I like agritech, social commerce, education, med, SaaS

Which part of an investment do you enjoy most discussing with a founder?

I really enjoy founders who have personally experienced or directly know people who have been through the pain point that he/she is trying to solve. So I love hearing about founders’ story that leads them to be doing what they are today.

What are your 3 top tips on how to make the most of the mentoring hours?

1. Prepare questions;

2. Organize your thoughts clearly;

3. Be open and candid about your struggles

What advice are you giving to startups on how to navigate COVID-19? Are you giving the same advice to scale-ups (post series B)?

I think try to stay nimble, find ways to bring values to stakeholders in non-traditional ways, and extend your runway in whatever means feasible.

 

Minh Ta, Ascend Vietnam Ventures

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Minh is an Investment Associate at Ascend Vietnam Ventures, focusing primarily on HR/Recruitment Tech, Proptech, and Retail. Prior to Ascend Vietnam Ventures, Minh had his start in venture capital at 500 Startups Vietnam, where he was junior lead on 16 deals and helped support a number of 500’s portfolio companies over 2+ years.

What is unique about Ascend Vietnam Ventures?

Ascend Vietnam Ventures is an early stage, Vietnam-focused venture capital firm. Our typical check size is $500K-$2M for first investments, and up to $4M for selected follow-on investments. Ascend Vietnam Ventures was founded by Binh Tran and Eddie Thai, whose prior fund’s, 500 Startups Vietnam, portfolio include ApplyBoard, Axie Infinity, Beam, Trusting Social amongst others. There are a few factors that make us unique:

We were one of the first institutional seed funds in Vietnam with 500 Startups Vietnam, and witnessed first hand how the ecosystem has evolved. 

We have strong operational experience and deep networks in Silicon Valley that Vietnamese/regional startups can leverage as they look to go global.

We are one of a few VCs that have a fully-fledged, dedicated team in Vietnam that can provide Vietnamese startups with world class support, networks, and guidance.

What investments do you enjoy looking at?

As a Vietnam-focused fund, the majority of our investments will be in Vietnam-connected companies, with a more minor allocation to global opportunities. We invest primarily in early-stage tech companies across different sectors and business models, with some degree of focus on fintech (including proptech), education, healthcare, logistics. 

Personally, I enjoy looking at investments in proptech, consumer brands & retail.

Which part of an investment do you enjoy most discussing with a founder?

Their ambitions/vision for the company, and how tech or innovation in general is applied meaningfully in the company’s product.

What are your 3 top tips on how to make the most of the mentoring hours?

– Try to be clear and precise with your goals coming into the session & questions that you want answered.

– Feel free to be open and casual.

– Find ways to leverage your new connections after the mentoring hours.

What advice are you giving to startups on how to navigate COVID-19? Are you giving the same advice to scale-ups (post series B)?

– Have a good grip on your finances. If cutting burn is necessary, do it fast. Some cost reduction areas to look at are payroll, sales & marketing, rent.

– Look for adjacent business opportunities and execute fast to find out what is viable.

– Try to act with empathy & kindness toward your customers, business partners, employees and yourself.

 

Badai Tanmizi, Qualgro

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Badai is an investor in Qualgro, supporting and leading deals in AI, MedTech, FinTech, Data, SaaS etc. He covers deals across Southeast Asia and Australia, with a focus on Indonesia. Badai had experience in consulting, operations, corporate finance and research in Singapore and New York City.

What is unique about Qualgro? 

Qualgro believes in forming partnerships with startups, adding concrete value in output-driven ways beyond valuations and fundraising, and a strong focus on quality – in our analysis, interactions and services provided to our startups

What investments do you enjoy looking at? 

SaaS, AI/ML, MedTech

Which part of an investment do you enjoy most discussing with a founder? 

Brainstorming new ideas to grow the business, solving existing problems faced by the startups

What are your 3 top tips on how to make the most of the mentoring hours? 

Understanding what questions / discussions the startups are keen on exploring, understanding the investor profile (to save time on introductions), exchanging contacts post-session

What advice are you giving to startups on how to navigate COVID-19? Are you giving the same advice to scale-ups (post series B)? 

To all startups, exploit as much as possible all the grants the government is providing, on all fronts. For startups impacted by COVID directly, this is a chance to re-assess your team and business – what roles/assets do you absolutely need and are fundamental to the business VS those roles/assets that maybe can be replenished post-pandemic. Be honest and transparent with your team and customers on the position of the company (if you are doing well, not well etc.) – don’t be depressing/overly-enthusiastic, just honest and transparent with the current state of things and the plans you have going forward – Peace of mind for your stakeholders go a long way.

 

Adora Lovestrand, Sovereign’s Capital

Adora Lovestrand Photo

Adora Lovestrand supports both Asia and US investments for her firm. She has worked in Indonesia for almost 10 years — as an operator and shareholder in an Indonesian business conglomerate in aquaculture & hospitality sectors, then as a lecturer & program manager of the Executive MBA at Binus University. In the US, she spent time as a Policy Aide for a senior Congressman in Washington DC and holds a Master degree from UCLA. Before joining Sovereign’s Capital, she worked in the UK as a Research Associate at the University of Oxford where she completed postgraduate studies. 

What is unique about Sovereign’s Capital?

We provide capital and strategic partnership to values-driven, market-leading companies and funds with potential for outsized returns for all stakeholders. We are distinct in our capacity to match values-motivated entrepreneurs with aligned investors, our ability to hold investments long term, our willingness to customize solutions to owner needs, and the excellence with which we execute through disciplined strategic, operational, and financial partnership. We have a broad range of industry expertise with a bias for industries where our partners and advisors have relevant experience.

What investments do you enjoy looking at?

Sovereign’s Capital provides a range of capital solutions to growing venture stage tech companies operating in expanding markets in the U.S. and Asia with early economic moats in place. We are sector agnostic but some sectors we’ve invested in include B2B software, healthcare IT, B2C software, tech-enabled goods and services, and medical devices. We typically invest $250,000 to $2 million per company, and we work closely with our portfolio companies to provide targeted strategic and operational partnership.

Which part of an investment do you enjoy most discussing with a founder?

With startup CEOs, we enjoy discussing corporate culture and how thriving culture could be a competitive advantage. We also hope that the CEO has thought about how the startup could have societal impact as something that can be embedded in their business model. As you can see from our portfolio companies, from Grab and Xendit in Asia to Bandwidth and CloudFactory in the US, startups can lead in business metrics, all while providing tech and services that promote human flourishing. 

What are your 3 top tips on how to make the most of the mentoring hours?

1. Prepare any specific questions you would like answered so we can make the time the most beneficial for you and your startup.

2. Have some info on hand about the startup (deck, website, product demo, etc.) — up to the founder what they think is the most pertinent data to show.

3. Relax — this is not an interview! :) I look forward to learning from you as much as you learn from me.

What advice are you giving to startups on how to navigate COVID-19? Are you giving the same advice to scale-ups (post series B)?

Our advice is similar for both early and Series B+ startups. We are so grateful that our portfolio founders do the steps below naturally, and we are honoured to stand alongside them during this difficult time.

General advice: Firstly, take care of your employees — they are the core of your startup and its success. Secondly, cash planning is critical – cut non-essential expenses, tackle AR, etc. Thirdly, be innovative and pivot as necessary — e.g. find new revenue streams when others are stopped by the pandemic. Finally, stay optimistic and resilient — recessions come and go, together, we can work through this one.

 

Jenni Risku, Click Ventures

Jenni Risku Photo

Jenni joined Click Ventures in 2021 as a partner to focus on impact investments. She’s interested in tech for good, sustainability, and female led startups. Jenni is an experienced entrepreneur herself, served as executive Vice-Chair of a Female Business Angel Network, is a founding partner of Innovation x Sustainability Alliance, and Board Member of the World Social Innovation Forum. 

 

Murli Ravi, Tin Men Capital

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Murli’s career has spanned investments, consulting and research. He has also been invited to take on independent board roles and is an Entrepreneur-in-Residence at INSEAD. His involvement with more than 25 early- and growth-stage ventures across SE Asia, India, Australia and the US has given him a ringside view of the issues founders need help with to achieve success. His first board directorships came at the age of 28 just as the global financial crisis began.

Murli has been quoted by media and conferences including Business Today, dmexco, Inc Magazine, Private Equity SE Asia, Startup Asia, Techcircle, Techventure, Terrapinn, Yourstory and others. He has been on the Internet since the early 90s and is a self-taught (but sadly lapsed) Perl programmer. He also has some data science experience early in his career, including coding an artificial neural network model from scratch (no libraries!).

He has lived in Singapore, India, Taiwan, Malaysia and the US, and speaks and reads some Mandarin Chinese. He now understands why it’s sometimes necessary to talk about himself in the third person.