Interning in Venture Capital in China

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Before I get swept up in the semester, let me close the chapter of winter break. I’m writing down my internship thoughts in the polar chill of Cambridge, MA. January has ended. Everything’s days and continents away.

Did you do anything meaningful over the break other than drink bubble tea?

Yes!! (Doing meaningful things and drinking bubble tea are not mutually exclusive, after all.) I went to Beijing during the last two weeks of break for an internship at Northern Light Venture Capital (NLVC).

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Interns + Michael – Harry

What on earth is venture capital??

To be really honest, I had a pretty vague idea before going. But, here’s the textbook definition:

Venture capital is a type of financing provided to private, early-stage companies deemed to have high growth potential by investors in exchange for equity, or partial ownership of the company.

Here’s what I now think after two weeks: although VC is about returns, it can also be about creating social good through innovative (perhaps, disruptive) ideas that improve lives and efficiency. When you have lots of money, you can mold the future. You will also want to be richer. So you become a Limited Partner (LP) at a firm with knowledgeable people to invest your money in startups with lots of potential (which also happen to be hungry for capital). VC is a risky asset class. But, high risk, high returns. In some sense, it’s a win-win.

Why did you want to do a VC internship in China?

I wanted to immerse myself in China’s unique startup ecosystem. As a storyteller by heart, I’m intrigued by China’s burgeoning “content entrepreneurship” amidst its media revolution (from Wechat public accounts to Zhihu to Ximalaya FM podcasts to online fiction publishing).

I’m also fascinated by the media sector, which might be disrupted by new formats of how we experience content (augmented reality, livecasts) and communicate with one another (what’s after the mobile phone?). How the real and the virtual will merge in content consumption is a ripe area of growth.

In learning first-hand about NLVC’s portfolio companies, and how people who have one foot in the future and one in the present conceive of these possibilities, I sought to draw insights for my own career. My mantra is: Do something different every break!

What did you do?

We met with investment and legal professionals, visited start-ups (ranging from autonomous vehicles to data analytics to fashion to e-sports to teleradiology to AI+ entertainment), and sat in on New Horizon VC’s in-house team meetings in different sectors (TMT, Healthcare, and Risk Control & Portfolio Management).

What did you learn?

Here are some unexpected takeaways and nuggets of information:

  • You can only truly understand ‘consumer demand’ when you are in the field. Example: It’s really easy to be idealistic at a place like Harvard that online education is going to be the next big thing and to take the thirst for knowledge for granted. But, beyond a certain point, is knowledge really value-adding to most people’s lives? From the investor’s perspective, the future of pay-for-knowledge startups (知识付费) is extremely uncertain.
  • What’s the next big thing after PC/Mobile? The traditional keyboard/touchpad model might be rendered utterly obsolete. Here’s speculation from a VC professional we met —  perhaps, mobile phones might be separated into different devices according to function, e.g. watch, augmented reality glasses, fitness devices, or even soft screens (which is totally new to me).
  • Sometimes, the best indicator of how far a startup can go is the founder.
  • The big challenge for autonomous vehicles is one of generalization (beyond particularization — an operational design domain, and localization after data collection).
  • Many technologies seemingly far away from our lives are actually already all around us. The commercialization of autonomous vehicles is upon us — from airports to valet parking. AI is being used in product placements on variety shows that I’ve watched — many of the products and advertisements on Singer (歌手) were augmented!
  • In China, Wechat mini-programs are very crucial to many startups’ creative strategies.
  • For many e-commerce startups, the focus is now on a streamlining of the offline and the online retail experience. This concept of ‘new retail‘ can engage online data to make the physical consumer experience individually tailored. Here’s a read of Alibaba’s pivot.
  • What’s important to a startup? Ideas, leadership, funds, timing. An oft-overlooked aspect is the importance of a talented team who will leave their high-paying jobs to join you to develop your start-up idea at the drop of a hat and will stick with you and stand by you even in times of hardship. That’s what really takes to make a sustainable startup.
  • Augmented/virtual reality sports matches! Imagine The Hunger Games in the virtual realm. Kind of like Ready Player One. Maybe a good story idea.
  • While a typical EM (emerging market) crisis, as triggered by withdrawal of foreign currency, is unlikely in China due to its low external debts, one can only be cautiously optimistic about how the Chinese government will rebalance as the market undergoes structural reforms. While smooth rebalancing is currently the most probable medium-term outcome, the second most likely outlook is that China may encounter Japan-style stagnation (without its wealth).

Ultimately, I learned that it’s very hard to be the number one in any field. But, this internship has really taught me to think in terms of intersections — if you can become the top 10% of multiple fields, there may be a niche intersection where you can make an irreplaceable and maximized impact to the world.

That’s so cool! How can I get to know more about VC, entrepreneurship, and China?

Here are some interesting articles shared by everyone in the internship:

Some career guidance from wiser people I met:

I read so much. How about some photos?

A snapshot of some happy moments. Most of the time, I was so busy that I didn’t have time to take pictures.

Exhibit A: I tried a Rachel Zoe jumpsuit at the offline experience store of 女神派 Ms. Paris, a designer clothing rental platform — a Chinese version of Rent the Runway. Of the four main pillars of human life — clothes, food, accommodation, and travel (衣食住行) — the sharing economy is finally starting to take off for clothes (after Airbnb, Uber/Lyft/Didi, bike-sharing, etc.).

Exhibit B: I’m sitting on a gaming chair at e-sports startup, 9eplay.

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Exhibit C: Harry and I met with our Harvard & Singapore senior, Zara! She is currently working in venture capital at GGV Capital’s Beijing office — fun fact: aside from being a blogger, she also co-hosts 996, a bi-weekly English podcast featuring the movers and shakers in China’s tech industry. Writers put themselves out there, she said, that’s how opportunity comes knocking. 她说:“肯定会迷茫,但是专注于把眼前的事情做到极致。” Really inspired. ❤

Exhibit D: My internship roommate, Olivia!!! We are at some door in the Forbidden Palace’s Imperial Garden. 

Coming up next: shopping week, figuring out classes, and crazy little things.

Lots of love,

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Sky Lanterns & New Year Resolutions

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Get off the old train, step onto the platform, merging into the stream of bobbing heads flowing along at the speed of a sweating snail.

Squeeze past the human gantry, craning my neck for a look at the sky behind the canopy roof. See the miniature sky in the phone screens held up by the multiple raised hands, the real blue expanse split up, obscured, and obstructed from view by the sheer size of the crowd. There are many gasps of wonder around me. The path reaches the edge of the platform and now widens —

As the crowd cascades left and right, the sky unfurls before me. Baby blue. Rolls of clouds like crinkled leather. Suddenly, from behind a corrugated roof, a lantern rising. From between buildings on two sides of the track, a gap of light. Another lantern-like bird or bird-like lantern. A third. The sky dotted by lanterns rising, faint streams of smoke trailing, embers behind the paper.

Choose a lantern from a catalog of auspicious blessings. Watch it pinned up by worn, quick hands. Pick up a brush and dip it into an ink-splattered bucket.

Scrawl. Scribble. Signature. An imprint of wishes, prayers, and dreams by a railroad. Set against a sky full of lanterns, like the old, wise eyes of clouds watching from up above.

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There’s something reassuring about ritualized actions — writing prayers on paper, letting the lantern rise, watch it soar up and beyond until it’s a tiny dot. It will eventually land somewhere, wedged on a rooftop, fluttering in the mountains, resting on a rock. Yet, at least from what I can witness, its symbolism leaves me full of hope. Apart from the wishes I’ve released up into the sky, penned on all four sides of the sky lantern, I feel compelled to write down my 2019 resolutions after a break of two years (I used to religiously write all my resolutions down on a piece of drawing block and pin it up on my desk).

Some small things:

New Year Resolutions

养生 Health 🍵

  • Eat wisely. Lose another 3 kilograms, which I inevitably gained in Taipei and Singapore. T_T
  • Sleep early before 12:30AM daily. My mom scoffingly informed me of this phrase she read online — “用着最好的护肤品,熬着最晚的夜!” — which is me personified: slathering layers of skincare products on my face while staying up late.

On a side note, I’m bringing jasmine tea leaves(茉莉花茶), chrysanthemum packets(夏桑菊), and my beloved Chia Te pineapple tarts (THE BEST I’VE EVER EATEN) to campus. Guess which is not going to be helpful for my first resolution.

To be really honest, I can understand my parents’ strict standards for my weight. To them, it represents how much self-discipline I have. If it is within my ability to be healthier and to look more attractive, compromising that reeks of laziness and unchecked desire.

责任 Responsibility 🐝

  • Be punctual. Be punctual. Be punctual. I would like to apologize here to everyone who has ever waited for me. New year, new me!
  • Be better at responding to text messages.
  • Every year, this resolution remains the same: time management. Only when I can manage my time well enough to accommodate for emergencies will I have the room in my life for unexpected opportunities and adventures. ❤
  • Full attendance for all classes this year (even if I’m feeling unwell). On the first day of 2019, my dad did a ceremony where he paid my tuition fees for the spring semester. I’m immensely grateful for the freedom my parents have given me to experiment, to choose, and to figure out my dreams at my own pace. I’m going to remember that on the mornings when I can’t get out of bed.

情感 Relationships 👨‍👩‍👧

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跟爸爸妈妈在一起的时光是最快乐的。可是,快乐的时光总是那么的短暂啊。小时候,我觉得好女儿志在四方,向往着成为一个矫健的雄鹰,飞过天南地北,头也不回、勇往直前地闯天下。长大后才愈加发现,家是我最眷恋的港湾。似乎,暮然回首,那一场又一场考试,各式各样的申请,就是为了将我推上离您们越来越远的道路,一瞬间会很想哭。很多人都说父母子女一场就是一段渐行渐远的缘分,可是我坚信我们是例外。感谢您们让我明白成长虽艰难且不可避免,但依旧是奇妙、幸福的。所以,我就算舍不得您们也还是要长大呀。希望2019年第一次的道别我可以坚强,不要再流泪了。

  • To not cry when my parents are sending me off at the airport. Be stronger. Farewells are meant for teaching us how to better reunite.
  • Be a kinder, more peaceful person to friends and also to strangers. Be more considerate to those who love me. Often, we are careless to those who care for us the most. I would like to be less selfish and to get into the habit of thinking from the perspectives of others — make that into a first instinct!
  • Have more faith when God makes me wait. Let me see waiting as an opportunity to build my faith and to understand that there is a reason — 我想,有时候,上帝赐予我的礼物会有意晚一点递到我手中。也许,上帝只是为了更精心地绑一个蝴蝶结,让 ‘等待’ 抚平我的焦躁,好让我有一双更善于识别美好的眼睛。Thank you, Father. ❤

 

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May all your dreams & resolutions come true in 2019 too! 🌠🌠🌠

Lots of love,

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Another Christmas Comes and Goes

Not winter, but always Christmas.

My mom sweeps into the room and starts shaking me by the shoulders. She briskly turns off the air-conditioning.

WAKE UP! she thunders.

For the first time in twenty years, I know that Christmas starts with no immediate present to unwrap on the morning itself, and so I roll around in bed and burrow my head under a pillow. I know that because my parents have already given me presents in advance. My mom has revamped my winter closet with new sweaters, skirts and a pair of boots after I fulfilled her condition of losing the freshman fifteen over the summer. My dad has allowed me to plan for our family vacation entirely from scratch — we will celebrate the New Year from December 29th to January 6th in Taipei, the cradle of bubble tea (≧◡≦).

Wait, so there’s really no surprise? No Santa? I mumble to seek confirmation, peeking from below the pillow with two narrowing eyes.

Go open the fridge, my dad calls from outside the room.

Against all odds, all past coercion to compel me into weight loss, and all the snarky remarks they’ve heaped onto my appearance, my parents — who currently would gladly trade one fewer A on my transcript for less 5 kilograms on the scale (indeed, a true paradigm shift in priorities since I got into college) — there are three pints of my new favorite ice cream flavor glittering in all their loveliness on the shelf: my beloved White Peach and Raspberry from Häagen-Dazs.

I have no time to taste it because my mom then shuttles us out of the house for dim sum at Mouth Restaurant. There are baskets of har gow and chicken claw and crispy liu sha bao and fried shrimp balls in Chardonnay sauce and the best carrot cake of my life and panfried chee cheong fun and crystal dumplings and squid ink char siew bao and the list (of items that go into my tummy) surges on.

We then watch Bumblebee, who is now my newly-crowned spirit animal. Honestly, I wouldn’t mind that much having to express myself through songs exclusively. Quite unexpectedly, the film also reminded me about hospitality (as often associated with Christmas) when faced with the Other (Autobots and Decepticons!) — a topic I wrote about in a paper last week comparing Liu Cixin’s The Three-Body Problem and Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist.

As today draws to a close, another Christmas comes and goes. This year, there’s the taste of childhood, the glow of content on everyone’s faces, the thrill of being in that liminal place between childhood and adulthood (I still get presents, but they come with more responsibility), the drawn-out festive feeling that’s no longer as anchored to a particular calendar date —  Christmas is captured in an accumulation of moments: persistent photoshoots along Orchard Road, matching pink and red t-shirts under the sun, fake snow, illusionist performances, and mumbling lyrics through lemonade-coated tongues at Gardens by the Bay — and the immense gratitude I have for my parents who have given me the best gifts of time and love not just on this special day but also every day while I was growing up.

Thank you also to God, who further unearths with each year the magic of Christmas beyond the traditions and the symbols, the wrapped presents and the tree. Thank you, Father, for helping me find Christmas in my heart.

Wishing all of you and your families a wonderful and blessed holiday season. ❤

Merry Christmas, 🎄🎄🎄

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🎅🎅🎅

Girl in D.C.

Dear You, what is art for?

Last week, I was in Washington, D.C. with seven other Harvard students on a 10-day Wintersession at Dumbarton Oaks revolving around this topic:

Culture and Power: Art, Philanthropy, and Diplomacy in America.

In those 10 days, I’ve seen art like this:

And this:

Interestingly, this:

But also this:

Lastly, my favorite:

While wandering around all these private collections-turned-museums, I wondered: why do so many rich people collect art? Does collecting art offer the hope of immortality?

If I were a millionaire and bought artworks according to my own taste, and then proceeded to open my artworks to the public, am I doing philanthropy? Is this then effective altruism?

As a student in the humanities, I recognize that this is an increasingly data-driven world. A dispassionate assessment of value is involved in most things. Similarly, in the field of philanthropy, the value of the practical (a medical cure) is much easier to measure than that of the cultural (museums). Few people would deny the value of art museums or art itself. But, the act of opening a museum, or donating works to an existing one, is one that deals in the intangible currency of beauty, inspiration, creativity, memory, and joy. The outcomes are often measured in stories. That scruffy boy-artist who was once inspired by a green dinosaur sculpture that breezy afternoon, hands chilly and heart thumping. A girl in pigtails who gazed into the face of a Buddhist sutra on a silk tapestry and found ignited a lifelong ardor for the study of religion. On opposite totem poles balance narratives and metrics. It seems trivial to stand in a gallery and ponder the question of beauty, the virtues of Renoir, or inspect the unspeakable allure of an artwork to our eye when temperatures are rising, geopolitical depression beckons, democracy is arguably under assault, and all sorts of polarizing tensions are erupting at the surface.

Knowing all that, the question is then: is being motivated by “passion” instead of “reason” in philanthropy immoral in a world where there is need? Or, turning the gaze inward, is being motivated by passion instead of reason in choosing my studies and life’s work an ineffective use of resources?

I don’t know.

This wintersession was an incredible course. I loved going to a museum each day and discussing with professors the gospel of wealth (an interesting—and short—read: Wealth by Andrew Carnegie), the culture of giving, the economy of prestige (naming rights of buildings are a key instrument in philanthropy, as the greatest longevity is embedded not in capital but in culture), the disturbing inequality of our times, and—

The grey areas of philanthropy. By all measurements, we are living in an era of growing inequality and the consolidating power of big money. A statistic that scared me is this: the richest 62 people are as wealthy as half of the world’s population. But rich people don’t just own the wealth, feel la-di-da, and spend it on private jets and Chanel bags. Intentions aside, they are shaping our lives in unimaginable ways using philanthropy. Call me ignorant, but this is the first time I really wrapped my mind around the fact that philanthropy is not an inherently good thing—it needs to be used well. Unlike the government, most philanthropic foundations (from Gates to Carnegie) have no checks and balances. They own wealth enough to rival national economies as well as social resources (tax exemption), but their agendas are set by a few individuals. What kind of impact do such megafoundations generate? For instance, Bill Gates is fixing education in the U.S. with his Common Core State Standards initiative; that means, putting it generally, one man can decide what millions of kids are going to study.

How adequate are the institutions of philanthropy to the needs of the day? How can we shape this system?

I vacillated between wonder and the alienating sense that all these questions I was contemplating in the first place were inaccessible and removed from most people’s realities. I’m sitting here in my dorm room back in Cambridge choosing classes, two days before Shopping Week begins for the spring semester, and I’m trying to make sense of all these intellectual endeavors. So here’s my tentative goal this semester: to go beyond simply reading and analyzing class texts (mostly fiction and books written by old white men; sometimes it feels like we are still discussing the same ideas as centuries before) to figure out how to apply that narrative lens to the social realities around me.

For those of you also coming back to campus, here’s to a semester with classes that tear apart your assumptions and equip you to rebuild them, self-discovery, friendship, and happy adventures!

Lots of love,

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(From top to bottom, the artworks can be attributed to Claude Monet, Mark Rothko, Pablo Picasso, Jeff Koons, and Marc Chagall.) 

As I Stand, I Feel

Minutes before the day ends in my time zone, Merry Christmas everyone!🎄🎄🎄

1. Christmas

Today, I am grateful for

  • Funny presents (the wrapped mango slices still win)
  • This year, my dad told me with a straight face: “I’m no longer going to be Santa because you’re nineteen.” My parents pretended to be Santa for years in order to make me happy (till I was eighteen!) ❤ I’ll always be the girl who ardently believes in Santa but I guess I’ve finally grown up in their eyes. 😦
  • Many many hours of sleep
  • The yearly tradition of unwrapping a Moleskine planner for 2018 (here’s to better time management skills, as always)
  • Singalongs on the way to lunch and back with my family, with light from the sultry Singapore sun streaming into the car and falling softly onto our crinkling eyes and pink faces
  • Sending the same poorly photoshopped picture of my face on a chubby Santa’s body to random friends and receiving replies ranging from “STOP REUSING THE SAME PHOTO EVERY YEAR” (old friends) to “SO CUTE” (new friends)
  • The geniuses who wrote Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You” (Mariah Carey herself and Walter Afanasieff)
  • God, who is always here for me, and on this day, his magic is everywhere. Thank you for loving me and bringing all these people into my life. I love you.

2. Homecoming

After more than twenty hours suspended in flight, starving (I can never eat airplane food because I get airsick) and groggy-eyed, a swift transit in Dubai, and four movies (I rewatched the Christmas classic Home Alone which is laugh-out-loud hilarious and so cute; Reese Witherspoon’s Home Again which cannot be salvaged by all the prettiness on the screen; the immensely satisfying Captain America: The First Avenger; and the 4-hour-long monster of a movie, Cleopatra, starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton which left me feeling wistfully disoriented on a dark plane), I finally land in Singapore at 8.30 am SGT. Stepping off the jetway and into the arrival lounge, I suddenly understand how much I want to be here—clean carpeted grounds doused in warm lighting, the staccato hum of Singlish with lahs freely tossed around, harried parents ushering skipping kids on December holiday family trips so much like a scene from my own childhood—and all the latent feelings of homecoming erupts. It’s like becoming aware of my own breathing.

Mayday Concert on 17 December 2017 at the Singapore Indoor Stadium

3. 青春(Youth)

在我心中,青春所有的感动都有一个最好的代言人:那就是五月天(Mayday)。去听一场他们的演唱会就好像是再次祭奠一次那似乎刚刚离我而去的懵懂时光。这是几万人一场的盛大缅怀。那种倾心的感动,可能是当阿信嘶喊 “至少在我的心中还有个尚未崩塌的地方” 时我那狂跳的心脏,也可能是当《干杯》接近尾声时我和十年的闺蜜相视一笑然后齐声激昂地高唱:“有一天 就是今天 今天就是有一天 说出一直没说 对你的感谢 和你再干一杯 再干一杯永远 喝了就能万岁 岁岁和年年!” 也许,如五月天所唱,青春是挽不回的水,转眼消失在指尖。但,我们依然年轻,依旧热血,无名却充满了莫名的渴望,等待着此生一次的发光。所以,坐在驶向远方的车,摇晃着脚丫,塞着耳机,哼着歌,继续谱写着我后青春的诗篇。一生一次,足矣。

A direct translation would be “LIFE Private Unlimited Company”. The official title of their world tour is Life.

4. Memory

Waking up naturally when sunlight is peeking through that slit between my curtains; the humongous life-sized Winnie the Pooh that meets my eyes at belly level when I face the right side of the bed; Natasha Bedingfield’s husky voice crooning “We got all the memories” from my vibrating phone at 10.05AM sharp; my mum’s hot ginseng honey lemon tea in a white Pooh Bear mug (anything can be skipped for breakfast except for this because my mum will resolutely not let me out of the house); my favorite Pokka green tea—bought religiously as a substitute for coffee from the Nanyang Primary drinks stall to the Nanyang Girls’ High vending machine to the Hwa Chong café—arranged neatly in packets of six in the pantry; the Kinokuniya main store at Ngee Ann City, renovated but still where I immediately feel at home (no other bookstore in the world makes me feel this way, probably because I spent hours there as a kid whenever my parents went shopping at Orchard Road); the chewy golden bubbles in the Koi green milk tea; my mum’s tomatoes with eggs; sitting crossed-leg on the sofa hugging a fluffy, pudgy Android soft toy while watching Chinese singing variety shows with my dad; rearranging my bookshelf by color; trekking along the Bukit Timah Rail Corridor with the exact person I was with five years ago; meeting up with friends and magically picking up at exactly where we left off; loving this city and its breaths, compressions, sinews, words, and you, you, you.

Trekking with one of my longest friends, Xin Min!!! We’ve known each other since we were nine and awkwardly squatting beside each other during orientation.

5. Writing

The longer I don’t write a post, the harder it is to try to process everything in words. It seems so much easier to upload an Instagram story peppered with emojis and geotags than to pause—and think, How do I want to remember this? What is this story of my life that is being written at this very moment? I have opened this WordPress page a number of times since coming back to Singapore and found life too fulfilling, too familiar, too vanilla, too disarming, too soft to be made sense of in words. This gentle gentle life.

Since arriving back at home on 16 December, it feels like I’ve fallen out of the orbit of one hemisphere to another, shedding one outer life and slipping into another. Yet, my inner life remains stretched across time zones, pulled between disparate tent poles—weirdly shaped and not fully-formed as of now. Everything shifts, nothing unfolds. I ought to be geographically removed from college enough to contemplate what 2017 has been like, but it’s like my mind refuses to think; Just feel and let it wash all over you, it says.

So I feel and let it bleed over the page.

Ho Ho Ho 🎅

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