From The Straits Times    |

Sometimes, the best career guidance comes from those closest to us. In this three-part series for Mother’s Day, we follow three business owners who followed in their mum’s footsteps when it came to their careers. Whether its working side-by-side with mum or learning from her wisdom, there’s no denying that their mothers have made a powerful impact on their lives.

When venture capitalist Koh Soo Boon first heard that her daughter, Shiyan, intended to join a couple of her college friends to launch a venture capital (VC) fund, her first reaction was one of intrigue. “I thought it was interesting [that she wanted to join the industry], but my first reaction was, ‘Why don’t you join me rather than go with your friends?’” she shares.

Soo Boon’s surprise is not unfounded – as the founder of iGlobe Partners, Singapore’s first female-founded VC firm, she’s a formidable force in the industry with a cadre of seasoned investors under her. She made her mark in 1999 in Silicon Valley when she set up iGlobe, which was focused on semiconductors back then. iGlobe set up its office headquarters in Singapore in 2009, and the company is currently raising its fifth fund, with a target of US$200 million ($267 million), to back founders in sectors such as technology, health, finance and biology.

Shiyan’s response to her mother’s question? Joining her friends would be “more fun”, recalls an amused Soo Boon. “I understood that it was important for her that her success is created through her own efforts, and not by riding on her mother’s reputation,” says Soo Boon. “My job was to make sure that she was doing the right thing in her career. She had sufficient experience in building a company, worked with big companies and IPOs, and knew the process. She already had all the ingredients at that time, so I just let her go and do it her own way.”

Venturing out

A young Shiyan and Soo Boon together at a mall.

Hustle Fund, Shiyan’s VC firm, invests in start-ups at the pre-seed and seed stages. She joined her co- founders, Eric Bahn and Elizabeth Yin, in 2017 as a limited partner in the first funding stage, before joining as a general partner in the firm’s second fund in 2018.

“I’m not sure I consciously thought of it as following in my mother’s footsteps,” muses Shiyan. “Though, I suppose the fact that both she and my father worked in investing meant that understanding businesses was part of my upbringing.” She had long worked in and around technology and financing, and helping to build a venture fund was the culmination of a number of roles in investment banking, venture capital, as well as helping to lead American personal finance start-up Nerdwallet to IPO.

“The VC world had always been “a thread running through [my] career”, adds Shiyan. “I had my first internship at a VC firm in my junior year of college, and went on to work at Institutional Venture Partners prior to business school. “I’m not sure I can remember a specific moment when I decided to pursue VC. I’ve always sought opportunities to work with great people, and a number of those opportunities have been in venture capital,” she says.

I’ve always sought opportunities to work with great people, and a number of those opportunities have been in venture capital.

Koh Shiyan

According to Shiyan, working as a venture capitalist has been extremely rewarding: “The best moments are when portfolio founders tell us what it meant to them when we wrote them their first institutional check – it’s the idea that believing in someone can give them extra motivation and belief in their mission.”

Making an impact

Koh Soo Boon and Koh Shiyan; the mother-daughter duo both work in venture capital

For Soo Boon, seeing her daughter make her own mark in the industry has been rewarding in its own way. Being a venture capitalist requires “taking time, understanding entrepreneurs, industries, and losing money before making money”, she explains, and her daughter “has done very well”.

“Now she’s into the third fund, and she’s built an amazing community of tech investors and entrepreneurs. She’s running a global company. She’s aggregating a lot of intelligence even among her LPs (limited partners), and allowing younger investors to participate. I’m really proud of the community that Hustle Fund has created,” says Soo Boon.

Soo Boon and Shiyan pictured together with Shiyan’s daughter

In terms of how their relationship has evolved, Soo Boon shares that it “has become stronger since [they] are both in the venture capital business”. “We can discuss things openly and help each other. It’s not a one-way street,” she says. “I think I’ve been a role model [to Shiyan],” she reflects. “And I think she’s done even better than me because she’s also involved in sports, leadership, and council meetings from a very young age. She’s a team player, and I think that’s very important.”

Being a VC requires taking time, understanding entrepreneurs, industries, and losing money before
making money. My daughter has done very well.

Koh Soo Boon

Shiyan adds: “I do think that my mum is a great example of someone who found a career that she enjoys and can continually work at.” As for Hustle Fund’s future plans, she intends to “continue to democratise wealth creation via entrepreneurship through our funds, work with great people, and most importantly, have fun”.

Through it all, she’ll keep in mind one piece of advice from her mother: “Good deals have legs.” She elaborates: “If you want to get into a good deal, you need to chase it. They don’t just fall into your lap.”