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EE024 – Sydney Wong

Sydney started a company named VenturX and she chose that name because “Venture” means an unpredictable journey. The “X” represents the individual startup journey. When entrepreneurs follow their passion and take the leap to start their business, they are taking their unpredictable journey, VenturX.

VenturX was inspired by her experience in Silicon Valley, in 2016. Moving there based on a friend’s invite without a VISA, a job that would sign a VISA and a permanent place to live in order to learn more about tech and startups was certainly a risky but worthwhile venture.

Twitter / IG / Medium Blog: @venturx_team

 

Transcript:

Tony: Welcome to Episode 24 of exceeding expectations.

Tony: My guest this week is a lady by the name of Sydney Wong and it’s the second time we’ve visited the shores of Canada. Sydney is a venture capitalist and so in this episode, we’re going to find out a lot more about what exactly happens in the world of venture capital.

Tony: So we’re here for another edition of exceeding expectations and today I am speaking with a lady called Sydney Wong. How are you Sidney?

Sydney: I’m doing great. Thank you so much for having me.

Tony: That’s okay, and you’re over in Montreal in Canada?

Sydney: Yes. Yes I am.

Tony: And I imagine it’s very hot there at this time of year.

Sydney: No. Oh my gosh!

Tony:

Sydney: It’s probably colder than the Antarctic right now. It is freezing every other day.

Tony: So what temperature is it right now?

Sydney: I think it’s minus 20 today.

Tony: Oh! Wow! And you were saying, before we started recording, it’s like that for a few months?

Sydney: It’s like for like eight months. That’s what I tell people when they say “I want to move to Montreal”. Because we have one of our interns who was thinking about relocating here from Morocco and I’m like ‘You do know what you’re getting into right?’. Its eight months.

Tony: Wow, and we complain about the weather here in London. It’s nothing like that?

Sydney: No!

Tony: I don’t think it’s ever, in the history of the UK been as low as a temperature as that.

Sydney: Could you imagine, if that did happen just for a whole day what would happen in your city?

Tony: Well we almost break down when we have an inch of snow.

Sydney:  

Tony: I was reading some stuff about you and I saw an interesting story about when you went to Silicon Valley.

Sydney: Mhm

Tony: Yeah. Do you want to tell us about that?

Sydney: Yes. So I was working in marketing and tech in automation specifically. And I had a friend who said if I was very interested in learning more about the tech startup world then I had to move over to Silicon Valley. So within about.. 10 days of him saying that, I bought a one-way ticket and I flew down there and I moved in with him. And then that’s how I got the inspiration for venture X, which is a platform that helps connect startups and investors. It was because I was so inspired from talking to all the different Uber drivers, going to different meetups, talking to dog walkers on wag and TaskRabbit-ers. And understanding that they had a very structured and focused approach to entrepreneurship.

And I wanted to see how… startup can change. So, the funding industry within startup has been an industry that has been so old and it has not changed in many generations now. And it’s really time to innovate this industry and make more startups more successful.

Tony: And so what was it got you curious about- I mean before you had that conversation, were you already interested in the whole kind of startup arena?

Sydney: Yes. So I’ve always believed when I was young and just starting out; as in my career, that everything that you choose to spend your free time on, is where your true passion lies. So what I mean by that is, outside of my 9 to 5. Outside of my you know consulting agency and working in corporate and all these things, What did I do outside of 9 to 5?. Well I love to work out. I love to cook. And I also loved going to startup events. So, even though I didn’t need the money, I was writing a business plan and helping out with grants and using my business knowledge from my time at McGill University and my MBA in Paris to work on all of these things for startup companies. Because I wanted to. I didn’t even know why I was doing it. I knew that they needed help and I knew that I could do it.

So I wrote grants for like eight years before I was realizing who I was helping. And it’s interesting the reason that people start up things is because they are finding out a passion of what they want to do. They’re scratching their own itch or.. they are realizing who they want to help. And that’s where my passion came in. Which was realizing who I wanted to help. That’s how I got into a startup and the rest was just kind of seeing how there was a fit when I went to Silicon Valley.

Tony: And so typically when you’re working with startups, Is there like sort of common problem most of them have? How is it you work with them?

Sydney: Yes. So how the platform works is that they sign up and then we track their business metrics. So this includes financial runway, which is how many months they have left before they die. Conversion, which is how many prospects are converting into leads and then converting into sales. And engagement, which is a combination of retention and usage. So these key metrics are key things that seed stage startups, which are the ones that we work with anyway, tend to have and they don’t have a lot of things to report on because they never had a financial history. They don’t have lifetime values or cost of customer acquisition necessarily. Sometimes they do sometimes they don’t. And so they sign on. They put in their business metrics and then what’s unique is that they get to see who they are being compared against. Not exactly who in terms of the specific companies but who in terms of the numbers, the macro information in the industry. So when they go in, to pitch and ask for money they already know if they’re doing above or below the threshold in certain key metrics and these key metrics are scoring them to see their likelihood of health and accessibility and viability for the investors as well.

So it works on both ways, but it’s using their data in order to best match them and save time on both sides.

Tony: And do you concentrate on any particular industry or is it sort of quite varied?

Sydney: Because I come from software, it is mostly software. Different niches based but mostly focused on software.

Tony: And so when you went to Silicon Valley, how different was it going there than what you had been doing previously?

Sydney: Going to Silicon Valley was a huge change. It felt like a different world. It felt like – because I live in Canada and we have Uber eight years after it comes out. We still have payphones, which is awesome!

I don’t know who uses them but we have them. Everywhere.

And then going to Silicon Valley was so interesting. I’ll tell you a story. My roommate or the person who offered to host me, which was my roommate. After we came out from yoga. One day he told me. He was like “The bus is late. Can you check on your phone? On Twitter this is the name of the bus company”. I’m like “Why would I check on Twitter?’ And he said, “Well if there’s an accident or something, they would’ve tweeted about by now”. I mean it was late for like four minutes. Seriously, that’s what he means by it was late, you know.

And so, that conversation taught me so much. To him, information was a right. To me, the speed of information and technology was a privilege. And I told this to the V.P. of technology at one of the big banks here in Canada when he asked me, “What do you think is missing in technology in Canada?”. And I looked him in the face and I said ‘Technology. That’s what I think is missing’. And I told him that for me to fill out a government form, it was for my company Venture X. I had to go to a building and wait in line. Get a form and -like wait for a really long time. And then I had to go to another building in the city. Get it signed and then I’d bring it back to the first building to hand it in. This all could have been done online but they just don’t even update the website let alone Twitter.

So Twitter was a huge right. It was a right to them. They just expected it. But it was a privilege that I don’t even have this access online necessarily for basic government forms that I’m looking for. So this took four hours of my time.

Tony: Wow.

Sydney: And so those are huge differences and that’s the kind of thing that I mean when I say I get to see what the world could be. I get to see what my country will be. And I would love to be in the forefront working on that, creating disruption and also being around like-minded people that are very inspiring. If you ask somebody about their day, they will tell you everything. about their day but I feel like you can learn anything that you want from people that you meet. And I hope that I was able to bring that mentality to all the other countries that I’ve lived in as well. I hope that that’s what people say.

Tony: How long did you stay in Silicon Valley?

Sydney: About four months I think. Until my visa said to get out.

Tony: You talked about that lesson. What you learned just from that little episode with the bus. Was there any other sort of major things that changed your way of thinking?

Sydney: Yeah. So, I.. also saw the world in a different way when I walked to meet one of my girlfriends, who did my MBA with me in Paris. She is American from San Francisco. We were meeting together for lunch. She said just walk down- I think was Mission Street, and I will meet you at the station. I said ‘okay’. So, I walk down- It’s not a long walk. Maybe 20 minutes. By the time I was twenty-six years old, I have traveled to about twenty six countries. Including many third world countries.

I saw more homeless people there on the street. On that one street. Than I have seen in most third world countries. And that was huge for me. So it was amongst the place that was super high tech. Very shocking. And at the same time people who were working at cafes or working as a policeman or working as firemen, they couldn’t afford to live indoors. And that was a huge shocker to me of how the wage gap was so big there. And how I’m afraid it would be so big in all other major cities. As we go towards the difference between people who worked for the cities versus people who were working in high tech or any other preferred industry in your major cities. It was really surprising. I was watching the news and hearing about people being pushed out onto the streets because the banks or mortgage or whoever owned their homes were highly encouraging them to leave. So then it could be put up for higher rent or higher sales. So that’s something that I also learned and it’s kind of, when you were that young and you’re in your mid-twenties you were really a fork road in your life like every day. So you are deciding which route you’re going to take and what you’re going to do about these things.

Tony: So you changed how you went ahead or what you decided you were going to do in the future?

Sydney: Yeah. So I came back to Canada and I started venture X. It’s accessible for everyone. Which is great. In my own time I’ve also wanted to give back a lot to the community, which I did as a part of a lead counsel. It’s a group called Intonation. So it’s kind of like meetup.com except it’s German. I lead a volunteer group of about 600 people. Once a week; whoever wants to join. Joins me in a kitchen where we make food up to five hundred portions and distribute them to people living on the streets in our communities. So I did that every Sunday for the past three years.

Tony: And I would have thought- at the start of the show, we were talking about the weather in Montreal.

Sydney:

Tony: With the temperatures you have, you surely can’t have homeless people there?

Sydney: We do. There are quite a few shelters. I know that for a fact that this organization that I’m working with they distribute to at least two shelters each one would have over one hundred and fifty beds. I believe.

Tony: Obviously there’s not people living on the street. People are in shelters because it’ll be too cold to live on the streets in Montreal I would imagine.

Sydney: Yeah. Some people they sleep inside the metros, which is your underground.

Tony: With all that you learn when you were in Silicon Valley and from your MBA and so on. So what is it you’re doing now?

Sydney: So right now what I’m doing is, I was still working on building out the second side of the platform so I’m going back to Silicon Valley tomorrow actually for the tech crunch conference. I will be visiting the Facebook campus and meeting up with my friends and colleagues from Google. At the TechCrunch conference we will be establishing new relationships as well as just maintaining our existing relationships with the different investors and building out the investor side of the platform. So right now what we have launched is a startup side of the platform and the rest we do manually as a service. For the investor side is all customized and 100 percent service. We want to build that out. So it’ll be a little bit more automated and provide extra value.

Tony: Is there any particular businesses industries that you prefer to work with?. You mentioned about the Getty technologies Is that what you kind of prefer to do?

Sydney: I do. I’m very inspired by technology. I’m going to CES, Consumer Electronics Show in 2020 and I feel like it’s a great way to go. But in technology it’s almost anything. Anything that would affect everyday people in everyday lives. And I think that’s where the heart of it should be and where it could be going. But in terms of what people choose to do and how they’re using technology nowadays to better businesses or better lives or whatever. That is still completely up to them.There are a lot of interesting things that we have seen come out or try to come out

But in terms of what people do and how they execute it is very different. For example Uber existed before.. Uber. It was just a different company run by a different person and it didn’t work out. And then Airbnb did exist. Beforehand as well. And so on and so forth. So it’s how you’re executing and using this technology in the different niches and how you’re bettering them.

But generally I think that there are trends that are rising and there are trends that are falling.

I think that A.I. robotics and things that are very disruptive. Things that are predicting. The future are rising. Things that are falling would be; I would say more on the consumer level applications because they are just very easy to build. But at the same time you need a lot of users for it to be very interesting to compete in the market these days.

Tony: Do you go and search out these startups or do they come to you?

Sydney: A little bit of both. I used to be very involved in a lot of different events and things like that here. I wrote a blog post about if events are actually helping your business goals. I used to do a lot more outreach and now I feel like the most effective ones are those through relationships, partnerships, word of mouth. We have different partnerships. For example, with, not only investors but as well as other financial institutions where they get a lot of people that are just too early for them. So they turn them away. Which is exactly why we serve this gap in the market. Because they get turned away. And we want to help them at that early stage so they refer them to us. So far I found that to be the most effective ways. And then of course happy customers referring you to other happy customers that’s always great.

Tony: And so how is it you’re able to help them in a way that maybe they don’t expect? What is it you’re able to do?

Sydney: They don’t expect exactly where they’re going to fall when it comes to like lying on the dashboard and the graphs and things like that they expect their startup to be at a certain level and then when they see where everyone else is and they see what their metrics look like and they see all these things and they see what the questions are actually they see a different story. It’s usually not the story that they expected. So having a reality check and assessment is number one. The second thing is that in the past couple of years one of the key things that we had done which at that time when I was doing it I didn’t know it was going to be a unique selling point.

Just like Airbnb didn’t know the photos was going to sell super well. But it did. I went to every single conference and every single event and I actually when we came to pitch events I wrote down every question from every judge and I have a list of all of them that I’ve collected over the past two years and I knew who was going to ask what and why they’re going to ask what.

So the reason that this was a key advantage was because this is not written anywhere and because nobody would do what I do. You do the work that no one else is gonna do in order to have what no one else is going to have right?

Tony: Yeah.

Sydney: Why are we asking for these things? It’s because I started to realize that for example, some Medtech investors are looking for at least twenty thousand plus cases when it comes to a clinical trial. But they would never say that on their website.

So you wouldn’t know. And then some of them would only give you investment if you had intellectual property or a patent or patent pending or those kinds of things. But who are they?

You don’t know. So you have all of this preparation from us that you don’t get beforehand. You have a better understanding of where you actually stand in comparison to the other startups at this investor has already seen beforehand. So your preparation level and your chances of success is super high in comparison because you’re not going in blind.

And in addition we also help you with your data room files.

So we help you with your actual pitch your PowerPoint pitch and your presentation and your financials and all of these things that are part of your data room file and review them and check them over in order to make sure that they are optimal as to what they should be. Then provide the best matches with the investors. Eventually our platform is going to be providing the best matches based off of the algorithm and the scoring mechanism which we have.

Tony: Do you concentrate on startups in your local area or other Canadian states as well?

Sydney: It’s mostly North America at this time for both sides.

Tony: You mentioned I think- was it you said you’re doing about 200 different companies you’ve been helping?

Sydney: Yes exactly.

Tony: All of those are in technology I presume?

Sydney: Yeah all of those are in technology. Different levels. Different stages. Correct.

Tony: Is there a particular size or amount of money they need to be making in order for you to be attracted in the first place? How does that work?

Sydney: That’s a great question. Every investor will give you the same answer. “It depends”. Because it probably does. So before we started this conversation I told you that I was on another podcast where one of the other guests had 15 million users right?

Tony: Mhm

Sydney: It was a freemium platform for the most part. Of course that is very attractive. What they’re telling you has to be a different story. Some investors will want it and some of them won’t. What we are learning is which ones require and which ones don’t. Because they don’t really necessarily tell you on their Website. It’s really a trial and error because at the same time it’s to their advantage that they are not missing anybody. They don’t want to miss the first Uber or the first the first one investing in Airbnb or the next whatever. They do want to be able to see them. But they also- it’s a person. They do also have their criteria that they are looking for. And that’s what they would say if the deal didn’t go through, for example. And that’s kind of how you learn and how you build up your database and build up your information over time.

Tony: You mentioned before we started recording you’ve been nominated for the Women of Influence award? How did that come about? What did you need to do for that?

Sydney: Oh yes. This would be the second award that I was nominated for in the past year. Last year I came in second place because a female CEO who’s a colleague of mine and a great supporter of women entrepreneurs. So she is out in B.C. as well, which is where I’m originally from. She nominated me for the women entrepreneur of the Year award from Startup Canada. That was last year. This year she nominated me again, for the RBC Women of Influence award. So that is great. It celebrates several categories of women and RBC is; I think Canada’s most valuable brand. I heard. Recently. Its Royal Bank of Canada and they have several awards of women who are at different stages in their business. So the stage that I’m in is, I think is called “Ones To Watch” or “Rising Star. It’s one of those two names. And just a great honor to be nominated. I saw the press from the previous years. It looks amazing. These other women are super inspirational and they’re so accomplished in their fields. One of them was a doctor in; I believe… fertility. She was one of the winners for one of the categories of last year. It was just so amazing to see and to be there to celebrate the success that women entrepreneurs have come about in the past decade.

Tony: Obviously, I would imagine, people doing a similar thing to what you’re doing. What is it you that is different to the others?

Sydney: We are building a scalable technology platform. The main competitors in our field. There are two main different categories. One of them is a regular broker. It’s manual. It’s not scalable. You cannot help everyone in North America. You can mainly just help people in your own city. Those are individuals who usually have a financial background or legal background or both. And they are called brokers. They finance these kinds of deals and they work off of a very different kind of financial structure basis. And then the other ones would be- they are databases so they would be pitch book or guest for example. What they do is that, they cost a lot of money. They cost something like, up to fifty thousand dollars a year. And it gives you access the same way that crunch base gives you access. Except crunch base is free. But it helps you put together information. What was just raised. What was just closed. From who. Who was the lead. Who was the founder. And their different profile information. So information that is public and open but they put it together in an easy to read way. Well, what they don’t do, is that they don’t match you. They don’t give you access to each other. They don’t close the gap in the market. They sell information and then, I believe one of them sells information of startup data to whoever buys it. So your information could be sold to a competitive V.C. or a competitor of yours. And that also happens because it is legal. And that is their business model. For some of these kinds of databases. Those are things that we don’t do because we are essentially a marketplace and we are an algorithm that scores and best tracks you to ensure that you are successful in this way.

Tony: Before we started recording you were talking about how you help some of the people you are working with in terms of how they do in their pitch and sort of communication and so on.

Sydney: Yeah. Exactly. We first take a look at their pitch. They usually already have one. We also can help them write one if they don’t have one. Usually they’ve already had one. And then we allow them to understand what the pitch room would look like. For a lot of people, for example, a common mistake is that they write everything so small. But when you’re putting something on a big screen and there’s eight other people in the room or four other people in the room. You’re in a big conference room. And they can actually see everything that is important or they’re supposed to be seeing. So that is a really big common mistake that happens. So we try to get them to understand and visualize and practice exactly the way that you would when you’re on the stage or when you’re off stage or whatever. But imagine what the audience is. Who they are. What they’re going to look like. What they do. Then the other ones would be your customer information. Your letters of intent, those kinds of things. We make sure that all of those are in place. And in one place because a lot of the time is wasted on asking for more documents and more.. back and forth. A lot of due diligence that just goes back and forth because they just don’t have everything. And it’s a very negative experience for both sides, because it could be very long and drawn out. It could weigh a lot on the make or break of a startup if they don’t get everything in time.

Tony: Let’s talk about how this podcast is exceeding expectations. What are your thoughts on that whole area? And why maybe you should go out of your way to try to give the people you’re working with incredible experience?

Sydney: There’s a lot of different ways that you can always offer to help. Giving people the – going out of your way to give your customers experiences. Especially when you’re starting out as an entrepreneur, is where you’re going to actually learn the most. And it seems like it’s just going to take you more time. However on the flip side, you may be building something that has four features, but only one of those features are the ones that your customers are coming back for. You might want to actually take more time. Understand why they only want that one feature. Understand how you can build around it. How you can advance it. And that’s your real flagship. It has nothing to do with the other four. You just spent so much money making the other three or four features or whatever. Listening to your customers going out of the box. Spending time with them. I spent a lot of time with them. Seeing what their true values and true needs are is really hard to do. It’s also really important that the founders do it and not kind of outsource it to anybody else, because that’s your best recore knowledge.

That’s why you are you. It has to do with how you have related to your customers first. I think it was Warren Buffett who always said that it takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about it, you’ll do things differently. If there’s any one part of a strained relationship that you currently have with your customers see it not as a problem but as an opportunity. Ask them out for a beer. Take them out to lunch see what it is that you can do better, or more, or refer them to anybody or get to the root of the problem. Because they’re gonna be your customers and if they’re your first ones it’s going to help you shape a lot of your company and help you build out a lot of your customer mission. If you allow them to.

Tony: Before we finish. If people want to find out more about you, where would they go to?

Sydney: Our Website is the best place. There is a contact us form on our Website. It’s www.venturex .ca. We hope that you would write us and we hope that you come visit and we always get back to you within 24 hour.

Tony: The platform you were talking about. All the information is on there as well?

Sydney: Absolutely. There’s also a demo video that you can see right on the home page.

Tony: Okay. It’s been a pleasure speaking to you. And I hope it doesn’t get too cold out there. Well it can’t- can it get much colder than minus 20?

Sydney: It could. It really could.

Tony: It could?! Oh God! I don’t envy you at all.

Sydney:

Tony:  thank you very much for your time Sydney.

Sydney: Thank you.

 

Tony: Next week episode 25, I speak with Nicholas Bryce who provides speakers for conferences and so on. They really try to challenge the way that people think. And he tells a fascinating story of the way they were able to help REITs and football club. That definitely is worth tuning in for. Hope you enjoyed the show. If you did enjoy it, why not leave us a review on iTunes or Stitcher or on any other podcast player? And maybe think about joining the Facebook group which is called, finally enough, exceeded expectations.

Start a conversation in there. Ask a question. Maybe there was something that -your opinion on one of the guests or one of the subjects raised. It would be great to hear from you. And have a great week and see you next week.

 

2019-05-21T23:40:22+01:00

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