Tiang Lim Foo: Founding Forge VC, Maximizing Founder Potential & Long-Distance Venture Capital Investments with Haruki Murakami - E287

· Podcast Episodes,Founder,VC and Angels,Southeast Asia

 

"I feel like part of this is driven by the fear of providing incorrect advice. For instance, someone from the pharmacy might approach me and say, 'Tiang, can I spend some time with you to gain your insights?' The truth is, I don't have all the answers. So, I worry about giving the wrong advice at the wrong time. Each company's situation is unique, and it's challenging to offer generic advice that would be truly helpful. For instance, suggesting cutting 30% of your workforce and extending runaway by six months during a downturn may not be the right approach for every company. Instead, I believe in asking questions like, 'Have you considered this?' because it depends on the specific circumstances of the company. Providing valuable advice requires a significant amount of effort and analysis." - Tiang Lim Foo

 

“My aim is to ensure that founders realize their potential while also taking into account the broader business ecosystem. Finding a balance in this regard is challenging, and there are no simple answers. Each decision often feels like a trade-off, particularly during high-stress periods such as a downturn when viable options may seem scarce. However, I perceive my role as assisting founders in exploring various alternatives and even uncovering previously unknown possibilities. By helping them think through different options, I can contribute to generating new avenues that they may not have considered before.” - Tiang Lim Foo

 

“For me, one way to exemplify the courage of the moment is through the act of making decisions. When I committed to this path for the next 10 years, I realized that there were numerous other avenues I could have pursued. It was indeed a little daunting. The most intimidating aspect, I believe, is ensuring that I choose the right individuals to join me on this journey. I question myself: What knowledge am I lacking? It's often the unknown unknowns that can be detrimental. Dealing with this uncertainty and managing the accompanying anxiety is an integral part of the process.” - Tiang Lim Foo

 

The discussion between Jeremy Au and Tiang Lim Foo offers key insights into the world of investing, with a focus on Tiang's decision to embark on an investing journey, the delicate balance between founder friendliness and potential maximizing, and the influence of Haruki Murakami. Tiang reflects on why he chose to start investing, emphasizing the importance of commitment and shutting off alternative options to truly master the craft. He believes in the value of long-term dedication and the need to persevere through difficulties.

The conversation also delves into the tension between being friendly with founders and driving their potential to the maximum. Tiang shares his approach of tough love, where he aims to bring out the best in founders while providing guidance and governance. He emphasizes the significance of high-quality interactions and authentic conversations in evaluating founders.

The influence of Haruki Murakami, particularly his book on running, resonates with Tiang. He draws parallels between the discipline required in long-distance running and his approach to investing. Tiang finds solace and clarity through running, and this mindset translates into his investing philosophy—embracing a long-term perspective, managing anxiety, and focusing on mastery. Overall, the discussion highlights Tiang's journey into investing, the nuanced balance between founder support and maximizing potential, and the inspiration he draws from Murakami's teachings. It offers valuable insights into the mindset and principles that drive Tiang's approach to investing.

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Jeremy Au: (00:42)

Hey, morning, Tiang. Excited to have you on the show. I think I've watched some impressive investments you've made over the past year and I'm glad we finally had time.

Tiang Lim Foo: (00:56)

Yeah, thank you. Thanks for being so persistent in chasing me down. I do appreciate it and apologize for the scheduling challenges and I'm honored to be here. To be honest, I'm a little nervous cause I was just looking through the list of guests that you have on. And I was like, wow, this is the Hall of Fame, right?

Jeremy Au: (01:13)

So well at least be authenticated that you're human right to this for now.

Tiang Lim Foo: (01:17)

That's right. I'm real. I'm real.

Jeremy Au: (01:19)

It's only five more years before I think it's an avatar. But on that note, please introduce yourself real quick.

Tiang Lim Foo: (01:26)

Sure. So, Tiang here. My full name's Tang Lim Foo. My first name's Tiang Lim. Mr. Foo here. But my friends call me Tiang Oh. I have been a professional VC. For the past coming to seven years now, and most recently I started my own seed VC firm called Forge Ventures investing in pre-seed and seed companies here in Southeast Asia across Singapore, Vietnam, Indonesia, Philippines, and beyond. Right? And before that, I was at a company called Evernote during my operating days and started the office here, launched a product, build a team, and launched the region. Started my career as a product manager at a FinTech company here in Singapore. So, for the past, almost 12 years now had always been in tech product building businesses and have now ventured into Southeast Asia.

Jeremy Au: (02:10)

Yeah, you've had an interesting, early technology career in terms of like launching the Singapore office for Evernote, I'm so curious about well, I have my thoughts about Evernote. I was a big Evernote user, I wanna say.

Tiang Lim Foo: (02:22)

Tell me everything. Warts and all. I still do customer service for users. It's like, oh yeah, that Evernote guy.

Jeremy Au: (02:31)

Yeah. Unfortunately, I think I've pretty much migrated to Apple Notes or, and Google Docs over time. Such a shame on the product so I think what's interesting is that you made a transition from market development, right? And office launching in the APAC, and then you transitioned to investing. Right? So what was behind that transition from your perspective?

Tiang Lim Foo: (02:53)

I think the theme is accidental. It's not like, I don't know what venture capitalists are. I do have a notion of what that is, but it wasn't ever a career goal for me too, me telling myself I wanted to be a VC, right? So I didn't stack my resume in such a way that eventually I become a VC. That's not the that's not an exit strategy. So it's quite accidental for me, thematically it's always about being in the thick of it, A, working with really smart and driven people. Right. And B try to build things, along with this group of people as well. Right? Whether it's In a product context, whether I'm building businesses, starting companies and now venture, right? And that's the reason why I think the seed is really exciting.

A large part of it is because it's part of the building to me, right? It's the closest you can get to the metal. In the earliest of days when you're partnering with founding teams where more things are broken than they're not, and you're trying to figure things out, right? So, to me, a lot of it is how do I continue to bring that passion to entrepreneurship the belief in technology, and marry that with my day job. So like the Japanese Venn diagram they call it. Right. What the world needs what you think you're good at and what you like to do. I think for me it's a very nice overlap of a three. That's why I'm doing what I'm doing now. Yeah.

Jeremy Au: (04:16)

Your first experience, right, transitioning to venture capital, right, was with Jungle Ventures which is a successful fund and your operating SeedPlus fund. Right? To zoom in on that moment, right? You had to make that choice to transition from being an operator to being an operating partner in venture capital. So what was going through your mind in the calculus or that career decision, right? Because you had other opportunities.

Tiang Lim Foo: (04:41)

Yeah, I wish I was a lot more articulated back then. These days when I talked to you, he's like, oh we have a lot of interns from top business schools in Singapore, across the world, right? When I asked them like, oh, what do you do what you wanna do? They're 10 times more articulated than I was. Right. And I wish I had half the articulation back then. For me, it's abiding by those heuristics and principles. Right. But dialling it back to 2015 I just started making my first angel investment. And one of the first investments I made was in a company called X First you might have known them, and the second was a company called Talenox, like a payroll software here in Singapore. So to me, it was really interesting in that A, helps me learn a lot more than my current operating context. Right. I think some, maybe you'll know better than I do. Some of the motivations for my making angel investments is so that I can get better at my day job.

Because it's like now I have connectivity into a different industry sector business. You try to get, gain more perspective and there's pattern recognition there. Right? So that's the genesis and seat of what I thought could be interesting in doing more investments. Right. Sometimes I think luck is a very important element in everyone's career myself included, is that at that time very fortunately, Amit from Jungle reached out saying that we're incubating a seed fund called SeedPlus. Do you want to come in and check it out? So I spend time with Amit trying to understand what it means to be part of this setup and platform and thought it was pretty interesting, and it also didn't feel too unfamiliar to me because a lot of the startups that we were backing were early stage, right?

These are founders that are still, in the proverbial garage building for a really small initial audience. And a lot of that familiarity in the early stages of going to market, building a team, building culture, recruiting, it was I found an urge that I think I could help, so yeah. So it's the coincidence of all those factors and I thought I. I wasn't taking a step and looking at what South Asia could become. Right. At that time I think My Taxi, which became Grab just launched barely. Right? There wasn't a notion of companies going public, it's just a bunch of people thinking that there's this possibility of building very interesting companies from Singapore and beyond, and let's see where we can get to from here and it's that kind of passion.

Jeremy Au: (07:07)

Amazing. And you know what's interesting is that you did angel vesting and you took the chance to explore this. And then you kept going, right? Which is the interesting part, right? Because you know why you start something is always different from why you keep doing something, right? Because you learn more about what it is and how it's being done. So you kept going, right? Because, you built that first fund, right? And then you deployed that first set of checks, and then you decided to like, let's go with another vehicle. Right? And so, so forth. So, I think that's an interesting decision point, right? That's a little bit subtle, right? Because I think lots of folks don't like angel investing or some people, lots of people don't like professional investing, right? So you made that choice.

Tiang Lim Foo: (07:46)

I think, that's a good thing that interesting thing that you observe, which is I think over time I had one insight which was not very profound, but when you're in the thick of it, I finally internalize it, which is to do something well, you need to spend a long time doing it right. earlier in, in our careers, I think we tend to optimize for optionality, right? Or maybe I like this, maybe I like that. Maybe I'm good at this. Maybe this is something I don't like. You try to optimize for optionality, right? But as you grow older, as they are more, as your opportunity costs get higher, those doors start to close, right? And you have to start picking what to dedicate and commit yourself to. And one of the options I picked was venture capital. Right. I've and it's also the nature of the industry, I think because the feedback cycle is incredibly long.

And if I look at a lot of the greats, in the industry, everyone's been doing this for a long time, and to get good at it, you really, you can't compress time. You need to let time pass before you can get to some reasonable level of pattern recognition, whether it's in optimizing deal flow, selecting, or seeing enough scenarios in the boardroom, how do you create value? How do you exit, right? All those take time, right? And for me is picking that and sticking the sticking to the witness, that spoke to me. And I decided that I might as well commit, right?

Jeremy Au: (09:13)

So, I might as well commit.

I like it. And you know what's interesting is that when you say it might as well commit. I'm just curious, what were those doors or roads that you closed off? Right.

Tiang Lim Foo: (09:27)

Yeah, no, that's a great question. What other scenarios, so I could maybe do in my startup? I'm sure you have your version of your covid story, right? My mind was when we are done deploying SeedPlus fund one there wasn't planned for fund two. So at that juncture, a couple of scenarios could happen. I could have gone back to operating, right? Maybe join a portfolio company, join another big tech, whatever, right? I could have, done my startup. Or I could have joined another platform and continued the journey of a venture investor. And I did all of that. Yeah. So I tried all of that rather and then 2020 came along. March 2020 came along, COVID happened, and all those options just became non-starters, a lot of them become a non-starter. Right. It was really hard to travel. It was really hard to meet people, markets were very volatile and signals were all noise. There's a lot of noise and signals were all over the place, right? So it became a bit of a forced sabbatical, I've been working like a dog for 10 years at that time.

And I had my son, he was turning two at that, that year. So I decided to take a sabbatical and just stay home and be a dad, that was fun.

And so it is a little bit more circumstantial, I think. No, it wasn't very deliberate in that. No, I try to do this, it's a priority. Here's a matrix, it's more, more circumstantial. Right. But that brought me to another, I think, insight, which is, life happens, sometimes you plan for it, and then Covid happens and Tokyo has to reschedule the Olympics, and if Japan is doing that, what do you have? What can you do? Right? So it's just kinda zig when I was zagging, but a few things started happening. I think this is also where I was quite opportunistic. I went back to enjoy investing. I still see a pretty interesting deal flow. So I started, leveraging that into, me going back to investing again, right, individual capacity. Made some interesting investments there. And through that experience also learned how to be a syndicate. Got to know a lot more people through the capital network. And very fortunately, a few of those family offices, started talking to me about, why don't you just raise a fund? So one thing led to another and that was the genesis of horse ranches, right? So, that happened.

Jeremy Au: (11:44)

Well, it's not easy to launch a fund, right? Because, you make like, oh, I decided to launch Forge Ventures. What, when is that decision? Because you could have joined another fund, right, as well, right? There are lots of different roles and during that timeframe, a lot of people were hiring, right? For people like you as well. And if your track record, your reputation, and your good network, people know you as a high-integrity person who's thoughtful and getting stuff done. So you decided to launch your fund, right? So, you did have Casper as well, so I'm just kind of curious about how you made that decision.

Tiang Lim Foo: (12:20)

Well, so at the end of the day, to me, it's about life is short, right? Life is short, so let's establish that life is short and especially so, relative to the type of work that you want to do and the outcomes that you want to achieve, right? So life is really short. You probably only have one to two, I think meaningful projects that you can do in your life before, you have to focus on other priorities and now other seasons of life. Right now I speak like I have a lot of wisdom here, but that's genuinely how I feel. And I feel that given where I am, A, I have a reasonable shot at building something interesting in venture cause I recognize that especially here in Southeast Asia, I think there's still a lack of seed capital, especially in the earlier stages for founders. Don't get me wrong, I think there are a lot more opportunities for founders than before, right? A lot more options as well. It is a more dynamic landscape, but at the same time there's, so there's still that gap between.

I want to start a company in Series A, right? That capital gap I think in my view, still exists, especially for an institutional seed firm that wants to be a lead investor of record for your first round, right? I think that's a gap that exists. So we recognize that there's an opportunity. And then the other thing is, again, very, fortunately, have been able to have some early successes in what I do. So we had a, I had a network, I had a reputation, I had some resources I leverage into this, right? So that coincided with what I recognized as a market opportunity. And most importantly, I think for me, the highest aspiration is how do I, it's a little, it is a little matter, but how do I create an environment so that, people like me can be successful investors? Right. As you say earlier, I'm still emerging.

I recognize that I'm still quite early in my VC journey and I think there are a lot more people like me that are more talented, and smarter, but just don't have the environment to maybe perform they're, perform at their best potential. So how do we then create a firm with an environment that helps people to be successful, right, with minimal politics minimal, I need to do something else besides investing. Right? So to me, that's a bit of my entrepreneurial expression, right? How do I create a firm that can enable the potential and success of other investors and founders through this?

Jeremy Au: (14:43)

Yeah. And you made the decision to be like you said, that emerging fund manager and it's tough. Right. Tell us about how tough it was or what were the tough moments in choosing to launch your fun.

Tiang Lim Foo: (15:02)

Yeah, to give you a sense, we spoke to about five, and we had about 500 meetings or calls. Now these are individuals or high network or family offices, institutions, to get to first close at fund one, it was a lot of Zoom calls, but we were also, we were also very fortunate in our timing. So, we decided to partner, I and Casper decided to partner and also work with our anchor and launched the firm in early 2021, April 2021. Spent about five, or six months fundraising and did a first close on September 21. Again, very fortunate. Our initial target was just 15 million 1st close, right? We got to about 22, 23 million for the first close. It was amazing, right? And never had I ever imagined being able to do that almost entirely in my living room on Zoom, it was, I think not a very replicable experience, I don't think. Right. The tough part though is in making that decision in. Yes, I want to do this. I want to start a VC firm. I wanna raise fund one. The tough has made gaining conviction to do that because of opportunity costs, right?

I will feel very responsible, for launching a fund with other people's money and I have to be responsible for the next 10 years. It's non-trivial, right? And having been through some version of that at Jungle at SeedPlus, right? I know the level of commitment that you have to put into making sure that this is at least not a failure. Let's not talk about wild successes, right? Cause sometimes that's depending on timing and luck, but at least it's not a failure, right? And it's a very long-term commitment. So a lot of that difficult journey to me is not in the fundraising, cause that's gonna be difficult anyway. The difficulties in making that decision to do the work, and who you do it with. Right. So I spent a lot of time trying to understand the partners that I'm working with, with Casper, with our initial anchor LPs. And that's also a bit of a journey to understand myself better, what I wanted to do. Over the next 10 years, we talk about commitment and I felt that, yeah. If I'm gonna take a bet, why not take a bet on myself, right?

Jeremy Au: (17:13)

So, I love that. If you're taking a bet, why not take a bet on yourself, especially when you're taking bets on other people, right? Yeah. I think you say something very, which is very true. Right? Which is, I think to some extent you are implying is the easy part, even though the hard part is raising money and the easy part is writing checks. Right. The hard part is to follow through, to make sure that's a return at the end of the day. Right. Especially at the C stage. Right? What have been your reflections right, over this time, right? Because you've seen about, two generations of portfolio companies go through multiple rounds of funding rounds. Right. So you've probably seen death, you've seen acquisition, you've seen some success. What have been your reflections about the importance of your role in making it? I don't know the difference in those outcomes, because why do you, in other words, why do you have to work so hard? I mean, why not just put money, and let it ride?

Tiang Lim Foo: (18:03)

Why do I have to work so hard? That's a question I ask myself every day. Why do I have to work so hard? For the love of it. I think that's the highest honour bit, right? I just love being in the trenches with founders. I think for me what gets me going is talking about strategy, product, customers, and users, I just love building, right? That's a huge under-element that's underpinning this whole mission if you will. I think the other thing here is that I think well, yeah, probably 2, 3, 2 and a half generations of companies. I've seen death. Right. I've seen exits, and MNA on both sides of the table. Deaths for sure, for various reasons. whether is founder disagreements or, PMF. Right? Lack or lack thereof. Running off capital externalities like covid, and we can talk about that for sure. Right? I learned a lot about product market fit, especially on the market site when Covid happened. Doesn't matter if you have PMF, right? If the market only disappears, you don't have PMF anymore, and that's covid, right?

So I saw a lot, right? I think to your point, If I take a step back, I think there is, one thing I learned there are various ways to be a successful VC, right? One of the questions I get asked a lot, especially from younger graduates, they will ask me if I want to be a VC, or should I be an operator. Should I work in a startup? Should I have been a founder or can I just like get started on the ground floor as an analyst and work my way up? Right? Based on my observable data set, it seems like there are many parts to success, right? Some of the world's greatest. Again, like Fred Wilson, and Bill Gurly, career VCs, right? Never already operated a business before, or started a company, but they are, they're successful. There are also other counterexamples of that, right? That's point number one. And point number two is that there are also many ways to be a success to choose your style as an investor. Right. One, of the materials that I consume a lot in my early career as a professional venture investor, was Brett Phelps' blog. And one thing that stuck with me was something that he said about. You can't typecast founders, right? Because founders are just people, right? I mean, they are archetypes, but they are not, they're not stereotypes, right? You can't stereotype founders, cuz everyone's circumstances are different.

They have different hopes and fears, personalities, and value systems. And that also extends to visas as well, right? I think some, sometimes the media or the community or founder narrative kind of over placed a little bit too much is the brand or the brand of the firm, But not enough attention's being paid to the individual that's either leading the deal, sitting on a board with you or working with you from the capital side. Cause that's important too, right? And that gave me a lot of perspectives and frankly confidence, in choosing the type of investor I want to because it's my leadership journey, right? I can choose how to understand my weaknesses and strengths and how do I bring my best to the table in my way, that was helpful.

Jeremy Au: (21:19)

What it reminded me of actually is you've always struck me as a very thoughtful investor, right? I mean, you've always been very, I don't know, what's the word, considerate don't like when people describe their startups or how their judgment-making process, people can make it very large. Right. Very shiny. Right. It's a no-brainer. And then you asked me, like, when I hung out with you, it's like, it is always very like, considered very measured, very thoughtful. Right? So I think that's definitely, I think that energy is resonating.

Tiang Lim Foo: (21:48)

That's a nice thing to say. Now, I think that's also, so, so here's one thing, right? I feel like part of this is driven out of fear. The fear of giving the wrong advice. Oh, the pharmacy would say, oh, Tiang, can you, can I spend some time with you? Get your insights. I don't have insights. Right. Can I get some of that advice? And to me, the fear is, giving the, saying the wrong things at the wrong time. Why? Because I think every company's situation is very unique, right? It's very hard to, I think it's very counterproductive to give very generic, advice, in the downturn you should cut 30% of your workforce and extend runaway by six months. That's, but have you considered, but my follow-up question then is like, have you considered this that, right? It depends on the company's circumstances and to me to give good advice requires a lot of work.

You have to be, have the contacts, you have to stay with the company or the founder for some time. You have to understand where they're coming from. So the context is very important. Right. And even that I stopped short of saying that these are advice more like, can I be a reasonable sounding bot to you as a founder? And all those time spent with you just lets me ask better questions, right? Rather than giving you the answers. So yeah it's really about that. Right.

Jeremy Au: (23:05)

What do you think is the shadow, right, or the downside, right? Or the trade-offs that you inevitably make because you're taking this approach from your perspective.

Tiang Lim Foo: (23:19)

I think sometimes it's a very fine line cause there's this wider sentiment of how do we be founder friendly. As if is a given. But again, we've also seen examples in extremities, right? Where founder, friend, the, under the banner of founder friendliness, the governance of the company just goes off the rails, so, it's a judgment call every turn, right? Especially in your interaction with founders, especially in the boardroom. I think rather than so for me, my shift over the years was, rather than trying to ear on the side of being founder friendly, it's more like going back to the principle of how do I help realize the potential of founders, right? If this is the, and constantly I'll ask myself, am I helping the found founder to be the best version they can be? And as a, and it emanates from that. Can I help, am I helping the company to be the best version? The company could be, right? And the cons, control of the company is more than just the founder.

There are other, the stakeholders like boards the shareholders, right? Especially if you're building a mission-driven business, you should care about your customers a lot more too. And those are not, all the definitions of the word stakeholders of the business as well. Right? And we should consider them to the wider community, the impact on that, right? So my starting point is yes, I want to make sure that the founders are realizing their potential, but also we have to consider the wider ecosystem around the business, right? And that is a balance between, between all of that, there's no easy answer. I think every decision sometimes feels like a trade-out, especially, in high-stress times, in a downturn where options seem very limited. But I see my role is in helping founders think through different options and sometimes generate options that they didn't even know exist. Right? Yeah. Yeah. emotionally is very difficult, so.

Jeremy Au: (25:11)

Man. Why is it emotionally difficult?

Tiang Lim Foo: (25:15)

I dunno how other people do it, but at least for me, you could, I think it's a characteristic, especially for early-stage investing, where you spend a lot of time, as much as you can to make an informed decision based on quantitative data. But more so qualitative data, right? And that's based on the interactions that you have with founders. Your patent recognition on technology headwinds, tailwinds, industry headwinds, and tailwinds your understanding of the product, right? And at the end of the day, whether to make that investment decision is ultimately a leap of faith, right?

You are taking certain risks and making a certain bet, and to me, that's not just actual, it's not just dollar capital being spent, but also emotional capital being spent, cause you are putting your reputation online, you're putting your time, your energy, and your making a judgment call on a person. It's like getting married, right? When you're dating, I don't have a lot of dating experience. I should not clarify that, but when you're dating how are you sure? Right at that moment in time? It's a level of faith, so, yeah.

Jeremy Au: (26:26)

I think you also made a really good point about, founder friendliness and you are looking to maximize potential instead. Right? That's a bit mildly contrarian, right? I mean, we've seen so many AC companies come and go and I think there's that huge gap between what they could be versus what they are versus what needs to be done. Not only that, I think you've chosen to do seed and you've chosen to lead. Right. You've chosen to take on that main responsibility of shepherding them through that very vulnerable two years. Right. And, I think those two years are, I think those two are different. I think when you're like series C series D, the founders trained, the executive team is in potential maximizing. Everyone's very, I think, aligned in that late stage.

Just, but I think Seed is, all these, like, very big debates happen. Right. Like you said, board governance is one thinking about the business and so, so forth. So, How do you try to approach that conversation with founders, right? Which is like, Hey, here's a founder-friendly conversation I could have, versus here's a potential maximizing, which includes carbon governance, know your customer, all these other things, right? Product market fit conversations, right? How do you try to approach that?

Tiang Lim Foo: (27:38)

Yeah, maybe a bit of a tangent here, but again technically, I think VCs are on the buy side, right? Technically cause you're buying equities and securities, right? Technically, but I always feel like we're sell-side and sell-side cause we're selling to, we're selling to LPs, we're selling ourselves. And then if you're looking at an interesting deal, competitive, situation, you're selling to founders as well, right? So you're always like selling and then there's the recruiting aspect and all that, disappointed this, which is, I think, the 10 inherent tension in trying to get into the most competitive investment opportunities. So there's always an element of like, oh yeah, how much truth saying if I offend a rockstar founder or whatever, right? So, that's always a bit of an anxiety there, but at the of the day. I think what's worked for me is being authentic. There's a difference between me telling you some, an opinion, and I'll just say that it's an opinion or it's not fact, it's an opinion, my opinion, on whether this strategy works, whether you're doing something right, it's just that it's an opinion. But I mean, well, I didn't come from a place where it's malicious.

I didn't come from a place where I'm not trying to. I'm not meaning well, right? I'm just being authentic. I'm saying I'm stating my opinion. And these are sometimes really strong opinions, but loosely help, right? So I think as long as you abide by that principle, 99% of the time people understand feedback. They take feedback quite constructively, right? Even if they don't agree with you. But then in itself, that interaction in itself is a bit of a data point, right? In potentially how founders behave in stressful situations. How your working relationship will be with the founder as well. So I took, I take those interactions very seriously. Cause it is like a marriage, right? When you invest in a company, it's so hard to get off the cap table one way or another, so.

Jeremy Au: (29:46)

Yeah. It's a stressful job, right? I mean, Building a great business is hard. Trying to build a great business within 10 years is even harder, right? So, I think that teaming is so important, right? It's not really like a business partnership, right? I don't know. It's like what? Mountain climbing a team, it's a high risk, it is a tough job, right? And you need everybody to pull their weight. Right? And I think what's interesting to see you are you're having those tough love conversations. As you do them, I guess, how have you personally improved in the way that you had that conversation? Right. Like, like you said, right? It says authentic. It's an opinion. It's in good faith, right? It's business judgment. How have you improved over time in how you conduct or do those conversations here?

Tiang Lim Foo: (30:37)

Listen more than I speak. That's one. Saying I don't know more often. That's also one. Right? I think especially earlier in my career, cause you're maybe some element of imposter syndrome. Some elements of I want to prove myself. Right? So you tend to speak more than you listen, you tend to say, I dunno less. Right? But over time I think it's about gaining that confidence and saying, I dunno, and listening more, right? It's something that I deliberately try to practice. And I realized that the bottom line is just being available, my surprise has always been how many founders would tell me sometimes, oh a board member or lead VC they're not available, right? Let alone giving. Good advice or being helpful. Right. They're not even available. And if the lowest hanging fruit is just to be available, I think I can do that. Right. I can try to do that as much as I can. And when we scale, we can have more people try to do that. Right. Just to be available, that's so important. Right.

Jeremy Au: (31:45)

You made me laugh because Yeah, you're right. I mean, there are a lot of unavailable VCs out there. Very impressive. Yep, smart, really hardworking, and great VCs. There's this unavailable, right? Because there are so many people who wanna meet them and because they're so busy and time is shot, right? From your perspective. What do you think about that? How do you structure your availability, right? Because you're also a dad, right? You got those LP conversations you got a portfolio company, you're talking to new companies. And I don't know, after those four things, I dunno what else is left about your hobbies or personal interests?

Tiang Lim Foo: (32:24)

I don't have friends, so that helps.

Jeremy Au: (32:27)

No, Okay. At least, you have, your kid is becoming a friend, eventually. Frenemy, right? Yeah.

Tiang Lim Foo: (32:34)

Yeah. He's a buddy. I think it's about, oh, I'm constantly learning is a work in progress, right? But I think one thing that everyone collectively decided to get better at is having less FaceTime, but more authentic, digital time. Yeah. Right because of Covid, we can have we're more used to, as a species having conditions over Zoom, over texting Slack, and what have you. Right? It's more socially acceptable, which is nice. I think it's more efficient that way. That's for one. I think the other thing, it's about response time, right? Can, do you have a system to respond to queries, interactions, and text messages, what have you done? I'm constantly trying to get better at that. That's the low-hanging fruit, what else? I think the quality of interaction also matters, right? It's not a, it's not a function of how many times you speak in a week, in a month. It's whether for each session, for each interaction, are you fair. It's what is that's what matters, right?

Because some people, maybe you meet them only once a year even, but if the interactions are very high quality, if you like, you just put yesterday, right? And you can. Continue that dialogue. I think being present for those moments is very important. And I kind of learned that. So, no, again, I'm very thankful for a lot of people who are so generous with their time with me, and one of those folks is Jenny Lee from GGVC. She said that when she was at meetings, she, at every meeting, well, she picks meetings very judiciously. But, there's a reason why, right? Because every meeting, every meeting she takes what is founded or whatever interaction she's there, she's not looking at her phone, there's no, IM coming in. She's just present, and I thought that was a nice practice to try to be, you try to be deliberate about. I try to be deliberate about it. I think that's also, that helps for sure. Yeah.

Jeremy Au: (34:27)

On that note, when have you personally been brave?

Tiang Lim Foo: (34:35)

I don't know where, brave is such a loaded word. I think for me, I'm just trying to enjoy the whole adventure, whether it's the upside or the downside. Right. Yeah. So it's really hard to point to a specific moment in life where I can relive the spirit of being brave, instead of that, I think I'm inspired by many brave moments that the founders that I work with they undertake, right? I was the first to invest in Qoala back in 2018. When you just tour them with a business plan, right? And I remember those early days. One of those, one of the very counterintuitive and frankly scary things that they, scary thing that they did was they rebranded the company four times. So, I think it was called Luben Lab and then it became Brella because of umbrella insurance, whatever.

Right? And it called, it was called Volo for a while, right? Today Slack is still called Volo, the URL, and then it became Qoala with a Q, it was a little scary because a lot of the partners that they talked to at the initial stages were big insurance companies, right? And for big insurance companies, you don't want to, you don't want to appear inconsistent, but they were so fixated that, on trying to create a brand and a brand experience that speak to their values, principles and what they trying to do, they are okay to just iterate to get to the right one, and thank goodness they did, cause these days I type Qoala with a Q, itself with a K. So it was great. Right. And there are many such moments, right?

I found us were building their company going through a divorce but soldiered on anyway because they believe in the mission at hand, I have founders that have their parents, pass away or grandparents pass away during Covid, right? But they continue to execute anyway. And not just for the company, but also for their employees and all that. Cause they care so much. Right. That continues re, that always re you know, continues to remind me why I do what I do. Right. So.

Jeremy Au: (36:44)

I've gotta approach this from a different way. A lot of folks will look at you and say that setting up Forge Ventures was a brave moment, right? Because you chose to be contrarian. You chose to approach, and build it, I think in a disciplined way. Mildly contrarian, kind of like back to fundamentals approach. Right. And you chose to do it as an emerging manager, right? So people look at you as a brave moment and people will look at you as being brave and doing so. Do you feel like it was brave? How do you think so? Yeah.

Tiang Lim Foo: (37:17)

I am gonna disappoint you. Okay, so here's the energy I'll use. Right? Do you do marathons?

Jeremy Au: (37:25)

I did two marathons when I was young and fit after National Service. Army time. Now I've got a dad body.

Tiang Lim Foo: (37:32)

Yeah, so I'm reading this book by Murakami, right? Haruki Murakami He's right, he's a Japanese writer. Lots of good work. And the most recent, book that I'm on right now is his collection of essays on how to be and how he approached novelists as a profession, which is super fascinating. Right. And he's also very well known for being a long-distance runner. And one of the things that, one of the things that resonated with me was he's very matter of fact, he said that I've decided to be a runner.

And once I made that decision, I'm a runner, right? And that means I'm getting out every day to do a certain no to do a certain distance. I've decided to sleep earlier. I decided to eat well. It was difficult, but I've made that decision. I'm gonna do it anyway. Right? And to me, that kind of resonated with me because that's how I felt. I've decided that this is an interesting opportunity. I decided that this is the right thing to do and I decided that this is what I want to do. I'll I'm doing it right. Whether it's difficult or not, that's part of the journey, so.

Jeremy Au: (38:43)

How does that apply from your perspective to your situation?

Tiang Lim Foo: (38:48)

Many people tell me that it's very hard to raise funds, right? As an emerging manager with a limited track record, limited network and all that. So it's a known problem. You hear it on podcasts, right? Oh, fundraising is so tough. I talk to 500 people, right? To get the fund one. You, many people tell you that, oh, it's really difficult to build a team. It's very difficult to, get deal flow. It's difficult anyway, right? But I tell myself that because it's worth doing because it's important and yes, these are difficult, these are difficulties, but they are known solutions to these difficulties. Just go find them. Right? Only if, when you decide that this is worth doing. I think for me, well, maybe one way to illustrate the courage of the moment is making that decision. And this is what I wanna do for the next 10 years because I could have done so many other things. Right. It was a little scary, right? I think the scariest most scary part is about whether am I picking the right people to go on this eventually with. Am I, do I, what do I know that I don't know? So no, it's the unknown unknowns that kill you sometimes. Right? So it's a lot of that certainty. So managing that anxiety is part of the process, right? Yeah.

Jeremy Au: (40:10)

How do you manage anxiety? Do you run, I guess you read Murakami.

Tiang Lim Foo: (40:14)

I run, yeah, that's the answer for you. That's right.

Jeremy Au: (40:16)

Wow. This book is great. Murakami runs. There we go.

Tiang Lim Foo: (40:20)

Yeah, I love it. Right. So, he's an audible, like what I do, what I think about when I run something like I'm paraphrasing, the title. I do a lot, I do long-distance running, so that's meditative for me. Yeah.

Jeremy Au (40:50)

Yeah. Wow. Thanks so much for sharing and discussing. On that note, I'd like to reflect on the three big themes I got from this conversation. The first, of course, is thanks so much for sharing about how you started investing and more importantly, why you continued investing. Right? And I think your reflections on adding the decision moments and the inflexion points where you could have chosen something else were. And I thought it was very nice of you to share about deciding on getting good at it. But also closing doors and therefore shutting off optionality Right, to reach mastery. I think that's a very subtle point and I think you said a lot as well, but I think it's very interesting to hear it in your context. Right.

The second I enjoy was, I think this tension, I think between founder friendliness and potential maximizing. I thought there were a lot of interesting conversations about that. I'll put it under the context of tough love, right? About how to see the best in them, but also help them get there. Right? In terms of governance, in terms of leading around, terms of having conversations, it was also interesting to hear about how you're improving your craft, right? About having those conversations in terms of listening more and being authentic. Using that conversation as a data point as well about how you're working and evaluating the founder and also adding the goal for high-quality interactions so that people feel like, you said had a conversation recently. So really interesting set of reflections and learnings there.

Lastly, enjoyed, I think, a very sense of identity, right? I thought the Murakami reference in terms of why he appeals to you, but also the fact that both of you also do long-distance running. I think it was nice to hear about how you took those, I think lessons and integrated them into how you approach investing. Right. Which is that I think long sense of mastery, that long sense of time, that long sense of work and I thought it was very thoughtful and measured and considerate. And I think it was very nice of you to also share about, some of the trade-offs and shadows of that approach as well. On that note Rico, what do you think about it? I still think it's also brave that you have done all the things you have done. So thank you so much for sharing.

Tiang Lim Foo: (42:46)

Thank you. I couldn't have seen it better. And again, like thanks so much for having me. It's a quick dialogue and if there's an opportunity for me to come back again, happy to. So just, lemme know.