Inspirational Woman Interview: Shuyin Tang
Shuyin Tang currently leads investing activities in the Mekong region and the Philippines for Patamar Capital (formerly known as Unitus Impact), the most active social impact venture capital firm in Southeast Asia. She has experience spanning strategy consulting at Bain & Company, development consulting at TechnoServ and impact investing at LGT Venture Philanthropy, across Australia, India and Southeast Asia. Shuyin was named one of Australia’s “100 Women of Influence” by the Australian Financial Review in 2015 and an Asia 21 Young Leader by the Asia Society in 2016. She graduated summa cum laude from the Australian National University where she was also awarded the University Medal.
Can you tell us about your experiences living/working in Australia, India and Vietnam?
Shuyin Tang: I started out very firmly rooted in Australia, but then spread my wings – spending 3 years in India and now almost 5 in Vietnam. I grew up in Sydney, went to university in Canberra, and my first job after graduating was as a management consultant at Bain & Company’s Sydney office. It was while I was at Bain that I took a transfer to India, where I was both struck by the tremendous growth opportunities that existed in emerging markets, and confronted every day with intractable social and environmental problems. I’ve been an ‘emerging markets’ person ever since.
How did you first become interested in Southeast Asia markets and what VC opportunities do you see there?
Shuyin Tang: Coming from Australia, the size and growth of Southeast Asian markets is rather mind-boggling. The focus countries of our fund — India, Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines — are all large, fast-growing markets with attractive demographic and digital trends. Beyond this, what’s particularly important for us as an impact investor, is that these countries contain a high density of low-income populations with growing purchasing power. That’s opening up tremendous opportunities to invest in companies with strong social as well as financial returns.
Can you tell us about your work as Principal of Patamar Capital and the biggest challenges you’ve faced sourcing and executing deals?
Shuyin Tang: Today I am based in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, looking at investment opportunities for Patamar Capital (formerly known as Unitus Impact), a venture capital firm which exists to unlock better economic opportunities for Asia’s low-income communities. We aim to achieve superior returns for our partners by investing in and supporting early-stage, high-growth companies solving South and Southeast Asia’s most pervasive problems at scale. We currently have USD 45 million of AUM to invest in high-growth businesses that improve the livelihoods of the working poor.
Impact investing is a very new sector, particularly here in Southeast Asia, and sometimes it can take several conversations for potential partners to really understand what we do. This is particularly the case for Patamar Capital, where we are seeking tangible, measurable livelihood impact alongside a financial return in line with commercial VCs. Many assume this can’t be done, but there are an increasing number of companies fitting this profile out there, where the social impact is baked into the business model and scales as the business scales. I hope our portfolio is a testament to this!
More generally, there’s the challenge of finding companies which have potential beyond Vietnam. For obvious reasons, we prefer multiple country plays and this requires a team with the vision, skill-set and network to achieve that. Our most recent investment in Vietnam, Topica Edtech Group, is a great example of a company which is fulfilling a market need which doesn’t just exist in Vietnam, but across Southeast Asia.
Unpacking the local business dynamics and regulatory environment is also critical. That’s why being on the ground is really important — which we are — with teams in Vietnam, Indonesia and India. Without that local presence, it’s hard to build the same depth of network or even truly appreciate the pain-points that needs to be solved.
You were also an Investment Manager at LGT Venture Philanthropy in Vietnam. How did you first join LGTVP and what were your main insights here?
Shuyin Tang: LGT Venture Philanthropy was my first foray into the investment sector. After being a consultant for several years, I wanted a role which would give me more ‘skin in the game’ (taking an equity position rather than just providing advice), while maintaining exposure to diverse sectors and business models. I also was convinced that I wanted a job aligned with my core values – hence impact investing vs. commercial VC. It was challenging to get traction though – many roles required direct investing experience, which at the time I didn’t have. I was lucky to find a Fellowship opportunity at LGT Venture Philanthropy, the impact investing initiative of the Princely Family of Liechtenstein. A key part of the Fellow’s role was providing business consulting advice to existing portfolio organisations, and my consulting experience helped land me the job. During the Fellowship I pushed for opportunities to build up my investing skill-set – doing due diligence, negotiating termsheets, and the like – and ultimately transitioned into a full-time role within the organisation.
What do you enjoy doing most outside your day job?
Shuyin Tang: One of the most rewarding things I’ve done recently is starting a side project – Invest With Impact – to mentor and advise people wanting to get into the impact investing sector.
Aside from that, you can find me cooking up a storm, at Zumba class, or binging on Netflix.
Can you talk about one woman who has impacted your life?
Shuyin Tang: It’s a cliché, but my mum has been a tremendous inspiration and supporter of everything that I do. That can be said of both my parents, actually, but it’s with my mum that I can discuss gender roles, feminism and what it means to be a woman in the typically male-dominated finance industry.
What advice do you have for individuals interested in venture capital professions?
Shuyin Tang: Be flexible and open-minded when looking for roles in the sector. Even if it doesn’t sound like your ‘dream job’, I’ve found there are usually ways to develop the skills and exposure you want over time as you build trust with your manager and team. If you ask for a step-up role, 9 out of 10 times the answer will be ‘yes’.
What are your favorite books, websites, films and/or resources?
Shuyin Tang: A few non-fiction books I have enjoyed recently are Radical Candor, When Breath Becomes Air and The Hard Thing About Hard Things. As far as fiction is concerned, I’d recommend A Little Life and The Orphan Master’s Son. A favorite podcast is Recode Decode by Kara Swisher – she covers diversity in tech closely and is always a thought-provoking and entertaining interviewer.