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Q&A with Schooner's Christine Fang

Updated: Aug 12, 2018

Christine Fang is an intern at Schooner Capital, based in Boston. Prior to Schooner, she worked for Boston University’s student accelerator, BUild Lab.

What attracted you to venture capital and working with startups?

My journey began at Boston University’s venture accelerator, where I later became Vice President. I collaborated with student managers to help startups advance from the ideation to prototype phase. I helped them analyze market opportunities, assess moats, and find their value proposition.

After focusing on operations, I wanted try my hand at the investment side. During senior year I entered the Venture Capital Investment Competition (VCIC) where college students are placed in the investor role. Student teams assess real business plans from entrepreneurs seeking funding, even signing an NDA. We received pitch decks and had 38 hours to evaluate the startups in advance of the competition day. At regionals, we met the startups and conducted one-on-one due diligence. We then pitched our decisions to judges who are typically VC s from firms like Millennium Partners and Bessemer. We were evaluated on our investment theses, due diligence, and partner meeting performance (which is basically a catch-all for demonstrating knowledge of term sheets, business strategy, exit potential, etc). My team won the Northeast regionals and competed nationally at UNC. It was a rewarding project that helped me better understand strategies for investing in startups. My VCIC team met regularly prior to the competition to deep dive into industry verticals and products. As a finance major, it really showed me that venture capital perfectly married my passion for operating and investing.

It is pretty unusual to intern at a venture capital firm during college. How did you find out about the role? What was the recruiting process like?

I came across the opportunity by chance; I wasn’t even looking for venture internships because they are so rare. I was assigned business school professor Greg Stoller as a mentor for the venture competition. When he heard that Schooner was seeking interns, he referred my resume to the firm. He’d seen my work and could speak to my competence and VC -related skills. I was lucky to have been presented this opportunity because few females break into venture and even on my VCIC team, I was the only woman.

I first met with Ted Henderson, a Managing Director at Schooner. We started with a typical walkthrough of my resume and discussing why I wanted to be in VC. But after that, I really led the interview by asking him questions about his portfolio companies and investment rationale. It showed that I had done my homework. He also had a chance to see my way of thinking.

I did a second round with one of Schooner’s portfolio companies, Spotted Media. The startup is an advertising platform for celebrity brand endorsements. Spotted houses one of the largest data sets in the world on celebrities from film, music, sports, lifestyle and more. The platform analyzes more than 100 data points on each celebrity, helping brands identify the best recommender for their product. Most brands pick celebrities intuitively; Spotted makes that process data-driven. I interviewed with them to see if I could help with market expansion in the Asian markets. Schooner usually pairs interns with a portfolio company and they thought that given my background I might be a good fit with Spotted. In my final interview, I basically explained to Ted how I could add value to Spotted and Schooner.

Why did you gravitate to Schooner Capital in particular?

What I really like about Schooner Capital is their emphasis on people. There are many types of VCs - Schooner focuses on early-stage investing where we critically asses the quality of management, long-term growth traits, recurring revenue, and capital efficiencies.

Schooner is distinct because it’s an evergreen fund with a very supportive LP. The evergreen structure doesn’t have a strict timeframe, allowing us to take a genuine, value-based approach to investing. We can fund a company that doesn’t have the best product-market fit but has a strong management team. We prioritize building a trusted relationship and supporting the team as they ideate, develop, and execute a better business strategy. For the early stage, I really align with Schooner’s belief that securing great people is the most important aspect for funding.

Did you consider other forms of venture investing?

I would certainly go into corporate VC like Goldman Sachs venture arm or GE Ventures. I’d also participate in a syndicate fund which are created to make a single investment and typically involve angels and entrepreneurs. I think it would depends on the year of the fund and the LPs.

I really value patience which is why I gravitate towards evergreen funds and early-stage investing. It’s not about the financial modeling because companies at this stage are pre-revenue. The focus is really on nurturing a team and commercializing a product.

What does an average day look like at Schooner?

At the intern level, I look through a lot of deals and business plans. Schooner receives many inbound decks and pitches from founders and people they’ve worked with in the past. There’s a huge quantity to review, and that initial responsibility falls on me. I assess them, looking for prospects that fit with the firm as well as the exit and market opportunity. I forward businesses with potential to the managing director and he decides if he wants deeper analysis.

Which leads me to the next major task: performing due diligence. Summer is the time when VCs review a lot of deal for the fall and early September. At Schooner, I’m very involved in this process. I have reviewed businesses from nearly every industry vertical. I come up with comparative analyses by looking at competitors, management teams, etc. I also write up memos and discuss investment decisions with the partners. I’m very lucky because the firm is small and the work I do actually has impact.

I spend the rest of my time on portfolio work. As I mentioned earlier, I came onboard with the intention of working closely with Spotted Media. I split my internship between the startup’s and Schooner’s office. At Spotted, I was helping with business development and market expansion. I became close with the CEO of the company and got a deeper understanding of strategy and operations at an adtech/marketing company.

Have you encountered any challenges in the space?

Haha, there are many challenges. As you probably know, only 7% female VCs are top partners and there are few females generally in the space. There isn’t a formula for getting into venture but firms do look for a certain pedigree. It’s kind of taboo to talk about this but most managing directors come from HBS, Stanford, Columbia, and Penn. They pay it forward by hiring talent from those schools; it’s a lot harder to get a foot in the door when you come from a different university.

Firms also often hire candidates with consulting and banking backgrounds. This is particularly challenging for recent graduates looking for an associate or analyst role… it’s difficult to prove you can add value without that having conventional work experience. Networking is one of the best way to find opportunities as is putting your thoughts out there by creating your own blog. Become an ‘expert’ by posting your investment theses and writing about industries that interest you. Also look for VC firms that have an investment rationale that matches with yours; you can craft your writing to show how you can add value and fit with the fund.

Do see yourself as more of an operating or investment partner?

When I think about my experiences with VCIC and BUild, I liked working with startups as well as investing. My mentor Ted Henderson is involved in the operating side when he sits on boards. He also sources new deals from areas he wants to invest in. Usually managing directors get both sides of the job and I’d like to do that as well.

VCs receive a lot of cold emails. What are some tips to differentiate yourself?

Too many people just send their resumes and detail their interest in startups and entrepreneurship … it’s really not that helpful. Creative hustle is what’s important. My recommendation is to thoroughly research venture firms that interest you and understand the industry verticals where they specialize.

From there, you could send someone at the firm your investment theses and a list of startups with 5 reasons to invest and 5 reasons to be cautious. It shows that you have the acumen to identify real opportunities and gives you a chance to demonstrate how you conduct due diligence.

Any advice for young women who want to enter venture capital - on the investing, operations, or platform side?

For young women who want to get into venture, you really need to understand why you want to enter the space. We all know that venture is cool and pays well, but it takes a certain degree of humility and introspection to assess whether you can add value to startups. Do you know what VC you’d like to join? Personally, I have strong understanding of fintech, consumer products and female-focused areas like skin care. I looked at funds that match my interest - I’d recommend that process to anyone. If you’re trying to get hired right now, look at firms that just raised capital because they’re usually hiring. But those jobs aren’t usually posted to a website. Try and get a warm intro from someone you know, which I admit is very hard at the undergraduate level. I really leaned on professors for this. Some are angel investors and have connections with the entrepreneurship ecosystem. Their warm intro beats cold emails by 1000x, and it’s a reflection on your skills that a professor would refer you for a respected role.

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© 2018 by Nikita Singareddy