Looking for Angel Funding? A Conversation about Startups, Community & Investorship with Christina Teo, Founder & Chief she1K
Christina is the founder and mastermind behind she1K, an angel syndicate based in Singapore helping corporate women invest in early-stage startups. Through she1K’s signature program “C-Shark Tank”, Christina has successfully syndicated investment into over 13 startups including GreenLabs, Kibus, Open Oceans Camera.
Before entering the startup space, she worked her way up the corporate ladder, leading tech companies CSL, O2, Yahoo!, 3Com, DEC, IBM, Acer, IDC.
In your own words, can you share about your journey that led up to she1K?
I returned to Singapore less than 5 years ago, well retired and not looking for anything. I left for a good 3 decades and not a huge fan of my own country, I knew I had to get into something purposeful to get me grounded here again after having left for so long. This also meant I came back to no network.
Then I stumbled into this word.. “startup”. Intuitively, I got curious even though I have long resigned to the fact that I am obsolete. I dragged my feet to an event “Slush”. It was their first in Singapore and apparently, they represent the largest startup community in the world. The event with so much jazzmatazz it blew my mind. It was totally energizing. The organizer also arranged a tour to Block 71 which is a physical hub where many startups set up (I was told) so it made it all seem real. I spoke with young female entrepreneurs (not from Singapore) and I soon realized I had so much to offer. But I needed a reason to connect which I realized I had not at that point.
I also realized that this is an entire eco-system — a maze to me. I wanted to learn about it. The energy behind it drew something from me like nothing before in the last 8 years. I googled and realized there was not much attention paid to female entrepreneurs so I started a community Startup Asia Women because I imagined there were many other females who may be as keen to learn how to operate in this maze as I am. I wanted to position myself to be found rather than having to knock on doors or not have a valid reason to connect. And I am not a community type of person so this was totally out of my comfort zone, in addition to coming back to almost nothing.
What are you most excited about in 2021 and in she1K?
I learned the art of persistence. It is great to see that a program that we conceived from the ground up, C-shark Tank has evolved and stood the test of the pandemic. I am excited that we have grown season after season. We are moving into Season 5 now. We have remained focused on empowering C-suite executives in angel investing so we will continue to grow the network and provide more value to this target audience. We will further strengthen the program with additional services.
As an investor, can you share a common myth about your role?
Since my return I have been heavily involved in women empowerment be it inspiring career women or supporting female founders. 2 years after I started Startup Asia Women, I realized that simply networking and learning about the ecosystem does not amount to much. I needed to have skin in the game. But alone I could do so little. Hence I created she1K which was meant to onboard 1000 executive women from around the world in support of startups with funding and beyond. she1K is about empowering female executive investorship. We are not a she-for-she angel syndicate because I believe innovation should not be gender-biased. We invest in great ideas, great founders, and businesses that solve a massive problem and can scale.
How do you identify great founders?
Their actions are what tells. How responsive they are, how transparent. Great founders, like great employees, need to be accountable when you are leveraging “other people’s money” to grow your business, to realize your dreams.
How do you spot and build relationships with high potential founders that others (investors) are missing?
Not all founders are hustlers and not all are great at building connections. Hence I go the extra mile to help them to reach people they wish to. Having built my own traction and positioning myself as an investor, I can gain access more easily than our founders at times.
What makes an investible venture-backed start-up?
The solution must be scalable almost organically. There are many great examples today. Simple problems require simple solutions mostly. Stay focused to enhance the solution and ensure it meets customer needs and enhances their user journey. It should be intuitive to the market where people or businesses want to sign up for. Once you find that key, it could unlock immense potential.
Perhaps it’s easier to talk about what is not investible. That revolves around defensibility. There are certain sectors that may be particularly overcrowded and where the moat may not be as threat-proof. This could limit customer acceptance or willingness to adopt new technology or a market segment may not be big enough to sustain the growth of the startup.
What advice would you give an early-stage founder seeking funding right now?
Do not simply pitch to anyone who is willing to hear your pitch. Do not waste that one chance of impression. Pitch to the right stage of investors per your stage of development. Position it as advice seeking to test the reaction of one investor before blasting across everywhere. Ask for introductions and referrals. Blind spamming may have a negative effect. Do your research well for each and every investor and tailor your deck accordingly. Work hard on your deck and pitch. Revise it regularly when you obtain feedback.
How do you make connections in the startup community?
Building my Linkedin profile helps. I did not design or plan it but I am seeing the benefits. A good Linkedin profile builds credibility and creates a cumulative pull effort. Through in-person events prior to COVID was helpful too.
Could you give some advice on relationship building?
Remember what people have requested for and stay in touch even where there is no reason to. That way when you really need to reach out for help, you are not a stranger.
How do you learn and continue to hone your skills?
Test and learn. Fail fast or find out in the fastest way what works by literally doing it. That’s what I love about the startup energy vs corporate energy. You don’t need to have a comprehensive plan or all the resources allocated before you start something. You will be surprised how much more insights you will gain from learning from the feedback of your actions rather than doing more primary research.
Could you share some advice on effective communication?
Be empathetic — how your audience prefers to be communicated with, what interests your audience. It is not for your convenience but theirs. How you ask affects the response you are going to get.
What is an area you wish you could better understand?
Health. I pay so little attention to it.
Who is a woman you admire?
I admire confident women who care about others. I admire women who are all rounded and not just all focused on work and family but also focused on themselves and on giving back to society and future generations. I admire women who are continuously learning and curious. I admire women who hold themselves well and are respected by men for being their authentic self. There is always something to learn from women of substance.
How do you deal with uncertainty?
Be totally certain that nothing remains certain. Treat uncertainty as an adventure, an opportunity to learn more, an opportunity to uncover more opportunities. Be a problem solver. Push yourself to find ways to alleviate uncertainty rather than be crippled by it.
How did you make sure your voice was heard (in male dominated field/when you were more junior)?
Almost every field is male-dominated so why focus on that perspective? Reframe your mind and appreciate that you made it to any field you have chosen. Cut through that noise and clutter and stay focused on what you want to achieve. Find your ally in men — let them help you too. Be so good at what you do such that gender is not even an issue. Take the lead. Be the leader so you can make your own rules and own the room.
What advice would you give to a younger self (when you were in university)?
Focus more on people and on building relationships. All my classmates and schoolmates could all be my allies for my future. It’s not what you say about yourself that matters. It’s what others tell others about you that could amplify you.
You can learn more about Christina and she1K here.