In this edition of Lived It, we sit down with Eva Lau, Managing Partner and Co-Founder of Two Small Fish Ventures. Eva knows what it is to be an entrepreneur, having helped run Wattpad with her husband Allen as Head of Community and Content. She helped nurture and scale the Wattpad community from its infancy to become one of the world’s largest online communities with tens of millions of monthly users around the world. Prior to Wattpad, she was Director of Product Development at Brightspark Labs, a Toronto based accelerator where she helped mentor many tech startups. With a background in industrial engineering and an early career in software and hardware startups, Eva lives and breathes tech innovation.
Eva now juggles two full-time jobs, one as an angel investor and the other as mother to her two daughters, Naomi and Peony. Just as she has shared her years of experience with founders, she is excited to share her advice with the Female Funders Community to help other women who wish to follow in her footsteps.
Current job: Managing Partner and Co-Founder of Two Small Fish Ventures
Hometown: Hong Kong
Education: Undergraduate Degree in Industrial Engineering (University of Toronto) and an MBA (Schulich School of Business)
First Job: QA Engineer at Delrina
Work Attire: “J Crew of course!” she exclaimed while pointing to a stunning statement necklace and pale pink sweater. “They have great sales (wink).”
Currently Reading: Grit and Untangled – “both parenting books that are applicable to startups too!”
Hobbies: Listening to music and going for walks in the woods.
Angel investors she admires: “Bert Armato is like a big brother to me. He gave me my first job and was the first backer of Wattpad. I want to be like Bert, he’s always putting the entrepreneur first. Two of my mentors are Fred Wilson from Union Square and Albert Wenger who’s on the board at Wattpad. They know their stuff!”
Eva first started angel investing back in 2014. “People wanted to learn from our experience in building Wattpad. For myself in particular, I had many years of experience in other startups to contribute as well. There would be people, young or first-time entrepreneurs and sometimes serial entrepreneurs, who would be chitchatting with us. We would go for coffee and they would say, ‘Eva, we’re thinking of doing this. What do you think?’ I enjoyed those conversations a lot. I would try and help the entrepreneurs by sharing my experiences, saying what I’ve done in those situations and what were the types of results I would get. These meetings were so mind stimulating and I learned a lot by not only sharing what I had done in the past but also learning what they had tried. And one day I said to myself, ‘you know what? Maybe I could actually make this work as an angel investor.’”
“The entrepreneurs that had been coming to us loved the idea. Some of them were our friends, some were first time entrepreneurs. I paced myself in getting into the space by sharing experience and also learning from others with the very small capital that I had. I have two friends who syndicate with us, but it’s mostly mine and my husband’s money. While he focused all of his energy on Wattpad, I focused all of my money doing angel investing. I was originally just a passive investor. I was fortunate enough that a lot of VC friends would come to me and say ‘Hey, we have an opportunity for you. Take a look and see if you like it.’ They gave me deal flow in exchange for knowledge. I loved those experiences and was very lucky to get exposed to great opportunities.”
“Allen and I had gotten to know a lot of VC investors during our journey at Wattpad and they always talked about their investment criteria. So before our first angel investment, we took a hard look at what we were good at and defined our investment criteria so that we wouldn’t be drawn in too many directions, being pulled into deals that weren’t right for us. It was a great exercise because it made us very disciplined when it comes to opportunities.”
“The first opportunity was referred to us by an investor we knew through Wattpad. We looked at it and said, does this one fit into our investment criteria? It did, so we decided to put the money in. We said, ‘we’re doing it!’. By writing the first cheque, it makes us real angels and we did it! I felt so proud that I could say that I am an investor now. That gave me a label that I can now finally wear. I’m an angel investor. It makes me continue on because of that experience. It’s great!
It makes me who I am not. I’m not just teeter-tottering at the brim of the ecosystem, I’m actively participating now. I’m in it now.
“You will never be ready,” said Eva when asked what advice she would give to women thinking of writing their first angel cheque. “Even right now in meeting some of the very experienced VCs and Angels turned VCs, I realize that there is so much for me to learn. I am still learning right now.”
“I still remember the first time I wrote my first cheque and thought to myself.. am I going to get it back??!! I worried so much about how this was going to be the last time I’d ever see the money. This is hard earned money that we saved and have the luxury to invest. I have to be very responsible for me and my family.”
“It’s very high risk but you have already done your due diligence. You’re not putting it on the lottery. You need to do your due diligence not necessarily to the nth degree but you know who these people are, you know why you have that trusting feeling toward them. You have a good idea of why this will work. It’s obviously very risky, but it’s not a blind bet. You’ve done your homework.”
“If you belong to an angel group, you trust that that group of people collectively have the intelligence and experience to do proper due diligence on the deal so that you can participate and because of that, it’s high risk, but at the same time I think the idea and the knowledge that the money you put in is going to make an impact, I think it’s great already. Sometimes you just have to take that leap of faith and say: my money is going to make a difference. Knowing that alone is great enough. Hopefully, you will at least get your money back and maybe a couple of times more. Maybe more than you would in the stock market or a GIC.”
“We went through a tough time in the early days of Wattpad as we were trying to get people to read on their phones, phones which, at the time, had screens that were 10 lines long. We were struggling to get traction. That was a very tough time. So tough that we were at the brink of selling our house. But somehow we were crazy enough to say you know what? Let’s just keep going. We’ve seen enough startups and understand the cycle.”
“I said to myself, if I come to a wall, like a solid wall that I know I will not be able to go beyond, then I will stop. But for some reason, I only saw hurdles. For some reason, Allen and I could figure out a way to just overcome it. The definition of the wall varies from person to person. For some people, it’s no salary for 2 years and having to sell the house. For Allen and me, we didn’t see that as a wall, we saw that as a hurdle. It’s okay if we have to sell the house. We’re young, we can earn it back. We stop and find a job we can start all over.”
It is beautiful watching Eva speak about her daughters. You can tell that she takes her job as a mother just as seriously as she does her role as an angel investor. In fact, to her angel investing serves a dual purpose.
“One thing I would like to suggest to ladies who are thinking about becoming a Female Funder is that being an angel investor is the best model to set a real example as a role model for our generation, particularly young girls.”
“It is great for our young people to see angel investing in action because it’s not just that you put money in the bank and watch it grow. Instead, you’re very active in what your money supports. You angel invest to help others, share experience and learn from them too. I think that kind of trade of knowledge is applicable to anyone no matter what they do in life. I encourage the Female Funders Community to think about being an angel investor as being a role model for the young generation, especially the young girls who need mentors like them to look up to.”