Eva Lau is a well-respected entrepreneur, advisor and investor. She is the co-founder of Two Small Fish Ventures. Before that she was Wattpad's 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. Read Elle's conversation below to find out why Eva is a highly sought after investor and why her recent foray into venture investing is making waves in Canada and globally.
Elle: What does #GlobalCitizenry mean to you?
Eva: #GlobalCitizenry means to me that everyone has the ability and willingness to appreciate each other’s culture. From an innovation perspective, I see that people are going to be using Internet products from all over the world so it’s extremely important that people start thinking of creating products for global usage. In the old days people used to think that as long as they captured the US or Asian market that would be enough depending on where those companies were based. Now we need to think about creating products that suit the world.
Elle: You’re a well-respected entrepreneur turned investor. You’re married to successful entrepreneur who co-founded Wattpad, where you had a substantial role building and scaling the community. Entrepreneurship is not as glamorous as is often depicted in the media. What was the hardest part of being an entrepreneur in the early days of Wattpad and building a company and raising a family with your husband?
Eva: That’s a very good question. Running a start-up or starting a company when you have a young family is always a very frightening experience. When Allen was building Wattpad, it was very difficult, basically it was an empty website that needed people to share their stories. Then we had to get readers to read those stories in order to get the marketplace going.
We had very little revenue and we funded the company through debt. We borrowed against our house and Allen and I considered selling our house to continue the venture. Having been in the tech ecosystem long enough I can tolerate risk but we had a young family and were wondering if we were being responsible parents by putting everything on the line. Our kids were young. For us, as people from a traditional Asian family, we also worried about our parents. Both mine and Allen’s father had passed away during the early days of Wattpad so we were worried about taking all this risk. Not only were we potentially risking our children’s future but would we become a burden on our parents?
Elle: I completely understand this. What was it like psychologically for you going through this?
Eva: It was very hard. The most important thing I wanted to make sure at the time was to support Allen. He put his heart and soul into Wattpad. I wanted to make sure that he had a good run with it so that when we retired, he wouldn’t say we should have tried harder or longer. I wanted to make sure we had no regrets. That was the only thing that was keeping me sane.
Elle: You mentioned coming from a traditional Asian family, which I know is similar to a traditional Middle Eastern family that I come from. Both encourage traditional “safe careers”. What did they think what you and Allen were doing?
Eva: Actually, Allen and I did a great job of hiding everything we were doing from them so they were literally clueless about everything we were going through! On the surface, we still lived the life we were always living and we never asked them for help. But our parents had no clue what we were going through. It was only when they read in the newspaper that one of the top US investors, Union Square Ventures, had invested in Wattpad that they said wow you guys are actually doing well in this company. We purposely shielded them from it. If they understood the risks that I am now taking as a venture investor they would have a heartache!
Elle: You co-founded Two Small Ventures with your husband. Most recently you raised nine million dollars for your first venture fund with the goal of raising fifteen million dollars in total. Congratulations. What made you want to go from angel investing to venture investing? Aside from investing in entrepreneurs and companies that meet your investment criteria and generating successful returns for the fund what are your goals?
Eva: When I left Wattpad in 2013 I took a sabbatical to spend some time with my children and figure out what I want to do next on my own. I started thinking that there are a lot of investors in the tech ecosystem who are great people but who don’t have experience building products at a massive scale. If we look at Silicon Valley there are a lot of people who have experience building and scaling companies and they recycle their knowledge and capital. So, I wanted to recycle my knowledge and capital (however limited) and start as an angel investor.
I was asked by many tech hubs to become an advisor and mentor and all of a sudden, I had a whole community seeking me out and asking for my feedback and to invest in their companies. VCs also reached out about companies they were looking at investing in. This resulted in me having a highly curated pipeline. I said to myself I can continue to invest as an angel investor but have a limited impact. So, I decided it’s time to raise a venture capital fund.
My goal is to nurture the next generation of entrepreneurs who want to take on the world. For the longest time Canadian entrepreneurs did not think big enough and usually thought of selling their companies in a three to five year period to a big brother in the US. For some entrepreneurs, this makes sense. At the same time if we don’t have the kind of ambition to grow beyond being acquired then we are doing ourselves a major disservice. I hope through my investment fund that message can be heard loud and clear. I hope we will have a new breed of entrepreneurs in Canada that want to reach for the North sky and become ginormous and stay here in Canada.
My second goal is that to help create a bigger ecosystem in Canada. Canada has a large geographic footprint which is an advantage and a disadvantage – we are the second largest country in the world. We have a lot of talent in different pockets in Canada and there is a distance between the various tech hubs. They don’t always know what’s happening in the other tech hubs and talent is totally dispersed. As someone who has helped build a big company and is in a position to invest it allows me to get involved with various ecosystems in a unique way. I’m hoping to encourage entrepreneurs and investors to cross-pollinate and help create a bigger ecosystem that can create global solutions for global problems.
Elle: What was the worst advice you ever received as an entrepreneur? And what is the one piece of advice you now give entrepreneurs?
Eva: The worst advice I would say is one that we received that during the early days of Wattpad. Some people said we should just help writers sell books and we should create a portal that allows writers to sell their books online, or other ideas that didn’t necessarily support our big vision. They did not understand the disruption we wanted to bring. If we had listened to their advice we wouldn’t have built the Wattpad that exists today. It takes guts for entrepreneurs and founders to not loose sight of their long-term vision.
The advice I give entrepreneurs is to not lose sight of where they want to go and to think big. Massive success comes with massive risk. If the opportunity or dream is too small they can’t attract that massive investment from people who want you to have a home run. I hope Canadians think big and can leverage the diversity in our ecosystem to make us a hub for global products for a global market.