Ivy Nguyen is an investor at Zetta Venture Partners, an early stage venture capital firm backing businesses built around intelligent software. She brings over four years of experience as an investor and startup advisor in the technology space.
Prior to joining Zetta Ventures, Ivy was Senior Associate at NewGen Capital, a venture capital firm providing early stage deep tech startups with growth opportunities in China and the greater APAC region. During her tenure at NewGen she sourced and led investments in several companies including Constructor, NuCypher, Assembly, and Agridata.
Before NewGen, Ivy managed the startup accelerator program at Imagine H2O, an organization supporting global water innovation. At IH2O Ivy supported over 40 water tech startups from over 14 countries including Israel, Australia, and Singapore by connecting them to the program's growing network of investors, mentors, and pilot partners at major Fortune 1000 companies.
Ivy earned her B.S. in Chemical Engineering from Stanford University, where she served as News Managing Editor of the Stanford Daily.
How did you get to where you are today?
I've always been fascinated by the question of how really good ideas that have the potential to make our world a better place propagate and get to massive global scale. If we believe the headlines, for example, we should have been able to cure cancer or solve the world's energy crisis six times over by now. That's clearly not the case, and I've been increasingly driven to understand the obstacles that prevent those ideas from making their way down the pipeline from the lab out into the world. I knew from the beginning there wasn't one clear choke point in the pipeline, so I also wanted to find out where my own innate ability and personality fit and could contribute the most along that path. It took trying on a series of better fitting hats before I even realized what venture capital was, and how well the work fit with who I innately was and how well it helped me answer this big question that has driven me thus far.
I started from a very instinctive place since that question was initially such a broad one that was pretty poorly articulated. It's been a crazy, meandering road-- I began my career in an academic research lab, then moved onto engineering, started my own tech startup, spent significant time training to become a tech journalist, and even spent a stint as a curator at a world class art museum. I tell a linear and tactical-sounding story now, but I want to assure anyone reading this story that beyond heading toward that fundamental question outlined above and better defining it with each step I took, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. What made a difference was that I was fully committed to, and dove headfirst into, each engagement when I took it on, but I also learned to trust my gut when it told me that the fit wasn't quite right and to wrap things up cleanly and move on, sunk costs be damned.
What was your toughest obstacle and how did you overcome it?
I'm learning to be less hard on myself about things I can't control. I used to be really frustrated with myself that I'm not one of those people who has been programming since the age of 12-- then I realize that I got my first computer going into college, and my first smartphone after I graduated, because I came from a blue collar family where money was always really tight. I've come a very long way in a very short time since then, which hopefully bodes well for the future! It's still something I'm working on-- we can't help what we were given to start with.
What’s the key to staying focused & motivated?
Over the past couple of years I've come to a clear understanding of who I am and why I'm here. Now that I have that clarity, I make sure to be very disciplined and honest about how every single task or allocation of my time relates to that. That means not taking on commitments I know I'm not 100% jazzed about, or ones that I'm not absolutely sure I'll be able to deliver on. That means that if I'm in, I leave myself enough room to be all in.
What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?
Always assume the best of intentions. If you react negatively because you are upset by what they said or how they reacted, you end up fighting a negative with a negative to stalemate. Assuming the best intentions gives you enough emotional space to get behind what they are saying to understand whether they're reacting negatively because they're hurt, upset, or don't understand what you've asked them to do.
If you are constantly wondering whether a comment or action was a slight or an attempt to hurt you, you'll start seeing attacks coming from every direction. Sure, assuming the best of people is a form of putting blinders on, but constantly being on the defensive bogs you down-- you're less likely to see an opening to forge ahead if you're constantly hunkering down in a foxhole instead of pushing ever forward.
What advice do you have for someone who is looking to start a new venture?
Get really good at sales-- as a founder, you'll have to sell EVERYONE on your vision-- your customers, investors, new employees, potential distribution partners, the media. More importantly, a huge part of sales is understanding that every interaction is a numbers game-- you'll quickly get de-sensitized to hearing "no" constantly and can move on to the next pitch to get yourself one step closer to your goals instead of agonizing over all of the rejections-- and there will be so, so many.
How do we get more women leaders?
We should all share the wealth-- and we each have something to give, no matter how young and inexperienced we are, whether it's actual cash or just a friendly ear to vent to. I got my first real break trying to move into VC when one partner I'd sent a cold email to sat me down and gave me a crash course on the industry, and I've been trying to pay it forward anywhere I can. At first I felt as if I didn't have anything very valuable to add. Nonetheless, within my first couple weeks in venture I started taking coffee meetings with founders to give them basic tips on approaching VCs, even if they were starting companies in industries my firm didn't back. It seemed so basic at the time but many of those founders have since told me that our first meeting had a huge impact on helping them strategize for their raise, which is hugely gratifying and exciting to hear!