Click Ventures Founder Carman Chan discusses the path to success
By Jasmine Chan
Even though Carman Chan is one of Asia’s most influential women in tech, she is continuously looking for ways to further expand her reach. Named by Preqin as the ‘most consistently top-performing VC fund manager globally,’ Chan’s firm, Click Ventures, invests in early- to Series A-stage tech startups in Silicon Valley and throughout Asia. It has invested in 50 startups since founding and boasts Spotify, Meetup, and Memebox as among its portfolio companies.
Chan’s motto has always been to “[turn] your disadvantages into advantages”–an idea that she has applied throughout her career as a serial entrepreneur, tech columnist, and now, the founder of a world-class VC firm.
Jumpstart sat down with Chan to discuss her path to success and how she hopes to take the lessons she’s learned to inspire female investors and the next generation of innovators.
Chan first entered the innovation sector upon graduating from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, where she majored in Pure Mathematics. Following graduation, she struggled to find a gripping way to improve her English. Despite being admitted into Imperial College London’s prestigious doctoral program for Mathematical Finance, she chose instead to establish her first startup, EnglishStreet.com, an online ‘edutainment’ platform.
“My passion and focus at that time was making English learning more interesting. Therefore, the Ph.D. offer from Imperial College became less interesting for me,” she says.
The company scaled rapidly and was covered by Harvard Business Review as a successful business case. It was acquired in 2000 by Hong Kong Economic Times, a Hong Kong-listed newspaper group. Chan would move on to found her second startup in 2007; Click Limited was an online ‘edutainment’ community for kids aged 6 to 12-years-old. Tencent’s first CFO, Patrick Tsang, and Cherubic Ventures Founder Matt Cheng were among the company’s investors. Click Limited merged with Hiiir Inc. and went on to be acquired by FarEasTone Telecommunications in 2013.
With a wealth of entrepreneurial experience under her belt, Chan decided to pursue her ambitions in the investment space, eventually founding Click Ventures in 2015.
“I have met so many investors as a founder, making me curious about the other side of the table–the investment side. I became an angel investor for two years when I exited my own company six years ago,” she says.
Clicking into place
Although being an entrepreneur gave her invaluable insight into the startup ecosystem, Chan says that she had to develop a new perspective as an investor, as the emphasis is on consistency, rather than growth.
“We had been asked by our [limited partners] whether we could continuously generate top performances. That’s why we have been focused on creating an internal process to achieve a consistent top-performing result,” she says.
Chan breaks down this process into two parts: (1) identification and (2) a laser-focus. The first step is to identify startups with business models that suit the focus of the firm.
“Recognizing a business model is not that easy. We need to build a lot of knowledge so that we are equipped in that specific kind of business model that belongs to our focus,” she says. “When you laser-focus on a business model, you can concentrate all the resources on your objectives and target, and you can build a lot of synergy around it.”
Click Ventures is “sector elastic” when evaluating potential portfolio companies. Chan receives more than 1,000 startup email pitches per year, which doesn’t include the ones she hears at pitch competitions, demo days, and other events. She stresses the importance of being concise when it comes to perfecting the pitch because “VC firms usually have a few seconds to look at your pitch, so these few seconds are very important.”
Another piece of advice she gives to startup founders is that they often make the mistake of not presenting a clear business model and traction data when pitching. Traction data is essential because it reflects whether the startup fits well with the firm’s investment thesis.
After handpicking a portfolio company, Chan will ask detailed questions about the profit motive and daily operations of the company for the founder to ponder when refining their business plan. Through her experience, she’s able to understand the founders’ mindsets and spark an effective brainstorming process to take the business to the next level.
“Most of the time, I found that my portfolio companies’ founders liked the questions I asked them. I have been a founder myself, so I can ask a lot of detailed questions that can provoke the founders to think,” she says.
When working with portfolio companies, Chan’s objective is always to accelerate and inspire innovation, as Click Ventures seeks to invest in transformative businesses. Chan cites the notable example of Spotify, which pioneered music streaming around the world. She emphasizes the power of technology in reinventing old business processes and generating new waves in the industry.
“They leveraged a streaming technology that just matured at that time, introducing the idea that you don’t need to download music anymore. So, in this case, they redefined a business model,” she adds.
Nurturing the youth and the outsiders
Having had the opportunity to experience all sides of the startup landscape, Chan is keen on inspiring corporates and budding entrepreneurs as a way to nurture the innovation sector. She frequently spoke at startup events, but felt more could be done to make knowledge-sharing more effective.
“We have invitations to be speakers or judges at a lot of events, so we share our knowledge bit-by-bit, unorganized and scattered,” she says.
In 2019, Chan launched Click Academy, a platform that provides events, training, and workshops to those outside the startup ecosystem, thereby empowering them to make their entrepreneurial aspirations a reality. Participants don’t need to come from any particular background or even have a startup idea. They only need drive and curiosity.
She’s particularly passionate about inspiring the next generation, and says that young people who are interested in pursuing a career in VC should gain hands-on experience through internships. Click Ventures has partnered with Harvard University, London School of Economics, and several Hong Kong universities to connect students with these opportunities. She adds that working in startups is equally crucial to becoming a successful VC, as it gives you a comprehensive perspective and insight into what it means to be a founder.
Chan, who was named by Nikkei Asian Review as one of the ‘Women to Watch in Asian Tech,’ is also an advocate for gender diversity in the startup ecosystem, believing that it’s fundamental to the industry’s overall success.
“Since investors are from different countries and of different genders, sometimes diversity can provide you with different kinds of ideas, networks, and knowledge,” she adds.
When facing a male-dominated VC industry, Chan suggests that the support of like-minded female investors and founders will create the cohesion that’s needed to move it forward. In 2019, Click Ventures invested in Female Entrepreneurs Worldwide, an online-to-offline business platform that connects female entrepreneurs and elevates their business on a local and global level. It also invested in SoGal Ventures, a female-led VC firm targeting diverse founding teams.
In the competitive and unpredictable world of VC, Click Ventures has managed to stand out among the rest and achieve consistent results. The recipes for its success are Chan’s leadership and holistic insight into the innovation sector. Beyond her well-established career, she is making good use of her prominent influence in the industry, inspiring the younger generation and female investors to reach for their dreams.
Jasmine is Jumpstart’s Editorial Assistant.