This interview is part of a series on Trailblazing Women role models (Entrepreneurs and Leaders) from around the world and first appeared on Global Invest Her. You have to see what you can be.
I would tell younger people to trust their gut about what they think is best for them and not be afraid to try and fail.”
Bedy Yang is Managing Partner at 500Startups. 500Startups is a leading seed and incubator fund in Silicon Valley with vibrant spaces in Mountain View and San Francisco. It provides early-stage companies with funding and mentorship from over 200 experienced startup mentors. Bedy has invested in over 50 startups, not only in Brazil and Spanish speaking countries, but also in Kenya and Russia.
In addition to 500 Startups, Bedy founded Brazil Innovators, an organization that became the epicenter and resource for Brazilian tech founders. Through her leadership, her work has been featured in leading media such as Exame, Veja, Folha de São Paulo, Estadão, Techcrunch, TNW, Washington Post, Globo. She was selected as America Quarterly Innovator, featured as women leader on Forbes. Bedy has been active speaker in conferences including Berkeley, Bloomberg Link, Dell Women Entrepreneur Network, Endeavor, Instituto de Empresas, FGV, Startup Chile.
Before 500 Startups and Brazil Innovators, Bedy worked as management consultant specializing in distribution and go-to-market strategies for Fortune 500 companies in Brazil. She has also worked as social entrepreneur creating opportunities for women and indigenous tribes in Brazil and China. Bedy holds a BA at Fundação Getúlio Vargas and MLA (East Asian Studies) from University of Pennsylvania. She speaks Chinese, English, Portuguese and Spanish fluently. She is also a member of the Society of Kauffman Fellows and graduated with recognition for her leadership.
Visit the 500 startups website or Brazil Innovators website and follow Bedy on Twitter @bedy
Who is your role model as a leader?
The first role model who is my foundation is my Mom, because she is very entrepreneurial. She moved from Taiwan to Paraguay without speaking a word of Spanish or other Latin languages. She has very strong leadership and built a few businesses. I really looked up to her as I was growing up. She was always very supportive of us to learn foreign languages, travel and explore new things (Bedy speaks Portuguese, Chinese, English, Spanish and some Taiwanese and German) and provided us with an important foundation. When I look at how much she achieved and her leadership, she is a big reference for me.
I really admire my other fellow Managing Partners at 500 Startups. Starting with Dave — he will never stop on his vision. He is very smart and is the inspiration behind the vision for the organization. With Christine, one thing I really enjoy about her leadership is that she’s very anchored and has a great balance of being successful and being a mom and wife. She’s not talkative or social at all, but it’s great to see her as a different leadership role model. You may think that every leader has to be loud, out there, but a lot of success at 500Startups is because of her. I really admire her being so centered given the craziness around us. Another great member of the management is Khailee, he is the most energetic person I know! One thing that’s important for me regarding role models, is that a lot of role models come from small moments of interactions with other people around me, including the founders of startups I work with.
What is your greatest achievement to date?
For me, it’s really important to create optionality and opportunity for other people at scale. My biggest achievement is that I know exactly what I want and I have found ways to fulfil my purpose. I am co-creating a venture fund that is different: global and scalable. I have also started some organizations that I know have created impact for founders which make me very happy! For me as an individual, what is important is the capacity to empower a lot of other people and level very different environments. For example, if I’m in the Bay area that is rich in terms of resources and mindset, I think ‘how can I take that and bring it to a lot of other places?’ I like to see how I can take different vehicles and bring them to fruition. For instance Brazil Innovators, the organization that I founded, now has a team that makes magic happen. We have 10,000 entrepreneurs and investors in a very vibrant community. I wouldn’t say that one person ‘owns’ it, but I feel that the beginning vision, the first spark was important and has created the seed for a lot of things I see today in the Brazilian tech ecosystem. Being able to create a platform where we are not just helping 5 people but thousands of founders, I feel that is a really big accomplishment and I am proud of that.
What has been your biggest challenge as a woman leader?
I think it’s a mix between being a woman and being a constant immigrant. My parents are immigrants and I have been moving to a different country every 10 years since I was young. First they moved from Taiwan to Paraguay. Then from Paraguay to Brazil and then on to the US. Very often, I’ve come from a minority perspective coming in to change the status quo. The immigrant/minority/woman perspective gets blended so it’s very hard for me to pinpoint what’s what.
It’s hard for me to point out an environment where being a woman has been a challenge for me. I spend the majority of my time at 500 Startups which is really an environment that allows different backgrounds to grow. So I don’t feel any difference within my work environment. Also we are an organization that is constantly trying to disrupt, so the way we invest is very different from traditional venture capitalists. I really fit in at 500 so don’t feel any pressure from the outside.
How do you grow people in your organization?
The way I look at it, 500 Startups is not just a VC fund — we are a platform, so we need to have a network and scale. Very often when I think about a platform/marketplace, it doesn’t count on one single item, it’s a balance of several different factors. What we think about when we are growing the team or the organization, is more from the founders’ perspective. So at early stage, what do founders need most? They need cash and being fast about whether you will invest or not is important, even if it’s a small check. The other thing that’s important at that stage is ‘how do I build my company so that it reaches the customer?’ Internally we call that team the Distribution team — who help startups get user acquisition, growth hacking, leverage pre-existing platforms to reach the audience they want to reach (eg via google search or using video).
Another important component we help startups with is when they Exit (with follow-on cash and on how to exit). So when we are growing the organization and the core team, we are always thinking about how can we help startups from a growth and capital perspective and ensure to give them the right resources. We have 300 mentors who really help founders and the founders help each other out too as peers. That’s an important part of our community.
If you could do 1 thing differently, what would it be?
I would like to find better work life balance. I do think I have made significant shift in my first years, from being a runner to a leader. In the past, I always used to think I needed a lot more time, now I need a lot more team. The team fulfils the lack of time you have. I like to learn and have a very systemic way of thinking, where I see the system as a whole. Building a community, environment and platforms is something I like doing, because that’s the way I learn. Before, I was learning from role models and now that I know what to do, I want to run as fast as I can and I need more time. I moved from being inspired and needing more time, to now needing the right people to work with as a peer. I see everyone in our organization as a peer, a co-worker. My mindset on worklife balance has shifted. I know it’s still not sustainable, but in years to come I do want to be able to look back and not just see what I have done in terms of work, but also my family and friends. That’s really important to me.
What differences do you notice between men and women’s leadership styles?
That’s a hard question because I think it’s always biased. I think it comes down to confidence. I always have a matrix of confidence and competence when looking at founders. I think back to that imposter syndrome and how it affects women differently. Even when men are less confident, in their communication style they can still come across as more confident. However, we have to be aware of bias and not put people into boxes.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I am open minded and really want my team members to be successful and accomplished in life. In general, I have a high bar for results and look for entrepreneurial and resourceful people and try to make sure they can become successful at their role.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
The key thing for me, what I would have told my younger self is, to trust my gut about what I wanted to do. I’ve always challenged myself to do new things, different things, but for a long time I wasn’t really sure because I was always and outsider that broke into new networks. I would tell younger people to trust their gut about what they think is best for them and not be afraid to try and to learn with the journey and not the final result.
What would you like to achieve in the next 5 years?
I link it directly to what I’m doing at 500, because that’s a great conduit for what I believe for life in general. What I’d like to see in 5 years, is that globally (and not just the organization) access to technology, capital and resources for startups will level up. 500’s work moves the needle forward in that direction and as an organization, we are still learning about how to sustain ourselves. We are always looking at what more resources we can add (in comparison to traditional VC’s) and checking to see if what we have done is well established yet. In 5 years, I’d like to see more organizations, funds, build capital and how you provide funding, knowledge in different countries and women (for whom it is harder) to really level up opportunities globally. We are using 500 as a product/conduit to increase this diversity and access to global opportunity.
3 key words to describe yourself?
Don’t be afraid to try new things to find out who you are and where you are going.”