We are announce that Maaria Bajwa and Chang Xu will be our local leaders for Los Angeles in 2018! We wanted to take an opportunity for you to get to know them below!
Maaria and Chang tell us about your career journey.
Maaria: I started off my career as a generalist at a $4B investment advisor based in LA. I covered mostly alternative strategies including hedge funds, private equity, real estate, private debt, venture capital. Technology was always a passion area of mine and over time I was leading more and more of our venture investments. It was a natural next step for me to make the transition to direct venture investing, but I took my time to find the right team to join. I joined Sound Ventures in February of last year and I have loved every minute of it.
Chang: After studying applied math and computer science in college, I started my career as a consultant with BCG. I really found my calling when I did two startups in ed-tech: I co-founded an adaptive learning software company in China but had to move back to the US for personal reasons. Then I joined as the first product manager at the Minerva Project, a tech-enabled university that delivers you a quality of education better than Harvard at a third of the cost. Since 2016, I've joined the dark side; I'm currently an early stage VC in LA at Upfront Ventures and I focus on investing in future of work, AI/ML, and logistics.
What about your career has surprised you the most?
Maaria: The most surprising thing about being in venture is how humbling it is. There’s always an opportunity to learn from the entrepreneurs and experts you meet everyday. It’s a constant reminder that you’re never the smartest person in the room.
Chang: My career has been a lot more organic than pre-meditated, which has surprised me because I tend to plan everything. What I enjoy and learn the most from have often been different from what I expected.
What about the future excites you?
Maaria: I love companies that are thinking about new and innovative business models. These new business models can open up entire new markets and revitalize old industries.
Chang: Everything: crypto and decentralization and how that's going to play out, creating new pathways for employment that don't involve getting into debt for very expensive college degrees, China's increasing prominence and role in the world as in tech... As I am in early-stage venture, I get to think about cutting-edge technologies and dream about what the future will bring.
What about the future scares you?
Maaria: I’m really worried about the future of our workforce as more and more jobs are automated. No one has the right solution for this today. If we don’t start thinking about solutions now, we could see a massive workforce come to market without any employment opportunities.
Chang: Black Mirror-esque scenarios; I'm usually an optimistic person, which is probably why I don't enjoy the show. I'm worried about the increasing polarization of wealth in the US and the hollowing out of the middle class, as I think that has far implications for the foundations of the republic and our society.
Which book has had the most significant impact on your life and why?
Maaria: How to win friends and Influence people. The book does a great job of outlining better approaches to problems, and completely reshaped how I interact with others in both my personal and professional capacity.
Chang: Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, as this book has shaped my thinking in so many ways. For example, one of the ideas that stuck with me is that it is human tendency to tell stories, to retrospectively make sense of things. In the venture world, we read (and we write) all these stories about successful startups (and failed ones) in nice narratives that seem so clear in hindsight, but unfortunately, it's full of human bias and the storyteller tend to forget the evidence to the contrary. I try to not be drawn to the allure of a nice narrative.
What tool do you use everyday that is invaluable?
Maaria: Messenger + Slack, mostly for internal communication.
Chang: Airtable. It's a more mobile-friendly version of spreadsheets and has a better UI. I use it to track people I meet professionally and help me remember who I should reach out to. I jot down quick notes after my meetings and bring it up again when, for example, we are putting on an event and I need to suggest people to invite. It's my PRM - Personal Relationship Manager.
If you woke up and had 1,000 emails in your inbox and could only answer 100, how would you choose which ones to answer?
Maaria: Would prioritize emails from our founders and their teams. I’m always thinking of ways to be available and helpful to the companies we invest in.
Chang: First, I read every email and I prioritize them. I use my inbox as a to-do list, so I archive emails that are low priority and which I probably won't answer. If I read an email that's quick to reply to, I will reply right there. Then, I answer the emails that are related to whatever is highest priority for me at the moment. I try to balance what's important with what's urgent and make sure that I tackle some of the "important but not urgent" stuff every day.
If we could arrange a dinner for you with one person in your industry, who would you want to invite?
Maaria: At this moment in time, I would have to say Naval Ravikant, the founder and CEO of AngelList. He’s a frequent guest on tech podcasts and more recently he has been a huge thought leader in the crypto space. It’s clear he’s a very thoughtful investor and I have a lot of respect for him.
Chang: She's not quite in my industry, but I would love to have dinner with Shonda Rhimes. She's an African American female writer who has created several of the largest franchises in network television (Grey's Anatomy, Scandal, How to Get Away with Murder), which feature female heroines, diverse casts, and real-world biases that women and people of color face.
She's an introvert and, in her own words, she's "F.O.D" - First. Only. Different - which is how I feel a lot of the time. I think what she has accomplished in her industry is incredible.