The ‘Midas’ Touch
A self-proclaimed geek, Jenny Lee ’01 combines finance skills with an eye for innovation to become one of Forbes’ top tech investors.By Eva Saviano
7/17/2013 - To jump nearly 60 spots on Forbes’ Midas List for tech investors in one year, Jenny Lee ‘01 didn’t just need to know to spot the next hot investment, she had to keep her cool.
But for Lee, “cool” is not how she would describe herself.
“I am a true geek,” said Lee, 41, who now sits at No. 36 on the magazine’s 2013 list, up from No. 94 in 2012.
Let’s call her a cool geek, then. After all, Lee studied wireless technology and control systems at Cornell and spent half a decade upgrading and retrofitting A4 and F16 fighter jets with Singapore Technologies Aerospace.
“That’s when I got my first taste of what business is all about,” she said. “Technology is always at the core of what I am doing, but at the end of the day tech doesn’t call the shots. I had to diversify myself.”
Finding the right IPO
For Lee, a partner at GGV Capital, a firm that operates in both China and the United States, venture capital has been the perfect combination of finance and technology innovation. Still, she has to compete with the more than 1,000 active venture capital and private equity firms in China, where she plays a crucial role in GGV’s global presence.
Though China is dealing with a recent slowdown in growth, Lee found sound investments in hiSoft—which went public in the United States in 2010 and later merged with VanceInfo Technologies to form the largest IT outsourcing company in China—and YY, one of only two Chinese companies to have a U.S. initial public offering in 2012.
Lee also added 21vianet, the largest carrier-neutral Internet data center services provider in China, to GGV Capital's stable in 2011 and SinoSun, a security-solution provider, in 2012.
“In the last year and a half, it’s been a bit more pessimistic for IPOs looking to come to U.S.,” said Lee, who is based in Shanghai. “But GGV has been involved in 15 IPOs in the last three years, and half of them are from China.”
Looking for inspiration, innovation
In fact, the market has been anything but calm, said Lee. U.S. companies look to China for innovation and inspiration, especially in the mobile space. Lee expects to see the sale of 500 million smart phones in China next year.
And Lee knows to look at both Chinese and U.S. markets to spot early indicators. She can thank her time at Singapore Technologies for that trick.
“Twenty years ago, I saw technology that [could] detect eye movement and translate it into controlling an aircraft,” Lee said. “As a tech investor, that exposure to cutting edge technology is amazing. It gave me the ability to quickly understand where high level trends are headed and how they will become commercially relevant and successful.”
It also honed her attention to detail as a project manager. As partner, Lee manages GGV’s investments in both Chinese companies and in U.S. ventures such as Buddy Media, a social marketing and management company, before Salesforce.com acquired it in 2012. And just like her days working on multimillion-dollar planes, Lee understands the risk involved with venture capital.
“The projects involve big capital investments and lives,” she said. “We can’t tolerate any mistakes.”