Advice from an investor: Beware of “mentor whiplash”

Venture capitalist Rachel Yang drives positive social change by investing in start-ups that make a difference. Here she shares some advice she usually reserves for the founders she works with.

Rachel Yang (BCom, 2011) is the investment manager at the Giant Leap Fund, a venture capital fund focused on backing start-ups that use business as a force for good.

As Yang explains, women are underrepresented in the start-up space. Out of the top 10 Australian venture capital firms, only four have female partners. And less than a third of funded start-ups have a female co-founder.

Yang says at the Giant Leap Fund, “impact needs to be embedded in the business model”; for every dollar of revenue, there needs to be a unit of impact. The Fund works across three areas: health and wellbeing, empowering people, and sustainable living.

We asked Yang about her path into business, and what it’s like being a woman in a male-dominated industry.

How did your career begin?

I always thought I wanted to do something in business, but I wasn't quite sure what that looked like. I studied Accounting back when I did the BCom and decided it would be my major. While at University, I did a small vacation placement in audit at PwC, I then realised there was a whole other world out there.

"The best decisions are made when there is a diversity of thought in the room, culturally as well as through gender and age."

After I graduated, I started work at KPMG and went into management consulting, predominantly focused on government advisory. I wanted to do something with a positive social impact, which I felt I was doing as a government advisor, but it sometimes felt like I was writing a lot of reports and not seeing it translating to direct impact.

I started looking for other opportunities and ended up starting my own not for profit as a side project. The business raised funds and awareness for motor neuron disease. This is where I developed a taste for start-ups - I realised there was a lot of agility if you just start your own thing.

What's it like being a woman in venture capital?

Women are the minority in the venture capital space. Only 22 per cent of partners are women. That manifests in the language that’s used in the industry and having a slightly male-dominated culture within the investor groups, as well as the interactions with founders in the start-up space more broadly.

It is challenging but also really rewarding.

The rewarding part is the fact that I feel like I'm in a position where I can affect change and where I can show that women can be great investors. Founders and people in the start-up space can also have a different experience when it comes to liaising and interacting with investors, because we do bring something different as women.

The best decisions are made when there is a diversity of thought in the room, culturally as well as through gender and age.

What's some advice you give to the female founders you work with as an investor?

One thing I always warn founders of is “mentor whiplash.”

When you run a startup, a lot of people feel compelled to give advice and you’re encouraged to seek it out. You’ll find a lot of conflicting pieces of advice that make it really hard to run your business.

Rachel Yang (far left) with members of the Impact Investor Group.

Ultimately, you're the only one who knows your business best. Be open-minded to advice, but also know what your mission is and know where you want to take your business and then go with that.

Some women say, "Oh, I don't want to raise capital because it's a kind of man's game." And I encourage them to leave that behind and not self-exclude, just to step up to the opportunities that are put in front of them and grab them - because other people will. You've got to be in it to win it.

Do you have any daily routines or life hacks that you swear by?

One rule that I have is to not have my mobile phone in the bedroom at all. I feel like it helps with sleep and making sure that you're present with your family when you're at home.

Also, exercise has been just so important in my life to keep me mentally and physically ready for anything that comes my way.

Being an investor is a high-pressure job. The days can be long and involve challenging conversations and decisions. Taking care of your body and mind to ensure you’re at your best mental state is the only way to stay on top of it all.

Banner Image: Yang with Giant Leap teammates Will Richardson and Charlie Macdonald

Listen to the Women are the Business podcast for more insights on women's working lives - linking cutting edge research and real life experience to explain the hurdles they face. Available on Apple Podcasts now.