Renee, who are you and how did you come to Singapore ?
I have been a corporate lawyer in Paris for more than 16 years and I moved to Bali in late 2012. I wanted to set-up a consulting business to help French communities worldwide in their acquisitions of real estate. But after 3 weeks, I was back to venture capital transactions…. One cannot escape its destiny!
A friend was raising funds for his startup, located in Singapore with an operational company in Indonesia. He wanted me to assist him in the legal negotiations. Since Venture Capital transactions are pretty standardized across borders, I just needed the endorsement of a lawyer in Singapore. The client accepted and we closed the deal a couple of months later. This is how I understood that Singapore was the main hub for all investments in South East Asia.
I stayed 5 years in Bali, with more trips to Singapore than I can remember! Then I decided to co-found the Singapore arm of Genesis Avocats, a prominent Parisian law firm and I finally moved in Singapore in September 2017.
How do you support the Startup ecosystem ?
I assist French investors in their investments in local startups here in the region. I work with both business angels and venture capital funds, and with all kinds of startups.
I also help French founders raise funds. Many of them aren’t familiar with investors, their mindset, or the key aspects of a transaction. They sometimes could accept anything from investors!
Besides that, I try to raise awareness on the Singaporean startup ecosystem abroad, in particular in France and Southeast Asia. Finally I like to connect people both locally and internationally.
I am specially interested in the Tech industry. When I was a kid, I was pretty good at math and sciences but wanted to be a lawyer since I was 15. Today, focusing on tech allows me to reconcile my practice with my original skills. Nothing happens by accident, I realized that only a couple of years ago.
What’s your advice to Founders when raising funds ?
Regardless of how much you think you know or how much you’ve read, hire a lawyer. In most cases you will be the least experienced person around the negotiating table. VCs negotiate for a living, business angels are quite familiar with the process so a lawyer on your side will help balance things out. When choosing a lawyer, make sure he understands the mechanics of the deal but don’t forget the work style. You must be comfortable sitting at the negotiation table with him. I can never overstate this: your lawyer is a reflection of you. An inexperienced, ineffective or inconsistent lawyer will lower your chances of success.
As a Founder, always remember there’s plenty of money to be invested and very few great projects. This is a win win : you need money, investors need good projects. So if an investor talks to you it is because your project and team is a good opportunity…not because it likes you, or wants to make you a favor.
Time is the only real non renewable resource so an investor would not spend time with you just because you’re a nice person.
I have seen too many founders keen to accept anything from unscrupulous investors just because they needed money. You must stay calm, focused and rational. Ask people who raised funds before, ask your lawyer, ask people you trust the most. This is why you must hire a lawyer before signing a term sheet. If you do it after, the negotiation of the transaction documents will be much harder.
What are the mindset of investors when raising funds ?
Investors look at several things when they invest equity in a company.
The main one is the team. It might be even more important than the business itself or the exit opportunities. This is the key aspect of any equity investment at any stage (early stage to IPO). If they feel the team is not experienced enough, too young or not focused enough they will not invest.
They also want to make the greatest capital gain after the global sale or the IPO of the company. This means they prefer re-investment over dividends, so that the company can grow and increase its valuation.
Lastly, they also want to somehow track the use of the money invested.
You need to address these concerns in the transaction documents (subscription and shareholders’agreement).
In South East Asia (as in Europe), it is very complicated to finance a project with no income. Before raising funds (other than love money), the company must have generated revenue. Even if it’s very low, at least it shows potential investors that it can make money with the idea.
How dare you be a corporate lawyer in tech as a woman ?
Why not ? Why should a woman’s work be limited to some areas considered okay for women? After Barack Obama’s election, there was the dream of a post racial society in America. , I dream about a post gender society, where your gender will be irrelevant when it comes to business.
Truth is, there are more women than men in the legal profession, but very few women are partners in business law firms. I’m glad to be in a company where among 6 partners, only 2 are men !
And even when they are partners, their area of expertise are always the same. It will be intellectual property, competition, employment, but almost never mergers and acquisition, venture capital or finance. This is what I call the « glass wall» that confines women into certain areas, and it is even more difficult to break than the « glass ceiling ».
Even in tech, women-founded startups evolve often around family and kids, or ad-tech…But how many women do you know in deep tech or in space tech ?
Why do we censor ourselves as girls and as women ?
How to fight the diversity issue in this environment ?
Empower ourselves. Power is not given, it must be taken. As women we must work harder and dare more often to make it happen. Are you a woman and your firm does not appoint you as a partner ? Dare to set up your own practice ! Are you an executive who is not promoted within the company? Dare to set-up your own business !
We must change the rules from within by founding businesses, by investing, by daring to be anything we want to be.
If we are mothers, we must teach our children, boys and girls, that gender does not matter. If a girl likes sciences she should feel she can become an engineer or researcher, and not think that “it’s a boys thing”. My parents did so with me and encouraged me in getting an education in the field I wanted. Should I have wanted to become a rocket scientist (all conditions being met!), they would have supported me.
Most importantly we must support each other and have faith in one another. Let’s stop bashing other women because of their looks, interests or who they are. It is a daily fight to change sexist biases because too many women have internalized them.