After earning an MBA at INSEAD in 2013, alumnus Jed Ng embarked on an ambitious triple career switch – changing industry and country as well as his role. Today he heads up a successful angel syndicate along with a school for would-be investors seeking to set up their own shared enterprises.
We sat down with Jed to find out how he did it and the role that INSEAD’s MBA programme has played in his success.
Jed, can you explain what you do and how you came to found AngelSchool.vc?
As an angel investor, I’ve launched tech startups around the world and backed two at the seed stage that turned unicorn. That includes Turing.com, which helps tech companies expand their engineering teams with elite, vetted developers on demand.
In 2020, I started an angel syndicate – a group of investors who pool capital to invest in promising early-stage companies – and grew it from zero to over 1,200 members. With investment teams in the US, Europe and Asia, we invest in disruptive tech, B2B and software startups at seed to Series A.
In 2021, I founded AngelSchool.vc with the goal of making venture capital more accessible. We help angel investors through their journey – from their first startup investment to becoming ‘super angels’ leading their own syndicates.
You began your career in the oil and gas sector. What first sparked your interest in making a shift to technology?
I graduated in 2007 with a degree in business and economics and started working for a global provider of offshore contract drilling services. On paper, it was a terrific job for a fresh graduate, managing supply chain projects around Asia from the company’s regional base in Singapore. There was just one problem: I was desperately bored! I wasn’t really learning anything or being challenged and that made me quite unhappy.
At the same time, my convictions were growing that globally, the extractive industries sector was in long-term decline. With net zero policies likely to diminish demand for fossil fuels, it just didn’t make any sense to me to commit to sticking around in oil and gas for the next 30 to 40 years.
By 2012, I knew I needed to make a change.
What I really wanted to do was somehow engineer a switch into technology. I was especially drawn to the idea of working with tech startups at the very earliest stage of product development, between the idea and the first shippable version. Pure zero to one, you might say!
At this point, you’d also gained experience working in the US, so you were looking to make a triple career switch – changing industry as well as role and geography.
Yes, I’m not somebody that gravitates towards well-trodden paths! It was certainly a high-risk plan but a high-opportunity one as well. I was determined to make it work.
I also believe that in life and business there are many advantages to confidently navigating uncertainty – in taking action where essentially there is no rulebook. The trick is to know how to strategically manage any risk and failure in acceptable doses.
As the first step in my career-change journey, I decided I needed to go back to business school and gain an MBA.
What made you pick INSEAD rather than any other business school?
INSEAD was my first choice. The fact that it is an international business school was a significant factor here. Opportunity is global, after all, so I wanted to open up my horizons to different perspectives and just learn as much as possible.
How would you assess your INSEAD experience? Did it fulfil your expectations?
Definitely. To take just one example, I remember Prof. Adrian Johnson’s financial sector expertise on such things as business model creation and startup commercialisation was very helpful.
But I think the impact of the programme is much more than just the content and how it’s structured. It’s also about how the faculty deliver their knowledge and insights that make such a difference to the outcomes.
For example, I came to the programme without a big corporate brand name on my CV – just a big dream and a lot of hustle and passion. Yet certain people on the faculty and in the Careers Development Centre went out of their way to be helpful and encouraging of my career change dream and that I could achieve it. I really benefited from their generosity and support.
So, for me, the MBA delivered far more than a degree. Looking back, I am eternally grateful to INSEAD for giving me a fighting chance to change my career around.
After graduating from INSEAD in 2013, you became a tech entrepreneur. Was your transition into the tech sector a straightforward process?
No, I did it via a series of sideways steps. Those included working as a corporate strategist for a global telecoms company, then helping the firm build a new business line – and finally shifting to a more tech-based company where I was also involved in corporate innovation. During this time, I got a lot of exposure to startups and took the plunge into angel investing.
Venture has a very long feedback feedback and liquidity cycle. I got my first exit within three years, which is extraordinarily quick. That gave me the conviction to want to lead my own angel syndicate.
The problem is that there’s no playbook for doing this. I went back to basics and built a methodology that is highly efficient and scalable. The results speak for themselves – the last startup investment I made involved a seven-figure cheque, for example. We’re writing bigger tickets than some VC funds!
Today I’m in the business of sharing my knowledge with others through venture education and my programme for helping emerging investors build their own syndicates.
I strongly believe that education is an enabler, which is why I want to contribute to building the venture capital community and ‘pay it forward’.
But what is key to my achievements here is that I came out of the MBA programme armed with a new sense of confidence, which helped me make the most of every opportunity that came my way. Also, the INSEAD brand is held in high regard and that really helped to open doors for me as I continued along my path.
How about the INSEAD peer network?
The INSEAD alumni network gave me invaluable help in setting me on my chosen career pathway once I graduated. Through it, I found a US-based group of alumni who were operating an angel network in Silicon Valley. They invited me to join them, and as a result I gained access to vital advice, trusted mentors and new friends. I really credit that network for giving me my start as an angel investor.
Do you have any advice for incoming INSEAD MBAs who might read this article and be inspired to follow in your footsteps?
I’d say it’s important to remember that once you graduate with your MBA, you are the beneficiary of everyone who has come before you and contributed to the INSEAD community and brand.
We graduates all have a responsibility to be a steward of that brand and its values, both in our everyday conduct and the way we give back to your community and society.
I would also encourage more young people to pursue what they really want to do with their lives and careers, even if that comes with risk. Don’t settle for what those around you seem to be settling for, or for blindly following convention. After all, the cost of failure is never cheaper than when you’re young.
I guess another way of putting it is that it’s OK to take some risks if you’re passionate about following a less traditional career path! With INSEAD’s help, it has certainly paid off for me.