Reflecting on My MBA Experience

by MBA'16J Wenyou Tan, Fintech investor 

Just came back from a panel discussion for prospective students over at INSEAD. It was indeed a refreshing experience for me now that I am an alum. I still remember the first time I attended an in-house event held for prospects two years ago. Certainly, a moment for reflection and all those thoughts about why I took my MBA streamed back at me.

When I returned back to Singapore from China, I was thinking about what I should be doing with my career. I could either explore a career joining organizations where I can help them with their market penetration efforts in China, or join a management consultancy firm. I had secured interviews with the Singapore Government and Bain & Co. Frankly, taking the MBA was not an option that was on the radar.

But then I read about some of my peers having a fantastic experience in the MBA. That certainly made me ponder about the opportunities that an MBA had unlocked and that led me to attend several in-house events organized by top B-Schools in Asia-Pacific.

I knew that my interest was in venture capital. Evaluating new disruptive business models and meeting energetic/ambitious entrepreneurs was certainly my thing. While I was in venture capital prior to moving to China, it was really difficult getting back into venture capital since I had spent the last few years away from Singapore. My networks were predominately forged in China and venture capital is still relationship-driven in my opinion.

As I was thinking about my own long-term goals, I was trying to fit an MBA into the bigger picture. While an MBA has not traditionally been a prerequisite for jobs within the venture capital space, it does give you an opportunity to secure internships with venture capital firms. While there are many benefits-on-paper with regards to doing an MBA, I decided to go along with my gut and applied for the INSEAD MBA program. To cut the long story short, the MBA did help and I got back into the investments space. In hindsight, here are some reasons why.

Venture Capital is highly geography-specific

At a macro-level, INSEAD graduates quite a substantial number of students in different geographies. As I recall, INSEAD graduates close to 30% of its graduates into the Asia-Pacific region, not inclusive of the US. (Check the employment stats here).

At the end of the day, it will be extremely favourable for you to graduate from a school that grants you a strong network in your chosen geography.

As I recall, I was able to tap on the alumni to help my portfolio companies recruit people with backgrounds ranging from management consulting to serial entrepreneurs.

Also, you would ideally want to be based in a location where you can harness the power of having a campus. INSEAD is based in Singapore and is just a stone’s throw away from Block 71 where you have access to entrepreneurs and can attend events over there. While studying in INSEAD, I could conveniently cross the road and attend one of many events organized over at BASH. These events draw huge amounts of interest from entrepreneurs and VCs alike, truly a melting point where you can touch base with many people with diverse backgrounds all in a single sitting.

It does help that a number of VCs in the region come from INSEAD

When I was doing the MBA, I was very active as one of the Exco members in the INSEAD Private Equity and Venture Capital Club. While the club was active on both campuses, I was very active in steering the club’s operations here on the Singapore campus. I was very busy organizing field trips to tech companies (i.e. Shopback, Carousell), inviting VC speakers (i.e. Vertex Ventures, Singtel Innov8) down to speak at the events and also to lead students to visit start-up accelerators. To organize these events, I would reach out to the alumni and it isn’t surprising to know that quite a few VCs from NSI Ventures, DMP, Singtel Innov8 are all alumni.

Again, the great thing about the school is that it is really closely situated to Block 71 and that everyone is within one or two degrees of separation from INSEAD. Leading such events does build up your level of visibility in the local ecosystem. Soon after, I started to rebuild my networks in Singapore, which greatly facilitated my transition back into the industry.

Getting into VC is highly competitive and coming from a school from an established regional network helps

A role in a VC firm is multi-disciplinary. When I was working on venture capital deals in the Singapore government after college, I had the impression that venture work mostly involves analyzing deals and making the investment decision. However, after several years in it, my understanding of the role has evolved tremendously. While it remains largely true that deal analysis is very important, there are both upstream and downstream elements of the job. At the upstream, you are supposed to build up your deal pipelines so that you can have first look at new companies. Companies must feel that you are able to add value to them, and this is where all your EQ comes in. It also does help if you come from a school that graduates many entrepreneurs (click the link to see a sample). This could be one of the many different pools where you can draw deals from.

Downstream consists of mainly portfolio management. In portfolio management, you would generally be required to help the entrepreneur either strategically or operationally. This could range from helping them build their regional strategy, open overseas markets or recruit talents. It is frankly quite difficult to get your hands dirty running the start-up, given that you will be so busy managing many different companies. Therefore, it is more likely to contribute strategically, giving ideas or opening doors. A lot of this may eventually boil down to the networks that you have — yes, your MBA alumni networks.

I was frankly very fortunate to have secured an internship with KK Fund, and that helped a lot with me transitioning back into space. While the MBA brand name was among one of the many reasons that they picked me, it did make them take a second look at the resume.

Getting a role post-MBA may be quite daunting. However, getting into the buy-side will be quite challenging, especially if there is no prior experience. As such, it is highly recommended that you think through a detailed plan to execute. A good MBA school may provide the starting platform but it is up to you to leverage on its resources to make a push into the Venture Capital sector.

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