😇 Angel interview #19: Calanthia Mei

"Growing up, I was encouraged to go deep and investigate thoroughly if I'm passionate about something."

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Here’s today’s edition:

  • 🔍 Interview with Calanthia Mei, angel investor & VP of Partnerships at Fast

  • 📚 Reading corner

🔍 Interview with Calanthia Mei, angel investor & VP of Partnerships at Fast

Calanthia is the VP of Partnerships at Fast, one of the fastest-growing eCommerce and payments start-ups in Silicon Valley. When she grew up in China, she witnessed the rapid change in how people pay with mobile internet. Since then, she has been passionate about riding the fintech wave and supporting the disruption in financial services and commerce. She is also an active angel investor and an investment partner with the Community Fund, where she invests in the US and emerging markets community-driven fintech and commerce enablement startups.

Can you give a quick introduction of yourself?

I am a fintech investor, operator and newly minted cat servant.

In my day job, I lead partnerships at Fast, a San Francisco-headquartered, globally-distributed startup that brings one-click checkout to the entire Internet. In my little spare time, I invest in early-stage fintech and commerce enablement companies as an angel investor and an investment partner at The Community Fund.

When did you start angel investing? 

It all started with community building. 

I grew up internationally: I am the first in my family to live in the U.S. and to be in finance and tech. A diehard liberal arts kid, I did ten internships during my undergraduate career, spanning from investigative journalism and non-profits to think tanks and local politics -- tech was a remote concept to me.

When I first moved to Silicon Valley years ago, I had no community. But I always saw challenges as opportunities in disguise. If no one invites me to their “clubs”, I thought to myself, why can’t I start my own community? I figured out what people wanted and organized communities based on shared passions or incentives. 

For example, I joined the board of SoGal, a global community supporting the next generation of female founders and funders, evangelizing a mission I care deeply about. I led the fintech vertical at Emerging Venture Capitalist Association, which grew from a ten-person happy hour to a community of about 500 pre-partner level venture investors nationally. I much enjoyed building communities, where I shared serendipitous moments with like-minded people. 

By the time I left my full-time investing job at PayPal Ventures, I built a solid community in fintech. Even though I am no longer a full-time investor, I still talk to founders in my network. As an angel investor, I now have free reign over my investment thesis, stage focus, and a personal brand.

Why can't I start my own community? I figured out what people wanted and organized communities based on shared passions or incentives.

You started angel investing after leaving PayPal ventures, how much time do you spend angel investing?

I have an all-in personality. Growing up, I was encouraged to go deep and investigate thoroughly if I was passionate about something.

That “thing” is fintech for me. I define fintech in the broadest way: the tech transformation that powers how money is moved and managed in the future. 

I am privileged to spend my waking hours consuming an unhealthy amount of news, analysis, threads, and conversations about fintech. Some of the conversations naturally evolve into deal flow. Each deal helps me develop deep thinking into an area in the fintech world, whether it is medical billing, or paying international employees. 

I don’t quite have a hard and fast rule of “X hours dedicated to angel investing.” It is all part of who I am and what I love.

Growing up, I was encouraged to go deep and investigate thoroughly if I'm passionate about something.

How much time do you spend post-investment talking to founders for portfolio support?

It can be a lot, or it can be minimal; ultimately, I am there as much as the founders need me, and it depends on what the founders want. 

I am an angel-operator who writes nano checks. It is not my job to be obsessed over whether you hit your quarterly revenue goals. Rather, my job is simply to be helpful. 

“Being helpful” might have become a cliche, but in reality, it can be manifested in meaningful ways. I am happy to be strategic, jamming on go-to-market strategy and competitive landscape with founders. I am also glad to be tactical, figuring out how to shorten your demo-to-close time or what qualifications your first marketing hire would ideally have. 

Most importantly, I’d like to be a friend and an advocate for my portfolio founders. Even if it’s just tagging them in relevant Twitter threads and giving shoutouts where appropriate.

What has led you to focus on emerging markets in your investments?

I grew up in China in the early 90s, and witnessed firsthand how China started to integrate with the world and leapfrog when it comes to building a first-class, mobile internet. I saw how fintech and payments infrastructure evolved in China. I also spent time doing field studies in Mexico, India, various parts of Asia and Africa, where I learned to observe. 

There is a massive arbitrage opportunity in emerging markets. Venture investors are incentivized to find the next undiscovered gem. I’ve never had any doubt that more investors will become interested in emerging markets. It was just a matter of time. 

There are two impetuses indicating that it’s time for emerging markets. First of all, successful exits make great market signals. For instance, Paystack was acquired by Stripe recently. The second impetus is talent. In the past 12 months, I've seen lots of new companies started by former employees from regional unicorns such as Grab, Gojek, Rappi, and Careem. These are experienced operators who learned the best practices and the faux pas from hyper-growth, venture-backed companies. It is more likely that they can persuade VCs to write their first check in the region.  

I grew up in China in the early 90s. I saw firsthand how China started to integrate with the world and leapfrog when it comes to building a first-class, mobile internet. I saw how fintech and payments infrastructure evolved in China.

Let's talk about investments. What was your last angel investment and what made you decide to invest? 

My last check was in a company called Canopy, which is building the Shopify for community-driven investing. 

It is super relevant to many of your readers: The first iteration of the product is to build the operating system for Syndicates and SPVs. Canopy aims to empower syndicate leads to provide a more personalized, customized, and seamless experience to their LP communities throughout the end-to-end investing process. 

2020 was a banner year for nontraditional venture investment. We have witnessed an evolution of the venture capital ecosystem: more diverse ecosystem participants emerged, ranging from operator-angels, to operator fund managers; concurrently, participants are experimenting with more, diverse vehicles, from syndicates, to SPVs, to rolling funds, to crowd-funding campaigns. An underlying current is the rise of small-check investors: people who want to invest alongside their friends and trusted influencers. Canopy is creating private communities that enable leads to involve their LPs in a customized, branded and personal way.  

What's the number one piece of advice you want to share with angel investors? 

I have some bad news, good news and great news for aspiring angels. 

The bad news is that angel investing is extremely risky. We live in an ecosystem where angel investing can be glorified. I would caution everyone to be extremely level-headed when they first venture into angel investing. Bear in mind that you might not be able to get liquidity for your angel investments for the next five to seven years. Treat it as a write-off. 

The good news is that as long as you understand the risk-reward profile of angel investing, I don't think you need to be super-rich to be an angel investor. 

The great news is that access to invest in private companies has been democratized and it has never been any easier to write that first check. The increasing popularity of operator investors is normalizing the concept of a small-check, high-value operator-investor. Founders are warming up to this idea. 

Know what you want from angel investing. Know what you can offer to founders. 

Any angel investor or founder you want to hear from next? Just reply to this email.

📚 Reading corner

Introducing Angel Squad: enabling the next 10k angel investors by Elizabeth Yin

I had the incredible opportunity to join Angel Squad this year and I’m extremely grateful to Brian Nichols and the Hustle fund for building this community. They are making angel investing more accessible, inclusive, and fun. Three reasons why this is a great opportunity: 1. Most angels in Silicon Valley are not investing with very much money, 2. High risk, high reward investments are how so many people in Silicon Valley make a LOT of money (though you need to keep in mind that returns are outliers), and 3. it helps to have a guide and lots of practice and Angel Squad has 163 members to date. Learn more here and apply here.

How To Start Angel Investing by Dan Hightower

Dan goes through a helpful overview of angel investing: He starts how to evaluate whether angel investing is right for you, before digging into why now is the right time to start angel investing and what it takes to start a syndicate.

Engineer by Day, Venture Capitalist by Night by Casey Caruso

Casey is a full-time engineer at Google and a part-time investor at Bessemer Venture Partners. That might seem like a tough balance to strike, but she sees it more like a quest to learn. What better way to absorb knowledge than to learn on the job.

Founder Ownership Math, Rainy Days, and Bigger Pies by Charlie O'Donnell

Helpful post about dilution for founders through the different raises.

Why we say no to start-ups by Eric Bahn

I can’t tell you how helpful this YouTube video was with the different reasons why a venture fund might say no. They clearly list out 10 reasons that resonate for me and the Hustle Fund is one of the most transparent funds out there that are trying to support founders.


Any angel investor or founder you want to hear from next? Just reply to this email.