Interview With Lucy Wang
Fund / GroupDivergent Capital
Number of portfolio companies5 today, targeting 25 for the fund
Focus AreasDeep Tech Generalist
Stage(s)Pre revenue and pre product, generally preseed and seed
HOW AND WHY DID YOU GET STARTED IN PRIVATE INVESTING?
Ian at Greycroft was the one that really brought me into the world of venture. I met him when I was in grad school and started working with him on different projects before joining the Greycroft team officially. I was a machine learning scientist before I became a venture investor and since the very beginning, I knew I would focus on deeply technical startups. I’ve always loved tech & science. I helped my dad build a carbon fiber bike when I was 7, I started playing around with programming in elementary school so I could play games that weren’t available in China, and I had my first academic research abstract accepted to a cancer research conference when I was in high school. Having grown up in a family of engineers and scientists, I always believed that tech & science innovations are essential to how we can solve the world's fundamental problems and push humanity forward. When I first became an investor, it was surprising to me how few investors had a technical background and actually invested in innovative technologies. It was frustrating to hear investors pass on deals because of too much tech risk. To me, innovative technologies are what’s interesting to invest in – there is inherent value that can be created from tech and science innovations that make it a positive sum game rather than a zero sum game. With my background, I found myself in a pretty unique position to advocate for the technologies and founders that I thought were most promising. I loved it partly because I felt like if I didn’t do it, many of these opportunities wouldn’t get the investment they needed. Also, I quickly realized that investing is a perfect combination of all the things I love to do. It’s both creative and analytical, technical and social. Most exciting of all, I get to constantly learn about the coolest new things, see things in new perspectives, reinvent and expand on my mental model of the world.
WHAT IS THE SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT THING YOU VALUE IN AN INVESTMENT OPPORTUNITY?
Many would say team and I agree, team is necessary for a successful investment, but that’s not sufficient. I look for unique perspectives and insights about the technology and how it fits into the world we live in. It’s easy to get carried away with what we envision to be the future but most of the time, new technologies have to find ways to either integrate into the existing world or force the world to adapt to a new reality. In either scenario, there needs to be a unique insight about how the team would enable the adoption beyond just making the technology work. When it comes to team, I’ve also learned that the most important thing isn’t track record or prestige. What we look for at Divergent are expertise about the technology and deep passion for the problem that needs to be solved. We spend a lot of time with founders to make sure that what motivates them is the desire to solve a problem rather than desire to build a company and be successful.
WHAT ARE THE BEST INNOVATION THEMES THAT YOU SEE IN THE MARKET TODAY?
There are so many. I love looking at the intersection of different technologies because this is how exponential impact gets created – for example, there is a ton happening in the life sciences and medical space where innovations in computation are combined with scientific discoveries. One general theme that I’m really excited about is how all that’s happened in the software space is now entering our physical life. These are things like alternative materials, manufacturing technologies, robotics, synthetic biology. VCs have been talking about how software is eating the world, but it can only go so far. At the end of the day, we still live in a physical world and impact has to happen in real life.
BEYOND ECONOMIC RETURN, WHAT KIND OF IMPACT DO YOU HOPE TO MAKE WITH YOUR PORTFOLIO?
One of our guiding principles at Divergent is to invest in founders that are solving real problems that help make our lives better. We are looking for companies that create more value in the world by expanding the frontier of possibilities for as many people in the world as possible. We hope that our portfolio companies will be the ones to address the massive issues we are seeing today in areas like healthcare, climate change, education, food, and more.
WHAT ARE THE MOST PRESSING CHALLENGES OR PAIN POINTS IN MANAGING YOUR DAY-TO-DAY PRIVATE INVESTMENT ACTIVITY?
This is not a unique problem at all – time management. I’m constantly thinking about how I can be leveraged to make more out of all the time and resource I have. We are constantly thinking about unique ways we can engage our networks, like researchers, founders, LPs, and industry experts so we can be more efficient and better at investing in startups as well as supporting our own portfolio.
WHAT IS THE HARDEST INVESTMENT LESSON YOU’VE LEARNED AND/OR THE BIGGEST INVESTMENT MISTAKE YOU’VE MADE?
There are so many lessons learned. My answer is going to sound like a self-help book though. It was really hard for me to build the courage to believe in my own judgement and not let fear get in the way, especially when I was just starting out as a junior investor. At the early stage and for super risky investments, there are always a million reasons to not invest. It’s easy and normal to have lots of doubt, and it’s safe to not take the extra step to get a deal done. And vice versa, it’s easy to let FOMO get in the way and chase after hot deals. Nothing ends up being more rewarding for me than to follow my own conviction and I’ve grown so much more as an investor as a result. I know I will still make mistakes, but these are my own mistakes and not someone else’s.
WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITE INDUSTRY INFORMATION SOURCES AND/OR SERVICES?
I’m always reading journal articles on like ArXiv, bioRxiv, Frontier, Nature, and Science. I have alerts set for topics I’m really interested in too and go through those. I don’t have a twitter and I actually don’t read much venture news like TechCrunch. It’s nice to keep up with what’s happening in the industry but where I find the most value is when I read about things no one else know about yet.
WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE NON-BUSINESS INTEREST OR HOBBY?
I’m a risk taker in pretty much every sense and I’m always down for something new. I love skiing and kiteboarding. In the last couple of years, I’ve also been spending a ton of time on getting a small oyster farm started near my house in Rhode Island. I’ve been playing piano since before I learned to use chopsticks so that’s an easy go to whenever I want to take some time for myself.
PLEASE LEAVE US A BOOK RECOMMENDATION (BUSINESS OR OTHERWISE).
I love reading. For business, I would highly recommend Technological Revolution and Financial Capital. Outside of business, I just finished The Code Breaker, which is a very good read. Another that just came to mind that’s not related to venture at all is Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino.
WHAT’S YOUR TAKE ON THE PRIVATE MARKET OVERALL?
Katie and I wouldn’t have started a fund in the middle of the pandemic if we weren’t excited about the market! There is so much change that’s happening right now in the world, in venture, in technology. It’s invigorating.