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  • Writer's pictureAnli Valdez

FinTech Female Fridays: Meet Aya Somai, Investor at New Enterprise Associates

Updated: Apr 12

Aya is a technology investor at New Enterprise Associates (NEA), a global venture capital firm with over $25 billion in AUM. NEA invests in technology and healthcare companies at all life cycle stages, from seed through IPO (examples include 23andMe, Coursera, Databricks,, Masterclass, MongoDB, Plaid, Robinhood, Salesforce, Snap, Uber, Perplexity). Aya specifically focuses on early-stage investments in NEA’s technology practice, on both the consumer and enterprise sides. She also serves as a mentor to Techstars, a globally renowned pre-seed program that provides mentorship, funding, and resources to early-stage entrepreneurs to help them grow their businesses rapidly. Prior to NEA, Aya was at J.P. Morgan’s Mergers & Acquisitions team, working on transactions across industries ranging from industrials and pharmaceuticals to consumer and technology.

Aya’s passion for FinTech was sparked years ago after attending a transformative talk by Mpesa's Michael Joseph where she learned about how innovative technology could elevate entire economies. The solution was simple and effective: using mobile phones (e.g., SMS, USSD codes) to transfer money, facilitate transactions, and pay bills. Since then, Aya has been dedicated to seeking out startups that are adept at building feasible, usable, valuable and viable FinTech products through her role at NEA. 

Being in NYC has also proven instrumental in giving Aya the opportunity to foster a robust network through organizations like NYC FinTech Women. Being surrounded by like-minded founders and funders who are passionate about the problem and not just the solution inspires Aya and enables her to be even better at her job. Aya views moving to NYC as her best career decision as it magnified her ambitions, broadened her network, and elevated her perspectives, setting the stage for professional growth and personal fulfillment. She points to an essay by Paul Graham on the importance of cities as descriptive of her experience.

Aya constantly challenges herself in her current role at NEA by adopting an approach where she intentionally starts with a base hypothesis about a problem or product, even if she does not possess perfect knowledge about the topic. This mindset compels her to scrutinize her existing understanding of a topic and ensures she avoids Type I errors. She also engages with founders not solely as an investor, but from the perspective of a potential user, fostering a more informative and constructive conversation. Aya believes that what sets investors apart is their ability to cultivate genuine connections with founders, serving as thought partners rather than merely engaging in a funder-founder dynamic.

When she started her career as an investor, Aya was also challenged to take on a more active role in supporting portfolio companies and fostering strong connections with their teams as an investor. Given she did not have a background in operations at the time, Aya doubted her ability to contribute meaningfully and underestimated the value she could bring to the table. However, immersing herself in this role has proven to be incredibly rewarding and enjoyable, as she dove into the intricacies of companies’ operations and gained valuable insights from the perspective of the operators. Seeing the challenges and personal investment involved in the startup journey firsthand has humbled Aya, while also affirming the importance of stepping out of her comfort zone to embrace new opportunities for growth and learning.

This year, Aya is excited about advancements in closed loop or branded payments, which promises streamlined transactions, a personalized experience, and enhanced customer engagement (with a unique opportunity for integrating AI). Moreover, she feels embedded finance is poised to democratize access to financial services through the integration into non-financial platforms. She is also on the lookout for the transformation of Personal Financial Management into a tool for financial empowerment (e.g., the enhancement of Robo-Advisory services to deliver improved and more tailored financial advice to consumers). These developments signal a significant shift towards using technology not just for simplifying transactions, but for genuinely empowering users financially. Aside from her career journey and professional achievements, Aya’s interest in these trends emphasizes her passion for the role that FinTech can play in improving society as a whole. 

More on Aya

Where you currently live: Brooklyn

Hometown: Tunis, Tunisia (though I lived in South Africa and France too!)

Favorite hobby: Apart from the above-mentioned pastimes, it would be reading about architectural history and urban development

Favorite show to binge: Sopranos, The Wire, Succession, Ozarks, Fleabag, Game of Thrones (I think I binged the first 6 seasons in under 4 weeks)

Favorite fintech media (blog, podcast, newsletter etc) that inspires you: The Acquired episode on the history of Visa remains one of my favorite FinTech podcast content.

What is one piece of advice someone told you that resonated with you that can give to other women in FinTech?     

I think one piece of advice that resonated with me is on the importance of timing. This insight has been reaffirmed not only through my personal experience, but also through my recent immersion in history books where I've come to appreciate that timing often emerges as a critical factor in success. It underscores the importance of diligently honing one's skills and knowledge over time, so when the opportune moment arises, you're well-prepared to seize it. This holds true in the dynamic landscape of FinTech, where being ready to act decisively - when there is a shift in technology, regulation or the economy - can make all the difference in achieving your goals and making an impact.

What is the most important lesson you have learned from a mistake you’ve made in the past? 

One crucial lesson I've learned from a past mistake is the significance of forming connections with peers at similar stages of their careers. While the traditional view of mentorship often emphasizes seeking guidance from those further along in their paths (which remains important), I've come to appreciate the value of cultivating relationships with peers who are experiencing similar journeys. These connections offer a unique opportunity for mutual growth and support, with fewer barriers to sharing knowledge and vulnerabilities. I've realized that investing in these relationships can yield unparalleled returns over time, whether in the form of future collaborations, partnerships, or simply invaluable insights. As a result, I strive to make each interaction with peers meaningful, recognizing that the individuals we connect with today could play pivotal roles in our professional lives tomorrow.

Do you have any productivity hacks?  What keeps you motivated? How do you maintain a work/life balance? 

One of my most valuable productivity hacks is the art of pausing. Inspired by insights from Steven Johnson's "Where Good Ideas Come From," I've learned that some of the most intriguing ideas emerge during moments of downtime, whether it's taking walks, showering, or even sleeping. Personally, I've found that long walks and running serve as catalysts for connecting ideas serendipitously. My passion for the arts also fuels my energy and stimulates my creativity. Being in NYC, I have made it a goal to do at least one art-related activity per week (listening to live music, watching films, going to exhibits, attending comedy shows, etc.).

Daily Diary

7:00 am: Wake up, get ready, make breakfast, play some chess puzzles or Tradle

8:00 am: Start answering emails, plan for the day, and head to the train station

8:30 am: Commute, listen to a podcast, read the news or people-watch

9:00 am: Arrive at the office, chat with colleagues

9:30 am - 12:00 pm: This is usually my morning focus time where I reserve (when possible) uninterrupted large blocks of time to progress on ongoing projects

12:00 pm: Grab lunch either with a colleague or alone

12:30 pm: Read newsletters, respond to more emails, scroll through X, check Slack channels for interesting content and headlines shared by colleagues

1:00 pm: Join meetings either internally or externally

3:00 pm: Take a walk with a colleague or alone

3:30 pm: This is usually my second block of focus time where I try to wrap up some projects, send follow up emails or get started on new workstreams

5:30 pm: Wrap up, pack up, and head to the train station

6:00 pm: Go to the gym for a workout

7:00 pm: Head home, shower, make dinner and watch 30 min of a show

8:00 pm: Do some more work, answer any emails, catch up on any new developments

10:00 pm: Head to bed technology-free for some reading time

11:00 pm: Fall asleep

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