FinTech Female Fridays: Sallie Jian, Head of SAP.iO Foundry New York at SAP
How were you able to pivot from starting your career at Morgan Stanley Technology Investment Banking to Head of SAP.iO Foundry NY?
I started my career at Morgan Stanley TMT (technology, media, technology) Investment Banking in Silicon Valley. At MS, I was lucky to have exposure to both blue chip tech companies (SAP, Facebook, eBay, LinkedIn) and late stage startups (Box, Uber at the time). When I began covering the latter, I quickly realized my passion for startups and growth stage companies. After that, I began moving downstream in my career to focus on earlier stage companies and even experienced firsthand working at two startups. Ultimately, I was drawn to SAP.iO for two main reasons – (1) the opportunity to build out a world class portfolio of next-generation software startups; (2) SAP’s No Boundaries commitment to building out a startup portfolio comprising of 40% women and minority founders.
SAP.iO has a VC Fund and global Foundries (no-equity accelerator programs). For the Foundries, do you consider the no-equity model to be particularly important and why?
Unlike most accelerators, we do not charge fees or take equity or warrants (future rights for equity ownership) from startups that join our SAP.iO Foundries. We have the luxury to run a no-equity model which is considered very founder friendly and almost unprecedented in the world of accelerators (thanks to SAP leadership!). It also enables us to partner with the highest caliber startups ranging from early to growth stages without dilution or cap table issues which is a huge value add especially to minority founders who often have to give up more equity ownership with fewer fundraising prospects.
You have worked at several firms that support startups such as General Atlantic, SeedInvest, and now SAP.iO. Where do you think the future of supporting growing startups will be in the next 3 to 5 years as there are so many different platforms?
Over the last decade, countless platforms and resources have emerged for startups and it’s easier than ever to start and build a business. Among the startups I advise, it is the norm that many have gone through multiple accelerator programs, raised several fundraising rounds, and received non-dilutive grants, awards, perks, etc.
In the next 3 to 5 years, I am sure many more platforms will emerge. Simultaneously, startup needs will change in light of COVID-19 which is already starting to impact their business models, sales, pipeline, marketing, staffing, overhead, work flow and more. The platforms that can best serve and adapt to startups in this new environment will come out on top.
How has your view changed on what you think makes a successful startup over the years as you have become more knowledgeable about the space? What are the key elements that you look for in a company now?
There are obvious elements that we cannot compromise on including growth metrics, business model, financials, market potential, product, etc. However, over my years of interacting with startups, the most indicative factors of success are people. Among founding teams, I look for coachability, humility, growth mindset, expertise and effective leadership.
You are passionate about programs devoted to women and diverse-led tech start ups. Why do you consider that important from an enterprise and also from a societal perspective?
From an enterprise perspective, when a company builds a product or an algorithm that is not representative of the population they serve, there will be missteps or gaps in the long-term sustainability of the technology. From a societal perspective, the collective of the best minds means we must embrace minds from all backgrounds. Finally, it’s smart business since diverse leadership teams are proven to lead to more innovation and improved financial performance across all industries.
How do you think the current market condition in the VC market will change the start-up landscape? What are the trends you are noticing?
During COVID, everyone is being more thoughtful about which startups they are funding and spending time on. Unfortunately, that might mean fewer overall resources for startups especially earlier stage ones which are riskier bets. However, I am confident that startups with strong value propositions will emerge from this cycle. Trend-wise, we are interested in digital transformation more than ever across all industries whether its next-generation commerce for virtual and social selling or future of work for new ways of employee training and collaboration.
You were recognized as an emerging technology leader in the Venture Capital category as a 2018 Innovators & Disruptors Award recipient. Can you tell us more about this accomplishment?
As a first-generation immigrant, I had a very modest upbringing but was lucky to have supportive parents who taught me the importance of exceling in school and aiming high in my career. Overcoming personal adversity has compelled me to give back to underserved communities in various ways – mentoring and advocating for underrepresented founders, peers, youth and others. When I found an opportunity at SAP where I could realize my passion in the workplace, I jumped at joining SAP.iO and was eventually recognized by America on Tech and NBC for my commitment to advancing women and minority founders. I’m very proud of this accomplishment and more than ever, it is also a reminder that we still have a lot work ahead of us, not only in VC but in broader society to close the gap on inequity.
Reach out to Sallie on LinkedIn.