Sunny Zhang, Founding Partner at Born Global Ventures, Marketing Professor, and Founder of TrueLeap, joins the pod to talk about the many professional hats she wears and how they help her contribute meaningfully at her venture studio. As a part of an emerging ecosystem of startup support in Houston, Born Global Ventures is excited to take on more diverse-led projects with a unique focus on marketing. Talking points include product market fit, education software, and finding “cockroaches” instead of unicorns.
[00:00] Podcast starts - Finding Your Indestructible Startup Founder
[06:26] Starting Born Global Ventures
[11:55] Considering the product market fit for your startup
[24:05] Finding an indestructible “cockroach” founder
[31:41]] Building better learning software at TrueLeap
[37:06] Advice for potential venture studio founders & partners
Why did you decide to call your venture studio Born Global?
Originally, Sunny and her partner, Sandip, called their studio Z Lab, emphasizing their focus on the little-thought-of minority and immigrant startup founders. While that focus still guides the work of Born Global Ventures, Sunny explains that the name change was inspired by the research she encountered during her professorship. Born Global businesses start with an international perspective in mind, and find high rates of success in their worldwide approach.
“As opposed to mom-and-pop small businesses that gradually grow to cover the city, the state, the country, and then go international, Born Global companies are those that have a global strategy from day one.”
In venture capital, everyone is looking for a unicorn. Should a startup focus on the goal of becoming a unicorn?
Although unicorn startups, meaning a startup with a value over $1 billion, are the dream of everyone involved in venture capital, Sunny explains that Born Global isn’t putting their eggs in a unicorn’s basket. Instead, Born Global focuses on what Sunny jokingly refers to as “cockroach” founders. Cockroach founders are grounded in reality, can’t be killed, can thrive in difficult environments, and will tackle the challenges they face with a resilient perspective.
“Especially with all the adversities and the shortage of funding right now…I actually believe right now, it's a great test to see who is building substantial companies and who are the most resilient founders that cannot be killed.”
Can you tell us more about your latest startup, TrueLeap?
Along with helping other startups thrive, Sunny and Sandip focus a large amount of their studio’s work on bringing their own startup ideas to life. Most recently, Sunny has taken her passion as an educator and her frustration as a mom with school-age children and has channeled these feelings into creating a learning management system. TrueLeap aims to tackle education data and optimize emerging technology for parents, students, teachers, and administrators.
“Believe it or not, even in developed countries, there's a lack of digital infrastructure. They're piecing together a combination of Google Classroom, Drive, Zoom, and Slack. Imagine when you are learning, you have to deal with all the different interfaces to stitch them together.”
What advice do you have for entrepreneurs looking to found their own startup?
With a background in marketing and a passion for teaching marketing to the next generation, Sunny emphasizes to the startup founders she works with that staying close to their market and their users is their best bet for success. A lot of bubble bursting has been happening recently, Sunny explains, and it is up to founders and their teams to focus on delivering value. When you stick close to your users, they stay close to and advocate for you.
“We really need to get back to the value chain where we are really delivering value and getting feedback from the users. Essentially, shift that mindset and spend more time with your team, with your users and deliver something they really love.”