Allison Baum: The Artistic Venture Capitalist
Is investment only for making more profit? Perhaps, the role of investment in the 21st century has a different meaning. As a venture capitalist, Allison Baum empowers people and society through investment in ed-tech startups.
Allison Baum: Venture Capitalist
Allison Baum is the youngest Managing Partner of Fresco Capital. Allison started her career in Equity Derivatives Sales & Trading at Goldman Sachs in Wall Street after receiving a B.A. in Economics and a Secondary Degree in Film Studies from Harvard University. As she studied film, she joined, as an Associate Producer, the Microlending Film Project, a documentary about microfinance for women around the world. Before the current position, as Regional Director of Asia at General Assembly, she established and grew the company’s first education programs for technology, business and design in Hong Kong. In 2016, she was selected to Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia. She empowers people and society and contributes to making the world a better place through mentoring and investing in ed-tech companies.
-----You have a unique career path; you are working at a VC with experience of studying film and working in an investment bank. What has brought you where you are today?
From the very beginning, I’ve had a desire to see the world, to learn from people that are different than me, and to create change at a global scale. It’s only possible to connect the dots in reverse, but I realise now that those core goals have brought me to where I am now. I joined Goldman Sachs after college because I wanted to be surrounded by smart, ambitious people, and I wanted to live and work abroad. I learned a lot from my experience on Wall Street, but I saw the shifting economic landscape was changing the opportunity set in that career path, so I left to join an education technology startup called General Assembly. Motivated by my desire to live abroad, I convinced the founders to take a chance on me and I moved to Hong Kong in 2012 to launch their business in Asia. Though we were successful out of the gate, starting the foreign operations of a business made it clear there are a lot of unique challenges to expanding companies into new markets. During that process, I connected with my two partners at Fresco Capital, who were both also living in Hong Kong at the time and had similar experiences with global expansion, and we thought we could leverage our experience overcoming these challenges to help other founders build their businesses across borders. Together, we built Fresco Capital as an early stage venture fund which invests in founders with global ambitions and helps them execute on their vision of changing the world at scale.
-----What is the one thing that makes you unique, different, and interesting？
I am comfortably uncomfortable with contradiction. I embrace challenges, but I still hurt when things are hard. I have the ability to see a wide range of possibilities, but also the strength to accept and suffer through the reality of the challenges necessary to realise those visions.
-----You have lived in countries where people speak completely different languages. What is your secret to overcoming difficulties of living in different countries?
Accept that you are just going to look stupid most of the time, and that sucks, but it's worth it.
-----Through different activities, you have empowered people and been devoted to education. What is your motivation to empower people?
I am motivated to have the largest impact on the world that I possibly can. Without doubt, the only way to do that is to empower other people. Plus, selfishly, it makes me really happy to see other people happy and thriving.
-----By overcoming lots of challenges and achieving so many things, you have proven and shown how much potential we all have. Why do you keep challenging and where would be your destination?
I really believe that the world is changing faster than it ever did before. We can choose to be left behind and see what happens; we can choose to keep up with the changes; or we can choose to take action and create the future. I want to create the future. I don’t know what exactly that looks like, but it’s certainly a journey and not a destination.
-----The importance of design and art in business has increased. As you have studied film, what can business people learn from artists and designers do you think?
To trust the process. Art and design is an iterative process where your final product rarely ends up as you initially envisioned it. I see so many business people who are extremely set in their goals and are unwilling to adapt to changing market needs or desires. In today’s quickly changing world, the most successful businesses are run with creativity, agility, and discipline. Artists and designers seem to have known that for a long time.
-----The advancement of technology has changed the way education should be. How the role of education would change in the future do you think?
The advancement of technology means the world is changing faster than it ever has before, and as a result, jobs are changing faster as well. The OECD estimates that 65% of grade school children will end up with jobs that do not exist yet. Education has to become more nimble, more real-time, and less content focused.
-----For many people, jumping in a new world or going outside their comfort zone is something difficult. How can you deal with your fear and anxiety to set out a new life?
Accept that fear and anxiety are a part of life, and they may make you uncomfortable, but it is not permanent. As humans, we are hard wired to survive. Have faith that you will figure it out, and you might even get some good stories and lessons out of the process.
-----What is the most important thing to expand the opportunity and maximize your potential do you think?
Always ask, “Why?” Don’t accept the choices in front of you as the only options. There is always another way.
-----If you can make a call to 20-year-old Alllison Baum, what kind of advice you would give to her?
Be kinder to yourself, you’re doing just fine.