Office Hours: I am a founding partner at Spero Ventures and co-founder of Product Leader Summit. I was formerly product partner at Omidyar Network. I'm Ha Nguyen.Featured

Hi everyone! I am Ha Nguyen, founding partner at Spero Ventures, an early stage venture capital firm that invests in the things that make life worth living: our well-being, work & purpose and human connection. I am also the co-founder of Product Leader Summit, an invite-only event convening 120 founders & VP-level product leaders, and board Vice President of Women in Product, a community of 20K female builders. Prior to Spero, I was a Product Partner at Omidyar Network, Chief Product Officer at Keaton Row, Vice President of Social at Betfair, Vice President of Product at Oodle, and Group Product Manager at eBay. I have an undergraduate degree from Wharton and an MBA from Harvard Business School. My passions outside of work include poker, Stanford football, cooking, throwing dinner parties, traveling, and spending time with my husband and 3 boys.Ask me anything about fundraising, product, early stage VC, founding funds, and more!
Thanks so much for joining us @Ha!Elphas – please ask @Ha your questions before Friday, September 25th. @Ha may not have time to answer every questions, so emoji upvote your favorites πŸ”₯πŸ‘πŸΎβž•
Thanks so much Elpha for having me. Looking forward to answering as many questions as I can over the next hour and then maybe more this weekend!
Hi Ha!You might remember me - I introduced you to some women angel investors in Seattle and to some folks at Melinda Gates' investment co. :-)I'm curious what your long-term view is of the impact of the pandemic on angel and VC investors and for early-stage women founders (pre-seed; not so much seed+). Where are there opportunities? Where has the light dimmed a bit? What can we be optimistic about?
Hi My,Great question! The immediate impact of the pandemic is that it seems to have sped up fundraising rounds for companies that have seen an acceleration of their businesses during the pandemic. For the areas we invest, well-being, work & purpose and human connection, we've seen an acceleration in these areas:- Telehealth- Climate Tech/Sustainability- The future of work (remote, collaboration)- Edtech/Upskillling- Virtual communities- Virtual experiences (e.g. entertainment, gaming)Great founders, both male and female, will see massive investment dollars if they can continue to articulate a vision around where the world is going, how their startup will play a role in shaping that future, an inspired vision and plan around this, and of course, it always helps to show a great team and traction. Storytelling is often so under looked during the pitch process. It's not enough to show problem, solution. Paint a big picture -- what does the world looks like in 10 years? what is the 10-15 year vision of your startup in creating that future? and why are you absolutely the right founder building this company at this time? If you can get me excited about your role in creating this future, you'll probably get lots of VCs excited too, and you'll stand a greater chance of raising that $$$.I hope this helps!Cheers,Ha
Hi Ha, It's really inspiring to read the work you're doing in funding tech for good across these incredible areas. I'm currently doing a PM course alongside looking for employment and would love to one day work for a team that has the concern for human and environmental wellbeing at its core, particularly with the effects we're seeing of unalignment between social tech systems and the physical human condition.I saw that you might be looking at these over the weekend so thought I'd try asking a few questions that I had out of this answer. (I appreciate that this is your weekend time, so I've put an asterisk next to the question I am most curious about):- What was the most challenging experience you had as a PM to ensure that the customers got the product that serviced them best?- What is the best pitch story you've listened to and funded? Why did it connect so well to your product values?- * I love how powerful empathy is as a PM tool because in general, it's a wonderful way to connect with people; is there any particular language or technique that you have developed to use across stakeholders to facilitate clear and supportive communication?Thank you for sharing your experience and expertise with the community.Best,Hannah NommΓ©
Thanks for your thoughtful response, Ha! This is really helpful and gives us some insights on where the opportunities are (at least with Spero :-)) and is a great reminder that clearly communicating your long-term vision is extremely important.
How did you transition from PM to product leadership? What advice do you have for current PMs aspiring product leaders?
Hi Janine,I started my early career at eBay as a junior PM and eventually got promoted to Senior PM and then to Group Product Manager which was my first product leadership role. Not surprisingly, leadership is a different skill set than just being a PM.As a PM, the skills to be successful are the following: customer empathy, creativity, technical abilities (or at least ability to work successfully with engineers), analytical skills and team/ collaboration skills. As a leader, the skills to be successful are business maturity, strategic thinking, leadership skills (communicating a vision around your product and inspiring others), and people management skills. As with most new roles, it's a lot of learning on the job, but it's always helpful to learn from other product leaders, finding mentors, working with an executive coach and taking note of leaders who you admire and what elements of their leadership style you may want to emulate.The advice I'd have for you is to crush your PM role (really crush it), communicate to your manager what your career aspirations and goals are around product leadership, and work with him/her on a plan that helps you get there. This person can also be an executive sponsor at your company too.Cheers,Ha
Thank you for doing this. What qualities are you looking for in analyst/associate level in VC? I am a rising junior and aspiring to work in VCs after graduation.
Hi Tran,Great question. For any job, it's always good to break down the specific role and demonstrate how you will already be an invaluable and contributing member of the team from Day 1 based on the experience and network/connections you bring.For a VC analyst/associate, the role largely breaks down to the following:- Sourcing - Can you bring in deals to the firm? Are you already part of existing founder networks or communities? Have you volunteered at any accelerators? Have you organized startup pitch competitions at your school or led any entrepreneurial programs? When you join a VC, share how you will build connections to these founder communities, whether it's committing to attending events 3-5 evenings/week, mentoring and providing office hours to young founders, building a community of other Associates that will share deal flow with each other, etc.- Thesis development - Demonstrate how you have been able to research industries, craft investment thesis, share a point of view on where the world is going.- Due diligence - Demonstrate your analytical horsepower including reviewing business plans, performing due diligence on prospects, building financial models.In terms of qualities, I look for analytical horsepower, intellectual curiosity, ability to build relationships with founders, and strong communication skills. Hope this helps!Cheers,Ha
I love the ethos of Spero Ventures (the power of technology to build the kind of future we want to live in - free plug!) I had a prior connector (Michelle @NorthZone) working on getting me 'a soft intro' to someone at Spero but I never heard back. Any thoughts on the best way to get soft intros without simply filling in a template and sending our pitch deck/proprietary info into a black hole? I'm in the edtech space - think 'School in Your Pocket' - a community communiation platform that works for everyone... slightly relevant right now, especially for this frazzled mum of 4 children (across 3 different schools!)
Hi Claudia,Most VC investors see anywhere between 4-20 pitches in their inbox a day! A soft or warm intro from a trusted referral (from a founder in our portfolio, one of your current investors or advisors, etc.) can be very beneficial to help you break through. My general recommendation for founders is to network with other founders who can help with intros you to their VC investors. A tip is to look at the portfolio page of the VC, see if you know any of the founders who the VC has backed, reach out to those founders to share what you're up to for feedback, and see if they'd be willing to help with intros.Having said that, I do read all emails that hit my inbox (although I can fall a week or two behind in getting to inbox zero). Founders should reach out at [email protected] and tell them Elpha sent you :)Cheers,Ha
Hi Ha! My name is Julie and I’m the founder of SkySquad. We make flying easier by providing families and seniors with a helping hand at the airport. Now more than ever, airports and airlines need ways to improve customer confidence in flying. Please let me know if you might be able to check out our deck and let me know your thoughts! Thank you! Julie
Hi Julie,Happy to look at your deck and give you feedback. You are welcome to email me: [email protected]For Spero Ventures, we typically invest a bit later (late seed/Series A) in founders who are building the things that make life worth living in our 3 core investment areas: well-being, work & purpose and human connection, so we'll need to assess fit with stage and thesis-fit. We always like to build relationships with founders early and we stay in touch with founders through our founder focused events such as Founder Summit, founder breakfasts, and our 500+ founder Slack channel. Cheers,Ha
Thank you. This is very helpful!
My company has been live for 2.5 years and traction has been slow. We have a partial pivot coming with a new GTM strategy and a browser extension. The core product is the same but the benefit is much more clear and easier to access. How do you recommend we position the first 2+ years in order to get potential partners and investors to see the new opportunity instead of focusing only on slow growth?
Hi Jenny,Show massive growth/acceleration (ideally 6+ months) around your product & GTM pivot and investors will almost certainly overlook the slow growth in your first few years as you were experimenting, learning and iterating. This is very normal. Most startups aren't wildly successful out of the gate. AirBnB really didn't take off until year 3+. Twitter was a successful pivot after a few years of failed experimentation with the original product (Odeo). Slack was a successful pivot after the initial product (multi-player gaming) failed.Best wishes on your new pivot!Cheers,Ha
Thanks so much, Ha!
I am curious about Spero Ventures. How was your experience fundraising for the fund? How did you translate your expertise in Product into VC?
Hi Rachel,Spero Ventures is a single LP fund. We are solely backed by Pierre Omidyar, founder of eBay, who wants to deploy his wealth to making the world better, so we are very mission & values-aligned with our LP. We want to back the next great generational companies, like eBay or Tesla, that have mission at its core and can scale to become billion dollar companies. We don't currently need to fundraise, but if we're good at proving out our thesis, we may go out one day and seek other mission and values-aligned LPs :)My first stint in venture was landing an EIR (executive-in-residence) role at Omidyar Network where I had the opportunity to work with mission-driven founders on their products including facilitating design sprints, coaching CEOs and product leaders to develop a product mindset and build out a lean product discipline, and with product candidate hiring. I eventually became a Product Partner at Omidyar Network, and started investing when our small team formed Spero Ventures almost 2.5 years ago.Having deep product experience was helpful in making the transition from operator to VC. I could demonstrate that I could add immediate value to portfolio companies. Having early stage startup experience at both massively successful companies and failed startups allows me to bring founder empathy and credibility as I work with founders today. I love the work and I feel privileged to be working alongside founders every day in being a partner and cheerleader as they build the future.My advice to PMs or any operator is to build deep expertise in something that could be helpful to founders if and when you make the transition. Also, it doesn't hurt to have deep networks and build excellent relationships with your colleagues. My old boss at eBay, Shripriya Mahesh, brought me into Omidyar Network and she is my partner today at Spero Ventures :)Cheers,Ha
@HaNguyen This is great, thank you for sharing! Do you in invest in early stage ventures? I work with seed stage female founders in impact-driven spaces on revnue and fundraising; if you do, this could be a good connection! Feel free to email me: [email protected]
Hi Kelsey,We typically invest at the late seed/ Series A when a company has found product-market fit and looking to raise a $4-$8M round to scale. Our sweet spot check size is $2-$3M and we lead rounds and take Board seats. We love being helpful and investing in underrepresented founders :)Great to meet you, and look forward to working on a project together in the future.Cheers,Ha
Thank you Ha!