Interview with Venture Capitalist Shaun Lee of Mubadala Capital

Shaun Lee is an investor with Mubadala Capital – Ventures, the early-stage VC and growth vehicle of Abu Dhabi’s $250bn sovereign wealth fund. He drives sourcing, due diligence, and value creation for FinTech, application software and autonomous tech investments in North America. Prior to joining Mubadala, Shaun worked at a different VC fund and spent years as a technology investment banker at UBS. Shaun holds a B.S. degree from University of Pennsylvania – The Wharton School.

1. How did you get into Venture Capital?

My journey into venture was unexpected.

I started my career as a technology investment banking analyst at UBS before moving to venture capital. At UBS, where I spent a few years covering software & internet investment banking, I found myself enjoying deep dives into various technology sectors and learning about the latest technology trends, instead of funneling through a high volume of transactions on a monthly basis. After two years with UBS, I started to think about what I wanted to do next given the interests and skillsets I had developed.

Serendipitously, my managing director recommended that I have a chat with a venture capital fund to learn more about the space. After two months of diving in and learning, I realized that VC is definitely what I wanted to do next and joined the firm.

2. What intrigued in you about Mubadala which made you want to work there?

After spending some time at my first fund, I knew I wanted to help build a young firm that could unlock value for founders and their companies in a way that isn’t easily duplicated by other VCs. With this goal in mind, I networked through my VC contacts and was introduced to Mubadala. I was immediately drawn to the vision, team, and differentiation by nature.

At Mubadala, we are building a global investment platform that is looking to combine the powerful network, scope, and reach of Mubadala’s assets with capital, to serve as lifelong partners to deliver real impact for disruptive and visionary founders. We are known for our conviction-driven investments in the fintech, enterprise, logistics, and healthcare sectors. The commitment and support we have from Mubadala Investment Company, along with the growing recognition in our global offices, made me realize that the Mubadala platform is really unique.

That is why I’m here and I think we will really succeed.

Shaun Lee of Mubadala Capital

3. How is Mubadala different to other Venture Capital firms?

Mubadala is neither a traditional VC nor a traditional sovereign wealth fund. We are an institution that endures beyond single fund cycles and can leverage Mubadala’s size and scale to have real impact in the industries that matter most to us. With access to diverse pools of capital, we are life-cycle investors that can support our founders through their entire journey. Also, given Mubadala’s network and footprint, we are naturally global in reach, but built with deep local expertise, partnerships, and network.

4. What is the most exciting sector in the startup space at the moment?

There’s a lot going on across our main investment sectors, which include Fintech, Healthcare, Enterprise, Mobility and Logistics. Within FinTech, verticalization of banking and embedded financial / insurance platforms are super exciting for the coming year. We’re really focusing on technologies that extend the reach, improve efficiency and transform the user experience.

5. What is your investment strategy when investing in startups? (How do you choose the good from the bad)

Our sweet spot is usually Series B and C. When we are looking at a company, we spend a lot of time digging into five categories: team, market, technology / product, business model and financial metrics. Having a well-balanced view across these five themes through diligence and creating a space so that colleagues can share opposing views, helps us achieve consensus before deciding to invest in a company. We have a pretty robust and differentiated diligence approach, and also count on a diverse group of team members who have deep technical and domain expertise who help us look at companies from all angles.

6. What is the most common issue startups have when they pitch for funding and how can they resolve it?

We constantly speak about a founder’s ability to “share the vision with precision”. This trait is not necessarily rooted in recognizing every detail of the business, but rather having a full, vivid, unique, and differentiated vision that other people may not see. That vision should follow a clear and outlined execution plan to bring the vision to reality. We have met with many founders who have grand visions but miss on the opportunity to convey it with precision.

My piece of advice for founders is to take a step-back and try to view the fundraise process through the lens of an investor. Similar to how we constantly put ourselves in the shoes of the founders, it’s important that founders think about what items and points investors are trying to look for to get them across the finish line. Each investor is, of course different, so founders will have to adapt and tailor as needed!

7. What advice would you give to those who want to go into Venture Capital?

Always stay humble and hungry. The most rewarding part of working in Venture Capital is having the opportunity to meet with visionary founders who relentlessly pursue their dreams. It’s easy to get carried away by the grandeur of the VC world, but it is so important to stay grounded and remain thankful and sincere. With the mindset of gratefulness as a foundation, go out there and be hungry – whether it is pursuing knowledge, building deep and meaningful relationships, or trying new things out! The sincerity would surely be noticed by VCs who would be happy to guide your recruiting journey and make introductions.

We would like to thank Shaun for speaking with us.


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