In this episode of OneHaas Undergrad series, Ellen Chan talks with Sallie Jian. Sallie is a VC at SAP and the head of SAP.iO Foundry New York. SAP.iO is a corporate venture arm of SAP, which is a publicly-traded enterprise software company.
Sallie shares how she found her calling in investment banking out of college and how that became the launchpad for her discovery of technology and Silicon Valley and the startup world.
She also narrates what led her to the venture capital and growth equity space coming from the finance world and her career at SAP where there is a blend of operator experience plus venture capital experience.
On exploring other avenues – “I really encourage everyone who is still in school that you should explore as much as you can because college is one of the only times that you will be able to do this ever, ever again. Figure out what resonates with you and start looking at ways to pursue that.”
When it comes to just career advice – “I think it is very important to step out of your comfort zone and be unafraid to explore. Be unafraid to go to that networking event, go to that happy hour, go to that conference, go to that trade show, whatever it is, because you never know who you’re going to meet and the relationship and the opportunity that can come out of that.”
On staying humble and coachable – “Stay humble no matter where you are in your career journey because people will respond better to someone who has that kind of trait.”
Ellen Chan: Welcome to the OneHaas podcast. I’m your host Ellen. And I’m joined by our guests, Sallie Jian today. Sallie is a VC at SAP and the head of SAP.iO Foundry New York. SAP.iO is a corporate venture arm of SAP, which is a publicly-traded enterprise software company. Super excited to have you on, Sallie.
Sallie Jian: Thanks, Ellen. Thanks for having me today.
Ellen Chan: Can you share with our listeners your background and your origin story?
[00:00:39] Sallie Jian: Sure. I am originally from California and went to Berkeley, go bears. I know my title includes New York now, but my origin story is I immigrated to the US when I was five years old from Beijing. My parents and I immigrated here as my dad was a leader in the revolution movement back in the Tiananmen Square events in 1989.
[00:01:10] So, we moved here when I was very young and both my parents are educators. So, they were both professors. They met at that university that they taught at. And when we got here, we basically had to start from scratch. And we landed in Southern California. And I got to observe my parents working very hard, full-time jobs, and also going to school, getting retrained and reeducating the American education system.
[00:01:45] So as a child, seeing them going through schooling as well as then having these academic backgrounds really ingrained in me the importance of education. And I landed myself at Berkeley. And in Berkeley, I realized I wanted to be a business major. I wanted to be at Haas and ultimately have a successful career that I could be proud of, make my family proud, and also find financial stability and success because I had grown up with such a humble beginning.
[00:02:21] I got into the Haas undergraduate program. Found a calling in investment banking out of college. If you can call it a calling. And really landed in technology. Um, TMT investment banking at Morgan Stanley. And that was a great launchpad for my discovery of technology and Silicon Valley and the startup world.
[00:02:50] And I would say that’s really how I began my career.
[00:02:55] Ellen Chan: Just out of curiosity, what was your parents’ area of focus since they’re educators?
[00:03:03] Sallie Jian: Yeah, my parents, I like to say have a good blend of yin and yang. They’re very different personality-wise and they also taught very different disciplines and majors at their university. My mom is an accountant and my father still teaches history. Uh, liberal studies, international business.
[00:03:28] So I like to say they gave me and instilled in me both the right side of my brain and the left side of my brain.
[00:03:39] Ellen Chan: I assume it was a really a tough transition to the States when you’re so young. Do you have any recollection of that or was that a little too early for you to remember?
[00:03:54] Sallie Jian: I do of course have some recollection and it’s really funny now because I observed the difference between my upbringing and the upbringing of the kids that I see now. And it’s very different.
[00:04:10] I went to public schools my whole life because that’s what my parents could afford at the time. I didn’t have a lot of resources for extracurriculars and that was fine. Like I ended up just playing in the dirt, rollerblading the streets, and figuring it out myself. Luckily is independent enough to be disciplined around school and have a good balance of play and work and study.
[00:04:44] And that is very different from what I observed with kids today that are going to private schools from age three and being assessed based on very limited actual observation and being placed into different schools at a young age and having this really competitive environment around them.
[00:05:10] I don’t know what the right blend is of education and extracurriculars for kids but I think that you need to have a balance and somewhere in between what I’m seeing today and what I grew up with is probably, you know, the right balance.
[00:05:29] Ellen Chan: For students who might not be in the private school environment, what resources, mentality, you think helped you when you were growing up?
[00:05:41] Sallie Jian: Even though I went through the public school system my whole life, what was really crucial in my development was I was in the best, some of the best public school districts growing up. And my parents, even though they couldn’t afford the private schools’ tuition, they were able to relocate and move around to attend some of these best public schools. And having that setting was very important because that put me in schools where there were programs for honors or advanced placement courses that you might not see yet, right?
[00:06:31] So, having the curriculum there, having peers around me that had similar families who cared about their educations, who are more competitive, who did challenge me, that was very important. There are a lot of free or low-cost resources and they keep growing. For example, in New York City where I reside, there are so many organizations, nonprofits that are focused on low-income communities or underserved communities and their sole focus is around STEM or education or uplifting youth in those communities. I myself have been a volunteer and sat on some of the young professional boards of organizations like Apex, which is an organization for low-income Asian Americans in New York City, children’s scholarship foundation, and a couple of others. So, even if you don’t grow up with a lot of resources, there are plenty of opportunities and things that you can find that can help you at low or no cost to you.
[00:07:54] Ellen Chan: I am sure that’s helpful for some of our listeners. Have you always been interested in finance or was that an interest developed during your time at Haas?
[00:08:06] Sallie Jian: No, I was not always interested in finance. I went to Berkeley because I knew I wanted to be a business major and Berkeley has a top undergraduate business program in all of California. That was a big factor for why I decided to go to Berkeley. And while I was there, we call it the ABCs.
[00:08:32] I don’t know if you young alumni still call it that. But back when I was at Berkeley as an undergrad, the three routes for Haas were accounting, banking, and consulting. Now I know there’s a lot of tech opportunities, too, that’s probably just as heavy weighted, but at the time I chose banking because I knew I was good at math and I knew that it would be high-paying enough. Thirdly, it would provide a good foundation for whatever path I decided afterward. And that’s the beauty of going to college is you can take a plethora of courses. You can take things that are not even business.
[00:09:21] I took music class from American culture prerequisite. I really encourage everyone who is still in school that you should explore as much as you can because college is one of the only times that you will be able to do this ever, ever again. Unless you go back and you have a career change.
[00:09:45] But if you’re really set in the business side of things, college is a great time to explore other avenues and it’s not necessarily just coursework. You can also explore extracurriculars, join clubs, join fraternities, join organizations, and talk to alumni, take on some internships, figure out what resonates with you and start looking at ways to pursue that.
[00:10:15] When I graduated, there were more stable paths. And now, you can become an entrepreneur. You can really pursue a lot of different outlets. So, I encourage everyone to do that. Luckily for me, finance as an interest in college and thinking that it was a good path eventually led me to some great opportunities and did allow me to pursue a lot of my passions. But I was also lucky and landing in finance in Silicon Valley. So, I was very lucky in the sense that I felt in the right industry, in finance as well.
[00:11:03] Ellen Chan: After investment banking which probably gave you a good foundation in the finance world, what led you to decide the venture capital and growth equity space?
[00:11:18] Sallie Jian: Yes, definitely. After investment banking, I knew that I had a couple of budding interest. I was at Morgan Stanley Technology, investment banking, on Sandhill Road. So that was very formative for me in terms of steering me into the technology industry.
[00:11:42] Ellen Chan: Yeah.
[00:11:43] Sallie Jian: When I was working those 100 plus hour analyst weeks, sitting in front of a PowerPoint formatting isn’t my favorite part of the job. My favorite part of the job was actually attending the meetings, going with the senior bankers to the actual customer-facing events, and sitting there and observing everything they had to say about the industry insights or the advice that they were giving the startups. The actual trends and learning about the actual business models and the people that are in this industry that are extremely passionate about what they’re doing and what they’re building.
[00:12:28] I love that experience. And it was limited in investment banking as a junior banker so I decided that I wanted more of that. And so, wanted to be in an industry where I would get more exposure to that. Ultimately, I realized that would be somewhere in the venture capital growth equity space.
[00:12:50] I was lucky enough to have an opportunity to work at General Atlantic. After banking wherein, I relocated to New York and got more of that exposure. But then also realized I had been in this finance two plus two kinds of roles where two years of analyst program, two years of the associate program.
[00:13:14] And I didn’t really want to have this conventional path. So, I decided to work at a small startup after General Atlantic and experience the other side of the table, what it felt like to be an operator. And from there, I was able to land my first venture capital role and have been in venture capital since then.
[00:13:42] Sallie Jian: There isn’t always a clear cut especially to roles in venture capital and technology because a lot of what they value is your operator experience, your ability to work with teams and entrepreneurs, and to think of creative ideas. And you can come from a number of paths to get there.
[00:14:03] But if you figure out what you really are passionate about then you can start plotting out that path to get there.
[00:14:14] Ellen Chan: Yeah, obviously there’s no straight path. Would you say the operator experience was quite impactful in terms of adding to your career and your knowledge base?
[00:14:33] Sallie Jian: The operator experience is definitely helpful for venture capital. You see more VCs, especially senior VCs, ones that are brought in as operating partners or venture partners. Their background is working in operator roles or they have some kind of deep technical background.
[00:14:56] Many of them didn’t start out in finance at all. It’s definitely very valuable because anyone can write a check. Anyone can go network and meet people. But the real value in working with portfolio companies at a venture, at a VC or PE firm, is your ability to add value to their business and to help them scale.
[00:15:25] The idea is you’re bringing this company from an earlier stage or a certain stage and you want to bring ROI back into the business and back into your firms. So being able to talk the talk with them, understand what the startups are going through, understanding the business development aspect that goes to a market aspect, the ability to work with customers, the ability to sell and market and to work with them through different cycles of their business, enables you to move the needle with that company. So, it is very important to be able to understand and guide the startups or portfolio companies that you work with.
[00:16:14] And so if you have the opportunity to start your career as an operator. If you work as a junior finance person and you have the opportunity to go work at one of your portfolio companies to shadow them, I would take all of those opportunities as much as I can. Personally, I’m at SAP now and it is a blend of operator experience plus venture capital experience.
[00:16:35] And I observed every single day how our account sales teams go out there to pursue customers and how our customers are thinking about their problems and their needs and working closely with customers. It is a really good way to enhance your ability as an investor or if you’re on the financial services side to get that experience.
[00:17:09] Ellen Chan: Great transition to your role at SAP.iO. We’ll love to hear about investment areas that you’re passionate about, the goal of the organization, yeah.
[00:17:24] Sallie Jian: SAP IO is part of SAP. We’re the corporate innovation and venture capital arm of SAP. Within SAP IO, we have two groups. We have our venture capital fund and we have our global foundries. And our venture capital fund is a fund that’s off of the SAP balance sheet where we primarily invest in seed and Series A startups.
[00:17:54] Global foundries are our accelerator programs that are in nine geographies throughout the world where we do not take equity. So, this hybrid model being able to do accelerate fund with equity and without equity has really given us a lot of opportunities to work with different types of startups in just three years’ time.
[00:18:16] Since SAP IO launched, we now have over 200 portfolio companies. And all of the companies that we work with are enterprise software companies. So, in terms of investment areas and industry, I’m most passionate about when it comes to this tech space, definitely enterprise software. I’m not just saying that because I work at SAP but I truly love enterprise tech. In my previous firm, I did work with consumer-facing direct to consumer companies that made beauty products or electronic products, and what I really like about B2B enterprise is that you’re not at the whim of crazy consumer behavior or trends or pay to play to acquire all of your customers and infuse all of your funding into customer acquisition. I don’t necessarily love that about where some of these consumer industries are going.
[00:19:23] Of course, there are outliers. There are companies that are truly amazing businesses like Allbirds, for example. There’s something really there that resonates with consumers. But for me, I don’t think that I quite have the interest in the consumer side as much but on the enterprise side, a lot of the companies we work with have wonderful sophisticated technology and products that you take a look, you do the product diligence, and you can tell it might be a game-changer for an entire industry. And that entire industry spans again at, from the executives at that company that is making the decisions to buy this product, that think that this product is going to help them drive sales, reduce costs, enable better customer all the way down to the end-user who might be now able to experience an entirely new interface or an environment where they are using this product and it can change their lives too. So, I love that it can really move the needle for so many different stakeholders. I think the business models are really interesting.
[00:20:48] It’s very strategic about how you price the product, how you sell the enterprise sales cycle is extremely long but if you’re able to figure out the right playbook, it’s also really interesting and rewarding for the company and anyone involved in helping them along that way and in that journey.
[00:21:11] SAP, we have over 400,000 enterprise customers. We play in dozens of different industries. So, when it comes to enterprise software and enterprise startups, this has been a great organization for me to explore so many different types of companies. I’m looking at companies in next-generation retail to future of work, to a circular economy, to industry 4.0.
[00:21:46] And so having the ability to explore all of those verticals within an enterprise is also very rewarding for me.
[00:21:56] Ellen Chan: Given that there’s no equity involved, how do you determine the right fit when you talk to companies for foundry?
[00:22:10] Sallie Jian: So, with a lot of CVCs corporate venture capital teams, they are guided by the parent company and the parent company’s strategy for us SAP IO, that’s no different. We’re part of a corporate strategy within SAP.
[00:22:34] And we have a lot of guidance from the executives at SAP, we have a lot of information that’s being fed to us by different industry teams and product teams. And what we look at is are there core business software. And is there an opportunity to work and partner with SAP, even if we’re not investing at the foundry level, we are really creating these partnerships that are long-term and very forward-thinking for SAP. SAP is a company that is over 40 years old and we have a lot of our staple technologies that are used throughout the world.
[00:23:29] Ellen Chan: Right.
[00:23:30] Sallie Jian: And we have all of our super technologies. We have a lot on our roadmap but there’s also things that we’re just not going to build and that we want to have really strong partners.
[00:23:40] And so, this creates new opportunities for us to work with startups that are going to bring complementary solutions great integration opportunities with existing SAP technologies already serving the similar customer profile as what SAP is and combining all of that together.
[00:24:02] And when we were together, we can create so much more value for price customers. And so that’s a lot of what SAP IO. Our goal is to find these partners. And to build out an ecosystem around our technologies and build more value for our customers.
[00:24:22] Ellen Chan: Awesome. We noticed that SAP IO has a no boundaries initiative around women and underrepresented founders. What are some of the challenges that you’ve come across and what are some ways the industry can do better and more for women and underrepresented founders?
[00:24:45] Sallie Jian: The SAP IO no boundaries pledge was created early last year. And this is an initiative around, as you mentioned, bringing women and underrepresented founders into our portfolio. We pledge that by 2023, 40% of our portfolio will be with startups led by women and underrepresented founders. And that means we will have worked with over 200 startups with this type of founder background. And this is pretty much an unprecedented pledge. And this industry, especially from a large public company, especially in the enterprise software space, it’s completely different. Something that I’m really proud of. I joined SAP about two and a half years ago before the public announcement of no boundaries, but in New York, the program that I run, we have a hundred percent commitment to underrepresented founders. One of the reasons I joined was because that’s something I’m really passionate about. That’s something I’ve been able to do day one at SAP IO before we publicly announced no boundaries.
[00:26:00] Our portfolio looks very different from what you will see across the board in enterprise software and any corporate VC or VC and portfolio. If women are the majority of consumers and buyers out there, the teams of the startups should be representative of the, at this population, right?
[00:26:27] And a lot of the technologies that are built today are for this wider population. And so, if the algorithms being built are not being built by people that understand, it’s also not good for the sustainability of the startup of that business. If they can’t ultimately be able to build out AI or machine learning or natural language processing software that can predict certain types of consumer behavior or predict certain types of world trends or predict how people communicate. Or how from a vision or computer vision angle, how things look, then they’re not going to be to succeed.
[00:27:21] It’s not just the right thing to do when it comes to having a diverse and represented team, but it’s also the right and smart business decision as well. Of course, there are different challenges when it comes to this. Sometimes, for underrepresented founders, we see that they do not get the right level of attention from investors, even from customers.
[00:27:53] From a networking angle, their networks are not as robust. And so, I’m really proud that we created this initiative and created this program where we don’t take any equity from these teams on the foundry level and give them a plethora of resources. All free, a lot of different resources.
[00:28:18] And our program is really focused on business development and enterprise sales and introductions to customers and helping them with their technology integration. This is potentially a game-changer for a lot of these startups because we’re able to help them with all of these trends and not take a chunk of change from them.
[00:28:45] And by the way, when it comes to underrepresented teams, oftentimes they do have to give up more ownership for smaller amounts of capital and not all equity is equitable, is a saying that we’ve heard. So, this is a great opportunity for underrepresented founders.
[00:29:08] Ellen Chan: I know a lot of companies fund CVCs are certainly working towards the same goal. Most haven’t pledged, but, definitely good to hear that SAP IO has this initiative.
[00:29:23] You touched on some great points but are there some defining moments that made an impact on your career thus far? A few that you think are the most important.
[00:29:41] Sallie Jian: Some defining moments have spanned across my whole lifetime, coming to the US as a first-generation immigrant. And getting and launching into investment banking from the Haas business program and having all of those recruiting opportunities that open the doors, this education piece. And then moving to Silicon Valley and moving to New York, experiencing many different points of view and industries and types of companies and finding a niche for myself and the enterprise software space and all of these are moments that happen. Sometimes, there are serendipitous moments and sometimes there are moments that I pursued and created for myself. So I think when it comes to just career advice, I think that it is very important to step out of your comfort zone and be unafraid to explore, be unafraid to, at the end of your 15-hour workday, go to that networking event, go to that happy hour, go to that conference, go to that trade show, whatever it is because you never know who you’re going to meet and the relationship and the opportunity that can come out of that, right.
[00:31:30] And for myself currently, my role at SAP IO, I met my manager through a mutual venture capital friend of ours, and had I not just had a conversation, a coffee with him about what I was interested in, we might not be here today having this conversation. So, it’s really about that, making those connections and taking in various opportunities and staying curious and not being afraid to ask for what you want and to speak about what you want as well. There’s a study where people wrote down what they wanted in the next 10 years and sealed what they wanted in an envelope. There’s two study groups, one that did this envelope and one that didn’t do the sealed envelope assignment and the people that did the sealed envelope assignment by far more of them were able to achieve the goals that they just wrote down. Then the ones that didn’t right. So, having these far longer-term goals also helps you capture things along that journey. And then finally, I’ll just say that everyone responds better to people that are timed and humble and coachable.
[00:33:05] So I would just say to stay humble, no matter where you are in your career journey because people will respond better to someone who has that kind of trait and those are the people that they want to help and that they want to coach and they to want to root on to succeed as well.
[00:33:30] Ellen Chan: That’s great. A lot of our listeners would probably appreciate hearing that. Should we wrap up with our fire round of questions?
[00:33:40] Sallie Jian: Yes.
[00:33:42] Ellen Chan: First one is a seasonal one. What are you doing to keep yourself sane during this time?
[00:33:51] Sallie Jian: So, this time is definitely, this whole quarantine time and there’s been a lot of, yeah, a lot of ups and downs. And you keep thinking, well, when is 2020 going to pick up and actually turn into a normal year? It probably won’t, knowing that we’re in Q4, but I think one of the things is it’s okay to feel in 2022.
[00:34:16] Well, it feels good to have up and downs. If you’re not having up and downs this year, you’re actually probably doing something wrong. But personally, to stay sane, it always makes me feel better to be active. And, I was very active before COVID and I did a lot of class pass and a lot of these high-intensity workouts.
[00:34:43] So I continue to do high-intensity workouts from home. And one thing that I picked up during this whole thing is tennis. And I was living in the suburbs for quite a bit. So, tennis was feasible, not as feasible when I lived in Manhattan but tennis has been something I’ve really picked up and I love it because it doesn’t necessarily feel like a workout.
[00:35:10] It just feels like a game for me. And there is a social angle to it too, which we all need in an era of social distance, it means physical distance but doesn’t mean that we should socially isolate ourselves either.
[00:35:27] Ellen Chan: Yeah. That’s awesome. Tennis, it’s also a socially distance sport, I assume.
[00:35:33] Sallie Jian: Yes. That’s also the plus.
[00:35:35] Ellen Chan: What content are you consuming right now? Any bugs or shows and stuff like that?
[00:35:43] Sallie Jian: Yes. So, I definitely have been picking up more books and more content this year? And a book that stood out to me is Hillbilly Elegy. It’s an interesting study of people in the middle states of America that are perhaps part of the silent majority that we are hearing a lot about particularly during this time season.
[00:36:13] And it’s interesting because it helps put things in perspective, this type of population, but I also love that it’s uplifting because it’s a personal autobiography by JD Vance, his story of how he came from the lowest levels of poverty. And along the like Appalachian belt to becoming this highly educated, professional, and it studies this journey and so I liked the uplifting piece as well.
[00:36:44] And then TV show I love HBO and I love Westworld because, especially some of the technology that is imagined and is explored in these shows, they’re scary. They almost can happen now and can happen in the next 12 years.
[00:37:12] So love that it’s kind of scary in that sense but I also love the complex plot and twist and I love that the robots are winning and they’re in this world.
[00:37:24] Ellen Chan: And then what is your best productivity hack?
[00:37:30] Sallie Jian: So, my best productivity hack is actually taking breaks. It’s we’re all in these back to back calls, every single day meetings. And honestly, your brain kinda just freezes and stops working after so many back-to-backs. And my productivity hack is taking a break every 90 minutes, whether that’s just doing something trivial like browsing social media or shopping online to doing something that’s active.
[00:38:10] To eat, having a snack, but just taking breaks throughout the day to cut out the monotony of calls and to reactivate your brain again.
[00:38:22] Ellen Chan: Yeah. Breaks are definitely needed. Last one is what was your favorite thing about Berkeley or Haas?
[00:38:32] Sallie Jian: So, when I was at Haas, I worked at the women’s faculty club next door. It’s a bit hidden, it’s between the faculty club and Haas but it’s this really cute hotel restaurant. And I worked there as a server and it was so easy for me to hop in and out during the lunchtime hour. And it feels almost like a secret garden, like a cottage house.
[00:39:06] And I love that it was right next to Haas because it was such a different contextual structure and enabled me to also have a great paying job during college to afford a lot of the things that my family couldn’t necessarily. And I was able to pay for rent and a lot of my school expenses. And I know it’s not directly related to Haas but I just have such good fond memories of passing by on my way to class or after class.
[00:39:47] And having this balance of this Haas world plus this almost like secret garden, bed and breakfast feel. So, I love that.
[00:39:59] Ellen Chan: Yeah, it is a beautiful place. And I do feel like it’s hidden but now it’s not anymore. Hopefully, people will get to enjoy the place a little more. Awesome. Thanks for coming on today, Sallie.
[00:40:13] Sallie Jian: Thank you so much, Ellen. I really enjoyed this session and hope that others will benefit from this as well.
[00:40:22] Ellen Chan: Awesome. Thank you.
Hope you enjoy today’s episode of the one Haas undergrad series. And thank you for tuning in. If you enjoyed our episode today, please subscribe or follow us wherever you get your podcasts. You can also check out more for our content and subscribe to our monthly newsletter on our website haaspodcast.org.
Until next time, go bears.