Another exceptional young Asian woman is raging against the buy-side
Ann Lai doesn't suffer fools gladly, especially if they're male. Especially if they're colleagues, working in the predominantly male environment of venture capital investing. Especially if they let her go, seemingly without cause.
Lai left Bullpen Capital, the San Franciso-based provider of post-seed round fund-raising last week. It wasn't of her own volition. In a post on LinkedIn, Lai said the exit was "unexpectedly forced" upon her and claimed it was both discriminatory and retaliatory. Discriminatory because in an "all-white, all-male partnership, “equal” wasn’t ever truly equal." Retaliatory because Lai, who was a general partner, isn't the sort of young woman to stay quiet about discrimination, perceived or otherwise. She claims to have been targeted for defending female founders, for asking that male partners recommending investments from their (male) networks be subject to equal levels of due diligence, and for standing up for herself when she was bullied and called "a waste of time" in partner meetings.
This isn't the first time Lai has called out discrimination in the investment industry. Before she joined Bullpen, she quit another fund, Binary Capital, which she claimed was assessing receptionists based on "hotness," appraising founders based on whether they were "cute," and where partners had allegedly discussed 'designing an Uber-esque app to match people with sex workers.'
Binary blew up in 2017 and no longer exists. Bullpen Capital didn't respond to our request to comment on Lai's departure, but a quick look at its website reveals a company populated at senior levels almost entirely by white men, aside from a female CFO, plus a female executive assistant and a female office manager. Lai herself has presumably been erased.
Lai isn't the only young Asian woman to rail against the investment industry. Last year, another young Korean woman left a $600k job at a major private equity firm in the US, where she complained she'd been overworked, underpaid and underappreciated for her ability to bring automation to inefficient processes.
There are parallels with Lai. After excelling at mathematics and received a PhD in engineering sciences from Harvard, Lai is all about using objectivity and data to assess investment opportunities. It's this objectivity that she claims entrenched male investors find threatening - suddenly, their subjective appraisals of an investment's viability count for less than before. Suddenly, their established networks of white male founders are more open to question.
As the buy-side battles diminishing management fees and exits to investments falter, the danger is that existing power structures will become more entrenched. The pot is shrinking. Established partners have more reason to defend their positions. People challenging their ways are unwelcome.
Lai has no regrets. She's already speaking to lawyers. In the long term, she'd like to set up a fund of her own. It will rely more heavily on data and it will fund women - particularly women in STEM who can struggle to gain traction with funds where the founders are all men.
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