Interview
28/06/2023

10 questions for… Neil Fong

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In our “10 questions for…” series, we introduce employees from a wide range of corporate divisions. Today, we talked to Neil Fong, Managing Director Asia at BurdaPrincipal Investments (BPI), the international growth arm of Hubert Burda Media. Here he talks about what makes working at the growth capital provider so exciting and the BPI investment team so special. He shares why he is specifically proud of the teamwork on one deal. And we also find out how the passionate football player can switch off – besides being on the pitch.

Our publisher's favorite question: What are you working on right now?

I am not sure I can really tell you… but joking aside, the BPI Asia team is looking closely at a number of interesting opportunities in the fintech, cybersecurity, EV and AI sectors. I am personally closely involved in some M&A and secondary transactions happening within the portfolio at the moment.

How long have you worked for Burda, and what did you do before you joined BPI

I joined BPI in April 2021, and the past 2 years have flown by. Prior to joining BPI, I spent over a decade in financial services, first with BlackRock in New York and Sinarmas in Indonesia/Singapore.

You were appointed Managing Director in Asia at the beginning of this year. What makes working at BPI special for you? 

It’s always exciting to be working on deals that are at the forefront of innovation and disruption, but what really sets BPI apart for me is the people – I’ve rarely been surrounded by such a unique combination of intelligent investors, thoughtful operators, and down-to-earth personalities.

What fascinates you most about your job? 

Without a doubt, it is being able to invest in some of the most interesting companies that have the potential to change how we go about our daily lives. For example, I’m already leveraging AI to scan through our written responses and commentaries. Who could have thought this was possible just a few years ago? I can’t wait for what the next 5, 10 and 15 years will bring in terms of life-changing innovations.

Which project, out of all your projects, are you most proud of? 

To date, I’m most proud of the work the entire team did on Billease. It involved months of due diligence, several intriguing rounds of negotiations and coordination between multiple external parties to get this over the line. Unlike more conventional deals, it even included work on the ground security and political assessments, a challenge given we had no prior experience investing in the Philippines. The company has been performing admirably and we are quietly confident in the long-term success of Billease. 

What has been your biggest challenge so far? 

Just when we thought we were emerging from the shadow of COVID, the fast rising rate environment served as a double whammy. Almost overnight, tech crashed from its highs and companies had to scramble to make cuts and adapt to a new normal. We had to do quite a bit more work with our portfolio companies to ensure they survived and maybe thrived during this fed induced downturn. But as with every crisis comes opportunity, and we are sensing that sentiment is slowing turning positive so we might be able to find some opportunities that have much more reasonable valuations now!

What skills does your job require? 

Being a Venture Capitalist at the growth stage requires a unique mix of both quantitative and qualitative skills. At the more junior level, all our investment team members are experts at company valuation, market analysis, and modeling of returns. However, as team members transition to more senior roles, important qualitative skills like managing complex boards, building long-lasting relationships with the best management teams, and fundraising from limited partners (our investors) becomes critical.

Which book has broadened your horizon most? 

I’ve always enjoyed “The Intelligent Investor” by Benjamin Graham, it’s a book that would be considered a “classic” given its enduring lessons and relevance in almost all market cycles. Many of the key insights like “Margins of safety”, taking a “Long-term perspective” and “Contrarian bets” are extremely applicable to Venture Capital investing.

Work-life balance: How do you like to switch off in your free time? 

I played multiple competitive sports growing up so it’s always great to combine exercise with some good old fashioned team sports – I play football (soccer) whenever we can get a game going, but age is undoubtedly starting to catch up! Alternatively, if I have the time to grill up a couple steaks or smoke a brisket and enjoy it with friends and family, I find it quite mentally relaxing.

What is your next big personal goal?

To invest in a great company in Indonesia and Australia, while adding critical new talent to our team in Singapore.
 

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The whole BPI Asia team in their office: Neil, Tim, Peter, Edwin and Yuhan © MaxLouis Köbele for Hubert Burda Media

Neil and Senior Adviser Peter Kennedy taking a closer look at an analysis © MaxLouis Köbele for Hubert Burda Media

Team meeting in the Singapore office © MaxLouis Köbele for Hubert Burda Media

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