How China's Anna Fang Built The World's Best Seed-Stage Startup Portfolio – Forbes
Anna Fang is the CEO and founding partner at ZhenFund. She also tops the debut Midas Seed list.
When ZhenFund CEO Anna Fang was new to venture investing, her mentor told her that the right entrepreneurs to back are the ones who made her feel like the world could be different because of the way they saw it. She took this advice to heart. Eleven years later, she lands in the top spot of the debut Midas Seed list as the most successful seed investor in the world.
Venture capital was never the plan for Fang, who started her career as an investment banker at J.P. Morgan after earning her MBA at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business in 2010. She later went into business development at General Electric, but was soon approached by former Stanford classmate, Dan Hu, about a different opportunity.
Hu, who is now the founder and CEO of Shanghai mobile credit startup Omni Prime, had been asked to help prolific Chinese angel investor Xiaoping (Bob) Xu — known for backing companies like online cosmetic company JuMei and edtech 17zuoye — launch a new fund. Hu had just started as a vice president at global venture capital firm Sequoia, and thought Fang would be a good fit for the role.
“I find myself to be extremely lucky that someone thought of me to help Bob, to help ZhenFund,” Fang tells Forbes. “I was 29 at the time. I’m super lucky that this job, that I sort of landed on, turned out to be something that I truly love and plan to do forever. I realized minute one that this is something I couldn’t believe they were paying me to do.”
Xu was originally looking for Fang to take on an operational role, but she pushed to be a part of the investment side, too. It paid off. Xu, a past five-time Midas List member, showed Fang the ropes by walking her through each of his investments, the philosophy behind them and lessons learned. It stuck. Eleven years later, Fang has backed more than 30 seed-stage startups that have gone on to be unicorns, and more than 90 startups that went on to reach a successful exit. That track record has landed her on the Midas List four years in a row, including as this year’s highest-ranked woman investor at No. 12. Now, she’s the top-ranked investor overall on Midas Seed.
One of Fang’s most notable bets was social media platform Xiaohongshu (RED). She backed the company in its 2013 seed round after recognizing one of the cofounders, Charlwin Mao Wenchao, as the guy who always raised his hand and asked questions when she was visiting Stanford’s campus. The company is now valued at $20 billion. Another strong investment was smart mobility company Horizon Robotics. Fang led the startup’s 2016 angel round; it’s now valued at $4 billion.
“I feel young all the time. I can go from a deal in robotics, to the next one being a new brand, to something in the metaverse,” she says. “You can switch between different things. I’m kind of a generalist. I get to learn about all these new things in the world where you are always the first person to know about.”
While topping the Midas Seed list is a big achievement for Fang, it also represents a refreshing change of pace. While only 14% of venture capitalists are women, according to industry organization All Raise, Fang’s success demonstrates that a woman can still claim the title of best seed investor in the world.
Mandela Schumacher-Hodge Dixon, the CEO of All Raise, tells Forbes that while she isn’t surprised a woman took that spot, such recognition can be transformative for younger women in the industry and those who might be considering venture capital as a career path. “This is such a powerful signal to really just double down on that fact that power is shifting,” Dixon says. “It’s becoming more accessible for historically marginalized groups. I think we are going to see more and more of this.”
Fang topping the seed list sends a stronger message than her place on the flagship Midas list, Dixon says. “When I think of seed, I think of the first check in,” she says. “I think of a first believer, someone who is courageous enough to dream alongside these founders who see a world that doesn’t yet exist. Having a woman represented as an early believer, someone courageous, is huge.”
Fang isn’t the only woman on the debut Midas Seed list. Kirsten Green, the founder and managing partner of Forerunner Ventures, and Ann Miura-Ko, the cofounding partner at Floodgate, both earned places on the list, in addition to the flagship Midas List. The Seed List also includes Jenny Lefcourt of Freestyle Capital, who hasn’t been on the Midas List before, but has an impressive seed portfolio that includes BetterUp, Embark and Airtable.
Despite her track record, Fang herself was surprised to find out she had earned the distinction — thinking, she says, that the Midas team must have missed a more significant seed investor, maybe an early backer in Uber or ByteDance. She was also perplexed because she considers herself still to be at an early stage in her career. She’s made a lot of successful investments, but she’s still searching for her home run, she says.
“I’m still looking for my ByteDance,” Fang says, referencing the $140 billion private company behind TikTok. “I have a few great investments, but we are still missing our ByteDance. That is what keeps me hungry.”