Michelle Kwon on Angel Investing & How She Balances it All

Hi! Tell us about yourself…

My name is Michelle Kwon and I'm currently the Head of Operations and Finance at Runway (www.runwayml.com) and a Partner on a new, yet-to-be-announced early-stage venture fund. However, I wasn't always a part of the startup and venture ecosystem. I started my career at a hedge fund in New York, then was fortunate to join Airbnb to help launch and scale Experiences, and most recently spent time as an investor at a consumer-focused venture capital firm.

I've always been interested in working in fast-paced environments, but am most passionate about supporting companies that are creating value for consumers and users.

On the personal side, I love to spend a lot of time with my family and really enjoy learning more about wine when I get a chance to!

You've worked in a fair number of (very impressive) industries… tell us about that, how have you navigated career pivoting & changes?

I'm very thankful that I've had the opportunity to experience various roles across multiple cities and industries. However, there have been three common themes that have been consistent across all of my professional roles: First, I realized that I enjoyed being in (relatively) intense, work environments where I felt I directly contributed to the product or service the company delivered. Second, I enjoy having a level of autonomy and being able to be entrepreneurial in my given role. Lastly, to quote Barry Diller, I strive to be an infinite learner, and I lean into new industries and opportunities where I get a chance to learn from my colleagues and the work that I'm doing.

So, in a long-winded way of answering the question, I've been able to successful (albeit, debatably so) in navigating pivots in my career because I've only sought out opportunities that fulfilled the above three points.

You're also an Angel Investor, what excites you most about this & how do you choose companies to invest in?

It's such a privilege being an angel investor and I want to acknowledge that first and foremost.

What makes angel investing exciting and fulfilling to me is learning from so many amazing entrepreneurs whilst witnessing their journey. For example, I'm an angel investor in Diem, obviously as you know. Looking back on the last year, you went from having an idea for Diem, then being admitted and going through a prestigious accelerator, hiring a team, and then executing a full-scale digital event for International Women's Day. I mean, that's absolutely insane and humbling for me to witness. It's incredibly inspiring to see the transformation of a business through focus, grit, and action. I get a lot of energy from it and makes me want to work even harder in what I do.

So the last year has been kind of insane, what's grounded you throughout, how have you taken time for yourself?

Again, I want to preface this answer by acknowledging how privileged I have been - I haven't contracted COVID-19 myself, haven't had any close family or friends suffer from the virus, and I was able to spend a lot of time with my family during the past year. So, I know that my experience is very much unaffected vis-a-vis what many others have suffered through this past year.

I suffered from a pretty intense anxiety attack - my first - during quarantine and it very quickly made me realize that I was taking on too much. I was holding in a lot of stress and anxiety and also taking on more than what I really needed to be. And so, the past year has been a very special time for me to get to know myself better and figure out what was and wasn't important to me. I prioritized my family, my mental health, and only doing projects or work that I felt I had the bandwidth or capacity to do. After that anxiety attack, I wasn't willing to put myself in that position again.

Today, while I work 7 days a week most weeks, I truly enjoy the work that I do. Most importantly I give myself a lot of space to re-arrange my schedule as needed. Having constant check-ins with myself, my family, and my partner, have also been kept me grounded and honest through this whole process, too.

Advice for women interested in starting Angel Investing?

If you're interested and able, I think you should absolutely do it! A couple of key points:

  • As with any investable opportunity, you have to feel comfortable not seeing a return on your private sector investments. Startup investing is notoriously high risk, high reward.

  • Be sure to think about all of your investable funds like an investment manager would and diversify across different asset classes.

  • Further to the aforementioned point, give yourself a budget for how much you'll invest a year. And that amount may change year to year. For example, you may have $20k to invest in private companies a year, so pace out how that $20k will be spent. Maybe it's $5k for 4 deals across the year, or maybe it's 1 $10k check you write every six months or so. And many founders will take $2500 or $5k checks, so don't feel you have to have $20k to start off!

As you know, we're all about community, how does your community help you personally & professionally?

I'm a bit old school, so I love receiving tangible goods like a handwritten note or a small gift. I'm incredibly fortunate that I have many close girlfriends who are extremely good at sending those. While most of my girlfriends are spread out around the world, its small gestures like that, or an email, or a spontaneous phone call, that are nice pick-me-ups and keep me feeling really loved and close with my community even when we're all so far away from each other. I just moved into a new apartment, and so many friends sent small housewarming gifts that were so incredibly generous and thoughtful.

I am also incredibly close with my family - we call ourselves the Kwontourage. So it's important for me to call at least one member every day. It keeps me grounded and keeps me feeling close with them even when we're across the country from each other.

Enjoyed this? Come join Diem, download here.