How a Craigslist job cleaning lab beakers shaped Unicorn-rich VC Wesley Chan’s path to success

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Wesley Chan, the co-founder and managing partner of FPV Ventures, is known not only for his signature buffalo hat but also for his uncanny ability to identify unicorns in the startup world. Throughout his career in venture capital, Chan has invested in over 20 unicorns, including AngelList, Dialpad, Ring, Rocket Lawyer, and Sourcegraph. Additionally, five of these unicorns went on to become decacorns, valued at over $10 billion: Canva, Flexport, Guild Education, Plaid, and Robinhood. Moreover, Chan was the first investor in most of these companies.

Before his entry into venture capital, Chan worked as an engineer at Google during its early days. He started his venture capital journey at Google Ventures and later moved to Felicis Ventures. Currently, as the co-founder and managing partner of FPV Ventures, he oversees the firm’s $450 million venture capital fund alongside co-founder Pegah Ebrahimi.

Although his professional success has been well-documented, Chan’s personal journey remains less known. Born to immigrant parents from Hong Kong in the 1970s, Chan witnessed their remarkable journey of building a new life in the United States despite facing financial constraints and language barriers. Growing up in an immigrant family with limited financial resources taught Chan the importance of adaptability and recognizing subtle nuances, qualities that have shaped his investment style.

As an investor, Chan recognizes the importance of building trust with his limited partners (LPs) who often come from different backgrounds. He has developed the ability to adapt to various perspectives and convey his trustworthiness to potential investors. This skill stems from his experience of growing up in an immigrant family where he had to navigate different cultures and expectations.

Chan’s path to success was not without challenges. Raised in a single-parent household, he had to work multiple jobs in high school to support his family. Despite attending a high school that lacked resources and opportunities, Chan managed to secure a job as a dishwasher in a biology lab at the California Institute of Technology (CalTech) through a Craigslist ad. This job eventually led to a research position, where he made significant contributions to stem cell research during his high school years. Chan’s mentor, renowned gene biologist Ellen Rothenberg, recognized his potential and encouraged him to pursue a college education.

Despite his lackluster grades, Chan’s dedication and hard work at CalTech caught the attention of admissions departments at prestigious institutions. While Harvard ignored Rothenberg’s recommendation, MIT saw Chan’s potential and admitted him based on his work ethic and passion for research. This experience taught Chan the value of someone taking a chance on him and the doors that can open as a result.

Chan recounts his time at MIT as one filled with hardships and sacrifices. Moving to the opposite coast and leaving behind everything he knew was challenging. To support himself, he worked multiple jobs to pay for his education, limiting his ability to fully immerse himself in college life. However, Chan acknowledges that this experience prepared him for a career in venture capital, where resilience and the ability to withstand loneliness are essential qualities.

After graduating from MIT with a bachelor’s degree in computer science and a Master’s of Engineering, Chan returned to California and found employment at HP Labs. However, the dot-com crash led to the dissolution of his job. Despite the unfavorable job market, Google was still hiring and had a penchant for hiring candidates from MIT. Chan joined Google, where he spent a fulfilling 15 years working on various projects, ranging from developing the ad system to being the chief of staff to Sergey Brin, one of Google’s co-founders.

In 2009, Chan expressed his desire to start a startup and was encouraged by Google to help build Google Ventures. This opportunity allowed him to understand the needs and desires of entrepreneurs, providing insights into what founders want from investors. Under his leadership, Google Ventures became a reputable firm that founders actively sought funding from.

In addition to overcoming personal obstacles, Chan acknowledges the additional challenges he faces as a gay Asian man in the tech industry. The lack of representation and support for the LGBTQ+ community in venture capital poses difficulties for individuals like him. However, Chan and Ebrahimi established FPV Ventures to offer a different style of investing shaped by their unconventional backgrounds. The firm prioritizes working with underrepresented minority founders and women, along with focusing on social impact and giving back to communities.

Wesley Chan’s journey from a humble background to an influential venture capitalist is a testament to his resilience, adaptability, and determination. His personal experiences, including his immigrant upbringing and working-class upbringing, have shaped his investment approach and nurtured qualities that have contributed to his success in the startup world. Furthermore, his dedication to supporting underrepresented founders and creating positive social impact exemplifies his commitment to making a difference through venture capital.

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