Path to Partnership: Insights from Joe Zhang, Partner at TNB Aura banner images

Path to Partnership: Insights from Joe Zhang, Partner at TNB Aura


Southeast Asia

Joe Zhang

Recently appointed Partner at TNB Aura, Joe has played a pivotal role in shaping the firm's trajectory over the past four years, leading numerous research initiatives and driving investments into emerging leaders in the tech industry across Southeast Asia.

Having realised the need for localisation and the gap in early-stage funding, Joe decided to explore opportunities with Southeast Asia-native funds dedicated to helping early-stage startups.

Joe has a diverse background, spanning engineering, tech consulting, and growth stage investments. Joe joined TNB Aura as an associate after graduating from the NUS MBA programme and has since played a crucial role in TNB Aura's growth over the past four years.

Vicknesh R Pillay, Founding Partner of TNB Aura, acknowledges Joe's impact, stating, “Congratulations to Joe for being an essential part of TNB Aura’s journey; Joe’s contributions to investments, particularly in key endeavours such as our Series A/B investments, have played a pivotal role in shaping the success of our venture.”

Promoted to Partner, Joe's leadership is anticipated to guide TNB Aura through the evolving venture capital landscape. In an interview, he shares insights into his journey, challenges faced, and the future vision for TNB Aura.

Interview with Joe Zhang

Q: What are your key contributions to Southeast Asia's startup landscape?

A: I’m very humble about this, and I think I will have a much better answer in 2-3 years. However, alongside my team, we progressively influence investors and founders with our high conviction, top-down, and research-driven approach. We aim to consistently prioritise strong business fundamentals and emphasise the importance of exits rather than chasing higher valuations.

Q: As someone who's become a VC partner, what advice would you give those aiming for a similar role in the industry?

A: In short, working with the right people at the right time. I was fortunate enough to join an outstanding team from the beginning, and we grew the fund together.

To those who wish to enter the VC industry, I would emphasise the importance of internships. My experience in the venture capital world began with the NUS MBA programme, where I joined TNB Aura through a collaborative recruitment initiative. Over four years, I steadily progressed from an associate to a partner.

For those aspiring to carve a similar path, I'd stress the importance of gaining hands-on experience through internships. It provides a practical understanding of the industry and serves as a stepping stone to building lasting connections. My diverse background before entering VC, has proven beneficial in navigating the complexities of the industry.

In essence, be proactive in seeking internships, leverage educational collaborations, and embrace a multifaceted skill set. These elements have been instrumental in my journey to becoming a partner at TNB Aura.

Q: What are your insights on the market, and could you give us a glimpse into the industry trends that TNB Aura is keenly exploring or anticipating?

A: We have been using our top-down and research methodology to guide our investment thesis. So far, we have completed over 30 sector research and made over 20 high-conviction bets, which are mostly the top players in their respective markets. After backing later-stage startups in Singapore and Indonesia, we see the potential for the same/similar playing out in Vietnam and the Philippines next, such as Social Commerce, AgriTech, Direct-To-Consumer and Automotive. On top of that, we also see sectors uprising, such as EV Infrastructure, Renewable Energy, B2B FinTech and Web 3.0.

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