Written by Vibhu Gairola
A big challenge facing angel investment firm Two Small Fish Ventures is actually an overabundance of opportunity.
“There are so many great companies out there, and we’re not even talking about the ones still in their basements,” says Eva Lau, who started Two Small Fish with her husband, Allen Lau. Their goal is to give back to the startup community after the success of Allen’s company, Wattpad, which he co-founded in 2006.
Two Small Fish focuses on early-stage internet companies with strong network effects. The firm may not have billions in capital or an international reach, but it does have well-honed networks and expertise: before she was Wattpad’s Head of Community and Content, Lau led development at Brightspark Labs, a Toronto-based startup accelerator.
On top of funding, the Laus help startups leverage networks most appropriate to their goals.
“I just want to share what I’ve learned with a new generation,” she says. “Not all conversations turn into investments, but we’re giving back as much as we can.”
From an investor’s point of view, Lau believes Toronto is a powerful and growing epicentre for startups partly due to how inclusive it is. “We have a lot of initiatives that encourage more female participation in our field, and I’m proud of both our city and ecosystem for that.” she says.
Two Small Fish Ventures also keeps an eye on what’s brewing in Waterloo: Lau says both cities are great hubs for innovation, but thanks to the large immigrant population, downtown Toronto tends to yield more senior entrepreneurs on their second or third venture.
With such a large array of companies seeking funding, Lau emphasizes that lack of investment doesn’t mean failure. “If our relationship did not move to the investment level, it means what I was looking for was not necessarily what you are doing,” she says. “It’s not a matter of either one of us being right or wrong: you just need to find a partner that understands you better and could contribute more than I could.”
More than once she’s had to stop herself from investing in pitches that she’s enjoyed — but aren’t a fit. Sometimes, it’s a matter of letting those companies ripen at their own pace; sometimes it just isn’t a match. “I’ve seen great teams and great tech, but they ended up being outside of my domain, so they wouldn’t get much value out of me either.”
Ultimately, not everyone actually needs a venture-backed opportunity, Lau says. “Some can build sustainable businesses that generate good income for everyone without VCs and angels.” It’s her job to tell the younger companies exactly this so that they can figure out the best way forward for themselves.
“Whoever wants to pitch their idea to me, I’m more than happy to meet and have that conversation so I can tell you what I think,” Lau says. “What I’m looking for is people who are passionate to solve a problem.”
Photo Credit: Rebecca Tisdelle