Shelli Trung possesses a remarkable story, arriving in Australia as an infant refugee and ascending to her current position as Managing Partner, REACH ANZ & ASEAN via assorted pathways including neuroscience studies. She is an expert in corporate venture capital (VC) investing – developing and launching global startup and scaleup accelerator programs across multiple industries with specialisation in the proptech sector across the Asia Pacific. As a Vietnamese Australian, this achievement is all the more significant given that a 2018 report by Equal Ventures found that globally only seven percent of VC’s are women of colour with Asian women making up six percent.
In late October 2020, Shelli became the Corporate sector winner of the 40 Under 40: Most Influential Asian-Australian Awards which addresses the under-representation of young Asian-Australians (under 40 years-old) in senior leadership positions by recognising their achievements in a variety of fields. Having lived abroad for several years, she utilises her global expertise and networks regarding corporate innovation and technology and possesses a steely commitment to championing women in leadership positions and diversity in the workplace. In a recent interview with Johnson Partners (JP) Shelli shared insights into how to stand out professionally, what she looks for in investment opportunities, and what sectors are ripe for investment in the coming years.
You’re currently the Managing Partner for REACH Australia – a scaleup program for the real estate industry created by Second Century Ventures (SCV). To put this in context for our readers, SCV is among the largest proptech funds globally with a portfolio of 100+ investments including DocuSign (IPO $6B+), Notarize ($130M+ Series D), HouseCanary ($63M+ Series C) and Updater ($1B+). Can you discuss three seminal career experiences that best prepared you for this role?
In my early career I worked in what was back then called process improvement and change management. I spent a lot of time reviewing, assessing and then deploying technology across a range of sectors including banking, transport and the medical industries. This really helped me understand the risks these businesses have to manage, how to build an internal business case, and ultimately how to successfully integrate new systems and processes. I learnt how to recognise the ‘human’ side of why something is be mass adopted or get shelved – no matter how cool technology might be!
The next significant turning point was moving to the US after the GFC to buy real estate. I had already been buying and renovating in Australia but saw a once in a lifetime opportunity to do this on a massive scale. I got to see the birth of the ‘proptech’ industry (i.e. the real estate sector started to actively engage technology to deliver more transparency and efficiency given it was in crisis). Innovation tends to happen during times of stress.