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Brand-Building Secrets from a Forbes 30 Under 30 Venture Capitalist

First Republic Client Lu Zhang

Striking the right balance between personal and professional brand-building is no small feat, but the dividends — both tangible and intangible — can be substantial for those who get it right, no matter the professional or entrepreneurial space.  

Just ask Fusion Fund founder and managing partner Lu Zhang, who went from high school dreams of making a difference on a global scale in China to the featured honoree of the Forbes 30 Under 30 list in under a decade. The latest feather in her cap is the recognition by the World Economic Forum, Davos, as one of its 2018 Young Global Leaders.

We sat down with the Palo Alto based 29-year-old VC to talk about the importance of brand-building from a personal and professional perspective, how she ensures her approach to branding ultimately serves the larger goals of her company, and the power of fusing a diverse workforce with an “execute and deliver” ethos.

Recognition doesn’t mean anything until you develop a very good track record and a valuable platform.

Can you talk a little about what goes into the concept of building a brand, and how you decided to rebrand your company from NewGen Capital to Fusion Fund?

From a branding perspective, you have to know what you want to be known for, what type of story you want to tell.

Our recent rebranding is a great example: Once NewGen Capital entered into a new stage, from investing in disruptive technology to focusing on world-improving technology, I knew it deserved a better name — one with more story and meaning. The word “fusion” brings to mind a sense of energy. It’s nuclear, a merging of tech and innovation. It also means a mixture of different elements, including culture. I was born in China, and the fund itself has a blend of tech, market, capital and global investments, so Fusion Fund felt like the right fit for where we are and where we’re going, which is important.

How did your background help you effectively build a professional brand for your company?

Leaders have a lot of attention focused on their personal brand. But the motivation to build my personal brand — to whatever extent I do that — is rooted in growing the company.

For example, at Fusion Fund we believe in teamwork — that everyone can do great things. That’s embedded into everything we do and really serves as the culture of the firm. Of course, the fact that we have immigrant and minority representation has an effect on that.

First Republic Client Lu Zhang

I was glad to hear that I was selected for the Forbes 30 Under 30. When the news came out, the response was great. People said, “I know you, I recognize your work.” That made me realize we’re probably on the right track. If others recognize you and your brand, that’s good. But it doesn’t mean anything until you develop a very good track record and a valuable platform. 

Now as one of the 2018 Young Global Leaders by the World Economic Forum, I could use my expertise to help and impact the larger society. These opportunities have and will help promote my personal brand and the brand of Fusion Fund.   

You’ve accomplished quite a bit in a relatively short period of time. Did you always know the type of brand you wanted to build?

No — I actually never planned on being a VC. I was a researcher at Stanford and ran my own medical device company. But I knew I wanted to make a difference, to contribute. And I am aware of what I am good at and what I want to achieve.

While working as an entrepreneur and for a VC firm, I realized I am good at understanding and identifying disruptive technologies that can make a big impact on industries with great commercialization potential.

Once I started my own VC firm, I tapped into these experiences and thinking to shape the type of brand I want to build, by leveraging my team’s and my strong technical background, operation experiences and global perspective.

Regarding a branding strategy — is it important to go through the process of developing a plan or should it be more organic?

Strategy is important, and you should think through your approach from start to finish before even getting started. Remember — you want to become a winner and stand out, so you have to have a very solid plan. With that foundation, you can more easily grow your business into the future.

Similarly, every company and person passes through a series of phases. Should a brand remain constant or be more elastic?

You have to be open-minded about change. Believe in opportunity and innovation — but maintain your culture. I recommend spending a great deal of time on recruiting, as the people who work for your company are true extensions of the brand. No matter who you’re going to recruit, whether you directly work with them or not, meet with them and be sure they will properly represent your company. They need to be aligned with you.

Regarding the innovation point — diversity is critical to that. Why do we need gender balance, or different nationalities represented across the organization? It’s not to be politically correct. It’s for innovation.

Venture capital is a great industry in the Valley, and diversity is being embraced here. I’m looking forward to more attention on that.

What’s the single most important piece of advice you would give to those looking to build their own personal and professional brands?

My advice is to do what we’ve tried to do at Fusion: Be consistent and persistent. Think about how you can make an impression.

It’s what you work on and the results you get that matter, not what you talk about. Execute and deliver. 

The information in this article is presented as is.

© 2018 First Republic Bank

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