Zehra Naqvi is a community builder and investor at Republic, a crowdfunding investment platform that’s like Kickstarter but for vetted startups (only 2% of companies that apply are approved). Based out of NYC, Zehra frequently hosts events and dinners for AAPI and female founders. She also started the first ever undergrad internship program at Republic after pitching directly to the CEO, helping democratize access to VC. On the side, she curates the Z-List, a weekly email round-up of startups sent to investors, and facilitates intros between founders and investors. Born in Singapore, raised in Hong Kong, and with family from Pakistan, Zehra graduated from Columbia University with degrees in Financial Economics and Art History in 2020.
In today’s issue, Zehra shares her steps to building community, thoughts on manifestation, and her reason behind working in VC:
🏠 Growing up: When I was 12, I founded a clothing company called GLO, which became the Forever 21 / Topshop of Hong Kong. No other company was selling trendy teenage clothing in HK, so we were able to scale pretty quickly and got over 10k followers on Instagram in a couple of months. I stopped the business once I went to college, but it sparked my curiosity in how other founders develop products, and I ended up working for 15 different startups at Columbia.
📅 Day/week/month in the life: I talk to maybe 8 founders a day and will almost always meet 1-2 people in person. Each week, I take 35-40 founder calls and attend events in New York, whether that's supporting South Asians, partaking in API events, or meeting other female founders. That’s always my priority – meeting new people and engaging in my communities. This week, I'm hosting a Web3 female investors and operators event in New York.
🌎 Building a community from scratch: 1) Meet at least one new person every single day, 2) Find out their pain points, 3) Figure out who you can introduce to each other to alleviate one of their pain points, and 4) Keep track of everyone. Repeat these steps, and your community is going to grow.People often get a community confused with an audience or network, but it’s actually just a space where people are interacting with one another and having conversations.
💼 Working in VC: I'm at a point in my career where I'm just trying to absorb everything I can and be in rooms with people smarter than me. I don't think I would trade that for founding something right now.
🛠️ Do you need to be a founder to become an investor? It depends. If you're a Series B investor or later, the whole objective is looking at the numbers – looking at revenue, burn rate, business model, and whether or not you're getting a return.If you're an angel or pre-seed investor, it's compelling to have that founder experience because you're not really going on anything – pre-seed companies don't have revenue. There’s nothing wrong with being an investor without having been a founder, but most of the really incredible angel investors and pre-seed investors I know were either founders or early operators.
🎨 On studying art history: Art history teaches you to read everything other people have said about something in the past, then come up with your own opinion. The whole point of investing is looking at an industry, studying everything that came before in this industry, and deciding whether or not you believe that this startup’s solution is that new take.
📝 Your best habit? I write three things that I'm grateful for everyday. I like the notion of manifestation.People think it just means you're sitting around and not doing anything, but I don't think that's what it is. For me, manifestation is figuring out what you want and saying it. A lot of people don't know what they want. They just chase what other people want.
⭐ What’s your why? VC was a boys club for a long time. Four months into my job, I was talking to a woman-of-color founder who had 50,000 daily active users and was struggling to raise, and then I talked to a white male founder who had no traction but managed to raise $6 million.I know women-of-color founders who have degrees from Harvard Business School, consulting backgrounds, and have scaled companies as operators – and they still will not get treated with the same respect. I feel fulfilled knowing I’m trying to at least make a dent in supporting women of color and female-founded businesses through VC.
💭 Best advice: Figure out what you want. If you want to be an investor, why? If you want to be a founder, why? If you want to be a community builder, why?Sit down, figure out your goal, and write down how you're going to achieve it. It's going to make you more effective at saying no to things. That way, you're not constantly out of breath trying to do everything.
tl;dr 1) Meet someone new each day and introduce people to each other to alleviate their pain points, 2) Write down what your goal is and how you’re going to achieve it, and 3) Figure out your why.
Check out Republic here: republic.com