Chang Xu is a Principal at Upfront Ventures, an LA-based venture capital firm focused on early-stage technology startups. She believes in leveraging technology to augment human potential, partnering with founders working on challenges in AI/ML, the future of work and commerce tech. Chang was kind enough to give us an in-depth look at her daily routine, how she manages her time and the unique way she and her husband prefer to unwind.
I wake up around 7:30 am each morning. I have a pretty regular exercise cadence and I’m training for a marathon right now, so I’m trying to get a morning run in. My runs are typically a little under an hour and I take the loop around my neighborhood. I take at least two to three runs during the week to help me gear up for the marathon. I’ve been training really hard the past few months – this is my first marathon, so I’m just going for completion rather than any sort of time or speed. I want to finish mostly just to say that I’ve done it! It’s a bucket list item of mine.
One silver lining of running more often is that I get through a lot more audiobooks now. Right now I’m listening to “Shoe Dog” by Phil Knight, co-founder of Nike. He fully bootstrapped the company – it was difficult for him to get funding and it seemed he was struggling every day to keep the lights on. There were several “near-death” experiences. He also worked a full-time job at PricewaterhouseCoopers as an accountant while starting Nike because he had to fund the company and pay his rent. It is an incredibly humbling story of how difficult it is to start a company. I loved learning how the brand gained traction before ultimately evolving into the legend it is today.
Once home, I take a shower, get ready and take the train to work – I love it because I don’t particularly like driving or parking. Plus, it allows me to get a head start on emails during my commute, so by the time I get to work, I’ve already tackled 30 minutes worth of emails and planned out my schedule for the day. It’s much more productive. The quick walk to the train station also provides a nice little mental break. In venture, there’s an arbitrary number of things you could do every day – a number of intros you can make for a company, a number of ways you can position something. This involves a lot of brainstorming and creative thinking. Any downtime is helpful and allows me to be a more effective investor, as opposed to running from meeting to meeting with no room to breathe or think.
On Tuesday through Thursday, I usually have back-to-back meetings. On Fridays, I prefer to keep my schedule free of meetings so I can work on big projects, learn something new, have time for deep thinking or writing a blog post. These things require a longer amount of focused time. Otherwise, I split my time between two areas. The first is helping my portfolio founders – helping them fundraise, position their pitch deck, or think through a financial model or strategy. We’re very hands-on investors at Upfront. With every investment we make, we almost always take a board seat. As a result, there’s a lot of work that goes into every founder and company. Working closely with these teams has taught me so much.
The second aspect is meetings with founders. I always offer to go to them or host them in our offices, whatever makes the most sense. If I do spend the day outside the office, I stack my meetings with other people in that surrounding area to make a full day out of it. This is more efficient and helps me avoid dealing with excess LA traffic, which gives me a headache every time I’m stuck in it.
I build my intuition for investing by jumping into entirely new contexts. When I go to conferences, I seek out rooms where I don’t know 99% of the people, because every conversation will allow me to learn something new. I like going with founders on “field trips” to places like the ports in Long Beach or warehouses in the City of Industry, which allows me to build intuition
for these businesses and see founders in their element. There is no way that these traditional industries will look the same in 10 years, so I’d like to invest for their future.
On Monday mornings, our team has a weekly deal flow meeting with the entire partnership. We may go over a pitch from a new startup that a partner is evaluating and have everyone provide their feedback. We also discuss updates on portfolio companies that held board meetings during the prior week. Lastly, we huddle on upcoming events as well as talent and recruiting. It’s our weekly opportunity for everyone to come together.
On breaks between meetings, I also talk to my partners to get their opinion on my portfolio companies or deals I’m investigating. I have six partners and they have a very diverse set of experiences and opinions. It’s funny because if I asked any three of them the same question, I would get three very different answers. I love this because early stage venture is all about making the right judgment call. The only way to learn and to get good at it is to debate with smart people and mull over clashing perspectives. VC is an apprenticeship business and I am hugely appreciative of my group of supportive partners.
Throughout the day, I’m always on email. There’s probably never an hour that I go through without touching email. In VC, you have to be reactive and flexible to whatever comes your way. Maybe a potential pitch company is hot and you need to due diligence to gauge if the hype is real. Perhaps a portfolio company project arises. I try not to go too crazy with email, though, because I did a time tracking exercise where I monitored 15-minute blocks for the entire week to discover exactly how I spent my time. I realized that I’m not productive when I have too much free time. I just spend the entire time going back on email and that’s not effective. So, my new trick is to stack my meetings to lock in specific time blocks. This helps me be more conscious and hack my productivity to get more out of my day.
Around 12:00 p.m., I eat lunch. I love Mendocino Farms’ impossible taco salad and the grilled fish tacos at Benny’s Tacos. I usually meet with other VCs from LA, and those from SF who come to visit or meet with founders. It’s really important to get to know people as people, especially in the early-stage VC game. We’re so collaborative and I’m incredibly happy that I have a good group of friends who are VCs. We help each other because each fund has its own environment and focus on certain spaces. Camaraderie is really important.
6:00 PM – 10:00 PM
Around 6:00 pm, I wrap up and head out. Two to three nights a week, I tend to have social calls or events. I’ve been hosting dinners with CTOs and heads of engineering around LA and I want to do more. I really like to spend time with my people. Nerdy people. I studied applied math and computer science. Plus, they’re the ones that are building the really cool things.
Aside from these events, I keep weekends reserved for my husband who doesn’t usually hit events with me. He’s an engineer and a bit of an introvert who hates talking about work outside of work. I literally don’t understand what he does and he doesn’t understand what I do, either. I like to keep it that way!
When we have time together, it’s personal time where we cook and play Super Mario Odyssey, because we are super cool. When I cook, I listen to podcasts or YouTube videos. We host the Upfront Summit and it’s amazing, but I don’t get to listen to most of the talks because I’m busy meeting with people. But we get some really amazing speakers like Mellody Hobson. We’ve been posting these discussion videos and they’re a half-hour long. Luckily, that’s exactly how long it takes me to cook.
10:00 or 11:00 PM
Around like 10 or 11:00 pm, we start winding down and head to bed. While my husband is doing the dishes, I’ll reply to emails, dive into metrics and models, or finish decks. He’s been working really late too with some major deadlines coming up, so often we’ll be sitting next to each other on the couch and wrapping up our work day before we play Mario.
Want to learn more about Chang? Follow her on Twitter @_changxu.