By SGN | 20 Nov 2023
When she entered her 40s, Christina felt it was time to slow down and settle down.
Throughout her global tech marketing career, work had taken precedence over her personal life. At 23, she joined Acer in Taiwan – helping Chairman Stan Shih with speeches and presentations on top of a role in regional sales – before postings in Paris and Milan. Apart from two Singapore stints with IBM and Yahoo!, she spent most of her subsequent years based in Hong Kong.
“I used to be very career-focused,” she shares. “I worked seven days a week, except for an extended break at the end of each year.”
As she now considered leaving corporate life behind, Christina was of two minds. She loved her job and enjoyed the thrill of launching smartphones at UK telecommunications firm O2 in Hong Kong.
Hearing her dilemma, her CTO said, “Christina, it’s just another phone.”
The pithy reply spurred her into action. “The next day, I resigned,” she says.
Rediscovering herself in New York
Inspired by the hit TV series Sex and the City, Christina moved to New York City in search of love.
Not only did she meet her husband, but life in the Big Apple was transformative, bringing out a social side that she had not explored before. The old Christina cared more about getting things done. The new Christina was keen to connect, eager to share, and could speak with anyone.
“For the first time, I felt like a young person. For the first time, I could let loose,” she says.
After New York, Christina moved back to Hong Kong, took up one last corporate role as Chief Marketing Officer at CSL, Hong Kong’s largest mobile operator, before retiring. Then, in 2016, she decided to return home to Singapore.
“My mother, who had been living with me in Hong Kong, was getting older,” she explains, “and I felt it was more prudent to be closer to home for more effective healthcare.”
Around this time, the word ‘startup’ kept popping up in conversations and in the news. It was a domain that piqued her curiosity, yet one that she knew next to nothing about.
Startups offered a third lease of life
Back in Singapore with no network to speak of, Christina was convinced she had grown obsolete. Still, intrigued by all the talk of startups, she attended Singapore’s first Slush conference.
“I was blown away by the entire event,” she recalls. “I spoke to some young female entrepreneurs from Malaysia and quickly realised I had a lot to offer still.”
In her mind, the startup realm was like a maze, a never-ending puzzle to decipher – from understanding the jargon of funding rounds to learning the workings of disruptive business models.
“A lot of people don’t realise that, once you enter the startup world, all your corporate experience is quite irrelevant,” she says.
To get up to speed, Christina attended talks and events. As she listened and learned, her fascination grew. If marriage had given her a second lease of life, startups offered a third.
“I dared to ask stupid questions, because I realised the startup world is very welcoming,” she says. “The other thing I love is how eager people are to introduce you to others. This doesn’t happen in the corporate world at all.”
A rallying call for C-suite angels
Soon, Christina began to organise dozens of her own events, centred on supporting women in the startup ecosystem. Ready to have some skin in the game, she then learned about angel investing and sought to join forces with like-minded executives. This led her to found the angel investor syndicate she1K in 2018.
“I wanted to rally one thousand executive women all around the world to fund and mentor startups,” she says of her initial moonshot vision. While courting female investors, she has kept the door open to men, with the current ratio at around 40-60 female to male.
“Based on my personal outreach experience, female angel investors tend to be more cautious and need more data points,” she notes. “That said, we do have gungho female investors who proclaim that our network ‘keeps them fresh’.”
In February 2020, Christina launched C-shark Tank, a flagship event inspired by American reality competition Shark Tank, one where handpicked startups pitch their businesses to a select group of C-suite investors or ‘sharks’.
After nine seasons of C-shark Tank, she1K has accumulated a portfolio of 29 startups.
As compared to solo angel investing, being a member of she1K means all homework and legwork are taken care of. The syndicate stays plugged into the startup ecosystem, surveys the competition, conducts stringent due diligence, and monitors the progress of portfolio firms. “No individual has this kind of access or bandwidth,” Christina notes. “Plus, individual opinion may be biased or emotional, so weighing your views and conferring with others who may have more direct expertise is valuable.”
Like Christina, the C-sharks see angel investing as a way to feel connected, rejuvenated and relevant. They get to expand their network, learn about new sectors, and give back in a meaningful manner by backing the next generation of innovative business leaders.
she1K gravitates towards deeptech or B2B startups that are existing or potential IP owners. Medtechs in their portfolio include Australia’s StrongRoom AI and Singapore’s Respiree, in which she1K was the sole investor before it began to raise venture capital. “We have invested in many sustainable startups,” Christina adds. “One noteworthy mention would be SunGreenH2, which is in the hydrogen space. Another is FlyORO, in the sustainable aviation fuel arena.”
While earlier seasons were largely online due to the pandemic, Christina took proceedings up a notch in 2023 by organising C-shark Tank as an offsite getaway. Season 8 was held in Bali and Season 9 –likely the last – in Bintan. “We think it’s a good time to bring C-shark Tank to a close with Season 9. We will continue to focus on the 29 startups in our portfolio,” she says.
From corporate leader to community builder
Startups aside, Christina has also been actively championing and empowering women executives. Her WomenChangemakers events – held across Singapore, Hong Kong and New York – brought together panels of high-flying female executives to share their journeys and inspire others to find their purpose.
Now she runs a spin-off series called Ambitious Women. In an intimate private dining setting, participants enjoy a safe space in which they can freely share and interact. “We are mainly targeting female managers and directors working at multinationals who could use help and tips to achieve their ambitions and solidify their career goals,” she says.
An indispensable key to Christina’s community building success has been mastery of social media, something that her former self would certainly have baulked at.
“I realised it was the best way to put myself out there,” she says. “I learnt the art of storytelling and how to be authentic on a platform like LinkedIn.” In 2020, she was one of 16 honourees on Singapore’s inaugural list of LinkedIn Top Voices.
Positioning herself effectively has helped Christina attain top-of-mind recall when organisers are on the lookout for a female mentor or angel investor. “That was how I was approached to join as an advisor to the UN Women Care Accelerator programme,” she shares.
It is also how she has managed to recruit 95% of she1K’s C-sharks through cold messaging. “If my positioning was not clear, then people I reach out to would not have as much confidence,” she says.
Christina’s transformation from corporate leader to community builder is a remarkable example of personal reinvention – how one can explore new arenas and enter a new phase of professional life.
“It’s never too late to start,” she says. “It can be intimidating at first. It requires getting out of your comfort zone. But if it is your true calling, then you will eventually navigate the challenges and find your foothold.”
Christina is the founder of she1K, the world’s first C-suite angel investor syndicate. For over two decades, she was a tech and marketing leader at companies such as Acer, IBM, 3Com and CSL. She was Yahoo! Singapore’s first general manager and helped launch the world’s first Windows smartphone at O2.
Connect with her here.