International Perspectives: A Chat with Investor Fazeela Abdul Rashid of Revolution
I’m so pleased to share my conversation here with Fazeela Abdul Rashid, a partner at the venture capital fund, Revolution. Originally from Singapore, Fazeela moved to the US to attend college. She has lived in the US, UK, and Singapore, so she brings a unique international perspective to both her investing career and her community advocacy work.
In chatting with Fazeela, I wanted to understand how her international background has shaped her perspective as an investor. Fazeela told me that she has always been “intrigued by the unfamiliar” and I believe this curiosity is what led her through her many years as a successful investor. A successful investor needs to recognize value in different people and ideas, even where others may not see it. I think Fazeela’s diverse life experience allows her to do exactly that.
My mom is from Malaysia, so I’m always very excited to meet someone from Malaysia or Singapore. I also couldn’t pass up the opportunity to ask Fazeela about her favorite Singaporean street food (see the fun facts at the end)!
You were the first person in your family to come to the US. What was your motivation for coming to America for college?
Growing up in Singapore, I was placed on a narrow educational track by Grade 8 as part of the country’s streaming system. I knew I wanted to explore more topics beyond this structured education, so by my early teens, I was determined to study in the US. I also craved a truly international college experience where I could interact with people from all around the world. In my opinion, America has an incredibly broad-based educational system that allowed me to broaden my horizons.
I ended up attending Cornell and received my degree in Chemical Engineering with a minor in Economics. Up until my junior year when I declared my major, I was quite torn between the two disciplines because I was very interested in both. I appreciate how Cornell was a safe space that gave me the time to explore and build my curriculum around my interests. Another thing I appreciate about American universities is the opportunity to take elective courses. For example, I was able to take classes in Islamic history, Indian studies, astrology and even cooking!
In Singapore, what did you choose to study as your second language? (Public schools in Singapore are taught in English, but students are required to study a second language).
I studied Malay as my second language. My siblings chose Malay or Tamil, so it’s nice that we could all choose different languages. Studying a second language is one aspect of the Singaporean education system that I really appreciate. I think being multilingual is an important part of being from Singapore because it represents the country’s multi-ethnic demographic. With increased globalization, it’s also been great to see more and more people choose to study languages outside of their racial background.
Before VC, you worked in both engineering and investment banking. Why did you ultimately choose VC as your career?
Through working in engineering, I knew I wanted to be involved in the next wave of innovation. From investment banking, I learned that I loved to understand businesses holistically and see what makes them tick. But going beyond just advising them, I wanted to feel ownership in the futures of these companies. Venture capital is a job that allows me to do this. Given my international background, I’ve always been intrigued by things I’m not familiar with. This works out well because a majority of VC work involves interacting with new people and new ideas. For those reasons, I chose to pursue VC as my career.
How did you come to work for Temasek?
Author note: Founded in 1974, Temasek Holdings is one of Singapore’s sovereign wealth funds. It manages an investment portfolio of $300B USD and invests around the world in healthcare, consumer, technology, and financial services.
I began working at Temasek a few years after graduating from business school in the US. I didn’t have a specific plan to move back to Singapore, but when I came across the opportunity at Temasek, I looked up and realized that Asia had become a very different Asia from the place I grew up in. Growth and innovation had really accelerated in that part of the world. At Temasek, I started working in the Healthcare Investment group in Singapore, moved to the London office as a generalist, and finally moved back to New York to serve as Managing Director of the Consumer team. Working with Temasek for 12 years across 3 different offices, I really grew with the firm and saw its amazing evolution. Being from Singapore, I could also truly appreciate the history of Singapore and what Temasek’s capital stands for.
One of Temasek’s competitive advantages in the US is its ability to help American companies expand in Asia. Is there an example of a portfolio company you invested in that was in this situation?
When I was at Temasek, we invested in Perfect Day, an alternative dairy company founded by two chemical engineers. Perfect Day wanted to get more exposure in Asia and Temasek was well-equipped to help them with this. The company has built out R&D capabilities in India and is building a manufacturing plant in Singapore to deepen their presence even further in Asia. Temasek advised Perfect Day on these projects and helped open other doors to unique opportunities in Asia.
In addition, Perfect Day was a strong fit for Temasek because of the product’s potential to increase sustainability, transform economies, and grow middle income populations. Perfect Day’s alternative dairy provides new sources of protein to consumers all around the world, many of whom are from developing countries and seek more protein intake as their income increases. It’s interesting to see how alternative dairy in Asia has come full circle. Asia was the largest and earliest consumer of soy milk decades before it was trendy in other parts of the world. Now, it is participating in the new global trend and adopting even more types of alternative dairy.
You built a successful career at Temasek during your 12 years working there. What inspired you to leave and join Revolution Growth?
I learned so much from my 12 years at Temasek and think back fondly of my time there. Serving as the Managing Director of Temasek’s Consumer team meant that I had less opportunities to interact directly with entrepreneurs. I found that I missed connecting with the entrepreneur personally – this is such an important part of the investing equation. In January 2022, I made the jump to Revolution Growth and am so excited about the work we are doing here.
What makes Revolution unique?
Revolution looks to build the next generation of transformative companies with a focus on equitizing flow of capital by investing in cities outside of Silicon Valley. We know that innovation comes from everywhere, so we look to find entrepreneurs from all over the country from different backgrounds. We also recognize that in order to invest in diverse groups of people, the investing team must also be diverse, which is reflected throughout our organization.
Revolution consists of a family of three funds: Rise of the Rest (ROTR) Seed, Ventures, and Growth. I work in the Growth fund as 1 of 11 investors. Rather than just focusing on one stage of a company’s lifecycle, Revolution has built a full ecosystem that can partner with entrepreneurs at every stage of their entrepreneurial lifecycle. Because we invest outside of Silicon Valley, we focus on being part of the ecosystem in building these entrepreneurial hubs. A key part of our sourcing strategy is traveling around the country to look for innovative entrepreneurs and building relationships in these cities to drive unique deal flow. Our Rise of the Rest Seed fund organizes tours that go to underrepresented cities such as Chattanooga, TN, St. Louis, MO, and Tampa Bay, FL. Each tour culminates in a pitch competition where the winner receives seed funding from us. This is one of many ways we drive differentiated flow of capital at the start of the entrepreneurship journey for founders. Later in the entrepreneurial journey, the Ventures and Growth funds are able to piggyback on these early regional successes and our depth of relationships across these cities to find unique companies to support in their evolution.
You are a passionate DE&I advocate. Can you tell me about your DE&I work in the community?
At Temasek, I helped lead the company’s first ever DE&I Initiative. We started within the US and advocated to have this be a firmwide initiative which has recently been implemented. Outside of work, I also was on the board of an organization called Beautiful People in Singapore where we mentored and supported disenfranchised young girls to inculcate confidence, positive community engagement and a track towards economic stability. When I moved back to the US in 2017, I joined the board of the UN Women’s New York Chapter. UN Women invests globally and is dedicated to gender equality and empowerment of women. They set global standards for achieving gender equality and work with government and civil society to design laws, policies, programs and services to ensure that the standards are effectively implemented and benefit women and girls worldwide. UN Women has more programs and funding needs than what they get from the UN: I wanted to bring my skillset to assist with advocacy and fundraising.
UN Women is currently raising funds to support the refugees fleeing Ukraine, a majority of whom are women and children. Please consider donating here to our campaign.
Investor Fun Facts
Favorite Singaporean Street Food: Chinese Rojak
(Chinese rojak is a savory salad of pineapple, mango, cucumber, tofu puffs, topped with a spicy tangy ‘dressing’.)
Favorite Place in New York: Central Park
Most Inspiring Recent Read: Becoming by Michelle Obama
About the Author
Bonnie Young runs the Amplified blog. She shares her insights on market trends from the US to Asia and interviews founders/investors shaking up the tech scene. She is currently an MBA/MA student studying Business and International Studies. For new articles directly in your inbox, subscribe to the Amplified newsletter