Jessie Juan is a formidable force in the private equity industry. Prior to founding Quantium, Jessie had 12+ years of alternative investment experience as an LP, managing circa $1bn capital deployment as advisory board member for multiple leading partnerships.
Throughout Jessie’s LP experience, she spent years observing how good technology can transform a GP’s operations and improve investor servicing and fundraising. She realized that the industry’s “gold standard” technology was sorely lacking in the agility and innovation required to evolve with the changing private investment landscape. As an alternative to clunky legacy systems, she co-founded Quantium in 2016.
We sat down with Jessie to learn more about what led her to where she is today, what made her decide to found Quantium and her advice to aspiring startup leaders in the tech space.
Tell us about your time spent as an LP at Partners Group – what was the experience like?
Being an LP provided me with excellent international exposure to the private markets. I’m privileged to have worked for over a decade at Partners Group – it gave me a bird’s eye view of how the industry works; market trends, GPs’ operational challenges and best practices in Europe, the Americas, and in Asia. This was particularly valuable when it came to starting up Quantium – I had years of hands-on experience to draw on while designing our software. My time working on the buy-side with some of the world’s best fund managers gave me incredible global exposure and experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything.
What was the tipping point that made you decide you’d had enough of being constrained by legacy software for private markets investment operations?
When I was investing into Asia in the mid-2000s, funds generally yielded very good returns – so investors didn’t really care too much about how the fund managers were managing their operations. But now as the industry matures, the data is accumulating and professional Investor Relations teams are brought in – that’s where the heavy lifting starts to come in. It’s no longer about just doing deals, it’s about ensuring your operations are scalable for enterprise and delivering results. As a GP or fund-of-funds manager, you need the operational infrastructure with which to properly assess every aspect of your portfolio investments, regardless of whether you’re looking at a typical 10 year close-ended fund structure or evergreen fund.
Typical legacy systems for fund and portfolio management haven’t evolved with the industry, which is a major limitation to most GPs. To design truly next-generation software, innovators can’t just look at today’s problems – they should be envisioning potential pain points three, five, ten years from now. When my partners and I founded Quantium, our aim was to build a futureproof product that genuinely solved these problems.
There wasn’t a definitive “aha” moment that made me decide to build Quantium, more a culmination of many moments of frustration with existing solutions and a firm belief that we could do better. The pain we’ve heard about from fund managers struggling to do their jobs with old, clunky software or disorganized Excel spreadsheets is very real. I was a user of one of Quantium’s most prominent competitors myself during my time as an LP, and I fully understand the weaknesses of current vendor offerings. There’s an astounding amount of manual work required (or the less attractive alternative, which is to pay your way out through heavy customization), despite having a software solution that’s supposed to streamline the process. In addition, you need an army of personnel to maintain an old-school system; it defeats the purpose of using the technology in the first place. I knew there had to be a better way – and that’s how Quantium began.
Tell us about Quantium’s growth journey. What was the founding team’s thought process while mapping out the first 5 years?
We had a clear vision for how we wanted to build our product. In addition to our strong founding team that brought different strengths to the table (as well as my LP background, Sun came from management consulting and Anita from senior fund accounting), having a solid professional network we could tap into was also an advantage.
There are several strategies we could have pursued. Different firms gave us different advice – some told us we should go fast and focus on taking market share as quickly as possible. When it comes to developing software for enterprise, though, the most important thing is to make sure your first cohort of clients are getting value out of the product so we know that it stands the test of time. Otherwise you’d go through the usual startup rollercoaster – hyper-focused on expansion in year 1 only to find that you’re losing clients in year 2 because they’re dissatisfied with your software and your service.
We invest a lot of resources into R&D and client services. With the lack of operational standardization amongst private capital managers, tailoring off-the-shelf software to fit each company’s use case could very easily turn into a Ponzi scheme. The easy route would be to hard-code bespoke reports and dashboards, and then charge clients for the customization – but this strategy is at complete odds with our company’s mission statement, which is to build a first-class product with our customers’ best interests at heart. Thus, we’ve designed a system that’s completely user-configurable so our clients can take control of their own data with minimal involvement from our team, and access a library of best-practice templates. We’re lucky to work with a lot of like-minded firms that appreciate this approach.
What are some of the more challenging aspects of building Quantium?
Finding the right talent is without a doubt one of the most difficult parts of setting up a tech company. Particularly with Quantium, where we’re at the intersection of cutting-edge finance and cutting-edge technology. There are loads of great candidates who know accounting and finance, and many talented developers, but the real “unicorns” are people who are genuinely passionate about improving the client experience. They’re not easy to find, but I’m proud to say we’ve built a brilliant team who match this profile. It’s worth taking your time and being selective about your hires – when you do find the right people, they quickly become amazing assets to the business.
What part of your job do you enjoy the most?
Knowing that we actually improve the lives and livelihoods of our clients and their investors is amazing. The best feedback we receive is when our users tell us that our software enables them to extract meaningful, actionable insights from their data that they would never have been able to access before onboarding with us. It’s also an amazing feeling when clients are so happy with our product that they refer us to other clients. We built the Quantium product from scratch, so every client referral we get is a big indicator that we’re doing our jobs right!
Personally, I get a lot of joy out of working with the software development team. When we ask our engineers for the impossible, they say “Sure”! Their expertise combined with a can-do attitude not only make “difficult” requests we get from our clients look easy; they also turn the results into scaleable features. They’re an incredibly inspiring team to collaborate with.
If you could give one piece of advice to fintech founders starting up their businesses, what would it be?
If there’s one thing that’s important for any business – it’s important to stay true to your values and build a meaningful product. We could have taken a range of shortcuts to make money early on – e.g white-labelled parts of our product, gone with hard-coding and hefty customization fees to inflate our revenue targets, and aggressively signing on a high volume of clients before building the infrastructure to service them. While these options may have skyrocketed our income in the initial years, none of these tactics would have set us up for where we are today, and for long-term, sustainable growth.
Our company’s core purpose is simple – to make life and business better for our clients and users. We’re building Quantium for life – we’re not building it to flip it. There are many founders out there who fall into the typical traps when they’re starting out – grow users, look for funding, blow their Series A on a beautiful office – without investing into the two most important elements of the business; their product and their people.