Prior to joining SoftBank Investment Advisers, Serena was an investor within the private equity business at Fortress Investment Group, in New York, and spent more than a decade in the investment banking division at Goldman Sachs in a variety of different roles. She holds an AB in economics with a certificate in politics from Princeton University.
What drew you to work in this space?
The opportunity to work alongside founders who dare to imagine the impossible and wrap their vision in the realities of tech, artificial intelligence, or machine learning. I am fascinated by consumer technology companies that are looking to reconceptualize our collective futures. For instance, think about the big questions being debated by society right now. Our food systems, environmental impact, education, housing, how we consume and play—the list keeps going. Each of these areas touches the consumer, and there’s some stunning innovation happening across all of them. With a long-term perspective and the right kind of structural support we can lay the foundation for people all over the world to live more fulfilled, healthier, happier lives.
What does that kind of innovation look like in action?
Right now, I’m working with a phenomenal company that is using advanced computer vision and AI to “Uber-ize” the physical retail experience and make shopping entirely frictionless. Their autonomous checkout solution allows consumers to walk into a store, grab what they need, and then walk right out, without having to wait in line or stop to pay. The applications of this innovative technology are incredibly far reaching.
Another example in our portfolio is a tech-enabled primary care provider focused on preventative healthcare. They use state-of-the-art body scanners and AI, ongoing biometrics monitoring, and genetic information to deliver powerful and personal predictive health care. While this sounds radical, it’s a service that can be accessed by many consumers, and it has the potential to lift up the health outcomes of entire generations. You can imagine a world where your doctor might give you a call to warn you that you’re at imminent risk of having a heart attack, before it has even happened.
I also have the privilege of working with a company creating “cell-cultured meat”— real meat grown and harvested in a lab—a massive vision that has the ability to completely redefine our global food system by providing sustainable and ethical access to meat to billions of people. It could also dramatically reduce our environmental footprint, as you don’t need to raise and process animals.
These are just three examples of a number of innovative portfolio companies that are transforming the way we consume and live—and that I get to work with and learn from.
What should founders know about working with you?
I try to be deliberate in everything that I do. Early in my career one of my bosses used to pace up and down the trading floor repeating the mantra, “Focus on what matters.” That’s always stayed with me. So I take the time to listen—to find out what truly matters to the person opposite me. I want the founders I partner with to know that I see relationship-building as an essential part of my work. That’s one thing I’ve learned in this business: if you just jump in and start offering advice without first building a relationship, you’re not going to be very useful to anyone. But if you start with trust and work deliberately and strategically from there, you can actually achieve rather a lot together—while also having fun!
What unique perspective do you bring to your work?
At the SoftBank Vision Fund we are fortunate to have a truly global vantage point and work with many different types of companies around the world. This allows us to make connections, both conceptual and literal, across geographies and business models. It also allows us to deliver “lessons learned” and strong ecosystem synergies to our portfolio companies. Our long-term perspective is also unique and particularly relevant to companies with an ambitious and expansive mandate.
Beyond that, as a woman in a male-dominated field, I’m frequently the only woman in a boardroom, and I usually make a point of speaking from that perspective. I think that’s especially important for consumer technology companies and for founders who are working with AI, because the impact of gendered data bias is becoming increasingly clear.
What is something that surprises people about you?
I’m a serious cellist, and I have been since I was quite young. Growing up, I would practice cello three hours a day. I think that instilled a growth mindset in me, because it was so clear that the hours you put into practicing yield major results. Beyond that, I’m a voracious reader and read about a book a week. I read everything from history and economics to literature to popular science and gardening journals. That said, if I had all the time in the world for a side hustle, I’d audition to be a SoulCycle instructor!