Monday, January 25, 2021

Silicon Global Online: Ask A VC John Chambers of Cisco Fame


For this edition of Ask a VC Anything, our featured guest was John Chambers, the founder and CEO of JC2 Ventures and the former CEO and Chairman of Cisco. In this conversation with journalist Rebecca Fannin, we discussed why Silicon Valley is losing talent, what makes a successful CEO, Chambers’ high hopes for India and France as new innovation hubs, and his connection to his home state of West Virginia.


Biggest Disruptor: AI

Chambers views the biggest disruptor of the future to be AI. He has made bets in the consumer experience space like India’s Uniphore, a world leader in conversational AI that is poised to radically transform the booming call center market. Another JC2 Ventures’ portfolio company  is Cloudleaf, which is aimed at transforming supply chain into a data-driven strategic asset that could be instrumental in the distribution of the Covid-19 vaccine. Companies like Cloudleaf have an ability to revolutionize the broken supply chain. Chambers sees AI as the technology to go all-in on.


Silicon Valley is in Trouble 

Chambers believes that the number one issue businesses face in California is regulation. From privacy to the tax environment, businesses face a wide array of challenges in California’s regulatory environment. Chambers cites the departure of Hewlett Packard (Silicon Valley’s original garage startup) and Charles Schwab (the original financial startup for new ideas) from California as a major sign that the state is losing business talent. Chambers cites the example of portfolio company ASAPP AI (an AI platform radically increasing CX productivity), whose CEO lives in Montana and gets monthly calls from the governor to ensure that the innovative founder is happy in his state.


China v. U.S.

China is our top digitization competitor, says Chambers who has long experience in the country having orchestrated the first high-tech VC move in China when he was at Wang Laboratories. He notes that China’s five-year plan to break away from the U.S. has goals of tech leadership and standard of living improvements. Chambers believes that China will soon be the top economy in the world, and that the U.S. and China would benefit more from working together rather than continued conflict.



What Makes a Successful CEO

1.     + There is a market transition going on in their industry, enabled by new technology

2.     + The founder is a world class leader and wants to be coached, and matches Chambers’ values

3.     + Communication skills

4.     + Value of culture

Chambers believes that culture is the first thing to go when a company is rapidly growing. From overseeing 180 acquisitions while CEO of Cisco, to his 20 investments at JC2 Ventures (with four unicorns), he knows how important culture is to a successful company. He uses his track record of strong relationships and trust to ensure that he is working with the best of the best. Out of the 20 investments of JC2 Ventures, Chambers wants 10-12 to be unicorns.


France - Europe’s New Tech Hub

Chambers got to know France’s President Macron dating back to his days as Economic Minister. Macron grasped the importance of a startup attitude for job creation and that France had not innovated enough. Chambers has even taught MBA classes with Macron, and firmly believes in the President’s vision that has helped France increase the number of startups fivefold in the last five years. Chambers views France as the new innovation gateway to Europe, even though he previously believed this title would belong to the likes of the UK or Germany.


India – The New Growth Engine of Asia 

Chambers also has a strong relationship with India’s Prime Minister Modi. He notes that India, with a population of 1.3 billion, needs to create 1.2 million jobs a month just to maintain its economy. Chambers views India’s strong IT university system that graduates 600,000 engineers a year as a major asset to execute Prime Minister Modi’s vision for a digital India. Modi made Chambers the chairman of the U.S. India Strategic Partnership Forum, and Chambers was able to leverage his expertise and experience to turn the forum from a trade organization into a major strategic partnership between the two countries. Chambers made sure that along with his strong belief in India’s future success, he also has personal investment to understand the intricacies of India’s startup environment. Two of JC2’s 20 portfolio companies are from India.


Hyperloop in West Virginia

Richard Branson’s Virgin Hyperloop plans to open a certification center and a testing track in West Virginia for its transformative transport technology. Chambers was instrumental in bringing together leaders of the state to mobilize and make attracting the Virgin testing site a top priority. West Virginia competed with 17 other states and beat out the likes of Texas and California to win the contract. It is estimated that the new Hyperloop track will create 13,000 jobs in West Virginia. This adds to the long list of contributions Chambers has made to his home state of West Virginia. He remains a strong believer that his home state will emerge as a tech leader in the US.



John Chambers is the founder and CEO of JC2 Ventures, a Palo Alto-based firm helping disruptive startups from around the world build and scale. Chambers invests in companies across categories and geographies that are leading market transitions, helping them to act before their market shifts, tap customers for strategy, partner for growth, build teams, and create disruptive innovations.

Prior to founding JC2 Ventures, Chambers served as CEO, Chairman, and Executive Chairman at Cisco Systems. During his 25+ years at Cisco, he helped grow the company from $70 million in revenue when he joined in 1991, to $1.2 billion when he became CEO in 1995, to $47 billion when he stepped down as CEO in 2015. Cisco went from 400 to 75,000 employees during Chambers’ tenure and created 10,000 millionaires among its employees. As Executive Chairman, a position Chambers held until December 2017, he led the Board of Directors. His book, Connecting the Dots, shares his management, leadership, and business principles that led to this success.

Chambers has provided industry expertise to government leaders from around the world, including nine U.S. Secretaries of State and Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. He is the Chairman of the US-India Strategic Partnership Forum (USISPF) and Global Ambassador of French Tech for President Macron. He is widely recognized for his leadership in philanthropy and corporate social responsibility.

He holds a Bachelor of Science/Bachelor of Arts degree in business and a law degree from West Virginia University, as well as an MBA in finance and management from Indiana University.

 By Michael Weiss, contributor to Silicon Dragon Ventures

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Silicon Dragon CES 2021: Chat with KPMG's Darren Yong


For this Fireside Chat from our 2021 Silicon Dragon CES Event, our featured speaker was Darren Yong, Asia Pacific Head of TMT (Technology, Media and Telecom) at KPMG. In our wide-ranging discussion with Yong, we covered the disruption of banking and finance sectors, 5G telecommunications, innovation cultures in the wide-ranging Asian Pacific markets, the onset of hyper-localization, and data convergence in the home.

 Following are key takeaways. 

In the last five to ten years, a trend away from the strong influence of the U.S. and U.K., and towards local inventiveness in the Asia Pacific has emerged. A prime example is WeChat from China. WeChat evolved from being just a messaging app to then include several more features including payments and marketplaces. This type of local ingenuity has forced big multinationals to innovate quickly or be left to get disrupted by the digital natives innovating in emerging markets.

Finance Ripe for Disruption
Yong notes Asia’s banking and financial sector is ripe for disruption, Yong notes, and has already begun. A recent example can be seen from Singapore telco Singtel and food delivery company Grab being granted a license to set up a fully functional digital bank. To further illustrate this trend, Yong notes that he is currently working with clients in Southeast Asia that are telcos setting up insurance companies as well as with insurance companies moving into finance. A fully digital organization has unique advantages when competing with a traditional bank, which can have less agile data that is harder to combine.  

5G Telecommunications
We're seeing more and more consumer data with the convergence of 5G technology, Internet of Things, and telcos in the home. This is a leading to a wealth of monetization opportunities for businesses such as insurance, health with mass IoT being a core driver. Companies in China have broken many boundaries in trying to get into many new sectors such as Ant Financial. 

The Next Big Thing at Home
Consumers want to be more digitally connected than ever, especially in this Covid-19 era as so many are relegated to long periods in their homes. In-home devices such as smart speakers have emerged as a new market opportunity. Marketers need to gauge how easy a product is to use and incorporate into a consumer’s daily life. For instance, the success of easy-to-wear smart watches contrasts with Google Glass, where a better-integrated and seamless user experience is needed for future home products. 

Data Science Nation Singapore
When asked if Singapore is already a data science nation, Yong was quick to note the huge government imperative driving multinationals to bring in data scientists as well as the encouragement of training and skills programs for coding and developing. 

Change-ready Vietnam
Big ideas are coming out of Asia Pacific’s emerging markets but in varying degrees. For instance, countries such as Singapore have well-developed data ecosystems and established family lifestyles and well-paying jobs, while up and coming nations like Vietnam are hungry and in a position to bring change. The Vietnamese market is driven by a young demographic of those in their 30s who are starting out and are hungry for learning and innovating, and are in a position to embrace change. 

Darren Yong is the Head of Client and Market Development and the Head of Technology, Media, and Telecom for KPMG Asia Pacific. He is a highly accomplished executive with more than 20 years of experience in telecommunications and information technology.  Yong concentrates on business model and technology disruption across a wide array of sectors including insurance, banking, health, retail and consumer.
Before his time with KPMG, Yong was the VP of Commercial Management and Strategic Growth Markets at Orange Business Services (a global IT and communications service provider) where he worked on the mining, banking and health sectors. Prior to that, Yong was Head of Solutions and Bid Management for Verizon Asia Pacific where he led teams in Australia, Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, and India. Yong was also the Director of Business Operations at Sprint Asia Pacific before his tenure at Verizon.
He holds a bachelor’s degree in Commerce from the University of Sydney in Australia.

Summary by Silicon Dragon Global contributor Michael Weiss 


Silicon Dragon CES 2021: VC & Founder Tech Chat > K-Pop Trends


For this Tech Chat from our 2021 Silicon Dragon CES Event, our featured panelists were Jeffrey Lee, Managing Director at Northern Light Venture Capital in Silicon Valley, and Jihong Lee, Founder and CEO of Picky, a newly funded digital skincare community company. This conversation with a founder and VC touched on the emerging opportunities for a connected global world, the growing K-Beauty industry, and if Covid-19 can be a tailwind.


Hyper-Connected World
Northern Light Venture Capital has a focus on China with roots in Silicon Valley. Learning from experience investing in China and Silicon Valley, the firm sees a great opportunity emerging of a hyperconnected world where big ideas and execution can happen from anywhere, not just the well-known hubs like Silicon Valley. Northern Light is moving to execute on this premise, and one of its concentrations is in Korea. That’s where new portfolio company Picky factors in. 

Global to The Bone
When asked why Northern Light Venture Capital invested $1.3 million in Picky, Jeffrey gushed about how Jihong is part of a new exciting generation of entrepreneurs who are globally connected. Jeffrey cited Jihong’s experience expanding Supercell’s business in Asia, as well as his time with Google in the U.S. to illustrate Jihong’s ability to be successful around the world. 

Social Norms
When asked if being a male CEO in the beauty industry was strange, Jihong noted the tremendous pressure for Korean men to maintain a rigorous skincare routine for perfect skin. He added there is friction of actually being able to find the right products. Picky is working to build a community based around discussions and reviews of brands and products to break through the friction in hopes that the K-Beauty market will explode with growth. This is part of a trend that Jihong sees of influence going from east to west, rather than west to east like in the past. New generations see beauty and skincare regimens as an expression of themselves, and Picky is confident the startup can capitalize on these trends. 

Content is King 
When asked about Picky’s competitors, Jihong does not see global players that actually focus on content and information for personalized skincare. He does note, however, that there are similar companies in the U.S. that are receiving funding. Jihong believes that the momentum of the K-Beauty industry as well as a dearth of good consumer-friendly content around beauty products can propel Picky into a globally recognized brand. Jihong sees Picky as the Yelp or Tripadvisor of the beauty industry, a platform to help make sense of the cluttered beauty business.

Tailwinds Post Covid-19
Before the onset of Covid-19, it was traditional for a beauty shopper to go into a store to get advice to help them make their choice. Now, going inside a store to have someone in close proximity to your face is a rare and even dangerous endeavor. Picky is benefiting from this move out of brick-and-mortar stores and is welcoming users into their digital community. This trend won’t be reversing anytime soon, and Picky is well-positioned towards Jihong and Jeffrey’s goals of becoming a global player in the massive beauty industry. 

Jeffrey Lee is the Managing Director and Co-Founder at Northern Light Venture Capital, an early-stage focused firm operating for over 15 years with six funds and over 200 portfolio companies. The firm is a China concept fund with roots in Silicon Valley. It invests in IT, consumer services, clean tech and health care.
Prior to founding Northern Light, Jeffrey was a General Partner and Co-Founder at Newton Technology Partners (a technology focused venture firm in Korea that backed 18 companies). One of those companies was Wavics, an RFIC company where Lee served as the Director of Business Development.
Lee is a member of several boards, including Habitat for Humanity San Francisco, the Harvard College Fund, and BSPK, a digital marketplace for luxury products, backed by Northern Light.
Lee holds an AB in Economics from Harvard University and an MBA from The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. 

Jihong Lee is the Founder and CEO of Picky, a company building a digital community for discovering and interacting with beauty brands, tailored to the individual.
Prior to founding Picky, Lee was the second employee at Supercell’s Seoul office (Supercell is an extremely popular mobile gaming company and part of the Tencent family). He was also the Mobile Apps Monetization Lead at Google.
Lee holds a BA in Business Administration from Seoul National University. 

Summary by Silicon Dragon Global contributor Michael Weiss

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Silicon Dragon Global: Ask A VC - Ray Lane, GreatPoint Ventures


For our special edition of our Ask a VC Anything series, held during our Silicon Dragon CES 2021 event, our featured guest was GreatPoint Ventures’ Ray Lane. We had a wide-ranging chat with Lane, the former Oracle COO turned venture capitalist.  Among other takeways, Lane believes that Silicon Valley has peaked. See more takeaways below and video highlights here

Online conversation with VC Ray Lane and Rebecca Fannin, host of Silicon Dragon Global Online, January 13, 2021.


Silicon Valley Has Peaked 
About half of GreatPoint’s portfolio companies come from outside of Silicon Valley and Lane expects that number to only go up. Lane notes, “I think we’ve seen the peak of number of companies that become successful out of Silicon Valley.” There are new innovation hubs all across the country. Lane cites Austin as foremost but also New York, Pittsburgh and Chicago as places where next great companies are coming from. 

Bringing Operating Experience 
Lane brings many years of operating expertise as a top executive at large company Oracle and 12 years consulting with Fortune 500 companies at Booz Allen Hamilton. From his vast experience in several facets of the business world, Lane distills his operating experience right down to the entrepreneurs within GreatPoint’s portfolio companies.

Consequences of Being Too Large 
GreatPoint Ventures, based in Silicon Valley, is investing from its third fund, currently being raised at $350 Million with a cap at $400 million. Prior funds starting from 2015 were $210 million and $300 million. Lane said he made it a point to not make the fund too large. He says that becoming too large of a fund forces you to delegate too much. When a venture firm gets too big, it is not able to operate at its best, he said, noting that a small group of people at his firm well understand how to pattern match and what to find. 

Covid, Covid, Covid
GreatPoint is making investments remotely in this Covid world without face-to-face meetings, although Lane notes that the firm’s partners are now doing more due diligence on potential deals than before. As an entrepreneur-first firm, GreatPoint spends a lot of time to get to know the founders. GreatPoint would rather have a “good idea led by a great entrepreneur, than a great idea led by a good entrepreneur.” 

Alternative Meats Are Here to Stay
As the first investor in Beyond Meat in 2011, Lane has been involved in the alternative meat market way before it became more mainstream in recent years. Lane visited Beyond Meat founder Ethan Brown in his lab at University of Missouri in 2011. After seeing the process of how proteins can be made into meat-like textures, Lane knew it would be a big deal. He is a member of Beyond Meat’s board. Lane believes that in 10 years, plant/lab-based protein delivery will dominate. 

Find the Villain
With the success of GreatPoint’s Beyond Meat investment, Lane and GreatPoint stumbled upon an investing theme. It is based around finding a “villain”. In the case of Beyond Meat, the villain is red meat. GreatPoint has set out to find other “villains” to root out. Another company GreatPoint invested in is MycoTechnology. In this case the “villain” is sugar, for obvious reasons. MycoTechnology uses sugar reduction technology through mushrooms to trick your taste buds into thinking things are sweeter than they are. It will be exciting to see what other villains Ray and GreatPoint can defeat. 


Ray Lane is currently the Managing Partner at GreatPoint Ventures, an early-stage VC firm founded in 2015 by entrepreneurs and operators solving problems around enterprise, healthcare, bio-tech, and food.
Prior to GreatPoint, Ray was the President and COO at Oracle for 8 years where he was a major catalyst for the company’s success during his tenure. Ray was then a Managing Partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Myers. Lane serves as the chairman of the board of trustees of Carnegie Mellon University, where he earned an engineering degree and MBA.  In 2010, Lane funded CMU’s Computational Biology program, with a mission of developing computational cancer research.
Lane is also supporting his alma mater West Virginia University, where he earned his BS in mathematics. With his wife, he funded and named WVU’s Department of Computer Science Electrical Engineering, which has flourished into a program graduating around 500 students a year. More recently, Lane founded the Lane Innovation Hub at WVU. The hub is dedicated to advanced manufacturing and is open to high school students. Lane’s hope is that the hub can expose students to engineering in a life-changing way.

Summary by Michael Weiss, contributor to Silicon Dragon Ventures