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