Jay Eum was head of Samsung's U.S. venture operation before striking off seven years ago to found Palo Alto's TransLink Capital. With offices in Beijing, Seoul and Tokyo, the six-person firm brings what it calls "an Asian perspective for investing," taking stakes in U.S. startups eager to do business on the other side of the Pacific.
In our latest Elevator Pitch, Eum weighs in on the ever-growing links between the valley and the Pac Rim ... and the never-ending legal war between Apple and his former employer.
Q How'd you get into this racket?
A At Stanford business school, I took a "Venture Capital 101" class taught by Peter Wendell, founder of Sierra Ventures. It was my favorite class. Having come from Korea as a biochemist-turned-management consultant, it opened my eyes to the Silicon Valley ecosystem and venture capital industry.
After graduation, I was fortunate enough to land a position with Vertex Management, a global VC firm. Eventually, I was recruited to start Samsung's U.S. venture capital operations, which I ran for four years.
Q What kinds of pitches are you looking for now?
A As a whole, TransLink focuses on mobile, cloud, and social applications, infrastructures and services. My personal focus is consumer-facing technology, a big part of which is mobile. I'm always looking for innovative and differentiated startups, where there is a clear synergy to accelerate their growth through Asian partnerships.
Q What's the biggest mistake entrepreneurs make?
A The mistake I see quite frequently is trying to expand to Asian customers, partners and markets prematurely.
While it may seem advantageous to jump immediately on the prospect of a big distribution partnership, the entrepreneur may not have the bandwidth and resources to successfully close the deal. Invariably the lack of results and bad experience will prevent them from trying again in the future, when they actually may be ready.
Q What's the next big thing going to be?
A The obvious answer in front of us is "Connected Everything" -- spreading from devices into cars, homes and wearables.
Further down the road, I think the next big thing is more globalization, which is already happening. Up until recently, it's primarily been outbound -- from the U.S. to Asia. Now Asia is coming to Silicon Valley more aggressively than ever before. Samsung started out with just an R&D and semiconductor sales office in San Jose, and now they've added multiple locations and teams. Softbank and Alibaba are also aggressively increasing their activities locally.
What may be less noticeable now, but may have more impact in the future, is the recent wave of well-educated, ultra-connected entrepreneurs coming from Asia to Silicon Valley and starting the next batch of game-changing companies.
Q TransLink helps entrepreneurs here target very big and very different markets: China, Korea and Japan. What was the thinking in bringing all three under one roof?
A While the three markets are very different, the leading technology companies in each are among the most aggressive about adopting the latest technology from Silicon Valley. In fact, each founding partner was spearheading the corporate venturing efforts in Silicon Valley for a leading technology company -- from Greater China (UMC), Korea (Samsung) and Japan (Hiraki Tsushin).
In our previous roles, we had the opportunity to collaborate in multiple co-investments, which had a very high success rate. We realized not only were we bringing complementary perspectives about the market -- for example, UMC would be the foundry partner and Samsung would be the customer for a component company -- but we also could add value from the supplier side and customer side.
In addition, the majority of our limited partners are the dominant technology conglomerates from those regions -- including telecom, consumer electronics, manufacturing, Internet, mobile and gaming companies.
Q Samsung's become such a heavyweight in mobile; any thoughts on their long-running intellectual property war with Apple?
A I'm not a legal expert to address the IP battle, but as a consumer, I feel that regardless of the final financial outcome, Samsung's status as a peer to Apple was accelerated as a result of the recent litigation. In fact, both Samsung and Apple, in my opinion, will ultimately benefit from this litigation.
Previously, Apple was always clearly the market leader -- in its own league, really. Samsung ultimately changed its perception compared with Apple when they fought back and put full force into product development and marketing efforts. It has really escalated Samsung to see themselves as peers to Apple. I believe Samsung is now pushing Apple to innovate even further, and consumers everywhere will benefit.
Contact Peter Delevett at 408-271-3638. Follow him at Twitter.com/mercwiretap.