By Ondi Timoner On September 21, 2013
In the tech world, no one gets a bad rap like the venture capitalist. Often derided as opportunists and gold diggers who take advantage of passionate and eager startups with unfavorable valuations, some entrepreneurs see VCs as a necessary evil to scale their disruptive idea to a national or global stage. Sometimes, though, these VCs are the greatest allies and closest advisors to the founders. They are often the unsung heroes who fuel and guide innovation.
Still, with the cost of starting and operating a company dropping precipitously, where do Venture Capitalists fit in, if at all? How can they bring value to an up-and-coming business? As every aspect of our lives — and how we do business — changes from the impact of technology and the Internet, so must financing all of these disruptive dreams.
This brings me to Andrew Chung of Khosla Ventures. He’s both an artist and entrepreneur, who breaks the mold of the stereotypical shark investor while financing groundbreaking technology that affects how we re-charge: intellectually, monetarily and literally (as in how we will power our lives).
Chung began his entrepreneurial education when he was five years old working in his family’s Chinese restaurant, where he learned the value of hard work, customer service, and perseverance. Not only did he attain ground-level experience in a small business, one customer, a local scientist from Princeton University, saw the boy’s potential and visited every weekend to teach Andrew advanced math and physics. He mastered Geometry at age 6, Calculus at 10, and Relativity by 12. It wasn’t long before Harvard came calling.
By 19, Chung had started his own company and built some of the first Flash-based websites for local business around campus. Not longer after, he co-founded a startup called Uberworks, an e-commerce platform and successfully steered it to a successful acquisition by a public company. Soon, Chung was drawn into the world of investing through stints at Bain Capital and worked in the arenas of energy, healthcare, and software.
During this time, his commitment to a career in business was challenged by the other great love of his life: Music. A talented vocalist, Chung won Chinese “American Idol” and was a finalist in Hong Kong’s version of “American Idol,” upon which he was offered a major record deal. Flipping the familiar narrative, he chose entrepreneurship over art, because he says he could make a bigger difference in the world.
Now a partner at Khosla Ventures, Chung’s goal is to disrupt traditional industries, revolutionize humanity and in his words “invent the future.” To do this, Chung has access to a $350 million seed fund to allow new companies and scientists to explore and experiment and help them grow their reach. He also has access to a main fund of $1 billion to help those companies scale to full maturity.
Khosla Ventures was an early investor in Jack Dorsey’s Square, which developed a way for mobile devices to accept payments, allowing anyone to operate as a small business and challenging the chokehold of the old guard. Another democratizing platform Chung is helping to fuel is Wattpad, a social reading platform that enables writers to upload their work and get real-time feedback. Wattpad is like Youtube, but with user-generated writing. It has millions of users, and the platform boasts teenager writers with fan bases multiple sizes larger than some NY Times best-selling authors. Chung sees this as the first step to toppling the publishing industry.
One early investment of Chung’s that I’m most excited about involves the liquid battery, a potential game-changer in the fight to preserve life in the face of global warming. It stores and deploys renewable energy sources like wind and solar generated electricity across the grid as needed. That power outage in the South Bay that knocked out electricity in more than 115,000 homes earlier this week (which has happened a hundred times over the last five years) or the extended blackout after Hurricane Sandy in New York City could be a thing of the past if AMBRI’s liquid battery became part of our nation’s energy plan.
Instead of building more power plants to keep up with worldwide consumption and the increasing costs of updating aging infrastructure, the liquid battery could contribute towards a cleaner and more sustainable future.