Surf’s up! In this episode of Harman’s interview series “The Next Wave,” Young Sohn chats with his friend and colleague Bill Tai about his work in venture capital, their work together and how kite surfing has impacted his career. Listen in to hear what the next wave will truly be.
Initially a silicon chip designer by trade, Bill joined LSI Logic, a seminal Silicon Valley startup formed by the CEO of Fairchild Semiconductor after earning a BSEE with Honors from University of Illinois. After an MBA at Harvard, he was issued Badge #A001 during the formation of TSMC, now among the world’s 9 most valuable companies. Bill then co-founded Treasure Data (acquired by Softbank) as Chairman and is among the first investors in Canva, Color Genomics, Dapper Labs (originator of Cryptokitties and NBA Topshot), Safety Culture, Tweetdeck/Twitter, Wish.com and Zoom Video, where he was the first backer to commit at the company's formation. He is currently Board Chairman of Hut8 Mining, North America's largest publicly listed Bitcoin mining operation. Bill has also served as Board Director of 8 publicly listed companies that grew from startups he funded at their formative stages. He has served on the World Economic Forum's Technology Pioneer Committee and is an Adjunct Professor of Innovation at Curtin University in Perth, Australia. He is the cofounder of the worldwide startup competition Extreme Tech Challenge, a non-profit where he and Young continue to collaborate.
Throughout his career, there are a few influences that shine through for Bill - Don Valentine and surfing. While having dinner with the founder of Sequoia Capital, Bill learned there were three things you needed to look for in an investment – the right market, the right team and the right price (don’t overpay). When it comes down to it though, the market is always king. In addition to the sharp wisdom he received from Don, Bill has added his own twist to what he looks for in a company – influenced by his love of kite surfing. When evaluating a company, the timing is like that of a wave – you’re either in front, behind or on top. Being early is a lot like being wrong. There is too much of a burn rate and paddling waiting for the wave to catch up. When you’re behind the wave, you’re too late and by the time you catch up it’s gone. If you time it right, however, the wave comes right on time and you only have to paddle once. The wave carries you. Be sure to tune into this interview as Young and Bill discuss the future of companies with an emphasis on sustainability, the cloud and data science, as well as how kite surfing is the secret connection to Web 2.0 and a community of entrepreneurs who have built companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter.