[Interview from May 29, 2015 - AVCJ Forum China] Popular belief in the US that China is playing catch-up or copycat on technology is misguided, according to Andrew Chung, who claims to see incredible amounts of innovation taking place in the country.
In the final meeting of the Paris talks on climate change on Saturday night, the debating chamber was full and the atmosphere tense. Ministers from 196 countries sat behind their country nameplates, aides flocking them, with observers packed into the overflowing hall.
John Kerry, the US secretary of state, talked animatedly with his officials, while China’s foreign minister Xie Zhenhua wore a troubled look. They had been waiting in this hall for nearly two hours. The French hosts had trooped in to take their seats on the stage, ready to applaud on schedule at 5.30pm – but it was now after 7pm, and the platform was deserted.
What do Grammy-winning singer-songwriter John Legend and independent hop-hop artist Hoodie Allen have in common?
Besides being alumni of the University of Pennsylvania, they are both defectors from the corporate world, with the former leaving Boston Consulting Group in favor of a career in music, and the latter from Google.
While few can claim to rival Legend and Allen's daring career changes, fellow Penn alumnus Andrew Chung has a rare - and somewhat antithetical - story. The self-taught pop singer turned down multiple backing offers from record companies and artists in order to pursue life as a venture capital partner in Silicon Valley.
In a historic climate change deal, U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping announced both countries will curb their greenhouse gas emissions over the next two decades.
Under the agreement, the United States would cut its 2005 level of carbon emissions by 26% to 28% before 2025. China would peak its carbon emissions by 2030 and will also aim to get 20% of its energy from zero-carbon emission sources by the same year.
With climate change now officially a real and present danger, attention is turning back to the promise of clean energy and cleantech. It's no secret that cleantech has taken a bashing in the last few years, yet Andrew Chung is still bullish about the sector's prospects and convinced that it makes sense long-term, both domestically and globally. Khosla is one of the few venture capital companies still heavily committed to cleantech investment. During our recent hour-long conversation, he admits that "keeping the cleantech fire burning" is the first thing he thinks about when he wakes in the morning. He argues that if cleantech is not supported here in the United States, it will leave our shores.
Andrew Chung passed up a chance at becoming a Hong Kong pop star for a career in VC investing. Now he is helping start-ups commercialize new energy technologies in Asia
In 2002, 24-year-old Andrew Chung returned to Hong Kong from the US and began plotting his career path. He applied for positions with several consulting firms, including Bain & Company. He also entered a scalable singing competition - New Talent Singing Awards.
“ENVIRONMENTAL pollution has become a major problem, which is nature’s red-light warning.” Those green-tinged words do not come from an activist. Rather, they come from China’s leaders, who gathered this week in Beijing for a big annual meeting. On March 5th Li Keqiang, the prime minister, vowed to declare war on pollution.
The timing could not have been better, then, for the launch of a firm devoted to the manufacture of greener engines. The same day EcoMotors, a startup backed by Bill Gates and Khosla Ventures, unveiled its joint venture with a division of China FAW Group, a local carmaker. The Chinese partner vowed to spend more than $200m on a factory in Shanxi, a northern province, that will produce 100,000 of the new engines a year.
Cleantech: We’re looking forward to having you participate in Cleantech Forum San Francisco 2014. As you know, the theme is Accelerating system change: towards a decentralized future. Can you tell us about some of the changes you’re seeing underway in our energy and resource systems?
Andrew: We’ve believed for a long time that solving the world’s energy and resource problems will require a broad approach – no single technology or central institution can solve the problem alone, and it will require enterprises and consumers to each play an active role.
“I wanna be a billionaire so freakin’ bad …”
When he sings the song “Billionaire,” Andrew Chung is different. Unlike you or me, he has a pretty good shot at making the words come true. That’s because Chung is a partner at Khosla Ventures, one of the most idiosyncratic and powerful venture capital firms in Silicon Valley.
“Buy all the things I never had …”
But he’s also different because the man can actually sing pretty well. He’s such a good vocalist, in fact, that he was a finalist in a major musical competition — Hong Kong Idol in 2002 — and was offered a contract from one of Asia’s biggest record labels.
He could have been a star.
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.