New Silicon Valley stars of Korean descent

New Silicon Valley stars of Korean descent

The relationship between new start-ups and their venture capital investors is a bit like a marriage: The start-up founder and investors hold a contractual ceremony, then need to uphold the terms and conditions and coexist together.

In the tech sector, especially in Silicon Valley in California, many successful start-ups are the results of such unions between start-up founders and venture capital investors of Korean descent. This coexistence has resulted in the birth of a new breed of superrich.

A notable example is two Korean-Americans who formerly worked for Google and succeeded as venture capital investors in Silicon Valley, both named David Lee.

The first David Lee entered Google in 2000, being one of the first 200 employees there and the first executive to lead Google’s overseas business. After leaving the company in 2006, he cofounded XG Ventures with fellow Google alumni.

XG Ventures, which initially invested in Facebook and Twitter, also invested in around 40 start-ups, half of which have been acquired by tech giants such as Google, Apple and Intel for large sums.

Lee was recognized as one of the “Top 50 Angel Investors” by American crowdfunding platform Rock the Post in 2012.

Additionally, Lee is also a venture partner of SK Telecom Ventures in America, and cofounded Seoul-based Kstartup in 2012, which supports Korean start-ups and entrepreneurs so that they can succeed in Korea and globally.

The other David Lee entered Google in 2003 and worked in the business development team.

Lee had previously majored in physics and math at Johns Hopkins University and received a master’s degrees in electronic engineering at Stanford and law at New York University, working for a short time as a business lawyer.

After quitting Google in 2009, Lee cofounded SV Angel with famous angel investor Ron Conway, and invested in over 400 start-ups and IT companies such as Twitter, Zynga, AirBnB, Pinterest and Dropbox. The current operation funds of SV Angel are expected to be around $100 million.

Lee has since left SV Angel in May and has been working as an independent angel investor. He invested in Korean bitcoin start-up Kobit last year. He was also listed on Forbes’ Midas List Of Top Tech Investors in 2014.

In addition to investors, there are also a few Korean-American tech start-up entrepreneurs.

Smart health care company Fitbit founder James Park quit his computer science major at Harvard University, then worked at Morgan Stanley for a year in 1998, which he also quit to start his own business.

After two initial failures, he set up Fitbit in 2007, which introduced affordable wearable devices, which helped him gain rapid market share. Fitbit was the first wearables company to go public on the New York Stock Exchange in June.

James Park, who owns 200 million Fitbit shares, saw his assets jump to $600 million.

There is also a young female CEO hailing from Manhattan’s Silicon Alley.

Twenty-four-year-old Yunha Kim rose to fame when her mobile advertisement platform Locket received an undisclosed sum of investment “in millions” from Tyra Banks of “The Tyra Banks Show” fame.

Kim, who graduated from Duke University in 2011, worked at investment banking company Jefferies Group before cofounding Locket.

Locket, first set up in New York, is an Android application that puts ads on smartphone users’ lock screens and lets them generate a small revenue when they unlock their phone.

Locket was also acquired by mobile commerce platform Wish in July and moved its headquarters to Silicon Valley, where Kim still works as its CEO.

Kim’s start-up was highly regarded by investors, and Business Insider listed her as one of the “30 Most Creative People In Advertising Under 30” last year.

There is also a third generation chaebol heir who chose to go to Silicon Valley rather than live the grand life in Korea. Formation 8 founding member Koo Bon-woong (also known as Brian Koo), is the grandson of LS Cable & System honorary chairman Koo Tae-hwoi and the eldest son of LS Nikko-Copper chairman Koo Cha-hong.

Koo Bon-woong cofounded venture capital firm Formation 8 and invested in over 50 different start-ups.

Among them, Formation 8 had invested $12.5 million in virtual reality company Oculus VR, which Facebook acquired in March last year for $2 billion, receiving much attention in the Silicon Valley.

Koo, who completed high school and military service in Korea, went to the United States in 2002 and got an undergraduate degree in economics from Stanford University and an MBA degree from Stanford Graduate School of Business.


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