Ideamensch Interview with Andrew Chung, Founder of 1955 Capital

Andrew Chung is the founder and managing partner of 1955 Capital, a venture capital firm founded in 2017 to invest in and help promote companies that address the developing world’s most pressing challenges, especially as they relate to energy, healthcare, food, agriculture, education and sustainable manufacturing. Chung has more than 15 years of experience in investing, including stints at Khosla Ventures and Lightspeed. He has served on a White House roundtable on advanced manufacturing and has advised global leaders on energy policy. Chung has served on the board of or advised more than 20 companies.

Andrew Chung is also an accomplished singer and musician. Before pursuing a business career, he was a finalist on the “Hong Kong Idol” competition and turned down a recording contract with the top label in Asia. Chung is a graduate of Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business. He lives in northern California with his wife, Coral, a fashion designer and CEO of Senreve, and his daughter.

Where did the idea for 1955 Capital come from?

1955 Capital was started with the mission to invest in and help promote companies that address the developing world’s most pressing challenges related to energy, healthcare, food, agriculture, education and sustainable manufacturing. It was a trend that I became interested in when I was general partner at Khosla Ventures, where we invested early in companies like plant-based burger maker Impossible Foods and carbon capture technology maker LanzaTech. I wanted to double down on that trend at 1955 Capital.

I believe that the only truly sustainable way to invest is by identifying breakthrough technologies that not only benefit the planet as a whole, but also generate significant financial returns for investors. Issues like climate change and food supply shortages affect billions of people around the globe. By investing in promising companies that are centered around these areas, we can not only help with people’s bottom lines but also help the planet along the way. It’s a powerful way of combining passion for investing with a passion for making the world better in the long-term as well. But you need market-beating returns to incentivize large-scale institutions to keep investing in the category.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

Because I’m involved in so many different ventures, it’s hard to pinpoint what exactly a ‘typical’ day is for me. But productivity is all about focus- it’s so easy to get pulled in a thousand different directions and allow your attention to be constantly fragmented. It’s important to decide ahead of time how you’re going to spend, say, the next hour. Be very protective of that blocked time, and consider anything that deviates from your goal for that block to be a distraction. Obviously, emergencies or time-sensitive matters will come up, but it’s all about prioritizing one task at a time. Multitasking, as science has shown us, just isn’t as effective as we would like to convince ourselves.

How do you bring ideas to life?

Work, work, work. I think that too often we have an idea, and we believe that we can continue to let it live in our heads until it magically springs out as this fully formed creation. But the truth is that as soon as you have a concept or beginning of something that inspires you, you’ve got to get down to business on the concrete work of it all. You have to get it out, produce something. The first iteration might be bad, and the second, third, and 100th. But it isn’t until you get down to concrete work that those ideas will start to take shape into something real.

What’s one trend that excites you?

I’d have to say it’s ClimateTech and the increasing number of companies, both in the United States and overseas, that help combat climate change and enable governments, corporations, and individuals to take action. More and more people and governments are starting to wake up to the importance of climate science, and as time goes on, we’re recognizing that only dramatic innovation is going to combat climate change to the degree that we really need. Small, incremental changes, while important, simply aren’t going to be enough anymore. We’re going to need bold, inventive strategies for change, and those are beginning to appear within some truly revolutionary and innovative organizations. We’re not afraid of backing moonshots.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

I think it’s important as an entrepreneur to be bold, be fearless, and be willing to fail. You need to have a large appetite for taking a risk and being told “no” many times. It’s a hard thing to teach, but I’ve been lucky enough to manage that delicate balance between investing capital safely while taking calculated risks that others may fear. It has served me well so far.

Another habit is asking questions. Too many professionals and investors don’t like asking questions, because they worry it will give the impression that they don’t know what they’re doing. But the smartest people in the room got that way by always asking insightful questions about things they don’t fully understand. They stayed curious and humble enough to admit when their expertise fell short. That’s how you start filling in gaps in your understanding.

What advice would you give your younger self?

That there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Each company and each situation is different, and what works the last time with another company might not be the right answer today. Unfortunately, there’s no template- you have to use your judgment for each individual decision, rather than a catch-all approach that would make things a lot simpler.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

That cleantech and “save the world” companies and the sector as a whole can’t generate sizable returns. I’ve invested in these categories for close to 15 years, and seen investors come and go, firms enter and leave the space — many have failed. I’ve been fortunate to be with firms that have invested successfully in these areas.

At Lightspeed, we invested early in Nest Labs, Solazyme, SolarEdge, Quantumscape, Personalis, Natera — companies in beneficial sectors that had IPO and M&A exits or recent private rounds collectively at over $10 billion. At Khosla, we were early investors in Impossible Foods, Guardant Health, Lanzatech, among many others. With the current pandemic going on, the importance of these “essential” technologies that address critical human needs — like access to healthcare, sustainable food supply, clean energy — is more important than ever, and investors are recognizing that more and more.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Find that emotional connection with your teammates and business partners. The only way you can reach many of the world’s top executives and have them listen to what you have to say is by generating an emotional stake in the technology you’re promoting. It can never be just about money or about data. You have to tell the story in a way that resonates emotionally with your audience.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Making every minute of my time count. After the birth of my daughter, I really came to appreciate good time management. Like all parents, I want to spend as much time as possible with my family. That makes me weigh carefully every trip, every meeting and every event I attend to make sure I get the most value from that activity. It’s really helped me to become a better businessman, a highly engaged father, and supportive husband to a successful CEO wife.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

Letting perfection be the enemy of the good. In the earlier part of my career, I started too late on some ideas that existed in my head for some time (e.g., a video sharing site that ultimately became YouTube) because I wanted the plan to be thoroughly fleshed out before launching anything. I learned early that it’s important to be willing to take some risks as an entrepreneur and constantly be launching and testing ideas.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

There are so many! Where to start? With COVID-19 having profound implications on the future of education, I’d like to see more startups creating better experiences for students that are forced into full- or part-time remote learning, increased educational support for retraining a work force that will become much more dynamic in this new world, and platforms that can reinvent the way certification works (what is the value of a degree in the new world?). In the food technology space, Impossible Foods and Nature’s Fynd are just the first in a wave of companies that will reinvent the supply chain. Pick a food group and find new technology to support its sustainable production. Pick a business model and try to find a way to reinvent it. Looking back on how much has changed in just 2–3 months, an upheaval in the food industry is on its way.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

Last fall, my wife, Coral and I took our young 6-year-old daughter to see “Hamilton” (the musical). Our friends thought it might be too much for her, but she loved it. It was her first history lesson. She now knows Washington as America’s first CEO with Hamilton and Jefferson as his co-founders, and that they fought a war so that people in America could be free “like the kids at her school.”

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

I’ve come to appreciate the power of Zoom, Google Hangouts, and Facetime in this new post-COVID world. While it can never replace human-to-human interaction, the recent quarantine has reminded how these apps enable anyone in the world to be one click away.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

“Reducing the Risk of Black Swans: Using the Science of Investing to Capture Returns with Less Volatility” by Larry Swedroe and Kevin Grogan. This book takes Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s classic theory of how extraordinary events can disrupt the marketplace and adapts it to the 21st century.

What is your favorite quote?

“The most outsized achievements come from those who are contrarian and right.”

Key Learnings:

  • Andrew Chung’s success has come from his following his passions — first in music and later in technology and venture capital — and going against the grain. Taking a contrarian approach and betting the right trends has helped Chung succeed at some of the VC world’s preeminent firms.

Originally published at https://ideamensch.com on June 15, 2020.

Founder of 1955 Capital, Inventing a New Global Future | ClimateTech Venture Capitalist based in San Francisco, CA | Learn More: https://andrewchung.com/