An Interview with Yale World Fellow, Daniel Shin
Interview with Daniel Shin, 2013 Yale World Fellow
Conducted by Zachary Young
Daniel is a founding member and managing director of KingsBay Capital, a Korea-U.S. cross-border venture capital firm based out of Seoul and San Francisco. Prior to that, he oversaw U.S. venture investments for BINEXT Capital, a publicly-traded international venture capital and private equity firm. He also worked as a venture capitalist for Korea Telecom’s private equity investment program. He is the author of several books and an authority on innovation and entrepreneurship, and holds degrees from the Kelley School of Business, Indiana University, and Stern School of Business, New York University.
The Politic: Why did you apply to serve as a Yale World Fellow?
I probably have a bit of a different story compared to [the other fellows]. They have big, great goals to have transformative experiences at Yale. For me, the goal was very simple. I was trying to get along with non-tech, non-venture people as much as I could because I’ve been working as a venture capitalist for a decade. When you [constantly] see people pitching their ideas – we usually get about 1500 business plans per year – you kind of get used to it at some point. I thought it was a good idea to take a little bit of time off to meet people with different perspectives, disciplines, and backgrounds. [Yale’s World Fellows program] came to my attention, and now here I am. I’m definitely mingling with a lot of people with interesting ideas here.
The Politic: So far, do you feel that you have been successful in achieving your aim?
Yes, absolutely. I’m already quite involved with the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute (YEI), so I can never really get away from entrepreneurship. But innovation and entrepreneurship at Yale and in Connecticut offers something different from what you see on the West Coast. There’s a more diversified industry represented here and a lot of healthcare-driven innovation coming out of this campus. It’s an interesting mixture. I’ve already worked a lot on information technologies, apps, smartphones, and other great innovations, but healthcare is relatively new territory for me. That’s a big part of what brings me joy.
The Politic: Why did you decide to get involved in venture capital?
It was very accidental. I didn’t know even the field of venture capital existed when I was in college. I actually graduated one semester earlier than my peers, and I already had an offer letter to work for a global consultancy. So [I had] one semester where I could do whatever I wanted to do. One night, I got a call from a Korean company that had decided to invest in a Silicon Valley-based internet security company and wanted somebody to go there and take a look at the company. So I thought, why not, since they’re paying me for an entire trip to California for ten days? I had interned before in California, so I knew the area well.
So I was there for ten days and had a good time. We played a lot of ping-pong with the engineers there, as part of the job was also to get to know people. Eventually, the company made the investment and wanted somebody to sit on their management team to look at whether operations were going well – it’s like a proxy. The company also acquired this global, publicly-trade venture capital firm, and they were putting up the Beijing office and Silicon Valley office. I just happened to be there, so I started like that.
The Politic: You are a founding member and managing director of KingsBay Capital, a Korea-U.S. cross-border venture capital firm with offices in Seoul and San Francisco. Why did you get involved in this firm, and what do you hope to accomplish with it?
My entrepreneurial gene was there. I started KingsBay when I was working with the other venture capital firm. 2008 was a year of many changes for me: I got married, and there were a few personal ups and downs. It gave me a lot of chances to think about who I am, and what I’m going to do for the next thirty years before I retire. Benture capital was definitely something I had really enjoyed doing over the past six, seven years. I wanted to continue, but the question was to what extent I could do it. I happened to also work with two great micro-founders who had more than 35 years of experience collectively. So we came up with this new idea.
Silicon Valley is now fairly overinvested, but Asia is still fairly untapped. Consider the great technologies that are coming out from Asia but just don’t have the necessary market size there. Think about Israeli ventures. There are seven million people living in Israel. Israeli ventures have great R&D [research and design], but they just don’t have enough size of market in Israel, so they branch out their operations into the U.S. or Europe. Our venture tapped into exactly the same idea. We hoped to see the R&D located in Korea, but with the actual market price advantage team located where the bigger market is. That’s basically the core concept of KingsBay.
The Politic: Looking toward the future, once you have completed your Yale World Fellowship, what initiatives and projects are you excited to take on?
I will continue to work in the venture capital industry. Life begins with venture capital, because every time you see new entrepreneurs and new opportunities, you get to deal with a lot of new things. That makes my life really exciting too. But there are also challenges. You don’t really foresee what’s going to happen in the next five to ten years. Venture capital is also a really relationship-driven and trust-based business. So if an institutional investor backing us up doesn’t fully understand what we’re doing, then they may walk away. At the same time, entrepreneurs can come up with a great idea that they can really grow – it’s about driving to that opportunity. It’s about trust, which is also interpreted based on the size of capital we’re putting into companies. It is very hard to continue that sustained growth within the industry. So I hope to continue to grow my venture capital investments.
One aspect I’m also quite interested in is how entrepreneurs are born, and also how you can be trained to be a good entrepreneur. I want a greater emphasis on education, so I’m very actively developing this Yale entrepreneur community. I’ll probably continue [working with] government agencies to build good educational infrastructure, as well as motivating people to think like entrepreneurs and be entrepreneurs in the future.
The Politic: What role do you see entrepreneurship and venture capital, as a sort of ideas exchange, playing in 21st century Korean-American relations?
Wow, that’s a big question. Korea is still where my heart is. I came to the U.S. for college and have now spent fifteen, sixteen years here – half of my life. Korea is a very dynamic country, and the people are very talented and hard-working. Since the Korean War – within 65 years – Korea has become one of the top ten economies in the world. I am very proud to be a part of a nation that has had such a great J-curve growth in its life cycle over the past sixty years or so.
One reason Korea was able to come up to this level was the great sense of entrepreneurship, as well as Koreans’ attempts to be different, whatever field they’re in. Certain things that are really service-oriented are hard to translate into different languages, but technology is a worldwide language, since there isn’t too much of a language barrier there. Samsung, for example, is now number one in terms of market share [of smartphone sales]. So we build technology and work so that technology innovation is really tied together with everyone’s day-to-day lives. I believe that’s one way Korean innovational entrepreneurship can contribute to the Korea-US relationship.
The Politic: What is the single most important piece of advice that you’d like to share with Yale students?
Don’t hide yourself in the library. Meet a lot of people. Make a lot of friends. Talk to people as much as you can. That gives you a chance to learn and explore what you can do in the near future. You might have a very clear idea about what you want to do after college, but there are still many people who don’t figure it out until they become thirty, forty years old – and when things are too late, it’s really hard to make a turn. It’s the same thing with a lot of talented people in business. They’ve been working hard to go up ladders of the corporate hierarchy, but at some point, they know they want to start something new. But if you’re forty-something, it’s really late. So be brave and be out there. That’s my advice.