Shuo Chen, General Partner IOVC


Pemo Welcome Shu so pleased that you could make it today. I was wondering if you could tell me a little bit about your investments, about the firm and what you like to invest in?

Shuo Chen Absolutely thank you so much for having me here today. So hi everyone. This is Shu. I’m a general partner at IOVC as well as faculty at UC Berkeley so in my investing role I predominantly focus on seed stage B2B startups that power the future of work. And so what that really means is that we invest in 4 specific pillars under the future of work and we’ve been doing this since 2016 so the first pillar being digital transformation given both my business partner and I are formerly B2B founders and went into later stages. I was at Goldman Sachs and my partner was a medical banker covering tech. He was also at a tech private equity fund.

Pemo Okay.

Shuo Chen We really have seen how much these traditional corporates can benefit from digital transformation and just updated the use of tools and software across all their functions. The second pillar we invest in is an automation of work not just in software that helps automate the things that we do at work and optimize that process. But also platforms that help us do things that we are uniquely good at as humans. So with more automation that’s available at work. What tools can we leverage to be coached so that we can focus better on empathy and leadership skills, etc. Pillar 3 is we invest in the hybridization of the workplace. And so this is not a new post covid thesis. We’ve been doing this again since 2016, exactly so what we really are? I mean that hybridization is not just remote work. But the fact that the workplace is bound to change in many ways.

Pemo Ah, good ah.

Shuo Chen In fact, one of the investments that we made very early on was that we invested in the seed round of Boom Supersonic which is now a unicorn. They obviously provide Supersonic jets. I think they are now on a lot of billboards and in different airports including the ones in New York. Given their latest partnership with United so helping people travel better faster for work. But of course there’s going to be all these other platforms that will leverage to do work differently in terms of thinking about what the workplace looks like going forward and the last and fourth pillar of our investment is really looking at diversity of workforce. And I mean diversity in all senses, not just in the traditional sense. We have a new generation that’s completely different than before coming into the workplace with different values and different expectations of what they can use as tools and software at work.

Shuo Chen In fact, in my part-time role teaching as faculty at UC Berkeley specifically under college of engineering I get about sixty percent undergrads and forty percent grad students and out of all the undergrads. They’re all born post 2000 now right? So it’s a very different generation and when you talk to them you you.

Pemo So. Right.

Shuo Chen Can see very clearly that there will be a whole suite of other tools that they need access to when they get into the workplace. It’s not like before where someone is willing to put up with bad software when they show up at work. It’s that if they really don’t have an enjoyable experience. They will change jobs and hence contribute a lot to the kind of great resignation that we’re seeing now. So to recap, the four areas that we look at under the future of work are one digital transformation, two automation of work, three hybridization of workplace and four diversity of workforce.

Pemo Yep.  And wow you guys are really making a difference and I’m excited to hear about all those themes or pillars and could you tell me how it’s been for you in the Bay area since the crisis. So how have things changed? I know a lot of investors have been telling me that things are booming digitally which is great. It’s great that not everyone’s suffering so um, could you give me some background about how that’s been going for you and your partner.

Shuo Chen It seems like. Absolutely thank you for that question. In fact, from when we first institutionalized our fund in 2016 and even when we had fund in 2017 enterprise SAAS and B2B honestly wasn’t the hottest topic of Silicon valley. In fact. across those years I would say consumer was very popular and then blockchain crypto autonomous driving VR AR they all kind of had their hot buzzwords of the year

Pemo Yeah, yeah.

Shuo Chen And so it was actually great timing for us to start looking at the future of work then when valuations were very reasonable and not many people were paying attention to all the opportunities. So it. It has been great for us to invest all those time and resources early on in the Journey. Ah, to really look at that. So Fast forward to the pandemic. Um, you know there’s been a lot of devastation throughout the pandemic. And so if I absolutely reflect on my grandmother unfortunately passed away recently.

Pemo Yeah, yeah, globally really? Ah, yeah yeah, oh sweetie Sorry sorry.

Shuo Chen Really still during the pandemic as well. So if I really had to name a silver lining, the fact that working remotely has given us the opportunity to spend more time with family time that we’ll never get back in other ways and so on.

Pemo Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Shuo Chen I wish I had known about all of this when we first started investing in this space back you know x years ago, but really it is now in retrospect that I’m realizing all the good in terms of ah the full extent to which the kinds of companies that we’re investing in can be helpful by making it significantly easier for people to work. Not specifically one place and to be able to effectively get that work done so that they don’t have to sacrifice family time and so if I had to name a silver lining coming out of covid in addition to spending more time with family. It’s that more and more people are paying attention to the future of work more so than ever before. And I do think that that is a great direction that we’re going into because it allows us to be able to more effectively get things done without a physical restraint.

Pemo So you know we were talking earlier about the humanization of online video calls. Have you noted new things coming up with startups to solve that? Really big problem is looking at yourself when you’re trying to have an engaged conversation with someone else.

Shuo Chen Absolutely So there’s plenty of startups that are working on this. Um even specific features So not even as an individual platform but features where for example on Zoom You can just hide the view of yourself. So if you’re not looking at yourself though I do.

Pemo Right? right.

Shuo Chen Feel like even when you’re not looking at yourself. You’re consciously aware of the fact that you’re on camera so it’s a little bit of a different feeling. Ah, there’s a variety of new wellness tools that have emerged over time as well to monitor Notzi camera time but also well-being at work.

Pemo Yeah, yeah, yeah. So great. Great.

Shuo Chen We’ve invested in a few of those 1 of the earliest investments we had made is in the startup called Torch they’ve actually raised series b during the pandemic. They are really an integrated platform for learning and development that focuses on leadership skills that measures employee growth but also helps. Kind of intervene to ensure well-being at the right times. In fact, um, the founder of this particular startup actually worked as a coach and his previous co-founder is working in the mental health space. So it is something that they actively think about day-to-day. And so I’m really excited to be a part of the journey to see them grow. Um, and so to go back somewhat to your earlier question even throughout the Pandemic. We’ve really seen a lot of our portfolio companies actually double down on growth and be able to raise faster now that people are finally paying attention.

Pemo Sure yeah.

Shuo Chen To the importance of building relationships and mentoring and overall well-being at work. In fact, to mention this very briefly earlier this year at the beginning of this year actually I was appointed by the California Governor onto California Statewide Mental Health Commission.

Pemo Oh great.

Shuo Chen And I’ve been serving as 1 of 13 voting commissioners, actually the first Asian American and currently still only on this particular commission and we’re doing a lot of work on not just thinking about raising awareness and decreasing stigma. But how do we also think about mental health in the workplace and thinking about well-being Beyond just physical well-being? Thank you very much.

Pemo Shu congratulations on that I mean it certainly is a huge issue that has emerged about people needing to have more self-care and understanding of others with the mental stress as you know. Mind sort of stuff that’s been happening due to very unusual situations with the virus and you did mention that you’re focused on diversity and my background is I did a project in 2010 trying to raise awareness about why women are invested in less than men. I interviewed a lot of VCs and women founders about what the problems were and did a summary ebook at the end of that year so I’ve got a big passion about supporting diversity particularly in the Valley because it seemed to be a stronghold of lack of diversity.  I was wondering because I also know in this crisis that women seem to have suffered more than men in the sense that they often are caregivers or um, have responsibilities that they might take more seriously and um, there’s a lot of homeschooling that women have done. I know my daughters in Australia were having to homeschool as well as work from home. So There’s a lot of big challenges that women have faced during this crisis. Is there anything that you could comment on as regards what you’re seeing coming up the pipeline.

Shuo Chen Absolutely So you’re spot on in that women have suffered more during the pandemic whether it’s suffering from more burnout or less pay or average wealth increase throughout the pandemic being unequally distributed between men and women. So there’s.

Pemo Yeah.

Shuo Chen Plenty of stats that we can look at even to the extent of performance at work being affected because women have all these additional responsibilities. So absolutely in terms of coming out of the pandemic I think.  At Least 1 promising trend is that we have more focus on diversity equity and inclusion more so than ever before not just limited to minorities in terms of female founders or female investors but also more broadly to different ethnicities that historically have been under represented in the industry. So I do find this particular trend promising and I do think that it is important in addition to this being a bottom up effort that it’s also a top-down effort in that if we have top level allocators just reallocating a very small percentage of their capital towards more diverse.

Pemo And fabulous.

Shuo Chen Fund managers and founders have tremendous ripple effects throughout the industry. In fact, it allows more female founders and more female investors and general partners to be more outspoken about the work that they do and as a result increase representation in the industry and I do think that that’s extremely important. Because how can girls grow up knowing that that’s something they can do if they’ve never had exposure to the Idea. So I Do think that education and awareness and seeing representation is an extremely important part of the story and so 1 quick thing I will add is yeah.

Pemo So yes.

Shuo Chen Coming out of the pandemic I am actually very excited to see that for younger generations regardless of their background. They’ve had more opportunities to do internships. In Diverse industries. In fact, out of all of my students I was constantly surprised by how many internships they had done during the period of time when they were all going to school remotely; many of them have worked across multiple startups. Some of them have even started to do internships at different investment firms.

Pemo Wow Yeah, yeah, incredible experience for them hey and and they’re coming into the workforce. That’s fantastic.

Shuo Chen And I do think that that is a very optimistic future that I am looking for. Absolutely he.

Pemo Years past those sort of opportunities would not have been available so that’s fabulous. That’s really good to know and be aware of and I was also wondering really the big question I usually ask all my investor interviewees. Where do you think things are heading because you are in an enviable situation of seeing you where the future is I guess and where innovation is coming from. So what’s your glimpses or insights that you would share with the audience?

Shuo Chen So I really do take this responsibility very seriously because as investors our job is really to invest in what the future will look like or should look like in that if you are spending.

Pemo So.

Shuo Chen Capital – If you’re investing capital and time and resources into building those initiatives and of course they have a higher likelihood of success in becoming what the future looks like but if you don’t spend even the capital investment now then of course it’s going to be that much harder for that to become a reality in the near Future. So We do take this responsibility very very seriously and part of that means that we do invest in diverse founders. Not necessarily as an explicit fund mandate but it just happens by naturally the fact that both of our general partners are diverse in our own ways. So.

Pemo So.

Shuo Chen Specifically in terms of industry though. Um the latest data that’s actually put together by dell indicates that 85 percent of the jobs that will exist in 2030 weren’t even invented just 5 years ago and so think about how just how quickly the world is changing and future of what.

Pemo Challenge. Yeah.

Shuo Chen Evolving right? It is crazy how many things will happen from now until 2030 which is not that far from now. So when we thought that, I’m really excited to be investing in the future of work because it means that we’re investing in all the infrastructure tools that will make jobs of the future.

Pemo Yeah, yeah.

Shuo Chen As successful as we can make them to be and it is important to focus on all those four pillars that we discussed because all of them contribute to overall success in the long run.

Pemo Yeah, and it’s an interesting um that we’re living at this time because I notice when I always say to people that everything’s changed and it will never go back to the way it was, exactly the same as it was. People don’t believe me.

Shuo Chen And I know that.

Pemo So I’m wondering how you are handling that because you’re really in a very hot seat as regards innovation and.

Shuo Chen I do think that it’s an ongoing conversation. I do think that the silver lining has been that of course the pandemic has acted as an accelerator for many industries to push things forward particularly when it comes to anything related to the future of work.

Pemo Okay, okay. Shuo Chen But again, it’s an ongoing process and never kind of a 1 event triggers everything else. So in terms of this conversation around thinking about driving forward innovation overcoming any sort of inertia that’s currently in place it will require. This is a team effort from all the stakeholders right? so.

Pemo Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Shuo Chen We Really do need to work across bottoms off in terms of having our new generations be comfortable with using exponential tech enabled tools but we also need to educate top down in terms of having our leaders feel prepared and ready to be able to take on some of these challenges. So. Some very practical things that I think have been really great. Um, coming out of or at least we’re still in the process of coming out of the pandemic has been exactly like you shared earlier. More people care about learning in a completely different way than ever before. So the course that I’m teaching at Berkeley this semester is actually our first course on Ed Tech and entrepreneurship. So what is really fascinating. We cover everything from early childhood education to twelve and tertiary all the way up to the future of work and upscaling and the reason why this span is so important.

Pemo Oh great.

Shuo Chen We used to think of the future of education and future of work as 2 very distinct things where we are in our role as a student and then we transition to become a professional where we work and the 2 are kind of separate but that’s no longer true nowadays we are.

Pemo So.

Shuo Chen Students but in that role we’re expected to prepare for what a future job might look like vice versa we are working but we’re expected to continue to learn and evolve on the job. In fact, when you look at the latest data published by Linkedin almost seventy percent of employees.

Pemo Ah.

Shuo Chen Actually indicate that they would like to learn while on the job and they would in fact, prioritize jobs where they get to learn on that job. So if people are expecting to be able to learn while they’re doing work then we’re looking at a very different landscape of opportunity.

Pemo Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Shuo Chen As long as individuals, regardless of how young or how old or what profession we’re in, continuing to expose ourselves to new ideas to new ideas to new platforms to new technologies and challenging ourselves to learn is extremely important.

Pemo Yeah, yeah.

Shuo Chen And actually that’s why I think the podcast that you’re doing is so valuable in terms of exposing people to these different and new ideas. Um, and so I’ve personally been playing ah a small part or trying to play a small part in that as well partly in my pta teaching role. And also partly in my role. Um, serving as a board member for decode. Um, so decode is now the largest tech and innovation nonprofit that’s co-hosted with Berkeley and Stanford when they first started. It was really quite a small scale event. But since the pandemic they’ve really scaled things up. In fact. The last virtual annual conference they hosted had over 1 point four million views on live stream platforms. So I was blown away when I saw the amazing work of our students and alumni and um I have the honor of serving on the board alongside other wonderful people.

Pemo Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Shuo Chen People including the CTO of Microsoft, the Chief Privacy Officer at Google and many other extremely experienced and talented folks who have been really focused on giving back and so as part of that particular experience I’ve had the fortune of hosting a few conversations. Obviously pre pandemic in person. But since the pandemic virtual where hopefully I’m playing a small role in terms of better exposing our students and alumni to what’s happening in real time in the industry. We weren’t quite as smart as you though that we had most of this still on video not on podcast. So for anyone who’s interested. They can find it on Youtube but I would certainly agree with you that podcast would be a lot more relaxed as a setting.

Pemo I have to say you’ve captured my essence as well. I think the thing that’s kept me going for so many years in so many different countries is just a great desire to learn and an openness to new things and innovation. So yeah I agree. It’s our life force almost and I have experienced that very much personally so I really appreciate the work that you’re doing and fabulous to get all this feedback from you.

Pemo Shu it’s been really great talking to you today and I wish you all the best with all your projects and investments and yeah, that’s fine. It’s been a pleasure.

Shuo Chen Thank you so much for having me.

Pemo Maybe down the line. We’ll hear more from you to hear how things have progressed. Thank you so much. Okay.