Vertex Ventures’ In Sik Rhee: Hobbyist Turned Technologist Turned Investor

In Sik Rhee, founding partner at the Venture Capital firm Vertex Ventures, US, has a strong association with technology starting from when he got his first computer as a 12-year-old boy. The hobbyist turned technologist turned investor taught himself coding using computer magazines from the local library. Rhee eventually evolved his adoration of technology into an educational pursuit by majoring in EECS at the University of California at Berkeley. An internship with Microsoft and a stint at a startup GeoWorks, got him interested to the startup ecosystem.

“I caught the startup bug, having seen how a small team of motivated engineers can unleash so much creativity in a short timespan,”

Rhee told

Rhee then worked with the Silicon Valley startup Approach and then at IBM. In 1995 he formed Kiva software with two other engineers from IBM. The company was acquired by Netscape in 1997 for $180 million. In 1999, he formed Loudcloud, with Ben Horowitz, Marc Andreessen, Tim Howes and the then young prodigy Jonathan Heiliger. Loudcloud was running the infrastructure operations of entities like Nike, Adidas, Royal Mail, Fox News, Fox Sports, USA Today, and many others. After a rollercoaster ride of a 2001 IPO and subsequent pivot/restart as Opsware, it was acquired by HP for $1.6 billion in 2007.

With two successful entrepreneurial ventures under his belt, Rhee initially took the steps to become an angel investor and a fund investor in 2000. In his stint as an investor, he worked with prominent firms such as Benchmark (investor in Opsware) and  Lightspeed and later took full time roles at Accel and Rembrandt.

In 2014, he reconnected with Jonathan Heiliger to form Vertex Ventures in the US. Vertex has operated a family of separate fund across Southeast Asia, China and Israel. Rhee’s fundamental investment thesis spans across software infrastructure, data management, analytics, and data science.

He also serves as an Executive Advisory Board member for the College of Engineering at UC Berkeley, and an advisor for the Sutardja Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology. asked In Sik Rhee 10 questions to know about his investment philosophy and advice for startups.

1.As an investor, what kind of startups have you invested in?

I invest mainly in B2B companies that help enterprise modernize their IT capabilities.  Some of my investments include Cloudera, Couchbase, Facebook, Ooyala, Interana, P*Time, and Zepl.  P*Time and Zepl are Korean founder companies.

2. What motivates you to invest companies?

I am motivated by strong founders, who can identify a growing problem often introduced by a new platform e.g. the internet, open source, cloud, etc.  The team should also have a clear vision for a long term solution.

3. What are the basic qualities you look for in startup founders and startups for investment?

Founders who have experienced a problem first hand and are passionate about solving it. Startups should create solutions remembering specific customers and not for “market share”.  The should have a strong (sometimes stubborn) will and natural leadership qualities.

4. What are the main factors (reasons) that startups fail as per your experience? and how to prevent those mistakes in advance from your personal perspective?

Startups fail when they are too idealistic about markets and attempt to operate without proper validations with real customer interviews. Also, hiring wrong people for the job before trying to do the job first themselves to understand the specific skill required. Other reasons for failure are the inability to trust employees and manage people effectively. Startups should not be afraid to take risks or act slowly.

5.  What’s your advice for entrepreneurs who meet (or pitch to) investors like you?

Focus on defining the problem and why it is valuable.

6.  What’s your general thought (definition) about the term “Global”?

It’s a nice-to-have, but unnecessary for success.

7. What are the important factors (criteria) for Korean startups who want to consider expansion in the US market?

Branding, Marketing, Sales all have to start from zero again if you want to successfully “expand” to the US.   Marketing in the US is tremendously difficult, and what works in Korea is hard to repeat here.

8. Our media group company’s name is “beSUCCESS”, what’s your definition of the term “Success” as an investor or as an individual human?

Creating positive long term relationships with your colleagues, customers, partners.

9.  What are the things (one or two) that you would do as prior if you could go back 10 years ago?

Buy real estate in Silicon Valley!

10. When you come to Korea next time, what kind of Korean entrepreneurs and startups you want to meet?

I am interested to meet those in AI, Robotics, Data Analytics and Data science.

In Sik Rhee will be attending TIPS X beSUCCESS KOREAN STARTUP SHOWCASE as one of the prominent judges on March 12th, 2019 at JW Marriott San Francisco.

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KoreaTechDesk is a trustworthy source for news on the start-up industry in South Korea. It focuses on various tech start-ups, which are developing some unique and interesting products.

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