Periodically, we feature a member from our Team to provide a behind the scenes look at the people that make it all happen at the firm.
Featured This Month:
Ben Yu – Managing Partner, Sierra Ventures Investment Team
What is your focus at Sierra Ventures?
I am a Managing Partner on the Sierra Ventures Investment Team where I focus on investments in emerging applications and deep tech – everything from sensors and chips, AI and robots, to Quantum Computing.
How did you get into Venture Capital?
I got into venture capital serendipitously. I’ve always been passionate about finding amazing technologies and using them to solve real-world problems. I loved to invent new things and started my career as an engineer. Having a PhD and being an inventor and engineer in the 90’s, my heart was set on the entrepreneurial path. In 1999, I was recruited by Sierra Ventures as a Venture Partner to help start new companies in my domain – telecom and networking – that Sierra would fund.
My first investment was in an optical transceiver company started by a classmate from Princeton. I spent my first year and a half at Sierra Ventures working on that one company, guiding it from inception to a successful exit 15 months later. 2001 was one of the most difficult years in venture capital and a particularly brutal year for the telecom sector. The experience from being in the trenches with the team set the foundation for my career in venture capital for how to best work with entrepreneurs as part of the team.
I love the venture capital business because of the opportunity to work with amazing founders and find new technologies to work on in a different way. Since I started at Sierra Ventures I’ve backed awesome companies like AuthenTech, InvenSense, NextInput, and many others.
What sectors or trends are you excited about right now?
Currently, my interests include:
- AI and Robotics for traditional industries – the emergence of AI has allowed many industries to re-invent themselves and I’m always looking for companies that are using AI and robotics to improve existing infrastructure and processes. Akasha Imaging, EverestLabs, and Invisible AI are examples of companies I’ve recently backed in this area.
- Crypto and Blockchain – blockchain technologies are reinventing the way individuals and institutions transact cheaply, quickly, and trustlessly online. I’m excited about companies that provide the infrastructure to facilitate the widespread institutional and consumer adoption of blockchain applications. Two examples are my portfolio companies Theta, a decentralized video delivery network, and Omniex, a trading platform for institutional investors.
- FinTech – this is an ever-evolving space and I get excited about companies that are addressing the most broken and inefficient segments of finance like HSA accounts, which Zenda is tackling.
What are the main things you think about when looking at a potential investment?
The most important thing I look for when evaluating investments is always the founders. Founder fit is very important to me.
Beyond that, I think about:
- Is the problem big enough and urgent enough?
- Are there many ways to solve the same problem? If so, is this the best one? Or are there better solutions out there?
- Are there milestones every 12 months or so that can validate if we are on the right track?
What is your advice for entrepreneurs?
- Focus your emotional energy on things that not only matter right now, but that will matter years from now. This will help you prioritize better.
- Building a company is a marathon. Success, or “the Finish Line”, gets redefined along the way. Pace yourself.
- Raising capital from investors is no different from selling products to customers or selling your vision to recruit top talent. Don’t think, “I want to get this fundraising done so I can get back to business.”
What book would you recommend for entrepreneurs?
Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande. It’s a great book that reminds you to keep a balanced perspective in life.
Anything else you want to share?
I have a fluffy white Coton du Tulear dog named Bunny. She has been a great “co-worker” while working from home during the pandemic!
Allie joined Sierra Ventures in 2019 to lead Marketing efforts for the firm and partner with portfolio companies to drive awareness and provide insights on their marketing strategy. Allie has a background in business and marketing strategy, working with early-stage startups, agencies, venture firms, nonprofits, and political campaigns. Her experience includes forming and running a nonprofit, working as VP of Marketing at a Blockchain company, working in the Entertainment Industry, and managing Fortune 500 business accounts in the gaming and entertainment space. Allie holds a BA in Communication Studies from UCLA and is also a certified Yoga and Meditation teacher. Outside of work she enjoys traveling, hiking, cooking, and reading.