To call Koh Soo Boon an early stage venture capitalist is a bit of an understatement. When she started her career in 1988, International Business Machines Corp. the dominant force in technology. Apple Inc. struggled to develop its first portable computer without Steve Jobs. Mark Zuckerberg hadn’t started kindergarten.
Koh was hired by the Singapore government to run a Silicon Valley company, a company that would eventually become Vertex Venture Holdings Ltd. to become a global company with more than $ 3 billion in assets under management. She found mentoring from other early investors like Paul Haung, Co-Founder of Cadence Design Systems Inc. Using her language skills and network to find and overlook Taiwanese and Chinese entrepreneurs who are building cutting edge technology in the US.
She broke out on her own in 1999, one of the earliest trans-Pacific investors in venture capital. One of its funds, iGlobe Platinum, has returned 22.9% since its inception in 2010 on June 30, above the 20.2% average for US venture funds launched that year, according to Cambridge Associates . According to iGlobe, the fund had achieved a return of up to 43% at the beginning of December, driven by the broad market rally and some particularly savvy tech bets.
Now at the age of 21, Koh has built a company with a cadre of ambitious women executives. They are raising a fourth fund with a $ 100 million goal for synthetic biology, financial technology, and tools that support digital transformation in smart cities. “We’re a group of working women,” said Koh in an interview in her Singapore office. A framed, faded newspaper clipping hangs on the wall with a photo of Koh smiling as she explains her approach to investing. “We speak their language and do things.”
Over the years Koh has developed two rules: She only supports startups that generate income and are run by “trainable” founders. Along with their money, founders Kohs receive immersive feedback in every growth phase, through IPOs and beyond.
Her practical style isn’t for everyone and she has broken up with founders whom she usually describes as arrogant and lacking in common sense.
Arthur Chua, co-founder of Singapore-based Swat Mobility Pte., Is not one of them. He said Koh often calls after midnight to discuss business. Once, he recalled, called her during the day and asked why he hadn’t replied to a term sheet she’d received earlier by email. Chua apologized and stated that he was getting married – the ceremony was about to begin. “OK. Answer first thing in the morning,” she said.
“Over the years I’ve really understood Soo Boon’s character,” said Chua. “She perceives a situation quickly and accurately by combining gut feeling, instinct and all the business intricacies of human relationships.”
Singapore to Silicon Valley
Koh’s father always advised her to do what made her happy. Her mother emphasized the importance of financial independence for women. Both messages are stuck. She graduated from King’s College London with a degree in Mathematics and then returned to Singapore to work at DBS Group Holdings Ltd. to work. For 12 years she served in a variety of roles including Head of International Credit Syndication and Head of Trade Credit.
In 1986 she left DBS to accompany her husband, whose job took him to San Francisco. Then the Singaporean government reached out: someone had recommended her for the role of California representative of what was then Singapore Technologies. She joined in 1987 and a year later founded the company’s corporate venture arm. For Koh – a self-described curiosity that attributes its success to curiosity and perseverance – Silicon Valley was a welcome change, and venture capital became her passion.
Her network eventually led her to Telenav Inc., a Sunnyvale, California-based global position system navigation startup founded in 1999 by two Asian-American engineers and the US Air Force’s chief GPS engineer. She invested in 2000, one of the first investments for her own fund. Then came the dot-com crash and the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and when money ran out, other investors began to flee. Not Koh.
“I thought if they go down, I’ll go down with them,” remembered Koh. “When you see fire, you don’t run away; you run towards the fire to try to save lives.”
She was working on a business plan with the co-founders who waived their salaries. She convinced a wealthy Asian investor to inject capital, and she used additional funds to save the company from bankruptcy. In 2009, Telenav went public with a market capitalization of $ 335 million. In the end, she made more than six times her original investment; 20 employees became millionaires.
She also made an early stake in video game software developer Unity Software Inc. and led a 2011 Series B funding round valued at $ 147 million. In September Unity went public with a value of around $ 14 billion. Stocks have tripled since then.
“Soo Boon is an early stage and uses their experience and knowledge to develop and implement beliefs about teams, technologies and markets,” said Emily Leproust, co-founder and chief executive officer of Twist Bioscience Corp., an iGlobe-supported company that produces synthetic DNA using of semiconductor printing processes. The company’s shares are up more than 600% this year, taking the company to a valuation of $ 7.1 billion. “She’s definitely a great investor.”
Silicon Valley to Singapore
In 2009, Koh iGlobe Partners moved back to Singapore to better focus on cross-border investments between the US and Southeast Asia. She built her company with Chong Yoke Sin, a managing partner who has helped integrate and automate the Singapore public health system and who heads the Singapore Computer Society. Joyce Ng, a partner who joined iGlobe in 2006, oversees the company’s investments in Unity and Matterport Inc., a 3D camera and virtual tour software platform.
During the pandemic, several of Koh’s investments turned out to be forward-looking. The company’s portfolio also includes the Hoolah Holdings Pte mobile app and Swat Mobility, an on-demand transportation service that has been expanded to move hospital workers in Manila.
Despite her tenure and track record, she remains unremarkable. She rarely gives interviews; It doesn’t advertise its investment prospects or tweet about cryptocurrencies. “I’m just in love with this business,” she said.
Although she was often the only woman in the room and faced discrimination based on her gender and ethnicity, she says she’s been hearing ageism lately. No, she has no plans to retire.
“The moment a woman speaks, they put you in a corner; and the moment you say your age group, they put you in another corner,” said Koh, who refuses to reveal her age. “Is anyone asking Warren Buffett?”
(Except for the headline, this story was not edited by GossipMantri staff and published from a syndicated feed.)