Meet the Members – Sam Tsui

By 2016-12-02Articles

by Donna Daritan

How long have you been doing angel investments and how do you do it?
I have been investing for over 20 years, but I only recently began investing in younger, non-public companies.

How did you get into it?
As part of my former role with Microsoft, I’ve met many fantastic companies over the years from the US, China and Southeast Asia. However, many of them were at a scale that was well beyond the typical angel investor. I recall having conversations to try and buy/invest in Facebook when it was only valued at US$1B. Since then, I’ve continued to look out for companies that could disrupt the traditional tech giants as well as more traditional businesses. There is a lot of great talent and ideas out there.

What were you doing before?
Previously, I was looking after business development for Microsoft’s applications and services (Office, Skype, Messenger, Bing, Ads) across Asia. My focus was not on how these products services could attract the next 1M users, but rather 10M or 100M users. The scale was simply much different.

What sectors do you like?
I am a fan of productivity, communications, commerce platforms, machine learning, big data and ad tech.

What are the key criteria when you look at an opportunity?
First, I look at the product to see if there is any real technology. Second, I look at whether the product/service will really change user/consumer behavior. Lastly, I look at whether a company/product and the team has the opportunity to scale.

Where do you find your opportunities?
Mostly through my network of contacts, but I also find some ideas at the local accelerators.

What is the main challenge in this activity?
The biggest challenge is finding enough of an idea/product or service/team that really sparks my interest. As a pragmatic person, I can always see a million ways why a company/idea won’t succeed. However, sometimes, you hope the market, tech, team are strong enough to make a leap of faith in.

Tell us your memorable experience or success story.
Back in school at the University of Illinois, I visited one of my friends at his lab in the Computer Science department, and I recall seeing the early versions of Mosaic, one of the first web browsers. Although it wasn’t pretty, I knew this would change the world. A couple of years later, a former U of I graduate named Marc Andreessen who was one of the original Mosaic authors, created Netscape, took it public and eventually sold it to Yahoo.

What will be your advice for any start-ups that would like to talk to you?
Have a clear understanding of why your company/idea is different than the products/solutions available in the marketplace, understand your limitations/weaknesses and where you need help, especially from an investor.