On October 4, Bay Area Princeton alumni and friends gathered at Redpoint Ventures’ trendy San Francisco office to hear from Geoff Yang ‘81, Partner at Redpoint Ventures and inaugural Chair of Princeton University’s Alumni Entrepreneurs Fund (AEF). The AEF is the first fund of its kind at Princeton. It provides up to $100 thousand of seed funding to recent alumni startups, and pairs alumni with industry leading mentors to foster professional growth. Mayra Ceja ’03, AEF Program Manager, led the evening’s fireside chat.
Geoff kicked off the evening by sharing a bit about his background: “I got into venture capital because I thought it was cool. A family friend brought me to his VC firm, where they were working on things like the first fax machine and Atari. I knew I wanted to be an engineer to understand how things work, but I always wanted to be on the business side.” For Geoff, working in venture capital married these interests.
“For about a decade, I focused on high performance networks, which was really fun because the networks would start small and grow like crazy,” Geoff said. After investing in websites like Ask.com (Ask Jeeves) and Excite, which Geoff affectionately referred to as “Brave New World investments,” he pivoted to focus on consumer business ventures, such as Netflix and TIVO. “I was pulled into not because I knew anything about consumer business but because I believed it created an opportunity for targeted content and advertising. Now, I love doing consumer experience and content,” Geoff said. “I find it really interesting because things are always changing; however, I do always feel like I’m on the edge of irrelevancy because things change so quickly.”
After 31 years in venture capital, Geoff has witnessed a lot of major shifts in the business. “The last big wave started in ’07 with the introduction of smartphones; the one before that was with social networks in ’04.” When asked where he sees trends in venture capital heading today, Geoff answered, “It’s probably as confusing as it’s been in a while. Until a new platform emerges, which happens every 10 years or so, I see FinTech (financial technology), digital health, and video/entertainment as the most interesting opportunities in the interim.” Geoff cited Pokémon Go, Magic Leap and numerous developments in IoT (Internet of Things) as compelling examples.
So how does Geoff see the relationship between venture capital and entrepreneurship? “Entrepreneurship feeds venture capital,” Geoff said. “Our job is managing money, but really it’s just a vehicle to work with entrepreneurs, who are people who see the world for what it can be and are unburdened by how it actually is.” Geoff closed with a remark to encourage the aspiring entrepreneurs in the audience: “The people who are unburdened are the ones who change world.”
Following Geoff’s fireside chat, guests stayed for drinks, hors d’oeuvres and great conversation.
Jordan Lee ’13, founder of AEF portfolio company, CollegeBacker, shared advice with prospective applicants and aspiring entrepreneurs.
If you’re an early career Princeton alum looking for opportunities in your startup, consider applying to the Alumni Entrepreneurs Fund. Applications for the Spring 2017 round open in February.