Samantha Huang is a Principal at BMW i Ventures, where she focuses on investments across AI and big data, autonomous driving, Industry 4.0, sustainability, and the next generation of human experiences. She also serves as Head of Content for the Emerging Venture Capitalists Association, which is the most active pre-partner nonprofit organization for empowering the next generation of venture capitalists. Samantha previously worked at Robert Bosch Venture Capital and in corporate development at SK Telecom. She also worked as Lead Researcher at the Rock Center for Corporate Governance at Stanford University on research projects centered on innovation and entrepreneurship. She holds a J.D. from UC Berkeley Law School and an MA in history from Stanford University. Samantha is also a licensed California attorney.
1. How did you get into Venture Capital?
Serendipitously. I first entered the venture capital world when I was in law school at UC Berkeley. I had spent my first law school summer writing legal contracts at Google’s summer internship program. After that internship, despite enjoying the general Google experience, I couldn’t imagine a career dedicated to reading and writing contracts for the rest of my life, so I left law school and began exploring alternatives. I worked for a startup that eventually seriously imploded on itself. After that, I landed a gig at Bosch Ventures and went back to law school at the same time. My law school program technically didn’t allow me to work that many hours on the side, but I was never one to follow what administrators said, so I continued working anyway. A lot of people go into venture knowing that’s what they want to do in life. For me, I am in venture capital today because it turned out to be my most enjoyable work experience.
2. What intrigued you about BMW i Ventures which made you want to work there?
BMW i Ventures invests in some of the most interesting technology areas that will transform the future. This includes autonomous driving, automotive electrification, sustainability, and other frontier technologies. At the same time, the fund gives us a lot of flexibility as investment professionals to explore areas that we’re intellectually curious about, so I’ve been digging into things like the API economy and supply chain technologies–both my current interest areas for exploration at the present moment. The combination of working on very innovative technologies and following what I’m intellectually excited about is what makes me love working here.
3. How is BMW i Ventures different to other Venture Capital firms?
BMW i Ventures invests with a financial mindset but with the expertise and connections of a multinational brand. We’re not just bringing financial value to startups. We also enable valuable relationships between startups and the rest of BMW’s ecosystem, which includes not just BMW but also other OEM’s and Tier-1’s, on top of general access to the European market. Additionally, because we have the benefit of a great network of technology and business persons across BMW, we have certain proprietary market insights that other VC firms simply do not have access.
4. What is it like working at a Venture Capital firm and what are the key skills needed to navigate through the space?
Working in venture capital is extremely hectic, intellectually challenging, and fun at the same time. At any given moment, you can be working on multiple deals at once. You may be doing research at your desk in one moment or rushing to a meeting in the next moment. Once you think you’ve intellectually hacked a space and figured out a decent paradigm of how to make an investment there–well, there’s ten other emerging markets you’ll have to learn and catch up on. In venture capital, you need to be really intellectually curious to figure out the right investment strategy and keep up with emerging trends. Intellectual curiosity is not a skill per se, but it’s a trait that leads to the development of actual technical skills like financial modeling or perhaps market-map building, which form some of the foundations of being a good investor.
5. What is your investment strategy when investing in startups? (How do you choose the good from the bad)
My investment criteria changes depending on whether the startup is a hardware or software company, early- or late-stage company, but generally what I look for is a differentiated value proposition that sets the startup apart from others in the field; a pathway to scaling the company; a large market, where the market tailwinds are moving in the startup’s favor; and a stellar team. There’s also a whole ton of financial metrics I use for looking at certain companies, especially SaaS deals, though I won’t bore you with those details here. What all these criteria eventually boil down to is the bigger question of can it scale into a big company and what makes you think it can scale?
6. What is the most common issue startups have when they pitch for funding and how can they resolve it?
The most common issue startups face when pitching is that they haven’t articulated a solid value proposition. As an investor, I want to understand what precise problem a company’s product is solving, why no one else has solved it previously, and why this or that company is going to solve that problem. My advice to founders or aspiring founders is to validate a business idea before building a startup around it. Talk to multiple people in the field. Do your market research. Validate before you build it. Then build it when you’re confident why your product will win.
7. What is the future of venture capital and the startup scene post the pandemic?
The venture capital and startup market has only accelerated during the pandemic. I attribute this in part to the general acceptance of and comfort with making deals over your virtual conference system of choice. As in-person meetings fell away and the one-hour meeting turned into a thirty-minute power meeting, we just began working faster and faster, spending more hours hooked up to our computers with the natural result of doing more deals. I do not see this behavioral activity changing significantly post-pandemic–at least until this spectacular period of investor exuberance ends in a stock market crash of epic proportions.
8. What advice would you give to young budding entrepreneurs and those who want to go into Venture Capital?
My first piece of advice is to do the things you hate to do. Only by doing things that push you outside your comfort zone can you grow.
My second piece of advice is do not always listen to advice.
We would like to thank Samantha for taking the time to speak with us.