A former lemonade stand entrepreneur turned Venture Capitalist
Kevin Chou – CEO of Kabam
Last week, Kabam announced a $120M strategic investment from Alibaba, which values the company at more than a $1 Billion. Oh yeah! That’s billion with a “b”. While it seems like the billion dollar startup club is on the rise (it is), most of the companies in that club represent a tiny minority of the companies funded each year. So, it’s rare and quite unique. But, this post isn’t about crazy VCs and how they value companies (VCs are crazy), or, even if there is a valuation bubble (there is a bubble). Nope! This post is about my dear friend, Kevin Chou, CEO of Kabam and how serendipity, circumstance and opportunity all sprinkled with an extraordinary amount of hard work is a recipe for success. In September of 2000, I had just finished a rewarding internship in Silicon Valley and on my way to study abroad at the Hong Kong University of Science & Technology (HKUST). It would be my semester (which, turned into a year) abroad at one of Asia’s top business schools. As an International Economics major with an emphasis on China at UCLA, there was no better way to experience the International part of my major than study in Hong Kong. I loved to travel and had a feeling China would play a major role in the 21st century.
The first day I arrived, I met Kevin. He was relatively reserved and quiet, while I was loud and boisterous. To say we were like fire and ice was an understatement. But, we soon realized we’d be living right below each other (probably to Kevin’s delight), literally just a stairwell YELL away. In just a short few weeks, our friendship grew quickly. As we got to know one another, we quickly realized we both had a passion for business and entrepreneurship. Wouldn’t you know, we even enrolled in the same entrepreneurship course taught by Douglas Park. The output of the class was to come up with an original idea, develop a pitch and write a business plan. Having just finished my summer internship in Silicon Valley, I knew I wanted to do a tech start-up. Kevin and I were on the same page. We joined forces with Kim Koo, Donna Huey and Ying Wu. In today’s parlance, we developed a piece of hardware (Internet of Things) in the home called the SmartPanel, which enabled families to have groceries delivered to their home a la Google Shopping Express or Instacart. But, groceries were the beginning and we’d enable a multitude of items to be delivered to the home. Fast forward 14 years later, the grocery to home problem still hasn’t been solved. For our efforts, I believe we received an A+. I think one of the only A+’s I ever received in college. I can’t believe I found the original pitch, business plan & financials. Chester Ng, Co-founder of SweetLabs, also took the course and developed a Mobile Virtual Network Operator or MVNO before it was even called an MVNO. I’m proud to say I’m an investor in both Kabam and SweetLabs. Both companies are doing exceptionally well.
After a semester in Hong Kong, Kevin and I loved it so much that we decided to stay the rest of the year. Kevin and I became really good friends. After graduating college, we became roommates, entered Investment Banking and Venture Capital together. While I stayed in Venture Capital, Kevin decided to start his own company, which later became Kabam. Like a brother from another mother, we were tied at the hip (or holding hands in this photo for some reason I can’t seem to figure out why).
I couldn’t be more proud or thrilled for all of Kevin’s success and can’t wait until Kabam’s valued at over $2 Billion. I share this tale because I can still vividly remember the days when we were back in Hong Kong and looked more like this:
While it was over 14 years ago (gosh, how time flies), it’s fun to look back and think back to where it all started. Had I not studied abroad, I probably would never have met Kevin (since he went to Cal). Had I not studied abroad, my eyes probably would’ve been significantly limited. By taking risks and stepping out of your comfort zone, you never know who you might encounter or how it might impact your life. For me, it was truly an awesome and amazing experience I continue to treasure.