February 2, 2013
Last April, I set out on a high stakes and very public quest to bring a new partner into our firm, High Peaks Venture Partners. Today I am thrilled to announce that that search is over and Ben Sun has joined us as a Venture Partner.
[The full story of that search and what I learned from it was published by Business Insider here.]
Ben is a lot of things, but most importantly to me, he is a remarkable combination of intellectual curiosity, analytical rigor, empathetic relationship-builder, and creative innovator.
You can get Ben’s story from him directly here, but by way of CV he is a seasoned operator, having founded and led Community Connect, a successful social network/digital media business, from its founding in 1996 to its sale to publicly-traded Radio One in 2008. He’s got all the scars and lessons learned you would imagine from someone who piloted a single company through the heights of the internet bubble, the depths of the bust, and the re-imagination of Web 2.0.
Since selling Community Connect, he’s put together a pretty remarkable track record of success as an angel investor. Most notably, he was the founding seed investor and remains lead outside board member at Coupang, now one of the fastest growing ecommerce companies in the world.
Typical of Ben’s style, Coupang emerged from his deep investigation of a promising new market. Studying the dynamics that were leading to Groupon and Living Social’s early successes in the daily deal market back in 2009, he helped construct an alternative model for South Korea, a large market that he knew had the right dynamics to support a new model for ecommerce. He talked a friend into leaving Harvard Business School and helped him start the business. Just 3 years later, Coupang is at a $1 billion revenue run rate, solidly profitable, and was recently named in Business Insider’s Digital 100 as the 37th most valuable private tech company in the world. They are well on their way to a huge outcome.
But more important than the successful outcomes of several of his investments or the gaudy financial metrics that characterize his aggregate portfolio is what I heard from the CEOs that he has backed. In short, this is a guy who has massive impact on the companies he partners with, and does so in a way that balances challenging mentorship, unwavering support, and deep, trusting commitment. Culturally, he’s precisely what I wanted to find in a partner. And not surprisingly, that style of operating has led to a large and committed network in NYC.
Intellectually, Ben is an investor who likes to deeply understand the markets he invests in. He works hard to develop an informed point of view and invest against what that point of view suggests. He has already had a very real impact on our thinking as a firm. Currently he’s spending a bunch of time working on some ecommerce models and tool companies that are informed by his recent experiences with Coupang and a handful of other ecommerce investments. As ecommerce continues to eat away at the retail world with ever-evolving models, we think there are a bunch of important technology opportunities that feed off and support that trend. Ben is leading our thinking on that front, as well as a few others.
In short, I consider this a huge win for High Peaks and a massively satisfying personal success. I get goose bumps thinking about the impact Ben will have on our continued evolution. If the first month of his working with us is any indication, it’s going to be a great ride. Sure, it’s still on the come, but it’s a very exciting place to start.