Editor’s Note: Here’s a story from our archives we feel is relevant even today and deserves your attention.
The name Li Ka-shing invokes a certain awe and reverence; with a net worth of US$33.4 billion, the 86-year-old chairman of Hong Kong conglomerates Cheung Kong Holdings Ltd and Hutchison Whampoa Ltd is considered Asia’s richest person according to Forbes. Horizon Ventures, the venture arm of his US$8.2 billion charity the Li Ka-Shing Foundation, has invested in tech giants like Facebook, Slack and Spotify.
The fund, which manages Li’s private venture investments, was actually founded by his long time partner and current Director of the The Li Ka-Shing Foundation, Solina Chau.
Chau and Li were introduced to one another 20 years ago, through mutual friend and eventual business partner Debbie Chang. In a 2014 interview with Forbes’ Asia, Chau shared that she actually established Horizon Ventures in 2002 with Chang, and it was only two years later that Li Ka-shing became an investor in the firm.
Daughter of a small-time businessman in Hong Kong, Chau also established China-based publication and advertising company Tom.com in 1997 in conjunction with Hutchison Whampoa and Cheung Kong Holdings. As partner, Chau had a 40 per cent stake in the firm, which earned her an approximate US$11 million before the company even began trading.
Under Chau, Horizon Ventures has so far invested at least US$470 million in more than 80 tech companies, channeling US $70 million into 20 deals in 2014, according to The Wall Street Journal (WSJ).
Recently, the venture firm participated in a Series E round for Slack, which now values the messaging and communication app at more than US$2 billion. The firm also led a US$ 90 million Series C round for food tech company Hampton Creek, which has rapidly expanded in 13 months with plans to dominate the plant-based food products industry.
The firm has also set their sights on Israel, where Horizon has led fundraising rounds exceeding US$180 million in total, according to the IVC Research Center. Horizon led a Series C funding round of US$30 million for Israeli-developed social mapping and navigation company Waze, which was acquired by Google for US$1.1 billion in 2011. In an infographic by the Wall Street Journal, Horizon Ventures is shown to have invested in the US market as as much as Israel.
Aside from being well-connected, her finesse as a businesswoman brings in the big bucks, ranging from US$1 million to US$20 million per deal.
Some of her high-profile deals include a US$3 million injection into comic app Bitstrips, which allows users to turn themselves into cartoon characters, as well as a US$300,000 investment into Summly, an app that summarises large amounts of text. Summly was acquired by Yahoo in March 2014 for US$30 million.
At the behest of Chau, Li through Horizon had made an early investment of US $120 million in 2007 into Facebook, the value of which has reportedly grown five-fold in 2012.
In a testament to the University of New South Wales graduate’s grit, several startups including Waze were reported to have not been seeking investments when Chau had approached them. According to Waze CEO Noam Bardin, Chau was tenacious in persuading the Waze team to take on Horizon as an investor. “Solina forced us to take their money,” Bardin told WSJ. “She’s an extremely persuasive person.”
Chau is also noted to have invested in startups after meeting their founders just once over coffee.
Sonny Vu, CEO of Misfit, a California-based tech company specialising in fitness and sleep-monitor wearables, said that Chau was the opposite of a button-upped venture capitalist. Vu shares that 24 hours after the two connected over a video call, Chau wanted to invest. Horizon went on to lead a US$15.2 million Series B round for Misfit, and further participated in another US$40 million Series C round in February 2014.
Overall, when it comes to her pick of startups to back, Chau displays a discernible preference; she mainly invests in Western companies, regarding them as more innovative.
Chau has consistently made it onto Forbes’s list of the The World’s Most Powerful Women, ranking 82 in 2014, up from the 83 position 2013.
Chau’s spearheading of Horizon Ventures coupled with her foresight in spotting companies set to ride the next wave of tech disruption, whether driven by gut, skill, experience or a combination of all three, are attributes entrepreneurs all over the world should seek to emulate.
e27 has reached out to Solina Chau for comment, we will update this article as they come in.
Image Credits: Forbes