Andrew Chung is the founder and managing partner of 1955 Capital, a U.S.-based venture capital firm that uses technology to solve problems in the developing world. The child of Chinese immigrants, Chung’s first business experience started at age 5 in his parent’s restaurant. It was that experience that first taught him the value of customer service and how to build business relationships.
He attended Harvard University, graduating Phi Beta Kappa with honors and a degree in applied mathematics. It was during these early college years that he founded his first startup, one that employed 30 Harvard kids. After college, Andrew Chung joined Trilogy. Chung went on to get his master’s degree in business administration at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania.
Andrew Chung has been a tech investor and entrepreneur for more than 20 years, working for preeminent global venture capital firms such as Lightspeed Venture Partners and Khosla Ventures, where he was a general partner and managed over 500 million dollars in assets.
In 2016, he announced the formation of his firm, 1955 Capital. At the time, Chung had already managed to raise 200 million dollars for investment in technologies to help developing countries, especially China.
Where did the idea for 1955 Capital come from?
The primary mission of 1955 Capital has always been to invest in “save the world” technologies created in the developed world that have the potential to address some of the greatest societal challenges in the developing world. It’s simple really, as it’s basically what I’ve focused on in my 15 years in the venture capital industry. I invested early in sectors such as education, health, agriculture, food, environment, and energy. Even as early as 2003 when I was a management consultant at Bain & Company, I had an opportunity to study environment challenges in China. I’ve focused heavily on sustainability, looking deeply at the problems humanity faces and how advanced moonshot technologies can solve those issues. It’s not a stretch to say that my team and I have trained our entire lives to tackle such seemingly overwhelming obstacles.
What kind of background did you have before 1955 Capital became your mission?
I passed on Wall Street about twenty years ago to launch what would be my first company, UberWorks. It was a spin-off of then high-flying enterprise software company Trilogy and it was an early e-commerce platform technology. I had a chance to experience firsthand how to build a startup from the ground up and grow it successfully through an acquisition by a public company in Seattle. After that, I worked at Bain in Greater China.
At Bain, one of my case assignments was to work with a very large energy company out of Europe. My directive was to study the market opportunity for their company’s technology in Southeast Asia and China. Even early in the 2000s, I knew that the writing was on the wall.
Between the serious pollution issues, the rapid industrialization, and heavy use of coal-fired plants in China, it was clear that there were massive environmental issues with the poor soil, water, and air quality. At the time I was studying Asia’s sustainability problems, however, I didn’t know that the experience would change the direction of my career.
What motivated you to finally launch 1955 Capital?
Well it was 2015, and several notable executives in Asia were strongly encouraging me to start my own firm. Between my background and my playbook at Khosla Ventures, they thought I had the potential be a highly differentiated manager with rare experience in these fields important to the region. I was also the rare GP in Silicon Valley who spoke Cantonese Chinese and Mandarin and managed and invested in a portfolio of several hundred million in these less conventional sectors.
So given my rare combination, I took on the opportunity to build a platform that was different from many of the firms already on the market. That’s what really got the wheels turning on what became 1955 Capital. It’s a clear extension to what I’ve been doing for the past 15 years in sectors like education, health, agriculture, food, environment, and energy sectors. However, my new firm gives me the opportunity to focus heavily on helping portfolio CEO’s develop a global mindset, to not just be limited to the U.S., or even just the Asia or China markets. Opportunities can be found anywhere in the world, and we’re always finding ways to make the quality of life better wherever we plan on doing business on this planet.
How did Hong Kong Idol come along and when did you know you had a talent for singing?
Singing was accidental and I never trained formally. Growing up I trained on the saxophone, violin, and piano. I inadvertently ended up training my voice because my sax teacher had me listen to Ella Fitzgerald to learn phrasing, and I would try to copy the style with my voice before playing it on the sax. I took my teacher a bit too literally, and sang my parts in tune, with the correct phrasing, rhythms, and articulation. In parallel, I learned to play all the major orchestral instruments and studied to be a conductor in high school. I even hoped to apply to Juilliard, but my parents were not supportive of a career in music. So, I applied to Harvard and Princeton, and luckily got into both.
During Harvard convocation, I first heard the Harvard Glee Club perform and their heavenly voices inspired me to audition. My most memorable choral performance was performing at Kennedy Center (for President Clinton) and at the Lincoln Center. During my senior year, I auditioned for Chinese American Idol and went on television every week to perform Chinese pop songs. I won the national title and only then did I realize that I was a pretty good singer!
After that win, I turned down an artist contract to work at Trilogy, but my itch to perform came back again in 2002. I spent a few months in Hong Kong to compete in Hong Kong Idol, which led to multiple rounds of performing to reach the finals, beating out thousands of contestants. Since then I’ve had the opportunity to perform for a variety of audiences around the world. Whether I’m making the world a better place with my singing or through my investing, I strive to make a positive impact no matter what I may be doing with my time.