Responding to a popular request, we are now sharing transcripts of our investor podcast interviews in this new series. The following interview with Waikit Lau was recorded in June 2018.
Waikit Lau, investor and serial entrepreneur, has a refreshingly open attitude towards investing in very early stage companies. Wonderful conversation.
Sramana Mitra: Tell us a little bit about what you have been up to so our audience gets to know you and your background.
Waikit Lau: I was trained as an engineer at MIT back in the mid-90’s. The last 20 years, mostly, have been in technology. I’ve done a lot of very different roles in technology. I started three companies. Two of them got acquired and I helped take one public back in 2013. I’ve also spent some time in big tech companies like Cisco. I was also part of the Scientific Atlanta group. I also spent some time as an investor 12 years ago.
The last company I started was about 10 years ago. It was a company called ScanScout. We apply machine learning to understand videos. We started around the same time as YouTube. Our thesis was that video behaves very differently in search and at matching than web pages. As we suspected, video will become popular. You’re going to have the same two problems, which is you have a discovery problem and then you have a monetization problem.
We basically built a platform that uses machine learning to understand what a video is and then based on that, it could inject an appropriate app or contextual app into the video. We helped take the acquirer company public in 2013. Over the last few years, I’ve mostly been advising and investing in companies. I’ve started a deep learning community that has grown to about 150,000 people now.
Sramana Mitra: This is the world’s largest virtual accelerator. We have entrepreneurs from all around the world who participate in this forum. We have a community of half a million people. Either they’re entrepreneurs or aspiring entrepreneurs.
What I’m going to try to do in the next few minutes is to help our entrepreneurs who are working in your domain understand how you think about investments, how you invest, what you invest in, what your investment thesis is. Where do you think great companies are going to be built in this next generation? Let’s start by addressing what you like to invest in domain-wise and stage-wise.
Waikit Lau: I find myself most helpful in the very early stages. Anywhere from two guys with an idea on a napkin all the way to classical Series A. Early stage is where my focus is. In terms of domain, I look at everything with the exception of pharma and biotech. I have zero knowledge there. I have invested all the way from chips to software applications. To me, domain matters less. It’s really about the team and the problem. Is it a big enough problem? Is this the right team? Is this the right people to tackle the problem?
Sramana Mitra: What about geography? You are based in Boston right?
Waikit Lau: Yes.
Sramana Mitra: Do you invest only in the Boston area?
Waikit Lau: No, I don’t. I invest anywhere in the US. Over the last 10 years, I’ve invested in about 50 to 60 companies and they’re all over the place. They’re all in the US.
Sramana Mitra: Your average check size is?
Waikit Lau: It ranges anywhere from $25,000 to $50,000.