The Art of Company Building: IonQ
Creating the First Publicly Traded Pure-Play Quantum Computing Company
IonQ is building the world’s best quantum computers to tackle society’s most pressing needs, such as how to live sustainably on our planet, how to cure diseases, and how to efficiently move people and goods.
Walden Catalyst partner Francis Ho helped to lead an investment in IonQ. The investment can be traced back to when Francis and IonQ cofounder Jungsang Kim were in the same quantum physics research group in graduate school at Stanford, 25 years ago.
Here, Jungsang talks about how his investors helped IonQ exploit a massive $65 billion market opportunity and become the first publicly traded pure-play quantum computing company.
Why did you decide to work with Walden Catalyst partner Francis Ho?
Francis and I go way back. We were in grad school together and became lab partners in the mid-90s when he joined our group as a postdoctoral researcher. We kept in close contact over the years.
After IonQ closed its first round of funding, I met up with Francis and he introduced me to his partners at the time. Francis has a deep technical background on top of his business and investment insights. He read our papers and really dug deep into the science of quantum computing to develop his own view.
About a year later, when we were raising our next round, it was very natural to partner with Francis.
How did Francis help you solve critical business problems?
Quantum computing is based on very deep, fundamental science. While we were in early stages of building the company, many investors were intrigued by the opportunity, but also struggled to understand the path to commercial success. Unable to form their own views on the technology, they relied on the views of academic researchers, who tended to be more skeptical of the commercialization opportunity.
Francis has a great background in business, but he also puts in the time and effort to dive deep into the physics. As a result, he was able to grasp the massive opportunity ahead of us as a potential game-changer in computing industry. He really helped us think about developing a path from the scientific/research stage to the productization stage.
If you are building new technologies that are hard to evaluate, Francis and his partners at Walden Catalyst are one of the few teams that can really dive in and connect the technical and business opportunities.
What value did Francis add to your company?
The financing round Francis co-led had a profound impact on the trajectory of IonQ.
Many of the investors we spoke to were excited about quantum computing, but questioned if it was too early to invest. Francis had already evaluated the risks, and once he stepped up as the lead investor, other very strong backers became eager to invest in the round.
About six months after he made the investment, the world was hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. That created a lot of uncertainty for the business. During that time, Francis helped us to prioritize the kind of investments we should be making and focus on what would be most mission-critical for IonQ.
Tell us about a key moment when Francis made a material impact on your business.
As part of our deSPAC process, Francis was instrumental in helping us put together our technology development and go-to-market story for investors.
During that process, I would speak to Francis often and he really helped us polish our narrative and tell the most compelling story.
Francis was also eager to share his frank views on quantum computing and IonQ with many of our PIPE investors, providing them with context on the viability of quantum computing and IonQ’s future as a public company.
As a result, we had a very successful PIPE process and completed our public listing this October.
What makes Walden Catalyst Ventures unique?
The thing that underlies the best partnerships is mutual trust.
Financial success is great, but it is often a result of the trust and relationships you build with key people you meet along the way. That’s what really defines success.
From that perspective, I’m extremely thankful for the strong bond Francis and I have built, and know he holds similar relationships with other founders.
Please describe Francis and the WCV team in three words?
Trust. Integrity. Insight.