Young Sohn: Interview with NZZ

"Just because at the moment less money is spent, Silicon Valley is no less successful than in the past."

Interview: Charlotte Jacquemart

Young Sohn was a guest at the Swiss Economic Forum (SEF) in Interlaken this week.

NZZ am Sonntag:
You were until 2022 President and CSO of Samsung Electronics. Samsung is the largest smartphone in the world. Why did you give up this powerful position?

Young: When the pandemic came along, I thought that's a good moment to do what else I want to do. I decided to focus on startups, because that challenges you. And I wanted to use my time more flexibly. And no longer to be responsible daily for 33000 employees.

NZZ am Sonntag: You were born in South Korea, grew up in the USA, live in Silicon Valley and were recently 18 months in Berlin. To what extent does the startup scene differ between the USA and Europe?

Young: In Berlin there are many wanted to be entrepreneurs. Although there are a lot of energy there, but the scene is young compared to the USA. In the USA, we are in the fourth generation of startup company. For 40 years venture capitalists invested in young tech companies. In Berlin that only started around 2010. This is a big difference ...

NZZ: . . . to which extend, specifically?

Young: This first startup generation in Germany has never experienced a crisis. In the last 15 years free money was floating around. It went only upwards, and the German young entrepreneurs thought, that this would go on forever. People like me, who for almost 40 years invest in startups and live in Silicon Valley have experienced many ups and downs. The German colleagues are now experiencing for the first time that there are also downs. Now they need to learn how to work even in bad times when cash is scarce and how you can survive.

NZZ: So European young entrepreneurs are currently put to on a test?

Young: Exactly. It is like water sport: When the tide goes out, stones become visible. Maneuvering becomes more difficult.

NZZ: But Silicon Valley has also seen better times. The big tech companies are laying off tens of thousands of employees.Does Silicon Valley have the best years behind?

Young: No. That would be an incorrect conclusion. And it has ultimately come to an end with the pandemic. The pandemic was for the tech companies a super time: mobility solutions, the cloud business, the communication via the internet, everything got a push. The tech companies have grown enormously fast. Now they trim the business back to a normal growth. Just because at the moment less money is spent, Silicon Valley is no less successful than in the past.

NZZ: Speaking of Silicon Valley companies: you were one of the first venture capitalists to invest in Zoom. which we have been Switzerland has an enormous density of tech startups and innovative Heads.

NZZ: Would Zoom without pandemic also a become a success?

Young: Yes, Zoom would either way become a success, no matter what. When Zoom launched in 2011, venture capitalists avoided the company. Because there were already Skype and other products. They underestimated how much Zoom would shift the video communication on mobile, on a smartphone. This was a new Concept! And Zoom was also one of the first cloud applications. These two novelties made Zoom to Zoom - and that's what success is based on. Not on the pandemic.

NZZ: But the pandemic helped, Zoom quickly to make it big . . .

Young: Right. That gave extra boost. I am proud, that I was right from the start, because the technology in the pandemic helped men and companies to communicate better and build bridges.

NZZ: And I assume that you as an investor of the first hour you made money with it...

Young: That was a nice side effect of the success of Zoom, yes!

NZZ: At the moment we are talking less about Zoom than of virtual reality, a mix of real and virtual world. Apple has presented this week its new VR glasses. Will virtual reality really be the next big thing, as many want to make us believe? Or is that all just another hype?

Young: Each new wave of technology goes through hype phases. Hypes are needed: Without hypes, Investors are not going to invest in new things. Many of the hypes were justified in the past justified. They attract money, from which profit new technologies.

NZZ: Is the hype around virtual reality also justified?

Young: The question is how big Virtual Reality will become. I am sure that there is at least one important niche. Will we at some point only walk around with VR goggles? I personally have my doubts about that. On the other hand, I can imagine that doctors, engineers, pilots will use virtual reality for details and information better. I see many possible applications of Virtual Reality - but not for us all in our daily lives.

NZZ: Give us an example: How doctors can use it?

Young: For example, in surgery: surgeons could use VR- Glasses to see more details, X-ray images and data during of the operation, which would give surgeons a more realistic picture. This could make operations more successful.

NZZ: You are an investor, betting on technology trends. Apart of Virtual Reality: On which trends do bet?

Young: Big Data and Artificial Intelligence. These two things will - in combination with each other- change our lives and our the world of work fundamentally. I am convinced of that.

NZZ: You are regularly in the Switzerland, now here at the Swiss Economic Forum in Interlaken. Do you come only for the mountains? Or for the startup scene?

Young: Oh, Switzerland has a high density of tech-Startups, bright minds, and innovative universities. It is worthwhile for me in many ways to come to Switzerland. In addition, I have also good friends here, that helps!

NZZ: You said there are many interesting start ups in Switzerland: do you also invest in some?

Young: Yes, in two! One is ANYbotics, from Zurich, an ETH spin-off. The company builds robots that streamline operations, reduce environmental impact, and increase worker safety. Peptone is our second investment in Switzerland, a biotechnology company. I see great potential in both companies.