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Big Data & Brews: A Sneak Peak into Investor, Ben Fu’s Technical Background

By on October 27, 2015

Ben Fu, Next World Capital general partner and one of our board members, stopped by to record with us. Over a cold Belgian Hoegaarden, he talked about his background in engineering — he even wrote his MIT thesis on distributed databases.

One thing in particular I want to call out is Ben’s comment on the importance of not just knowing how a sales organization needs to be built (from an investor perspective) but also the importance of empathy with those in sales who are “chopping their way through the jungle to be able to win over revenue.”

Check it episode #1 with Ben below.


Stefan:                    Welcome to Big Data & Brews. Today we have Ben Fu from Next World Capital.

Ben:                         Hello.

Stefan:                    Hi, Ben. Can you introduce yourself and the brew you brought with you?

Ben:                         Yes. Ben Fu, General Partner at Next World Capital. We’re an investor in Datameer, proud to say. Here, what I brought is for Oktoberfest. Sorry, it’s not a German beer, it’s a Belgian beer but some Hoegaarden, a nice, wheat beer, nice and light. We even have lemons here to be able to enhance the flavor. How very thoughtful of you, Stefan.

Stefan:                    As long as it’s good beer, I don’t care if it’s German or Belgian. There’s just not many American beers that I like.

Ben:                         Really. You don’t like Bud Light?

Stefan:                    No. Not my thing.

Ben:                         Good. Thanks for having me.

Stefan:                   Absolutely. Thank you. Thanks for your investment and making the time to come by and for being such a great board member. It’s phenomenal. A little bit more about your background, Ben. You have quite a technical background. You worked as a sales engineer in a few really cool companies. Tell me more about that. Then how did you make the transformation into venture capital?

Ben:                         Sure. I mean, just a little bit about my background, as you may know. I’m an engineer by training, went to college at MIT, undergrad and did my master’s thesis there.

Stefan:                    That’s this nice university in the east, right?

Ben:                        There’s one. It’s not the Michigan one. Massachusetts. Did that. That was during the 90s, so great time to be in tech. I actually did my thesis in distributed databases, so you can actually Google that, if you want, which is actually 15 years ago, useless. Now, it’s actually useful today but yes, my background, I did MIT by training. Then went to Akamai afterwards as a technical consultant. Really, I wanted to focus on sales. They don’t teach you how to do sales when you’re an engineer. I wanted to learn that soft skill because I wanted to see more and more. Through my path, I got a chance to join a startup, IMlogic, which was a enterprise software security company actually based out of Waltham. Stuck around Boston and did that for a few years actually in Boston and New York being an early employee there, really selling security for instant messaging back in the day. Had the fortunate experience to be able to help build that company and have it be acquired by Symantec. At Symantec, I continued on as a senior sales engineer and made my way to the investment side.

Stefan:                   Having that background is phenomenal. You can judge about the market much, much better. From your perspective, what other dimensions in your job today are you taking from your previous experience?

Ben:                         I’d say this, the previous experience that I’ve really tried to bring as a investor is a couple things. I try to bring as much of my technical background even though it’s been a while since I coded, but being true to technology and really having a passion for it, particularly enterprise technology is something that’s deep in me. I’d also say the sales and presales experiences I had, a couple things.

Me being a board member here, really being able to see the life cycle of a company, zero to one. The one to ten million in revenue. The ten million to hundred million in revenue. Being able to not only understand how a sales organization needs to be built, what are the things that you watch for, but I think equally important is what I would say is the empathy, the empathy for the salesperson and the sales engineers and the solution architects that are out there that are, quite frankly, chopping their way through the jungle to be able to win over revenue.

Those are some of the skills that I really brought when I first started doing investing and continue to try to get deeper and deeper into it.

Stefan:                    That experience is incredibly valuable for us. You helped us with thinking through a whole bunch of things in our day-to-day operation. Do you feel that your strong technical background also helps you to make better investment decisions and better understand the market and the dynamics?

Ben:                          It’s a good question. I would say in specific markets, it does help. For instance, in enterprise storage, it really matters to really understand the technology because technology risk could be fatal there. I think in big data, I think that knowing the technology is an advantage because there’s so many nuances behind use cases, behind what’s open source, what’s not open source. Quite frankly, what are the things in memory, not in memory? What are the things that are distributed, should be distributed or not? I think that the composite picture of that can really give you a better sense for how do you build the product and also what’s the market need? I think that the other thing that was valuable, and I’d say my experience previous to investing was really getting a sense for customer needs.

Technology is great. I love touching technology, I love seeing technology. I love seeing revolutionary things happen there but what’s really important is are people going to buy your stuff and why?

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Stefan Groschupf

Stefan Groschupf

Stefan Groschupf is a big data veteran and serial entrepreneur with strong roots in the open source community. He was one of the very few early contributors to Nutch, the open source project that spun out Hadoop, which 10 years later, is considered a 20 billion dollar business. Open source technologies designed and coded by Stefan can be found running in all 20 of the Fortune 20 companies in the world, and innovative open source technologies like Kafka, Storm, Katta and Spark, all rely on technology Stefan designed more than a half decade ago. In 2003, Groschupf was named one of the most innovative Germans under 30 by Stern Magazine. In 2013, Fast Company named Datameer, one of the most innovative companies in the world. Stefan is currently CEO and Chairman of Datameer, the company he co-founded in 2009 after several years of architecting and implementing distributed big data analytic systems for companies like Apple, EMI Music, Hoffmann La Roche, AT&T, the European Union, and others. After two years in the market, Datameer was commercially deployed in more than 30 percent of the Fortune 20. Stefan is a frequent conference speaker, contributor to industry publications and books, holds patents and is advising a set of startups on product, scale and operations. If not working, Stefan is backpacking, sea kayaking, kite boarding or mountain biking. He lives in San Francisco, California.