What makes a good venture investor? Prerequisites include refined pattern recognition capabilities, attention to detail, and a fundamental belief in the transformative power of technology.
Jonathan Charles (JC, for short), a Principal at Samsung Catalyst Fund, embodies all these qualities—and he’s also a serious pastry chef. Wait, what?
“If I weren’t a venture capitalist, I’d be either a product manager or a pastry chef,” says JC. “To me, being a pastry chef is chemistry combined with artistry—controlling the temperatures, times, and air flows to produce a perfect, delicious pastry. It’s science and product management made edible!”
Hired as employee #3 at Samsung Catalyst Fund, JC has invested in a broad array of startups and technologies, including semiconductors, consumer electronics, Internet of Things (IoT), autonomous driving, and other areas that are strategic for Samsung.
“The exposure to multiple technologies and business models has been fascinating. I think it keeps the mind sharp when it comes to being a good venture investor,” he says.
With an education that began with human biology and pre-med studies, JC fell in love with mobile phones and the Internet, and was driven to find out how they worked. At the same time, through an uncle who was an entrepreneur, he became fascinated by VC talk — terms sheets, A and B rounds, etc.
He worked toward an MBA in finance and entrepreneurship, as well as an interdisciplinary computer science and business master’s degree. This placed him squarely on the path toward becoming a VC.
One of JC’s proudest achievements with Samsung Catalyst Fund has been his involvement in Samsung’s investment in Ring.
“Ring became a category-defining winner for consumer electronics and IoT because they developed the playbook on how a startup could become a rocket-ship success by developing a magical end-to-end experience for customers,” he says. “They did everything right, from product to business model. And they were acquired by Amazon for over $1 billion. Kudos to them!”
Fascinated by humanity’s technical progress, and feeling compelled to play a role in it, JC has found his true home at Samsung Catalyst Fund.
“I think all investors aspire to perfect the craft of investing—to develop and improve the skills to pick the best investments while being close confidantes to the best entrepreneurs,” says JC. He also notes, “Corporate Venture Capitalists (CVCs) have the additional challenge of helping startup partners navigate big-enterprise business units and stakeholders, another skill set that needs to be developed over time.” The fact that Samsung Catalyst Fund works very closely with the Chief Strategy Officer of Samsung Electronics makes the opportunity even more compelling.
“At Samsung Catalyst Fund, we have become adept at being guides for our startup partners,” he says. “Since the fund was initiated in 2012, we’ve honed our skills and built internal relationships that allow us to help our portfolio companies succeed.”
When he’s not at work, JC spends the bulk of his time with his wife and children. “We do a variety of things on weekends, same as other families,” he says, adding with a laugh, “I wish I had a dollar for every birthday party I attend.”
Which brings us back full circle to pastries. “People at work think it’s funny that I’m so obsessed with pastries,” he says. “They laugh when I spend more than a few minutes verbally deconstructing a dessert that someone brought in.” But if they listen carefully, they’ll hear the overlap in qualities key to venture capital investing: attention to detail, an unwavering focus on the goal, and a whole lot of patience.