Be persistent. Never give up. A dream that comes true cannot be a daydream. It must happen in the dark. Then there’s fear. When I worked on my first startup, I struggled on technology-market fit. Every night I stared at the sky and read to myself, “my heart is full of dark”. After 10 months, suddenly the darkness was broken, and we saw the light.
Is the American Dream still alive? If you speak to many of the immigrants we spoke to, who came to this country with nothing but grit, resilience, and a dream, they will tell you that it certainly is still alive.
As a part of our series about immigrant success stories, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Chun Xia.
Chun Xia is a Founding Partner of TSVC, a Silicon Valley-based venture capital firm focused on building and scaling early-stage technology startups. As a former serial tech entrepreneur, Chun specializes in IoT, enterprise software, edge computing, and mobile Internet. Chun holds a Ph.D. in Computer Science from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and a Bachelor of Engineering from Tsinghua University, Beijing.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
I grew up in Beijing in the era of China’s Culture Revolution. There was not much coursework as the nationwide education system was in turmoil. I had plenty of time to develop my interests in engineering and visual arts. I started to build my own toys from when I was 6 years old and kept building all kinds of fun stuff from scratch, including various model planes, trains, gearboxes, telescopes, electrical motors, radios, etc.
Was there a particular trigger point that made you emigrate to the US? Can you tell us the story?
The tragic incident on June 4, 1989 in Beijing. I was breathless; it was a desperate experience, and the entire young generation was extremely depressed. Escaping was a consensus.
Can you tell us the story of how you came to the USA? What was that experience like?
Nothing in my life was as difficult as escaping to the USA for freedom. Almost all roadblocks were unexpected and unpredictable. I had to find an exit in complete darkness surrounded by all sorts of danger. After having experienced that, I believe I can endure any tough situation in life.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped make the move more manageable? Can you share a story?
My mom was with me throughout the toughest times. She was my strongest spiritual support and also helped me in planning all of the little details. She was fighting for a better life by sending her only child to the US. On the final departure day, she cried at the airport. Even today she keeps saying: “why I have to let you go so far far away”.
So how are things going today?
Life is like a box of chocolate today. I see the world with the eyes of a Taoist — the only constant in life is change. No matter who causes it, life will change. For me, the most enjoyable experience is to be the first to cause this change. “Being the first” seems a lifetime career for me. I was the first to study some issues on 16-multicore processor for my PhD at UIUC in 1992, the first to build the earliest cloud computer as an internal startup at Sun Microsystems in 1996, the first to deliver e-merchandising and personalization software for e-commerce at my first startup in 1998, the first to launch SaaS for SME knowledge services at my 2nd startup in 2000, the first to innovate mobile and edge application container cloud at my 3rd startup in 2014, the first super angel fund operated by Chinese immigrants with Eugene Zhang — the first fund to invest in Zoom, and the first to initiate “reverse innovation” for technology commercialization process.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I have never felt I achieved any success because my journey has no end and there seems no ground to talk about success. However, the journey should be full of goodwill for making positive changes.
Being the first is always a lonely journey. My immigrant community is always with me. In 2009, I was asked to help alumni entrepreneurs of Tsinghua University and it was a great opportunity to give back to the community. To better serve our community entrepreneurs, I realized that we need an angel fund. I asked Eugene Zhang to lead the effort because he already had extensive angel investment experience and a proven track record. This is how TSVC got started in 2010. TSVC has the strong DNA of the immigrant community. Of course, our goal is to maximize financial returns, but on the other hand, TSVC is a resourceful ferry to help entrepreneurs on their journey of changing the world.
You have first hand experience with the US immigration system. If you had the power, which three things would you suggest to improve the system?
- Dual nationality for more countries, especially for talents.
- Grant more H1 visas to talents and expedite the process.
- Do not allocate quota by countries. Talents are priceless, no matter where they come from.
Can you share “5 keys to achieving the American dream” that others can learn from you? Please share a story or example for each.
- Be a dreamer
“I have a dream” by Dr. King is the best example of the American Dream. We need to set a clear goal. The goal could be a lifetime target as a single dream, or a series of goals of dreams after dreams.
2. Be practical
We need some achievable goals in the short term. A big dream could be broken down into many smaller ones with multiple baby steps. I have had a dream of being a visual artist since my childhood. My first dream in the US was to watch all the movies I heard about in China but had no way to access. I made that happen in my first year in the US simply with a library card. Then I had a dream to be an art student. I made that happen while I was in an engineering graduate program and took classes in the university’s art school. Now, I frequently get involved in light art design combining both my technical background and my interest in art. Still, I dream to own an art studio and to make some “being first” type of interactive artwork down the road.
3. Be persistent
Never give up. A dream that comes true cannot be a daydream. It must happen in the dark. Then there’s fear. When I worked on my first startup, I struggled on technology-market fit. Every night I stared at the sky and read to myself, “my heart is full of dark”. After 10 months, suddenly the darkness was broken, and we saw the light.
4. Be foolish
I love Steve Jobs’ quote “stay hungry, stay foolish”. Some people are so smart that they can optimize everything in life. They won’t miss any single chance but eventually they miss the route. I saw some entrepreneurs always working on the hot subjects such as social media, AI, blockchain, etc, but nothing that would sustain over a startup’s four-year tenure. Being foolish helps us stay on track. We need to learn by giving up temporary interests, living a simple life, and staying foolish.
5. Be good
A good dream is made of a good heart. In Taoism the power behind the Tao is moral. “A just cause enjoys abundant support while an unjust cause finds little”. We need lots of help to make a dream come true. A good dream is a shared dream by many people.
We know that the US needs improvement. But are there 3 things that make you optimistic about the US’s future?
1) The system
The US has established a proven superior political system. Of course, it can never reach the ideal level, but we can be proud of the progress made.
2) The culture
Freedom, openness, and risk-taking are the main culture marks of the US. Similarly, entrepreneurship and the belief in technology are deeply rooted in the culture.
3) The people
The people live in a big mixed pot. Immigrants will find people in the US that are the easiest to get along with in the world.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Elon Musk. He is 100% a being-first type of innovator and has made the biggest impact in changing the world in recent times.
What is the best way our readers can further follow your work online?
You can find me on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/chunrayxia/
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!