Meet the Team: Kenneth Jeng
Q&A with Silicon Foundry’s Associate
Kenneth Jeng is an Associate at Silicon Foundry, working closely with Members including DeNA, Evonik, SK hynix and Southwest Airlines. Prior to joining Silicon Foundry, Kenneth was the Chief of Staff at Souco, a Tokyo-based Series A startup, and has lived and worked in Bangkok, Taipei, New York, Washington, D.C. and Boston in a variety of roles. He is an avid amateur photographer whose crowning achievement, thus far, is getting one of his pictures selected as the cover of an Encyclopedia Britannica law textbook.
Tell us about your career path — what are the key experiences that led you to Silicon Foundry?
This is a hard question to answer. I honestly feel that I’ve been able to apply experiences from every job up to this point at Silicon Foundry. Thus far, my experiences have ranged from being the fifth full-time employee at a Japanese startup to private equity due diligence projects in Mongolia, international market entry consulting in Washington, D.C and New York to working as a volunteer in Thailand and Laos. My very first paid job was as a translator, and I still find myself doing that from time to time. Wildly disparate experiences, but there’s one common theme that runs through each of them — breaking down barriers between people, markets or countries in some way, shape or form.
Given this, many of the positions I’ve held in the past have been concerned with connecting stakeholders or clients to expertise or resources that they normally would have difficulty gaining access to. I find it tremendously satisfying when I’m able to bring something unexpected to the table or build useful connections between industries, geographies or functions. Silicon Foundry provides a rare opportunity to connect the dots between all three on a daily basis, so working here has been highly fulfilling.
Throughout your career, you’ve worked and studied in regions all over the world — from Tokyo to Mongolia to Silicon Valley. What are the perspectives you’ve gained from this diverse international experience, and how does it influence the work you do for Silicon Foundry Members?
Having spent most of my life moving between cultures and languages, I’ve really gained an appreciation for the very tangible value of a) understanding different cultural, economic and political contexts, b) translating and interpreting between them and c) how much effort it requires to be able to successfully achieve the two. I think we’re only at the beginning of developing those capabilities here in Silicon Valley. I highly recommend Alex Lazarow’s recently published book “Out-Innovate: How Global Entrepreneurs — from Delhi to Detroit — Are Rewriting the Rules of Silicon Valley,” which highlights how our collective conception of innovation and startups needs to shift to match the reality on the ground and throughout the world.
It’s relatively easy to find “Silicon Valley best practices” online now, but actually adopting them to be valuable for organizations in vastly different environments requires significantly more insight. Since there isn’t a clear one-size-fits-all approach to the work that we do here, I believe that it’s extremely important to engage members in the process of co-creation as we work to deliver useful solutions. We simply can’t be effective without genuinely spending the time and effort to deepen our understanding of local context and adapting our output to fit the people whom we serve.
Since joining Silicon Foundry, what excites you the most about your role here?
The rush of enthusiasm and excitement that I felt while working at a startup is something that’s never quite left me, so I appreciate the platform that Silicon Foundry provides to engage with startup founders and corporate innovators alike. It’s extremely exciting to be able to work shoulder to shoulder with them to build partnerships and uncover innovative solutions that can be pushed up to scale. Given that Silicon Foundry is also growing and developing as a firm, I’ve also enjoyed the opportunity to help build internal processes and experiment with different solutions to help streamline workflows.
What “superpower” do you bring to the team?
I’ve appreciated the opportunity to apply the range of international and operational experiences that I’ve had to Silicon Foundry — the mishmash of the last decade and resultant breadth of resources that I’ve accumulated aligns well with our open approach to innovation and organization building. My language skills (e.g. Mandarin Chinese, Japanese and Thai) have also come in handy from time to time.
What sector or industry trend are you most fascinated by at the moment?
Given recent events, I’m closely tracking the shifts that are happening to the way we work and live as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The sheer rate of change — the widespread transition to remote work, the redesign of public and shared spaces and increased investment in automation — is simultaneously the source of significant promise and alarm. Having lived through the SARS epidemic in Taiwan as a child, while I don’t think many of the current behavioral adaptations will stick (e.g. social distancing, daily mask wearing in the West), I believe we can expect lasting changes as a result of investments made in durable assets (e.g. tools for remote work and drone delivery). A lot of startups have had the opportunity to demonstrate their business value amidst the crisis, and I think many of them are going to find success a lot faster than they would have otherwise.
On a side note, I’m a huge skyscraper and architecture nerd, so I’m curious to see what’s going to happen to our urban landscapes in the long term, if demand for office space permanently declines.
Another trend that I’m highly interested in is the development of international startup ecosystems outside of Silicon Valley intersecting with broader trends of de-globalization and localization. We’re going to see some interesting changes to both domestic and international talent flows as a) Silicon Valley expertise and network effects disseminate through digital content delivery, b) tech talent migrates elsewhere — a year’s worth or more of future foreign-born founders, who would originally be SV-bound, are now heading to more affordable locales and c) increased geopolitical tensions and trade frictions disrupt talent flows and supply chains.