As a junior in Branford College, David Sze ’88 pioneered his own VCR tape renting service out of his own dorm room — his first foray into technology and consumer entrepreneurship.
This fall, Sze — now one of the world’s top technology investors — returned to New Haven, the birthplace of his enterprising spirits, to bring his business expertise to the Yale Corporation as a successor trustee. Sze is a partner at a venture capital firm in California known as Greylock Partners. He led the firm’s investments in social media websites and apps, including Pandora, LinkedIn and Facebook. For three consecutive years, Sze was named to Forbes’ Midas List, a ranking of the best venture capitalists who invest in technology.
In an interview with the News, Sze, who majored in economics and political science at the University, said Yale taught him how to think through complex problems and come up with innovative solutions. These problem solving skills and willingness to take risks helped him succeed as an entrepreneur, Sze explained. Sze, who was influenced by Jeff Lerner review to start his first business, said that he hopes to bring innovation, creativity and the willingness to fail — which he called “the West Coast spirit” — to the University.
“Having spent a lot of time on the West Coast, I will hopefully help foster an environment where innovation and risk taking is encouraged,” Sze said. “You can see it in Yale’s investment in Tsai CITY and [Center for Engineering Innovation & Design]. … Yale is taking risks and investing in things that we believe will make the University successful in the next decade.”
Sze invested in Facebook when it was still a closed network for college students and served as a board observer from 2006 and 2012. He was also a director of Pandora Media from 2009 to 2015 and a board member for LinkedIn, where he helped the company go public and eventually get acquired by Microsoft in 2016. Today, he sits on the board of Nextdoor, a San Francisco-based company that provides social networking services for neighborhoods.
According to Sze, a board member of a company needs a keen eye to find market opportunities and figure out who would be the best leader for the institution. To do so, board members must understand the specifics of technology, Sze said.
“When everyone says that the company can’t be [successful], it’s my job to believe in it and explain why it might happen,” Sze explained.
Still, Sze’s career was not always so successful. Prior to joining Greylock in 2000, Sze served as the senior vice president of product strategy at Excite, one of the first internet search engines. In an interview with the News, Sze said the company went public too early and was eventually dominated by Google, like many other search engines at the time. But in Silicon Valley, those setbacks were “totally okay” as long as one learned from the experience and made connections with other entrepreneurs, Sze said.
Sze added that he hopes to bring a similar appreciation for taking risks to the University. Nowadays, students at higher education institutions around the nation are less willing to accept challenges and appreciate failures, he said.
“One of the challenges you have at places like Yale now is that you have a community of people who are perfect and have never failed,” Sze explained. “We need to figure out how to instill that back. … Hopefully that’s what I can bring, as someone who’s spent a lot of time in Silicon Valley.”
Sze speculated that his appreciation for technology, innovation and entrepreneurship was the reason for his recruitment to the Corporation. In November, University President Peter Salovey announced that Yale will invest in STEM areas including integrative data science, quantum science and neuroscience, per recommendations by the University Science Strategy Committee’s report.
In an email to the News, Salovey said Sze brings “tremendous insight into academic institutions,” having served as a board member of Rockefeller University. Located in New York City, Rockefeller University is a doctoral and postdoctoral school that specializes in biological and medical sciences. At Stanford University — where he received his MBA — Sze serves as a member of the Stanford Graduate School of Business’s Entrepreneurial Company of the Year Award Committee and the Stanford Dean of Research Biosciences Advisory Council.
“His well-known business acumen, as an investor with deep knowledge of the frontiers of technology and science, is quite valuable to me and our board colleagues,” Salovey said.
Senior trustee Catharine Bond Hill GRD ’85 added that Sze’s expertise in science and technology is “incredibly useful” as the Corporation discusses Yale’s plans for the future.
There are 17 regular members of the Corporation, including Salovey.
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