Christina Bechhold is a principal at Samsung Next Ventures, an investment arm that focuses on finding cutting-edge startups to keep the Korean tech giant ahead of the curve. To do just that (not to mention battle Apple), in January, the division revealed a $150 million off-balance sheet fund that’s worth keeping an eye on, as Samsung looks to further its fortunes by expanding business in all areas, including advertising.
“We’ve been recently looking at some really interesting OTT [over-the-top television] technologies around advertising and being able to personalize advertisements across platforms,” Bechhold told Adweek in Austin, Texas, where she’s hearing startup pitches at South by Southwest. “[Imagine] being able to share that data so the experience is seamless, whether you are seeing something on your OTT app, on your TV or something on a linear delivery.”
Bechhold declined to state which OTT-minded companies she was speaking about, but revealed a few other intriguing thoughts on the topic.
“There are a few companies figuring out how to serve advertisements based on behavior at just the right moment with just the right content,” she remarked. “Sort of like Facebook has done a really good job being able to micro-target demographics—[think of] being able to do that with [TV] display.”
The tech exec has been in her current role for a couple of years, and she pointed to LoopPay and SmartThings as two of her team’s better acquisitions. We sat down with her at the Cedar Door restaurant in the heart of the Lone Star State’s capital city on Friday morning to learn about the processes she uses when seeding startups or buying them outright.
Adweek: Tell us a little bit about Samsung Next Ventures.
Christina Bechhold: It’s meant to be an early-stage gateway for software-as-service companies to work with Samsung. Particularly, [the focus is] on mobile, consumer electronics and [TV] displays. … We give them access to resources to build their idea into a product. … My team does investments anywhere from $250,000 to $3 million per round. We do reinvestments and follow-ons; we don’t just do investments and then step away. We’ve done 42 investments so far.
What are you looking for when it comes Series A?
Series A companies, the way I think about them, are more than three-to-five guys working at a WeWork. They are sort of at a place where the product ideally has found some kind of market fit, and they are looking to scale that. At that point, we can come through [with] an investment and collaboration opportunities that we can help facilitate with our business units to really impact that product. They are at a point where they can really work with a Samsung. Seed-stage companies, when we do those investments, are typically [done] to stay closer to a technology or a team that we really like. But they are often not equipped with working with a big company and need to focus on their product and what their market fit is.
Big companies swallowing up startups sometimes reminds me of the 1990s, when, post-Nirvana, major music labels signed any loud band they could find, hoping that one or two of them have hit songs. Just throwing you-know-what against the wall to see what sticks. Does that analogy at all jibe in your world?
It’s a very thorough process. We are not going out to buy someone because it’s a cool name, and we want to be associated with it. We’re looking for teams and technologies that align with the long-term strategic goals of the company. We believe finding that outside innovation and talent is going to dramatically accelerate our ability to get to market. And sometimes that means bringing in a team or acquiring a company that’s very small or maybe we let them grow a little bit longer before we bring them in and help them grow their product.
Sounds like things can take awhile.
We brought in a company called LoopPay out of Boston, an investment my team made a few years ago. They had some very interesting technology around payments and being able to let you pay with your phone [without stores needing special checkout equipment]. It was very cool technology with a really smart team, and Samsung at the point wasn’t really thinking about fintech payments.