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Venture capitalist: It's time of opportunity for web-savvy
[April 16, 2011]

Venture capitalist: It's time of opportunity for web-savvy

Apr 14, 2011 (The News-Gazette - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- CHAMPAIGN _ Job openings may be scarce and pay raises scant, but Bill Tai says this is a time of great opportunity.

But you'd better be Web-savvy if you want to hit it big.

Thanks to new communication technologies and social media, start-up companies can become huge successes faster than before, said Tai, a venture capitalist who has had multiple successes in Silicon Valley.

Plus, new technologies have pushed down start-up costs for Web-based companies, he said.

Tai, a partner in Charles River Ventures, cited recent statistics indicating 600,000 to 700,000 Web applications a year are being developed.

Many of those applications are attracting "a lot of users faster than ever before," he said.

Not so long ago, it took an average of seven years to launch tech products into the market and see if they caught on, he said. But thanks to cloud computing and the smartphone, that's no longer the standard.

Fortunately, Tai's audience was just the right group to appreciate and apply that message _ scores of business-minded University of Illinois students plugged into Facebook, Twitter, iPads and smartphones.

Tai, who received a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from the UI and a master's degree in business administration from Harvard, has been a founder of 40 different startups, according to UI Business Dean Larry DeBrock.

Fifteen of those became publicly traded firms, and others might have been, had they not been bought up by the likes of Microsoft and Nokia, he added.

Tai returned to campus Tuesday to deliver the 13th annual V. Dale Cozad Lecture in Entrepreneurship.

Dressed in an open-necked, long-sleeve black shirt that hung over his pants, Tai peppered his speech with references to two of his favorite pastimes, surfing and kite surfing.

Timing is everything for new businesses and products, he said. If you're too late into the market, you can't catch up with the wave. But if you're too early, you'll be too tired to paddle back.

Tai also showed a Forbes magazine video clip of a networking event he hosted in Park City, Utah, for top officers of new technology companies, including Tango and Dropbox.

The event involved "snow kiting," in which enthusiasts use kite power to glide on snow or ice.

Some tech entrepreneurs like the sport, Tai said, because it's like "living in a start-up for an hour _ you get slammed to the ground and have to get up." Tai said he has jumped out of a plane, but he prefers snow kiting.

"I liked having more activity and control," he said.

Much of what he does now, he compares to the work of "a talent agent for a record company." He deals with lots of people and ideas and uses his instincts to coach people, polish ideas and try turn the companies into "a hit." Tai compared top entrepreneurs to "forces of nature." But he also noted that "a lot of people who are able to create are controversial, difficult people." The excellent ones tend to be passionate, with strategic talent and tactical smarts _ but they had better be flexible, he said.

"None of the great companies in technology do exactly what they set out to do," he noted.

Pointing out how fast the world is changing, Tai noted the multitude of technology products on the market _ among them, smartphones, MP3s, cellphones, PDAs, tablet computers, Kindles _ and predicted "every digital device you use will be displaced in the next couple years." Tai also said every person's identity is being outlined through use of Facebook, Twitter and other Web usage.

"You're in the process of being virtualized," he said.

To see more of The News-Gazette, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to Copyright (c) 2011, The News-Gazette, Champaign-Urbana, Ill. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services. For more information about the content services offered by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services (MCT), visit

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