Former U.S. Ambassador John Roos is now making his name as a venture capitalist. Taking advantage of personal connections he built during his tenure as the ambassador to Japan, Roos, together with Mitsubishi, launched “Geodesic Capital,” a venture capital firm in Silicon Valley that has already completed fund-raising. “The company will be a contact for Japanese businesses” in Silicon Valley – a global center for IT– Roos said.
The former ambassador, who agreed to an interview with Nikkei, was the first U.S. official to attend the peace memorial ceremony in Hiroshima when he was the ambassador to Japan in 2010. “The visit was the most memorable moment during my time in Japan,” said Roos. His trip set a course for President Obama’s visit to Hiroshima this year. “My visit was a step toward nuclear disarmament and helped strengthen US-Japan relations.”
“President Obama, who attaches great importance to historical issues, was always supportive of my visit to Hiroshima, but it was not necessarily intended as a stepping-stone to the president’s visit,” recalled Roos.
Commenting on his time as the ambassador to Japan, Roos said, “Being from the private sector enabled me to strengthen ties with Japanese business managers.” Referring to the recent launch of his venture capital firm, the former ambassador said, “I took advantage of my relationship with Mitsubishi Corporation Senior Corporate Advisor Yorihiko Kojima, which I had built through my work on the TOMODACHI Initiative (supporting the reconstruction of areas devastated by the 2011 East Japan Great Earthquake).”
“As the head of a venture capital firm, I will invest in nascent companies after appraising them using all available information and drawing on the large network of contacts that I have established in Silicon Valley,” said Roos. As for Geodesic’s Silicon Valley competitors, Roos said, “We will introduce our Japanese business partners to American companies interested in making inroads to Japan, a unique advantage we have over other venture capital firms.”
“I have witnessed the rise and fall of many Silicon Valley companies during my 25-year career,” Roos went on to say. “The impact of the IT revolution has spilled over into every industry, and major Japanese companies are increasingly interested in venture capital firms.”
Silicon Valley is open to the world. Immigrants from India and China are actively working as entrepreneurs or engineers there.
However, the Silicon Valley financial and investment sectors tend to be dominated by whites and Jews. Information on promising investments are shared only among Silicon Valley’s old guard, which is insular and difficult to navigate, according to Roos. Many Japanese companies have failed to break through this wall.
Roos is one of the few with special access to this exclusive community. As a lawyer, he rose to the top of Wilson, Sonsini, Goodrich & Rosati, a major Silicon Valley law firm. Roos’s team is joined by Achvin Bachireddy, a venture capital veteran. Bachireddy is a former executive of Andreessen Horowitz, one of the most prominent and active venture capital firms in Silicon Valley.
The terms of the relationship between Geodesic Capital and its largest financer, Mitsubishi, are clear. Mitsubishi is not involved in the appraisal of potential investments and does not have the ability to influence Geodesic’s investment choices to benefit Mistubishi’s other business ventures. Geodesic has purposefully eliminated many investment-related weaknesses typical of large companies such as slow decision-making processes and overly lenient investment criteria.
Compared with the significant number of Chinese students and entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley, the Japanese presence there is tiny. In creating a new successful business model, Roos as a “pro-Japanese investor” will likely become an important ally to the Japanese business community.