Interview with Bill Liao, Trustee and Chair, Social Tech Trust

Bill Liao, Trustee and Chair, Social Tech Trust

Bio (First-Person)

(Find Bill on LinkedIn)

I am an entrepreneur, leader and investor with a passion for sustainability and technology.

In my commercial endeavors, I have established companies and led growth into the billions. I have also established multiple non-profit organisations devoted to addressing climate change, poverty and supporting the education of the youth.

Author, Speaker and thought leader, in: life sciences and biotechnology, blockchain, quantum computing, artificial intelligence, sustainable development, business and technology.


Portfolio ventures that are going great need almost no support, and the ones that are in the bottom aren’t worth helping. Apart from the two extremes, how do you know how much effort, time, persistent to put in the ones that are somewhere in the middle?

It would be a foolish fund manager indeed who ignored the opportunity to increase the success of their best portfolio companies. A 1% increase in success in a tool company is likely to be worth a significant amount more than a 50% increase in productivity in a mediocre company. 

Wisdom and experience tell us that you need to invest your time and network into a spread of your portfolio that is likely to return the most for that effort. The trick is knowing which companies will have the greatest potential.

One of the reasons for SOSV’s huge success is that we have a programmatic approach to investing that includes our world class accelerator programs which offer unprecedented levels of support to all our companies at the very earliest of stages. 
By putting the effort in early where it often makes the most different and the. following on our subsequent winners we generate really outsize  returns. 

How do you balance your time between (1) sourcing quality prospect ventures (2) doing due diligence for prospective investments and (3) helping current entrepreneurs? Which of these are you comfortable outsourcing to principals/analysts and which do you absolutely have to do yourself?

Because our programs are so well recognised companies actually come to us in the hundreds for each program so sourcing is not nearly as time consuming.  Because we work side by side with the company teams at the same location for 3 months our due diligence is actually a function of the value we add.  We do continuous support and contact as a team.

(SOSV has been ranked by CrunchBase as the world’s second most active seed VC globally in 2019)

Many GPs are good investors but don’t master one of the core skills – adding value as a board member. What do you think are some tricks to a productive relationship with founders? What should the culture be for the board and CEO for a quality relationship?

Serving on boards takes practice and we get many of our team to undertake board observer work as we train them up to be directors.

My top recommendations:

  • Get to know everyone else on the board personally;
  • Listen listen listen. Your ego will likely make you poorer; 
  • Be generous with your time and network;

Nowadays, mental health is more present than ever, with things like burnout, stress, depression, among others. What do you think of external intervenients like executive coaches, both for a founder and for a VC partner? Do they usually add value?

Health is key. Mental health is demonstrably supported by exercise and sleep. Encourage everyone to put time and effort into well being. As for external people a regular company yoga session and healthy snacks should not be underestimated as a path to productivity. As for coaches I prefer mentors who will often be generous as opposed to someone who is in it for the fees.

How do you solve important conflicts with CEOs, such as lack of alignment on exits, strategy, or just the CEO being in denial about things like performance? Does the resolution begin with a private conversation or with involving other board members in a decision?

Public criticism is a last resort. Communication and persuasion is an art form the best tips come from other industries such as law enforcement. See “Never split the difference” by Chris Voss.

When raising money from LPs, what is the thing you emphasize the most when “selling” the fund? Past returns? Team expertise (domain and/or entrepreneurial expertise)? Unique angle?

Integrity above all. A clear investment thesis. Backed by real transparent results.

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