I was having lunch at the Palm in Tyson’s Corner, Virginia the other day when Jimmy Yoo walked in. It was like seeing a ghost, a legend I had once written about.
About a dozen years ago, when he was just a 20-year-old with a Ph.D. in physics from the University of Maryland, he hit the dot.com jackpot.
He (and a couple of venture capitalists) turned his dissertation — something to do with making silicon chips out of eggshells from Maryland’s Eastern Shore — into 20,000 feet of R&D. A year later, he sold out to Intel for $300 million.
Corporate life wasn’t for Yoo, and two years later he bailed to look for the next big thing.
That was the last I had heard of him. So when he stopped by my table, we agreed to catch up the following week.
When we finally sat down in Washington’s booming Penn Quarter, the center of the city’s exploding social media scene, Yoo looked like a fish out of water. He kept looking around trying to spot one of the rising stars of this new trend, but the truth was that at 32 he was already too old and past the scene.
We ordered drinks and nibbles. I asked him what he’d been doing.
Slowly, his story spilled out.
“It was all a blur. School, the startup and Intel were nightmares. Besides, I was immature. Heck, I had never been on a date until I sold out. Besides, after paying off the VCs, taxes, and setting up my parents for life, I only had about a third of my kill left.”
“Something like a $100 million,” I said.
“Yeah, about that.”
He looked a little embarrassed that so much had slipped away.
“But I jumped back into the game. I had no problem getting VCs to back me as long as I put in 10%. But I had three totals in five years. Lost $30 mil, just like that. Then, as an angel, I put a half a mil each into about 20 first rounds but only one shows any promise.”
I figured he was down to his last fifty or sixty million. Poor guy.
“Jimmy, what a bummer. Why do you think everything went so badly?”
“Regardie, I really don’t know. Maybe, it was because the first kill came so easily. Or maybe I’m just not an entrepreneur. Now, maybe, I’m just too old.”
I asked him about teaching.
“I taught at both Maryland and Hopkins. But, I just couldn’t relate to the kids, which was a real problem. Then, office hours. That was the worst!”
“So what’s next?” I asked
“Well, I’m trying to understand these new social networks. D.C. is one of the hotbeds but the kids are so damn young. I’ve talked to several of them but we talk a different language. I’m just not getting anywhere with this whole scene.
“As a kid, I loved baseball. Now, I feel like one of those hot pitching prospects who was brought up to the majors too quickly, got his arm burned out before he ever got a real shot to make the majors.”
With that, we got up, shook hands and agreed to stay in touch.
Outside, Jimmy Yoo slipped a twenty to the waiting valet as he slipped into his Bentley coup and drove away still searching for his next big thing.
Bill Regardie is the founder of Regardie magazine.