Saeed Amidi — Plug and Play

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Saeed Amidi is the CEO and founder of Plug and Play.  Plug and Play connects startups with corporate partners and is one of the most active investors in the world with about 250 investments per year and over 2000 startups going through one of their programs every year.

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Saeed Amidi is the CEO and founder of Plug and Play.  Plug and Play connects startups with corporate partners and is one of the most active investors in the world in terms of number of deals done per year. Saeed is also a partner at Amidzad with prior guest, Pejman Nozad.   Saeed has a portfolio that includes PayPal, Dropbox, Danger, and many others. Saeed, great to see you. Thanks for coming on the podcast. 

It is great to be here. 

Well, I thought let’s start by establishing some of the scale of Plug and Play. Maybe I’m just going to fire a few questions at you. First, how many investments a year does Plug and Play make? 

About 250 per year, these days. 

Wow. And about how many companies are coming through the accelerator program every year. 

That’s a great question. You know, we are nowadays running 17. What we call innovation platform and each platform also runs two batches per year. So in U S it’s a little bit over a thousand startups per year and internationally in Europe and Asia, we have going through our platform.

Another 1000 plus startups So I’m going to let you tell me more about how you manage run thousands of companies through your innovation platform. But one more question, How many corporate partners do you have? 

Wonderful. have over 540 corporate partner. But the interesting thing is if you take some of them like car gal or Walmart, or may it be McDonald’s or Pepsi, These are some of the incredibly successful companies around the world that would like to use the platform to help them understand the future commerce.

 But the whole world is going through digital transformation so fast that all of these large company may have been Mercedes or Ford or Chrysler. They are all hunting startup. That can help them electrify faster beat Tesla in the autonomous And you know, if you come to see S these days, of electronic show, it has become a car show. And everybody says the biggest electronic, product you have?

these days is a call. 

And everybody says, Tesla is a electronic device, sort of like your that actually has wheels and you can drive it versus all of the other car companies are trying to become electrified.

 Hmm. Yeah. how are they thinking about competing with Tesla? 

You’re not, been working with the automotive or mobility industry. Now close to eight years and B have the, for example, office in stood guard with Mercedes and Porsche and BOSH and you know, the legacy companies and I consider Mercedes one of the best companies in the world with over 70,000 engineers.

But they mentioned to me say the whole industry is moving so fast. That all lot the CEO who is a friend of mine, I have to look outside for the best entrepreneur for the best technology to bring it to Mercedes, That’s really interesting. so maybe let’s use the automotive transportation sector as sort of a, case study, if you will, about how you connect the startups with the corporations and you know, how do they connect and also, how does it potential investment or pilot. 

Excellent. You know, , we run this mobility platform. First of all, here in our headquarter in Silicon valley, including Nissan Toyota Chrysler for et cetera. But then, , we figured out and the automotive industry. Asked us. If you are closer to our headquarter we first can identify our needs better.

Then when we find the right startup to solve that need, they can do a pilot faster, but most importantly, they can implement the technology. In the car and normally there was a five-year cycle from the time they would see it technology they could implement it produce with that technology in it.

we’ve been able to reduce that to under two years. And if I can, again, use Mercedes as an example, they specify what they want.

Then we searched the world for the best startups. And then the startup actually comes physically to stood guard three months. And they do a pilot.

with Mercedes We have done over 150 with Mercedes. In the past five years, B of the are in production or going production route. And about 30 of them have been already implemented in the core. 

So, I mean, that’s a fantastic number, which is with one partner. what if I’m a startup and I don’t want to relocate, can I be part of this? Can I get exposure to the corporate partners without moving to Germany?

Say. 

Absolutely. fact,we highly recommend if you’re a great startup out of Toronto or Waterloo, you should remain there, but just send a couple of engineers to shoot guns.

Maybe a dev person for a short period of time. And then if you do land a huge contract, you may have a satellite location in Germany. 

So we not recommend just for one. Programs for the startup to totally relocate, but we tell them to come here for a few months to learn how the culture of entrepreneurship is in Silicon valley and then actually go back to their city or the country to, you know, develop their product and launch it, you know, just to share something with you and the audience.

We had this startup come to us from Brazil cloud walk, and they wanted to do something in payment and FinTech infrastructure. They only spend three to six months with us. And again, last month raised money at $2.1 billion value. And that’s a pretty successful startup. If you look at Brazil market and the two founders, which I had lunch with on Sunday, Bruno and Gail, they said eat what we learned in that six months in Silicon valley.

We could have never learned that in San Paolo Brazil. 

Hmm. Well, and we are going to talk about 10, 10 wheelchair, which is your LA location, but have been to your Silicon valley location. It’s huge. I’m saying on my, my scale question. can you give me a sense? I have no idea how many square feet it is or how many startups there, but it seemed, vast. 

And large 

Yes. 

United it’s. Uh, we have about 180,000 square 

Wow. 

you know, pre COVID, we would have approximately 350 

 every year. as I mentioned, we would have another. Six 50 that would come here, temporary to go through one of our batches. And reason why they join is because if you have a technology that can help insurance company claim.

Faster and cheaper. We could put this startup in front of 30 insurance company in 90 days, and We have about 50 corporations that have their innovation arm in our headquarter as well, they also bring the business unit of the company here quarterly Yeah. I mean, I think that’s a big value proposition put, correct me if I’m wrong. Another one is you are not initially charging anything. 

No, no, no, actually. Everything for the startup is free, but it has to be a great team, great technology. And then if they get accepted in one of our programs together with meeting some of these corporate partners, They can, uh, pivot a little solve a real problem that the insurance companies or the banks are willing to pay for.

again, some of the serial entrepreneurial. Maybe it could get through some of these corporate giants, it’s not easy to navigate these a field. And we feel we kind of have a right connection and the right that party come and see the technologies. 

Yeah, I’m really interested in that piece, Like how have you built this up and attracted so many corporates to work with you and, you know, do you have a biz dev team that goes and builds those connections? 

Yes, absolutely. You know, dust, you talk about scales. We have approximately hundred venture team analyst and partner that, continuously look for great startups. Quite frankly, be get some start ups coming to us, but we also have to look for great startups, both in us and around the world. on the corporate side, we have roughly 200 people you know, in fact, we haven’t announced it yet, but, we were asked by Jaguar land Rover Can you please the same thing as you have built in stood guard in UK? know, because the UK government. Does not want to lose this industry, the auto industry.

And we feel as we would build the platform next year, we would put through the platform hundred startups that would help Jaguar and land Rover. 

So I’m a startup. How do I know the timing of these cohorts and when to apply to join the. 

Perfect. letting me pick on another industry supply chain. So we run a supply chain, a or a sustainability. Two of my favorite, where the calls, we run them in California. Like starting February, be select the companies and in June they graduate. but we also run supply chain in Bentonville.

Northwest Arkansas. So we try to run that at a little bit of a different calendar time. it start up, could both attend our California program, then go to Benton’s with. To do a trial bit JB hunt and Walmart. And then if they have the bandwidth, invite them to Hamburg, which also runs a supply chain program to, you know, try the.

A lot with Coon and Noggle or, BD Shanker, run the biggest, companies in the world. You could really get your top five customers through us. And so you don’t take a, you don’t take a payment and you don’t take equity upfront. When do you decide to invest? 

Great, great question. We feel like going back to early days, we consider ourself okay. Businesses. but we did not know technology deeply. we used to, like when we met Dropbox, we took them to Secomea to help us to do due diligence. And when Secomea becomes excited, We become excited and we co-invest with them.

So have taken that concept to like a great lens that when we find a great entrepreneur team and technology, we generally show them to 10 VCs and 10 corporate partners. and we capture their thoughts, what they think it’s great, what they think the startup may need to improve on.

And you could say collectively. We come up with the best decision, but everybody does their own final decision to invest or not to invest well as the corporate partners make a final decision to license the technology or not licensed the technology. Right. Well, you’re making 250 investments a year, right? Something like that. 

made for today. We have Monday and Thursdays. 

We have investment committee, but I mean, normally it’s not four, but today was actually four because just came back from Canada and I was very excited. that.

we are opening a office in Calgary and Edmonton. I wanted to a couple line investment, from the people I met over there.

Um, just for context. Who are listening to this later? It’s 1:00 PM today Fantastic. Um, so you referenced Dropbox. I told you I had paged mine on the show earlier, and he also talked some about the early days. Just bring these two stories together a little bit for me. you the owner of the buildings where Paige Mon got his start? 

Yes. Yes, we, we are the owner of medallion rug gallery on university avenue. And then we purchased the lucky building, Where we met pay Powell and then Google grow there from three, four people to 50 people. But they’re really like sometimes when you do real estate.

 , They say location, location, location are the three most important thing. I think in the technology world, location timing connections are the most important thing. like many other business people, we were on university avenue on the way to Stanford, We just took advantage of being there, getting to know down entrepreneurs and making a lot of, angel investing, which brought us to this plug and play platform right now. 

And in plug and play, these entrepreneurs build their dreams and they change the world. And I’m really privileged to be part of their journey 

And make a little money along the way. 

Yeah. but it’s amazing. I mean, that, uh, you know, I was at Google early, but not that early, that was out of Susan’s garage into your building. Right. 

Exactly. If you remember, it was Larry surrogate. Solara who later on YouTube then later on or meet Kordestani joined them. And then the rest is history. 

, you’re friends with the meat. If I remember correctly. 

Yes, absolutely. He’s semiretired and. You know, trying to make me retired. He thinks two days of golf or a week is not enough. So 

And so, I mean I referenced that was you, your brother pays Mon coming together, you know, hosting Sokovia at your rug gallery, that sort of. 

exactly. And you know, I believe that. we made around 65 investments over seven, eight year period. It was investment, but their results were great. So that is why slowly, at least my hobby became my main business. 

Amazing. Uh, and so what did you just say? location

timing and connection, you know, and that kind of brings me to Los Angeles 

Yes. 

the media industry. We are really planning and hoping we do our location in LA. We would have a major content, Purdue Schurz major advertisers joined the platform. So believe every industry has to be. Quiet the agile, you know, like the same way. As, example, Netflix become one of the top valued, media companies.

We don’t know what is next, how the media world will change. The sports world will change, the one thing is hundred percent sure. There will be a change. 

And do you have any trends that you’re watching in the media world? Web three NFTs. 

Yes. You know, like ran first, , Bitcoin meetup in the world. I think it was roughly 10 years ago. and it’s a new world. I think he’d like every asset class, you have real estate stocks, bonds, et cetera. They will have a crypto currency or digital assets as part of their portfolio.

And I think it’s just the tip of dice spur. 

Great. So you’re going to be, or you have set up, this innovation platform in LA at 10, 10. Wilsher.we’ve got location. And tell me about connection and how you build that connection, that community in a new location.

So we are planning to have an event, possibly every week, Friday at 12. O’clock where we would like to feature. Around five startups from Southern California. And it will piggyback our Friday events in Northern California, where we have about 50 VCs and 50 corporate partner at about 20 startups per week.

So we love to add another five. From Southern California. And interestingly enough, every week we have a special theme. We have a mobility and IOT theme one week Then the following week, we may have. Financial services, So I would very much welcome your audience and people from Southern California. To join us and guide us for these weekly events. the people who haven’t come and visited us. We have perhaps the best rooftop in LA a 400 trees, swimming pool.

Et cetera. We have about two acres of rooftop we would love to hold this event and try to build again a community and connections it sounds like you just invited us all to come have parties on your. afternoons. 

Absolutely. 

Great. So you’ve built this international program with thousands of startups every year. What was your vision when you started and what is your vision for the future of. I have to be transparent initially when I started plug and play. It was called plug and play real estate and it was a co-working space. I thought, you know, I purchased this building from Phillips electronics And then, you know, when I filled that up with start ups and some corporates, the value of the building went up by five X.

I thought it was great, And then I. As I talk to every one of my startups, realize other than real estate, what they need is money and So I could say like plug and play kind of evolved You know, starting with real estate and data center before a BWS, actually offer the start ups.

They could come in and run their servers in two hours. And so then we kind of expanded Products that we offer to our startups, which by far is the corporate connections. And if a startup is very successful in the financial industry here, they want to penetrate Japan, is one of the biggest in the world, they could arrive in Tokyo or Osaka or.

And they will have 10 appointments with the biggest bank, M U F G or some Miitomo or the biggest insurance company, like diet, cheat life or sample. 

Yeah. And I also see it very differentiated in the other direction. I mean, this is sort of a marketplace, if you will, which is corporate partners, they could work with any VC. And yet I don’t really know that. Even Sequoia has built out the depth of corporate partnerships. Know how did you get that going? how have you thought about really nurturing the corporate side of things? 

You know, again, it was not easy or it didn’t happen overnight. In the beginning, I remember J and J came to us and they asked us, you run. And accelerator for us. And we said absolutely. Yes, So that went incredibly well.

And that kind of jump started us in this vertical accelerator, then Munich Curry, which perhaps is the largest reinsurance company in the world. And they have about 3000 insurance companies. As clients.

And they also asked us insurance industry is moving so fast, can be jointly open up an innovation platform in InsureTech. I wish I was smart enough to tell you I had a grand plan and I execute on it really well. But it was not like that. It’s like I had a lot of trial and error and then when something worked, I just expanded on it.

And you know, in Southern California, have a funny story. The two founders of honey came to see us up here.

Company that just purchased for and we thought it was an incredible, uh, idea, know, to serve in coupon and instead of cutting coupons from magazines or newspapers, but they really executed. And again, used to go to the business plan competition in Stanford, USC, or UCLA.

And was like, my God, these people talk to each other. Every business plan competition had five of the same ideas, but you just have to say we, each team can execute better. So say you’re flying around the world. You’re connecting people, you’re open new innovation platforms, you know, how do you think about where to spend your own time and, and to focus, plug, and play for what needs to be focused on. Into the future.you know, first of all, like I am, I, the audience cannot see me, but I’m pretty mature. Elderly guy. So people also tell me, Saeed why do you work so hard? Or when is the retirement coming? I tell them if I find something else to do that, I will have more fun. I will do it. But in general, what drives me is how

many Entrepreneurs or startups use the platform to build their dreams and we are at around 2000 per year right now and wait, or be doubt me. think this number will grow. You know, like last week I was in Edmonton and Calgary and we’re gonna put through the program there clean resources, digital, how an AI hundred companies per year.

It’s really, I don’t know what drives me, but I enjoy meeting the startups. I enjoy. Making a positive impact in their startups. you asked me, what is the future like? You know, I think we have enough verticals I hope to do is to expand these verticals different geographic cities or countries.

Then, what I’m doing is IBR having a fund on top of each one of these verticals, But I am, I believe incredibly content and happy where I am. all I hope to do is to make apply game, play a lasting innovation platform, for everyone to benefit from. 

Hmm. So, so keep going on this thought, which is more about you. I like to ask how do the friends. 

That’s a very interesting question. I would hope they would say, you know, I am passionate and, uh, what I do, I give it a hundred percent. I am incredibly optimistic., And I, again, uh, people talking about retirement, I play about hundred 20 days of golf per year.

So I don’t know if I can play anymore. You know, I take a, at least a month vacation a year. I’m sorta European style and, I really enjoy my family, my children, even more my granddaughters.

So I don’t know. I think they would say I’m quite lucky guy. I love that. so, just pausing for a second. Is there anything else? I feel like we covered so much. Was there anything else you’d like to talk more about? 

They don’t only thing is again, as your audience is a very Southern California centric. I would love to ask you as well as your audience, if you have any, advice for us, and if you do want to become connected to plug and play, Please reach out to me personally, and I make sure the right people will follow up, but, I am much looking forward to making LA one of our strongest, offices and hops in the world.

Fantastic. Well, I look forward to crossing paths much more in the LA ecosystem with you, with your colleagues, um, with your rooftop. I’m really glad to have you in LA. And I look forward to all that. We’re going to hear about plug and play in the future.thank you so much for having me in your podcast.