Q&A with Mike Lim, head of venture investments at Cisco Investments and corporate development for Cisco Collaboration
1. First, just give us a quick overview of who you work for, what you do, and how long you have been doing it.
As director and global head of collaboration practice within Cisco Investments, I am responsible for Cisco’s investments and acquisitions in Collaboration. Most of my time is spent working with innovative startups with strategic relevance to Cisco – from sourcing, qualifying, transacting and accelerating venture investments to end-to-end M&A execution – in order to advance Cisco’s collaboration strategy. I am also the leader of our early-in-career Associate team members, whom I enjoy mentoring and coaching.
I started my career in M&A over 15 years ago and joined the Cisco Investments team in 2017. At Cisco, I have focused on venture and M&A across various domains, including collaboration, data analytics, cloud and compute and networking.
2. What attracted you to CVC?
The early part of my career was focused on M&A, which naturally led to me dealing with more mature companies. What attracted me to Cisco Investments was that I would be able to not only leverage my M&A expertise but also work with the earlier stage companies on the venture side. Additionally, I have realised that my M&A experience makes me a better venture investor as I can add value through my perspectives on what buyers look for and how to maximise value for startups pursuing an exit via M&A.
For me, Cisco Investments’ unique approach to investing was a big draw. First, Cisco’s business unit leaders represent some of the top thought leaders in their areas. They partner with us to identify and vet startups, as well as allow me to become a domain expert myself. Second, I was excited by the breadth of support Cisco can provide to startups – from technical and commercial partnerships to becoming a customer themselves. These just cannot be done by a traditional VC.
Finally, Cisco Investments is a strategic investor with a thesis-driven team. That means we spend a significant amount of time developing our visions for how certain technologies and markets will evolve in the coming years. For me, the real magic happens when you are talking with an entrepreneur or investor and realise that they share that same vision. I am passionate about working with those founders and giving them access to Cisco’s resources and ecosystem – so we can realise their full potential together.
3. What have been your greatest successes at your unit?
During my time at Cisco Investments, I have taken board observer seats at memory virtualisation software platform Memverge, customer data platform ActionIQ, digital adoption
platform Whatfix, and asynchronous short video platform Voodle. I also led or helped complete various investments, including Cohesity, Avi Networks, Isovalent, and Moogsoft.
Aside from my investment activity, I have also built a strong track record in mergers & acquisitions, including the acquisitions of IMImobile, Cisco’s first acquisition of a UK-publicly traded company, Dashbase.io, and Exablaze, as well as acquisitions of Cisco Investments portfolio companies Involvio and Skyport.
For me, Involvio represented an especially rewarding experience. We first invested in this EdTech company back in 2017. Over the last four years, we have built integrations between Involvio’s platform and WebEx that are among the fastest growing and most used in our ecosystem. We partnered with our sales team and added them to our Global Price List, resulting in numerous joint deals with universities around the globe. It has been a long road with this company, but we are so excited to bring their team into the Cisco family.
Another key highlight is our investment in Cohesity, which received a valuation of $2.5 billion in its latest round of funding. The Cohesity-Cisco partnership has led to product integrations and tight sales team alignment. Mohit Aron, CEO of Cohesity, recently had this to say about the partnership: “Cisco Investments’ connections extend our reach and allow us to focus on what really matters – driving our joint value proposition to customers together.” It is so rewarding when our value-add goes beyond just investing.
4. What have been your biggest challenges?
Over the last 20 months, our investment and M&A activity has been in overdrive, especially in the Collaboration business. Partially, that is due to the rising level of activity in the remote or hybrid work markets due to COVID. When I came into this role as the leader of Cisco’s Collaboration investments and acquisitions, I felt an immense responsibility in helping define the future of remote and hybrid work.
When it came to our team specifically, the shift to remote work has meant more and more that the lines are being blurred between work and personal life. Knowing where to draw the line can sometimes be a challenge for me and my team, with whom I have been working closely to help maintain a healthy balance. I am sure many teams can empathise with that. What has been exciting to me is seeing how this trend influences our business – whether it is organic efforts addressing meeting fatigue and productivity or the way we prioritise the space from an investment perspective.
5. What is your main professional ambition for the future?
Cisco has a solid track record of being an active investor and acquirer for over 25 years. My main ambition is to leave a lasting impact within that bigger story – for the entrepreneurs and startups that I have the honour to work with, for Cisco’s future that is shaped by the investment and acquisition decisions I make today, and for the next generation of investors that I mentor.
6. What do you think all CVCs could do better to make it a stronger industry?
As CVCs, we are unique in that we have the ability to bring our portfolio companies new routes to the market and access our ecosystem of customers, sellers, and partners. However, it takes a lot of work and a mindset shift to fully realise that goal. That’s why several years ago, our team created the Portfolio Development arm, giving our portfolio companies dedicated Relationship Managers who develop personalised acceleration plans to meet the company’s goals. One other advantage is that CVCs tend to be more strategic about investments. We are more readily able to take a longer-term view of the value of a company vs. making decisions primarily based on immediate financial returns.
7. And, finally, for colour, what did you do prior to CVC or in your spare time?
I earned my BBA degree from the University of Michigan Ross School of Business, concentrating in Finance and Accounting. I started my career in M&A over 15 years ago, with most of that time as an M&A banker focusing on strategic deals in the broader technology sector at Deutsche Bank, BMO, and ING and a brief stint on the transaction accounting and M&A valuation side at PWC.
In my spare time, I love to travel and immerse myself in different cultures through food, experiences, and music as it helps me develop broader, diverse perspectives. I also enjoy cooking, especially traditional Korean home cooking, bringing me back to my childhood. I love sports as it brings out my competitive spirit. You can find me rooting for Michigan Wolverines basketball and football, UNC Tar Heels basketball and Carolina Panthers as well as any player who is on my Fantasy Football team roster.