David Eun on Samsung NEXT’s mission & his role as Samsung’s Chief Innovation Officer
Samsung NEXT president David Eun was recently named Chief Innovation Officer of Samsung Electronics in addition to his current duties. In this interview, we discuss how he came to join Samsung, how Samsung NEXT has evolved over time, and what his new role means for our team and the broader organization.
Q: Hi David, congratulations on being appointed as Chief Innovation Officer of Samsung Electronics. Before we talk about that, can you talk a little about Samsung NEXT, and what our mission is?
David Eun: Samsung NEXT is like a startup within Samsung, and our focus is exclusively on startups. We are looking for new software and services companies that will complement our hardware, and help us redefine what Samsung could become five-plus years out.
Q: You founded the group several years ago, but we weren’t always focused on software and services. How has that mission evolved over time?
DE: When I first founded the group we called ourselves the Global Media Group, and as the name suggests our focus was going to be on media, content and services that were specifically related to those areas. But very quickly we realized that while that presented some opportunities, there was a bigger opportunity and a bigger need in software and services.
So we morphed our way into becoming more of an innovation center, by focusing on what could be the medium to longer term. The five year-plus period that I mentioned earlier, we could begin thinking about what Samsung could become next, and what was next in terms of new opportunities and experiences for consumers.
So we pivoted along the way, and now we’re a group that’s focused on any number of software and services — from IoT and AI to AR and VR, blockchain, and other technologies.
Q: You were recently named Chief Innovation Officer. Can you tell us about the new title, and how it will change your role within Samsung?
DE: For me, it means a couple of different things. First, it affirms how important innovation is generally for Samsung. A lot of people don’t know that we have more than 300,000 employees worldwide and we invest more than $12 billion a year in R&D. And since I’ve been at the company, I think we’ve been number 2 in the U.S. in terms of filing and receiving patents.
As Chief Innovation Officer, one of the things I will be increasingly focused on is trying to develop a vision for what Samsung Electronics could be five years from now and beyond.
This isn’t something that I’ll do in a vacuum. I will continue to work closely with other colleagues, developing what that vision could be and then sharing and implementing it internally and externally.
The other thing we want to do is to deepen our relationships and interactions with leaders and other businesses, engineering schools and organizations that are also thinking similarly with us. The Chief Innovation Officer role requires thought leadership in key growth areas and being an ambassador of the company to help inform people about what Samsung Electronics is, what’s important to us, and how best we might work together within our company and with our external partners and customers.
Q: Can you talk about some of the ways Samsung NEXT has helped drive innovation within the broader organization by working with startups? Give some examples of how we’ve done that.
DE: One of the critical tools we have in the tool belt is our investment group. We can go in very very early at the seed stage and we can follow on for the life of a company, and we are strategic investors. Of course, we want to make a return on our investment, but what we’re looking for are companies that can collaborate with Samsung, and this is something that the startups value as well.
So we have the ability to go in very early sometimes with entrepreneurs before they start a company. One example is an investment in the autonomous driving space called nuTonomy that had a nice exit recently.
We had a relationship with the founders when they were still at MIT, before they formed the company. When that happened, we we were there, not just investing but trying to provide whatever support we we could.
We have other investments, like the one we made in a company called LoopPay, which was in the mobile commerce space in Boston. We invested in that company and helped connect it to different parts of Samsung Mobile, which ultimately helped drive the vision for a deep integration, deeper than anything they’d thought of.
We also drove the acquisition of the company and fold it into the Samsung Mobile division.Today that business is known as Samsung Pay. So we took a an investment in an early-stage company, helped drive the acquisition, and then folded it into what is now a product integrated in every flagship mobile device in over 20 countries around the world.
We believe that we could only do that by having groups that sit right next to each other investing, partnering, acquiring and then of course working very closely with our divisions to make that all happen.
Q: When you talk about Samsung and technology five-plus years from now, what’s one thing you think most people will be surprised by?
DE: I think the relationship we have with our devices and the expectations that we have will evolve pretty significantly. Take the mobile phone that that you have in your pocket. Today you look to access specific apps to have specific experiences.
I think in the future your phones will be capable of understanding who you are, what your preferences are, and will be able to knit together experiences by pulling together lots of different parts of different apps and services and customizing it for you.
So it will have the intelligence and the understanding of who you are and what you’ve done while still, because it’s your device, will provide you with the kind of privacy and protection that you want.
So in some way you could expect that through hardware and software integration, you will have a much more customized digital assistant that will help you weave together what had been very disparate pieces across lots of different products. And that’s all in the near future.