(Photo by Dohyun Lee)
The Young Entrepreneurs Panel at the Korean Startup Summit NYC featured five entrepreneurs, each coming from varying backgrounds and business items, but all highly successful and influential in the NYC startup scene. Tech for Korea summarizes selected discussions from the hour-long panel session.
(From left to right)
Melki Ko (Head of Strategic and Channel Partnerships, Ground Signal / Moderator): Melki Ko overseas Strategic and Channel Partnership for Ground Signal, Boston based startup. Ground Signal is a location based audience platform that provides insights to business by aggregating social data. As a founding team member, Melki helped to grow the company by securing financing and developing strategic partnerships. Prior to joining Ground Signal, Melki spent several years at Morgan Stanley and other investment funds. At Morgan Stanley, he helped manage institutional assets for several Fortune 500 companies. He received a bachelor’s degree from Middlebury College.
Andy Moon (CEO of SunFarmer): Andy has spent his career focused on the intersection of environment and international development. Since 2009, he has worked in the solar energy industry, initially at SunEdison Solar and later as a freelance project finance advisor, closing or advising over $150MM in renewable energy transactions. Prior to SunEdison, Andy worked at McKinsey & Company’s Sustainability and Nonprofit practices in New York, where he co-authored widely cited papers on climate change and public health and worked closely with major foundations and multilateral organizations. Andy has a longstanding interest in public health through his work as an early fundraiser and energy advisor to the nonprofit Possible. In his free time he enjoys writing and playing music, outdoor activities, and eating momos and dal bhat during his extended stays in Nepal. Andy holds a Phi Beta Kappa honors degree from Stanford University.
Esther Choi (Chef & Owner, Mokbar): Mokbar’s Owner and Executive Chef Esther Choi is a passionate Korean-American creating a unique style of Modern Korean Soul Food. At her 20-seater eatery at Chelsea Market, she combines the highest quality Korean ingredients with craft Japanese ramen from Sun Noodles as a way to deliver authentic Korean flavors. Mokbar is the only official Korean ramen bar in NYC offering an extensive selection of ramens made without the use of MSG. After graduating from the Institute of Culinary Education (ICE), Chef Esther spent time in the kitchens of Lilli and La Esquina, and most recently as a recipe tester at the Food Network in New York City. Chef Esther seeks to spread her love of Korean food and culture through an easy and accessible vessel, ramen noodles! She has been hailed as a rising Star Chef by Food Republic and AM New York.
Charlotte Cho (Co-CEO and Co-founder, Soko Glam): The foremost expert on all things Korean skin care, Charlotte Cho is the board-certified esthetician behind Soko Glam, the most trusted beauty and lifestyle shop curating the best selection of Korean beauty products. Charlotte has been featured in The New York Times, Vogue, Allure, Elle, Marine Claire, Into the Gloss, Refinery29 and more. She is the author of the forthcoming book, The Little Book of Skincare: Korean Beauty Secrets for Healthy Glowing Skin (Nov, 2015)
Hyungsoo Kim (Founder & CEO, Eone Timepieces): Hyungsoo is the founder of Eone Timepieces. A firm believer in the importance of universal design, his goal is to co-design innovative products that are accessible and useful to everyone. His team has created an innovative fashion timepiece that everyone, including the blind, can touch to tell time. Hyungsoo holds BA/MA degree in Psychology from Wesleyan University (‘02/03) and a MBA degree from MIT Sloan School of Management (‘12).
Edward Kim (CEO, SimpleReach): Edward Kim is a Co-Founder and CEO of SimpleReach, the industry standard for content performance measurement and distribution. A serial entrepreneur, Edward began his career in Shanghai where he launched a variety of startups in the mobile, e-learning, and directory spaces. He returned to the US in late 2009 and launched SimpleReach in 2010. Edward has grown the platform into the preferred choice of the world’s largest publishers (NYT, Forbes, Huffington Post) and brands (Intel, SAP, IBM) . Edward holds a BA in Music from the University of Virginia, and currently resides in New York City.
Melki: Could you tell us about how you started about your business and share some of the lessons learned?
Hyung Soo: When I started this business, there was no watch that blind people could use. With all of crazy technology improvements going on, we often just assume that the lives of people with blindness are also are improving. But if we think about it, most of cool gadgets and instruments use touch screen panels, so if you cannot see, you cannot use any one of those. Therefore if you are blind, you have to rely on old tools, but even those are disappearing pretty quickly. This led me to start this business, because I always wanted to create a product that is accessible to everyone, including the disabled.
However, I cannot overemphasize the importance of understanding customers. You have to understand your customer not at the superficial level, but you really have to understand what they actually think and what they do. Let me give you an anecdote. When I was studying at MIT, I came up with a cool idea, so we made a team of engineers. Our first idea was to make a watch for people with blindness. We worked really hard, and we were really excited to show our product to the people. However at first meeting, we were totally dinged. We went there and presented our watch. But when I brought it to blind user group meetings, they hated the idea. They were sensitive to the design. They asked me all sorts of question like how big it is, what material it is made up of, and many were worried that the watch was not stylish enough so that anyone would wear. They asked me questions about the things I had never questioned before. So I was completely baffled at first. This gave me a lesson. I failed, because I built a watch based on my perception and stereotypes. They told me that if you would like to build something that we would like to use, it must be stylish enough so that anyone can use. Understanding your customer, therefore, is really crucial.
Esther: I started cooking since I was one or two years old. I lived in a neighborhood heavily populated by Caucasians. My grandma and grandpa raised me and, every month they brought me to Philadelphia, and we went to a Korean supermarket. I grew up with grandma and grandpa who loved very traditional Korean food. So I was taught cooking Korean food at home, but at school I was only taught making sandwiches or other types of Western food. This was confusing to me and partly made me grow passion in cooking Korean food in general. Even though, I was never taught the step-by-step process of cooking, my grandma taught me how to share culture through food, which grew my passion in cooking to spread Korean culture through food. My goal is to have Korean restaurants in areas where there’s no Korean restaurant and spread Korean culture.
NY restaurant scene is super-competitive. You will sometimes face people who are pessimistic. However, you just have to learn how to drown out all the negative energy, because if you get stuck in every little thing, you will just not be able to get going with your business. Being an entrepreneur is not always exciting. First year was a very difficult. Before that, I had never been that emotional. I barely cried or expressed my emotion because that’s how I was. As soon as I opened the restaurant. I was so shocked how many different personalities existed in me. When I first opened my restaurant, I worked nonstop, wasn’t able to sleep, and was surrounded by so many people yet that was the loneliest moment in my life. However, you just have to learn how to cope with obstacles you face.
Edward: I want to share my thoughts on some negative aspects of Korean entrepreneurs. Koreans love talking about how hard working they are. However, hard work is mandatory. Saying that you are a hard worker is not enough. That is a required cost. When you look at New York, there aren’t that many Korean founders. There are many people who are working for big firms or even startups, but they are below CEOs. That’s great for all the people who work really hard. But what separates people who are just ‘hard working’ from CEOs is that the latter are able to make opportunities. And that’s the factor I personally feel many Korean entrepreneurs lack a lot. If you are just too hesitant or nervous, you will not be ableto make opportunities. Take a look at Israeli entrepreneurs. They are so aggressive. You are not getting out of the room until you sign that agreement. In contrast, Korean founders are not as aggressive. This might be a cultural thing. But keep in mind that nothing can happen if you don’t act aggressively and try to make new opportunities. If you don’t demand something from investors (or customers) and if you are not loud enough, how would investors and customers know your goal and passion? Your goal is never going to happen. You have to be more ruthless when you demand something and create new opportunities.
Now let’s talk about the good side of being an entrepreneur. Being CEO is awesome. Every time you walk into the office, and you see the entire team dedicated to your vision and spirit-that is awesome. It’s very satisfying that it balances out all the negative sides. To be a successful entrepreneur, you have to be irrationally optimistic. When you hit the point when things don’t turn out well, optimism is really important. If you don’t love your work, you won’t be successful.
Andy: I worked at McKinsey and after that I worked at finance. There are tons of smart people who want to work at prestigious companies and earn a lot of salaries, but there are not many smart people who want to take toil and travel to developing regions. I wanted to start something that others have never started. Contrary to misunderstanding, we don’t give anything for free. We are social entrepreneurs.
To be an entrepreneur, two things are really important. 1) Getting started, and 2) finding a co-founder. It’s really hard to start a company alone. It’s hard to do everything alone. So finding a good co-founder is a crucial step.
Charlotte: I started Soko Glam with my husband in 2012. At the time I was living in Korea, and I worked at Samsung. When I was working at Samsung, everybody talked about how uncreative Samsung was and how it was always following other companies. However, I realized that in one particular area, Koreans were really innovative – cosmetics. Korea was a leader in this space, and I felt really proud about that. There is now 100-year old cosmetics company looking at Korean cosmetics companies. That made me really passionate about working hard to run my business.
Sometime you will face situations where your teammates have to sacrifice to follow your vision. But if you have genuine passion, your team members will be motivated too. One of my former managers (‘Sangmoo’) at Samsung took a risk and he decided to work with me. At that time, this was be viewed as a huge social suicide, but he felt passionate and motivated by my vision, so he decided to take a risk and came to my company. Passion is also contagious. You have to tell your teammates and show your passion, and it will come naturally to people.