As Tech for Korea has reported recently, NewCities Summit 2017 is kicking off in Incheon, Songdo, Korea on June 7th-9th. Amongst the diverse range of famed invitees, Taewoo Lee (CEO, Alt-A), a 25 year old, stands out. Despite his young age, he already has numerous achievements under his belt as an entrepreneur. Just before the Summit began, I had the chance to speak to him about his company and personal achievements.
Alt-A stands for Alternative A, which means “the best alternative solution.” A group of 5 young adults in their mid-20’s decided to start a company that provides safety solutions to communities. Their first product, Smart Safety Beacon, is an IoT sensor that detects pedestrians crossing streets to notify drivers trying to make a turn. This product is essential in private properties where traffic lights are absent. Surprisingly, most traffic accidents of young children occur in the above situation – specifically, when cars make a right turn at an intersection. (I’m sure if you drive, there is always someone popping out of your right when you’re trying to make a right turn.)
When I was on the phone with Lee, it seemed like he had a clear direction for the hardware of the product, and that the hardware seemed to be developed to a full extent of operation. In fact, there are already two areas where the product has been installed and implemented – Dankook University campus and Seodaemoon area of Seoul.
However, Lee also mentioned the obstacles in working with public sectors and local governments that he has yet to overcome. Typically, the company would have to go through a complex process of legal provision in order to successfully install their hardware into the intersections. For example, cities would need the approval from its budget committee, which could vary in individual cities.
In addition, on their journey to making safer communities, they realized that their current business was not a sustainable business model that could generate revenue. After discussions regarding monetization of their products, they decided to expand into another field of business of providing traffic data. Once they install their products at private properties, they would be able to gather traffic status in private properties as well. Today, traffic data is only available on public roads. Much of the private owners and residents of quiet neighborhoods disagree in monitoring the status of the roads through cameras because they believe it is an invasion of privacy. Once they are able to gain this data, this could be a valuable asset to navigation applications or any relevant fields.
Despite these obstacles, Alt-A has been able to raise 100,000 USD in their seed round and is now looking at raising their second round.
Lee, to my surprise, claimed that his company’s product is not the most technologically advanced item. This was blatant in a refreshing way, and he also articulated over and over that he is in it for the benefit of the communities through improving safety issues. In fact, Safety Smart Beacon system was made after many revisions to prior prototypes. He initially had come up with many different ideas only to realize that they were failures once applied to real life situations.
This led to a conversation on entrepreneurship in general. As another 25 year old myself, I had a lot to ask and wanted to hear as much as I could, but he simply started by saying that the hardest part of starting a company was sustaining it. He also was not shy about how it is not the most luxurious way of living. Luxury was clearly not the main drive for his passion but serving the community was.
Though he has been recognized for his achievements as an entrepreneur, I could not help but realize how humble he was. However, as the leader in his company, he still possesses a confident and bold persona. When I asked how decisions are made, he told me, “I don’t try to make smart decisions, but rather, I work hard to make all my decisions to be smart.”
He also shared that most of the important decisions that allows discussion among his team members are made democratically. However, operating a startup does not allow the leader to have the time to conveniently discuss all issues with his teammates. And for that, he always appreciated his teammates for the unconditional trust and support.
Lee is only one of many speakers that has been invited to the Summit. Come join us at the Summit to learn about the building blocks of urban wellbeing and the innovations of a thriving city.