As Tech for Korea reported recently, the NewCities Summit 2017 will be held in Incheon, Songdo, Korea, from June 7th-9th. Among the many well-known invitees, 25-year-old Taewoo Lee, the CEO of Alt-A), 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 five 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 in order to notify drivers who are trying to make a turn. This product is essential on private property where traffic lights are absent. Surprisingly, most traffic accidents involving young children occur in this sort of situation – specifically, when cars make a right turn at an intersection. (I’m sure if you drive, you’ve noticed how someone is always popping out on your right when you’re trying to make a right turn.)
When I was on the phone with Lee, it seemed like he has a clear vision for the product hardware, and that the hardware seemed to have been developed to operate to its full potential. In fact, there are already two areas where the product has been installed and implemented – the campus of Dankook University and the Seodaemoon area in Seoul.
However, Lee also mentioned some obstacles to working with the public sector and local governments that he has yet to overcome. Typically, the company has to go through a complex legal process in order to install their hardware at intersections. For example, cities need the approval of their budget committees, whose structure and function can vary from city to city.
In addition, on their journey to making safer communities, Lee and his colleagues realized that their current business model was not one that could sustainably generate revenue. After discussions regarding monetization of their products, they decided to expand into another field: the business of providing traffic data. Once they install their products on private property, they are also able to gather traffic statistics in these areas. Today, traffic data is generally only available on public roads. Most private property owners and residents of quiet neighborhoods do not want cameras monitoring their roads because they believe they invade their privacy. Once Alt-A is able to gather this data, it could serve as a valuable asset for navigation applications and other related uses.
Despite these obstacles, Alt-A has been able to raise 100,000 USD in their seed round and is now looking at raising its second round of investment.
Lee, to my surprise, claimed that his company’s product is not the most technologically advanced item. This was honest in a refreshing way, and he also emphasized over and over that he is in it for the benefit of the communities through improving safety issues. In fact, the Safety Smart Beacon system was released after many revisions to earlier prototypes. He previously had come up with many different ideas only to eventually realize that they were failures once applied to real-life situations.
This led to a conversation on entrepreneurship in general. As a 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 to admit that it is not the most lucrative pursuit. Wealth was clearly not the main driver of his passion; serving the community is.
Though he has been recognized for his achievements as an entrepreneur, I could not help but notice how humble he was. However, as the leader of 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 sure all my decisions are smart.”
He also shared that most of the important decisions that require discussion among his team are made democratically. However, operating a startup does not always allow its leader the luxury of time to discuss every issue with his teammates. For that reason, he has always appreciated the unconditional trust and support he shares with his teammates.
Lee is only one of many speakers that have been invited to the summit. Come join us there to learn about the building blocks of urban well-being and the innovations that create thriving cities.