More than 200 people turned out at New York City's Microsoft Building to hear seasoned entrepreneurs at the Korean Startup Showcase rattle off success stories, from redefining visual storytelling with virtual reality to helping then-Senator Obama become president.
Those accomplishments may sound like everyday news in Silicon Valley, but the sellout crowd at the April 24 event came to find out how the panelist overcame a significant hurdle facing Korean American entrepreneurs: finding the right support network to launch their own businesses.
The event offered Korean-Americans a chance to find out how to overcome this barrier. It also provided a look at how prominent Korean entrepreneurs cut their teeth in their fields. Here is the speakers' advice on how to identify and deal with all manner of business challenges.
When to Get Started
The moment Eugene Chung tried on a virtual reality headset, he knew it would be a game-changing technology, even though conventional wisdom is not to invest in hardware. "I saw it was about to transform and create a completely new art form," Chung said. Now a venture capitalist and founder of virtual reality studio Penrose, Chung said that when deciding whether to invest in a company, he first looks at its leaders, then its market opportunities and business model.
Co-founder of data analytics company Trendalytics Karen Moon added that a startup's success depends on being in the right time and place. For example, she said, during the tech bubble many fledgling companies that failed were ahead of their time, entering areas that are only now becoming popular.
Fundraising: "A Horrible Experience"
Don't go after outside capital unless you have to, advised David Joo, the CEO and co-founder of online math learning platform Knowre: "The right investor can add a lot of value, but fundraising is a horrible experience." The founder of legal software company FiscalNote Tim Hwang agreed that finding the right investor is a troublesome experience. Although FiscalNote has raised more than $18 million from business leaders like Mark Cuban, fundraising was tough during the early stages. Instead of accepting a deal with a venture capitalist he was unsure about, Hwang had his employees take a pay cut for next two months, which allowed him more time to find a suitable investor. "What might be really good in the short term actually screws you even in the long term," he said.
Hire Top Talent
Although your company is your creation, you will have to give up some control as you expand. Making sure your company follows its mission and sticks to its values hinges on hiring the right people. Hwang, who founded his first company at the age of 14 and tracked metrics for Obama's first presidential campaign two years later, said recruiting talented people is his top challenge. "When you are young you want to do everything yourself," he said. To run a business, it is important to hire people who hold you accountable, added Trendalytics's Moon.
Find the Right Balance in Office Culture
On a wall inside Joo's company's offices are words like FIOS, short for "Figure it out shithead." Fostering an office culture that aligns with your company's mission and values is essential. "Everything you are doing is going into it. This is your baby," he said. Although the term "office culture" can have many definitions, Hwang said it lies in balancing a relaxed atmosphere with a get-stuff-done mentality. A company whose employees work 24/7 will eventually burn itself out. Hwang requires his employees to take off five days during the year in addition to paid vacations to help them recharge. Furthermore, he said, it is important to create a culture of transparency where employees can feel comfortable raising questions.
Network, Network, Network
Given the cultural barriers facing Korean Americans, it is important to encourage an attitude of giving back where companies and individuals share the fruits of their success, said Joo. Networking allows people to build off the success of others, creating a hotbed for new enterprises, Moon added. However, she advised not to waste time with investors not interested in your company. "I would sign up to everything, pass my business cards to everyone in the room," she said. "In this game, it really is correlated to how much work you put in."