▲ Kim giving his lecture. Photographed by Kim Seung Hyun
On May 30, Naver Management Consultant Kim Sang-heon visited Korea University (KU) to present some advice to students concerning startup companies. Kim started off by introducing himself and his career, elaborating that he had served as a judge, a lawyer for LG Electronics, and finally a manager for Naver. He stated that the true value of startups is that it allows people to exercise autonomy over their lives, recommending simple employment for those who crave stable employment and high income. “The reason many potential employees shy away from startups is that the risk for failure is too high in South Korea,” Kim pointed out. “Generally speaking, people are unsure which items will lead to success,” he added.
Kim noted that the biggest impediment to those looking to create companies in South Korea is that most ideas are already dominated by large firms. In particular, he said that because companies such as KakaoTalk and Naver are providing multiple services at once, it is hard to find blue oceans, or markets whose potential has not been tapped yet. As a means to overcome this difficulty, Kim initially advised students to borrow from ideas that have been introduced in other countries, especially the United States (U.S.) and China, and analyze why such ideas were able to flourish in their respective nations. He suggested that students decide if said ideas could succeed in Korea before latching onto an aspect of the idea that piqued their interest.
“KakaoTalk is the epitome of borrowing ideas from foreign sources,” Kim said, “the creator of KakaoTalk was inspired by the advent of the iPhone, and now he runs a service that almost every South Korean uses.” Specifically, he told students to target those industries pertaining to individual’s basic needs and look for ways to amalgamate industries and technologies in an innovative fashion. He took special interest in startup companies that specialize in improving the technology of services that already exist, a startup method that he dubbed the “free-riding technique.” Kim cited examples of program providers for Naver and Google Maps as some companies that walked down this particular avenue with great success.
For those who find it difficult to even conceive of startup ideas, Kim introduced several companies that found success by mining niche markets. Accelerator, or receiving advice and mentorship from acquaintances before entering the market, and company building, or gathering like-minded people to fund a certain project, were presented as possible forms of starting up. However, Kim also warned that maintaining a high standard of output quality is imperative to startups, referring to Apple and Xiaomi as companies that succeeded by crafting top-notch products. “There is a saying in Xiaomi; the best product is the product that Lei Jun, its Chief Executive Officer (CEO) who is notorious for his harsh evaluations, approves,” Kim elaborated.
Kim concluded the lecture by imploring students not to unconditionally follow his advice and to be single-minded in pursuit of one’s goals. Reiterating the virtue of understanding others, being content with one’s own life and knowing when to end a fruitless crusade, Kim wished the audience luck in their future endeavors.