I had the privilege of talking to Phil Libin, the CEO of Evernote, about the current outlook of the Korean startup ecosystem. Phil shared with us some of his valuable insights with regards to the startup industry, entrepreneurship, and his perception of Korea.
Sue J. Hur: Hi Phil, thank you for making the time for me today.
Phil Libin: Thank you Sue.
Sue: You mentioned that you're looking for significant talents in Korea. What do you think about the current situation in Korea?
Phil: Absolutely. There are many talented engineers and designers here. People here are creative, and have great ways of thinking about going about problems. So we're very pleased with the talent pool [in Korea] we have seen so far.
Sue: How is Korea different from other parts of Asia? What makes us stand out?
Phil: People in Korea are much happier I think. For example - Japan is great, I love Japan, Japan is actually one of our biggest clients. They are very talented but people are a little bit sad. People in Japan typically talk about the financial crisis, but people in Korea are a lot happy. Whenever I come to Korea, there is a transition, which is great. I think Korean people are have this 'jumping attitude' where people are a lot more optimistic.
Sue: Language barriers and culture differences. Are they a problem for startups?
Phil: No, I don't think so. We have all sorts of people working for Evernote who speak many different languages. In fact the cultural difference is what we look for: that's how we get new designs and ideas, and get new methods of doing things.
Sue: What do you think about the Korean startup ecosystem?
Phil: It's really good here. I am very pleased with several of our Korean partners we have here. There are some really great companies here. The Between guys are really good. The Kakao group is a very impressive company. The first time I was here in Korea, there weren't a lot of Korean entrepreneurs here. And recently we saw this huge rise of entrepreneurship. I think beLAUNCH is a proof of it - it's only been 2 years and it's already so huge.
Sue: What do you think about our conference, beLAUNCH?
Phil: It's very impressive. I look forward to going in to see the startup and demo booths. It's a real privilege to be invited here to speak.
Sue: Let's go back to the idea of an explosive growth of entrepreneurship in Korea. How do you feel about it? We've got this whole ecosystem in place.
Phil: You know, entrepreneurship grows really quickly once you establish the 'critical mass'. Once you get enough ecosystem around, you need bloggers, you need press, you need angel investors, you need people with working places, there is a whole culture around entrepreneurship and it just sparks really quickly. You need good food even. You need all these things in place. Silicon Valley just had that all in one place, and I think other parts of the world are really just coming together. There needs to be support effort. It feels like one support system is supporting other support systems.
Sue: What is the main obstacle for startups in Asia?
Phil: The main obstacle for entrepreneurship in Asia is the idea of 'failure'. In Japan, it's a really difficult, big thing. In Silicon Valley, it's not such a big deal. People fail 5 times and you're still very much invited to everything. I think the attitude is shifting in Korea to accept the idea of failure more. You have to try new things, and you have to try and try again.
Sue: Do you have any advices for Korean startups?
Phil: I think you shouldn't think of yourself as a 'Korean' startup. It doesn't matter where you are. Sure, that's where your friends are, that's where your main team is... I mean nobody thinks of themselves as a 'Silicon Valley' startup. I think being global minded is easier than being 'local'.
Sue: Do you think people are starting to do that in Korea?
Phil: It definitely feels that way. I know we're seeing a bunch of companies that tries to step outside of Korea. Between for example, is very big in Japan. KakaoTalk is expanding beyond Korea. It's dangerous to think of yourself as a 'Korean' Startup. It's dangerous to think of yourself as a 'Korean version' of ... whatever.
Sue: Phil, thank you so much for your time once again. I hope you have a good stay in Seoul and we, beSUCCESS, look forward to seeing you some time in the future again!
Phil: Thank you Sue & team.