In order to succeed globally, keep in mind that you take one step at a time

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Wednesday, March 22nd, 2017

David Sehyeon Baek, Director of Global Cooperation at GIC

Nowadays, many Korean startups want to be globally successful. But what does it mean exactly? If you get investment from VCs in Silicon Valley,and you make a big profit, does it mean that you as a startup are globally successful?

If some Korean investors invest in your startup, you go directly to Silicon Valley and open your American corporation, doing business there, does it mean that you are globally successful? Or if a Korean startup starts exporting goods to another country and make profits, does it mean that it is globally successful? We really sit and need to think about what it means to be globally successful for startups.

Any startup might have this fantasy to get foreign investment and become a global star, appearing everywhere. However, we are all aware that it’s not that simple. Getting investment from foreign VCs or investors is not going to be as easy as it sounds. Imagine a Korean VC goes to a far-away foreign country to make investment in some startups there.

Does it happen a lot? Rarely, actually. There are so many startups in Korea already, and yet, would it be really necessary for Korean VCs to go abroad and invest in foreign startups? This is not to say there will be none, but we are well aware that it’s highly unlikely. When I happened to meet one of foreign investors in Europe, he told me straight out that he wouldn’t invest in Korean startups easily, because there are many similar innovative startups in Europe as well. He didn’t rule out all the possibilities, but he made it very clear that he has no intention of doing it. Of course, I understand him totally.

In a nutshell, it’s not that easy for Korean startups to get investment from foreign VCs or investors. It is not because Korean startups are not good enough; rather, there are simply so many great startups pretty much all over the world. Thus, Korean startups don’t have to be discouraged by the fact that they haven’t had any investment from foreign VCs yet. Maybe, it’s just natural. Does it mean that those Korean startups are horrible? We already know the answer and the answer is “No, they are not.”

One of the best dreams startups can have is just like a fairy tale. One startup, established by a university dropout, goes abroad, does a pitching there in front of thousands of people, and one of them turns out to be a renowned VC. He says “I want to invest in your startup, because you guys are just amazing!” On the spot, you, as CEO of an innovative startup, signs the contract with him, covered by all internationally known news media, and you are on the front page of all those magazines and newspapers.

Dream on. It’s okay. We all dream, we all need to dream. But let’s just not wait for a prince on a white horse as a housemaid would. It may be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It is not something that will happen easily and every day. Let’s accept the reality as soon as possible, and get down to business. Let’s not wait for windfalls too much. Doing business is not about standing on the stage in the spotlights, doing pitching and getting a standing ovation only. You know that it’s not everything at all.

Doing business is tough. You start to export one product and that’s where you get started. Look at what you want to sell and where you want to sell. Look at the markets. Look at your customers. Where is your innovative business model?

How are you going to make money? Don’t just wait to make a killing. Okay, you have seen or heard about so many success stories. You might not be one of them, but so what? You’ll get there, as long as you take it one by one, making sure you have the right business in demand in the market. Don’t be too cocky.

Look at the market always. Don’t even believe you will be one of a kind in the world for a long time, though you might be the one at the moment, because your competitor is right behind you already. Make sure you have a right team also. Don’t be blinded by all those empty compliments poured on you by all those you don’t even know.

You have to make sure you can sell your products or services in the market, and you know well you have to prepare many things to make it happen. It’s not a show. It’s not an entertainment. It is a serious business, darn it! And one day, a lot sooner than you might expect, your business will be getting better and better, because you are well prepared, not distracted by some fancy superficial shows going on around you. Among others, let’s not feel embarrassed by our own failures.

All those around startups also should not shame them based upon the failures. Let’s not be too hasty, asking for quick results. Let’s just take it slow, step by step.