I had the privilege of interviewing David Lee, Founder & CEO of Shakr Media at beLAUNCH 2013. We asked him about Korean startups, the ecosystem, Shakr's goals and about David himself.
Sue J. Hur: Thank you for making the time for this interview David! Justin, this is David Lee, the Founder and CEO of what I can confidently say is the 'next big thing' - Shakr Media.
David Lee: Nice to meet you Sue and Justin, I'm David Lee, one of many. (laughs)
Sue: Now, I saw your presentation - it was absolutely amazing! It was conducted completely in English, a language you're comfortable with apart from Korean. Now, my question is: do you see Shakr as a 'Korean' Startup?
David: We're definitely made 'in' Korea and 'of' Korea. But the definition of a 'Korean' startup must not apply because the barriers just don't apply anymore. If we perceive ourselves as strictly 'Korean', that's going to be a problem. In our case at Shakr Media, we don't look at ourselves as a Korean startup at all. As for the presentation - I think I'm really really really bad at presentations.
Sue: No way.
David: Yes, I’m bad at it! But yesterday was different for me because it was talking about what we've been doing for the past years and so there was nothing scripted about it. I was talking about what we think about and do everyday. What we live everyday at Shakr.
Sue: I see. You're very passionate about your work! I'm sure many startups in Korea look up to Shakr. How is going global important for these startups?
David: Going outside of Korea is very important. At first glance, our market is a niche and it's a niche that exists mainly in Korea. (For now!) Korean people all create beautiful videos for baby’s first birthdays and weddings. The personal event video space can be so much more though, encompassing everything from cradle to grave. And we want to touch the hearts of the people outside of Korea. We want to capture not only the specific milestones and events of a child's life but we want to translate the entire life cycle using Shakr. We want to capture those moments that make and define a child's life. This is beautiful and powerful. There's a lot of work that goes into making a high-quality video and Shakr solves that problem. Afterwards, we're thinking about opening up our own platform. In the future, professional motion graphics designers and directors would be able to just upload and post their video styles using Shakr, making them available for anyone to customize with their own life story.
Sue: Now that's amazing. Was that Shakr's goal in the first place at the initial stage?
David: Our work changed over time. We take the idea of 'fail fast’ very seriously. We're very very firm with ourselves about acknowledging failure internally. We had no specific product idea in the beginning, only the theme 'Reimagine Everything'. Shakr reimagines content to video. We initially turned Space Magazine, published by Korea’s most culturally significant architecture firm, into an iPad app that plays magazine content for you in video form. We achieved 90,000 unique viewers. But we realized that it wasn’t something scalable. We realized that this isn't for us. So we shut down that project and we started doing something else - but that didn't make our hearts move either. Then we tried Shakr using our personal life content, photos and video clips of our families. We could feel our hearts beat a little faster. That made us smile.
Sue: That's interesting. The theme in itself is abstract and it's about emotions - but you're also very business-minded and realistic. At the same time, people know you as someone wholehearted and genuine. How does that happen?
David: We’re selfish in a way. Using Shakr’s technology to transform our personal photos and video clips into beautiful Hollywood-grade videos, it makes us happy. We want to make ourselves happy, so this is what we do. Because if our work makes us happy as our own customers, we know that we can spread the same happiness to other people. That's why, despite the long hours and the challenges of bringing life to a startup, we can get through it all with a smile. It’s fun doing this. It makes us happy! We go through it all, the good times and the bad times, and every single one of us at Shakr derives immense satisfaction from it.
Sue: I see! So your team is obviously very close-knitted and share a common goal. David, I'm going to ask you a rather direct question: what's the hardest thing for a CEO?
David: That would depend on the person because all of us have different aptitudes, different deficiencies. And I’ve got a lot of those! Fortunately, I’ve got it good because of the wonderful people around me. With the right people around, being a startup CEO gets a lot easier. So to answer your question, I would say that the hardest thing is to, at any given time, in any given situation, make whatever the hardest thing may be irrelevant by having the right people around.
Sue: You also received a lot of attention from overseas.
David: A little bit. But there’s a lot more to come. Thus far we've been fortunate. We raised some money from a fantastic team at 500 Startups. 500 Startups packs a ton of intelligence, depth and sincerity into even the briefest of meetings. And I’ll let you in on a secret… Dave McClure at 500 Startups is a really nice guy! We also raised money from a Mountain View based Googler, John Lagerling. I’ve got a ton of respect for him. Smart, fair, accomplished. He gets things done at a world-changing level in his job at Google, but still stays accessible to startups. How does he do it?
Sue: Right. Now, last question: how important is Korea?
David: Well, I come from a town in Toronto, so coming to Korea - well, Seoul is huge. It's so fast-paced and energetic. It just strikes me. The change in the mindset is should be a cultural shift that takes a long time. But in Korea, it just happens. It's very exciting t be here and it was one of the best things that happened in my life. It's a lot of fun and we're definitely in the right place.
Justin: Are you thinking about going global?
David: I’d like to address the question itself. We're not going global. We are global. That is an assumption that needs to be addressed in the first place. There’s a lot of dialogue about Korean startups trying to go global. But engaging in that conversation is underestimating ourselves, selling ourselves short. Seoul is an incredibly metropolitan city with global taste, in tune with global trends and setting global trends. There’s a new generation of entrepreneurs here who are already in tune with the world. Let’s spend less energy debating how we can be more global, so we can embrace what we already are. There is a very meaningful list of startups small and large that are globally significant. On one end of the spectrum, there is Kakao, which is quite Korean but has incredible global significance. Anipang, which is very Korean, is a globally significant phenomenon because of its unbelievable distribution and monetization. Industry and cultural leaders from around the world are looking at us already, asking “how can we be like those incredible Koreans?” We are global now.
Sue: I see! Well, thank you David once again for sparing the time to do this interview with us!
David: Thank you Sue & Justin!