Earlier today we talked about the rise of Korean startups... and what's a better example than KnowRe?
KnowRe is the recent Winner of Gap App Challenge (1st Place) 2013, Grand Prize Winner at Global K-Startup 2012, and Winner of Plug and Play Tech Center at beLAUNCH 2012? In much excitement, we interviewed the Co-Founder and Vice-President of KnowRe, Seojoon (Simon) Kim who was incredibly humble about this accomplishment. You can read our article here.
Seojoon is one of the driving forces behind KnowRe. An incredibly appreciated and prominent member in Korea, he is now about to become even bigger with his success in the U.S. Having studied at one of the most prestigious institutions in the world such as Seoul Science High School (for extremely gifted students only), and Pohang University of Science and Technology (one of the best universities in Korea), he knew what he was talking about with regards to 'the importance of education'. He was even invited to speak at one of Korea's most famous and popular program, "15 Minutes To Change Your World" (dubbed the 'Korean TED.com') about the future of education.
Talk about talent! (A Korean person may be able to understand this pun.) Below is my interview with this incredible education aficionado, an inspiration and role model, Seojoon Kim.
Sue: Hi Seojoon, thank you for making the time for me. You must be incredibly busy with work. And considering your achievements so far, you would be even busier celebrating!
Seojoon: Thank you Sue, it's a pleasure to meet you. Also, thank you for your article on our success at KnowRe. The team has been incredibly dedicated and we are all celebrating together for sure.
On winning Gap App Challenge
Sue: What was your first reaction to the news?
Seojoon: We were very excited indeed! We filed the application in late January, and because the challenge itself took a long time, we were not expecting much from this at all. We got the news at the end of this month (May), so we're taken aback by surprise, but it was a good surprise. We wish David Joo, our fellow Co-CEO and Gloria Lee, our Managing Director were here with us in Korea - they're currently in the U.S. We're very fortunate to have the right team with the right skills. Essentially, in Korea, we have a R&D centre that does the developing and designing. We create content - as in curriculums in Korea, and we are planning to launch it in the U.S and in Korea.
Sue: Sounds like you have a very international team! How fitting, considering that KnowRe just won Gap App Challenge - to be piloted across New York City in over 30 schools, right? That's amazing. I even read that the people who were holding the Challenge were expecting only around 40 applications. They got an overwhelming response from contestants and received over 200 applications. And KnowRe still came on top.
Seojoon: We started preparing for New York in early 2012, and this will be a fantastic opportunity for us to get critical feedback about KnowRe. We're looking forward to fixing problems we may have.
Sue: So within a year, you achieved that goal. I don't think any other startups have ever achieved anything like that yet. It's possibly the first. Will you expand elsewhere as well?
Seojoon: We're thinking that we should definitely be grounded in what we do here and in the states. and perhaps partner up with a company in the education sector. Then we will go to Japan, or China after that. But we want to make sure that we can succeed in Korea and in the U.S.
Sue: I see. What's next for KnowRe?
Seojoon: We have a lot of plans - we are thinking about developing extra curriculums, such as Algebra 2, Geometry and so on. We're thinking about gamification, and developing the social aspects of the product.
Sue: Sounds exciting! Now, there expect that there's a lot of work going on 'behind the scenes'. KnowRe produces product that looks fun, simple and easy-to-use, but it must be extremely complicated and difficult to get your product up to that standard of excellence. What's the 'behind story' with KnowRe?
Seojoon: Everyone in the team at the initial stage were thinking about digital education solutions. Education was and still is a field where digital solutions have not touched yet. But at the beginning we needed the contents, and the context. We wanted to develop a curriculum, and so we started thinking about ways we could do this. And we started off by consulting students at Daechi-dong (one of the areas focused on education in Korea), and we would test their knowledge, find out what their weaknesses are, find out what their strengths are, and how good of an understanding the student had in one part of the course in relations to another. Eventually, the parents of those students started asking us to teach them, so we taught around 10 students, and KnowRe is almost a spin-off of that program.
Sue: What is the most difficult thing for you as one of the leaders in the team?
Seojoon: We have a pretty good team and we have a single focus of developing the best educational app, and I am so thankful to have a wonderful team such as ours. Our lives are dedicated to taking education to the next level, and because we are so passionate about it, we rarely have any issues that go unresolved. In fact, that vision and belief in creating the best app is shared by all of us that unites and gels us all of us together.
Sue: Sounds great. What's the biggest challenge for KnowRe?
Seojoon: I think that the biggest challenge for us KnowRe is that - well, strictly speaking, the app has not officially been 'tested' in the market by actual students. But at the same time that is why this opportunity of having our app piloted across New York will be so crucial for us. We will receive their feedback, and we will be able to act on it. So far, we've gotten great reviews from principals and teachers in the U.S., so we cannot wait until we get reviews from students.
Sue: So, you're facing what is possibly the biggest 'Challenge' - but you'll be able to fill the 'Gaps' in your 'App'!
Seojoon: That's right!
Sue: Well, Seojoon, thank you for your time and congratulations once again. I am sure that KnowRe will come out as a winner as it always did, and I cannot wait until our follow-up interview at the end of the year.
Seojoon: Thank you Sue, and we hope we can bring some good news in December!