Talent search for young venture entrepreneurs

Korean-made audition shows like the format of Britain’s Got Talent or America Idol are bombarding in South Korean TV scenes. The first audition show launched in Korea that attracted huge media attention was “Superstar K” (2009). The show was aired on Mnet, a cable TV music channel and it successfully gained national interests. The cable channel’s success led other TV channels to produce programs with a similar format. More than 10 different audition programs are now running and few programs are already on their next sequels. Literally, if you switch between channels, at least once, you’re being exposed to a different audition show. Audition fever is at its heights right now and 1.93 million people from across the country have taken parts in the 3rd sequel of “Superstar K” scheduled to be televised later this year. The figure accounts for 4% of Korea’s total population. The contestants are varying in terms of their age, job, nationality, and etc. No matter how different they are, they share their passions and talents that somehow touch audience watching the show even if winning the audition and becoming superstar comes as their highest priorities. We are already up to with those folks who have potential to be Susan Boyle or Paul Potts of Korea who have overcome their impoverished background. Audition programs are serving as outlets for Koreans’ desire to become famous. Though, we get to see so many people in the show who turn up to compete at huge opportunity cost. Deluge of audition programs is now raising concerns about their side-effects.

Talent search shows are instigating false hope of an instant big win. South Korean entertainment companies are well-known for mass-productions of pop culture in Asia. Numerous young kids are seeking to be picked by top producers and add their names to the list of current celebrities. Yet the chances are very slim. According to a recent study, only 0.01% of the people preparing to get in celebrities business actually get a chance to make their debut. Because the chances of being on the TV look pretty decent, people see the arrival of audition shows as a way to come one step closer to their dream on the fair ground. The illusion is somehow exaggerated, though, through repeated “rags-to-riches” stories. Take example of Mr. Huh Gak, a 25-year-old repairman won the 2nd sequel of “Superstar K”. The contrast between his powerful voice and his plain appearance amazed the public and he even beat his handsome rivals. Though he rocked the nation for a while, he is still on a bumpy road to succeed as a real musician. Winning an audition does not put you on a royal road to stardom instantly. He is still known as the winner of huge prize of KRW 200 million, a car, and a contract to release an album. Subsequent talent shows raised the reward up to KRW 500 million. Shows are under criticism for mass commercialism. Tempted by instant wins, people jump into vague dream sacrificing the meaningful achievements in their lives built up so far. On top of that, immature teens are now hopping on to the trend as well. They already are influenced by teenager stars. The audition shows may exacerbate the current situation that people are enormously influenced by celebrities.

Audition program is no longer a fresh twist compared with other TV programs. It even feels quite obsolete due to mass production of similar format of the shows and repetition. Aside from participants’ talents, producers and journalists tend to shed more light on the personal stories to differentiate the program and talents. Adding touching stories to the show and individual participant that can make people weep, and give audience “ah-“ moments is a great way to appeal to emotions of large crowds. Additionally, instant attention from the media and words of mouth of viewers can be obtained with those stories. This tactic somehow reveals and exaggerates contestants’ private life and it really kills pure purpose and charm of the reality shows. Power of story-telling is wearing out quickly and stories are deemed more or less the run of the mill. They all contain classic materials of “zero to hero” plot; born in a poor family, received no professional training to hone their skills, never gave up their dreams despite the hardships, and now I am here. Since this emotional touch does not count as importantly as before, producers often end up in over-dramatization. For example, Mr. Choi Sung-Bong, a contestant in “Korea’s Got Talent” triggered instant sensation but also criticism. Mr. Choi had such a dark history which contrasts his amazing voice singing Nella Fantasia. He said he had been living on his own since the age of 5 escaping from orphanage so at one point he had to sleep in public restrooms to find a shelter. He also mentioned that he did not receive any training to be a vocalist. Later, he was found out to be a graduate of an art high school and majored in vocal music. The show had to go through massive criticisms for distortion and made public apology.

“It is unfortunate that only the desire to become famous in entertainment business is strongly encouraged and gains nation-wide attention but not other noble pursuits.”

Audition fever in South Korea will not quickly disappear. Audition shows have so far achieved one of highest audience ratings in recent history. Millions of people out there are still looking for audition opportunities to be a star. However, the popularity will likely fade away as with the case of the rise and fall of former popular reality shows. Similar personal stories no longer guarantee media attention, either. Last but not least, the media are encouraging people to adore stardom blindly. It is unfortunate that only the desire to become famous in entertainment business is strongly encouraged and gains nation-wide attention but not other noble pursuits. What if there is a TV show for young entrepreneurs competing with each other with their passions and business idea? Politicians always talk about small and medium businesses are the backbone of the economy but they do not support for young talents who are working hard on their dreams at their early stage ventures. With flow of government and private funding to embrace more ventures and corporate’ needs for young talents who can make difference on their corners regardless their background or education, it is probably a good time to think of audition type of young talent shows for a future business leader. Challenge for building is encouraged but the business atmosphere is not mature yet to embrace people who fail and give those people who fail another chance. Who knows a televised program can bring a change to the status quo and offer better foundation to foster talented young venture-minds to come out of their garages?

(This article was developed with Steve J. Min, a staff writer.)


Creative people @ creative venue

Building a venture business is a creative process. Either getting into a new market or competing with large gorilla, you get to be creative. You have to know where to nail. You have to turn things fast and furious. You have to creatively engage with people and partners. If you don’t enjoy starting something from scratch, you may not be a right entrepreneur material.

Creative work often starts at a creative space. It can be your small den or garage. It can be a corner side bakery where you can find high dose of caffeine. Wherever you get to find productive is a good place to start with. Though, finding a creative venue keeps your creative energy arousing. It can be a MIT Media Lab or IDEO-ish business incubation center. It can be a place where lots of entrepreneur socialize and gather and talk. I won’t urge you to pick on their brain but if you come across with those people in and out and you have a small talk. Eventually small talks can be a more serious talk just like you spot somebody and eventually date.

Sitting in a small cubicle or small rent-out office is a great idea to organize your thoughts and develop business plan. Though, getting to know people with full of creativeness and sharing entrepreneurial passion will make your move a lot smoother. If you feel like hitting on the wall, get out and talk to people.

Creative people @ creative venue
Creative people @ creative venue

Power of social marketing

Now, I take a relaxing moment here in Youido. (Youido is Wall Street in Seoul where the Korea Stock Exchange is located.) After long and busy weeks, today is a special treat for my wife (who is in her latter part of pregnancy) and me. I’ve got introduction about Soo Spa from my close friend who works nearby. Its ambiance is quite well-appointed for total relaxation and service staffs are excellent. While my wife gets her mother-to-be treatment, I’m reading a book and also flipping few notes I’ve been working on.

Over the past week, I was delighted to get to hear more about interesting business scheme on social marketing. Growing social media such as Facebook or Twitter and their search for revenue center other than traditional ad. somehow leads us to the next big market trend called “social marketing.” Social marketing and its definition varies. It can be group purchase for super discount, limited inventory release, or coupons distribution. They are already existing methods in the traditional retail industry. Though, difference is how quickly (and cheaply) their promotion gets to potential shoppers’ attention.

We always appreciate people (especially friends) who already have knowledge and experience of using certain items. It can be travel experience, new Jimmy Choo, or restaurant selection. Surprisingly, we often highly rely on people in the range of our social comforts even if they are not real experts. Whether we get cheapest deal or most anticipated product in the market, we have higher trust level on our friends and colleagues and feel like we have same clout with them.

Anyhow, now, marketer and advertiser needs to be smarter than ever. We all know, even articles in the New York Times, whether they are there for strong promotional motif or not. It’s a great opportunity for those who have built social network service as they’ve worked hard to build network of people with close social ties. Getting into social network, living in it, and exposing your value is best way to convert your potential shoppers to paying customers.

p.s. Special thanks for the partner who works at Bonn Angels who introduced Aveda product for my wife. It was a great gift idea! I appreciate it.

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One Dollor Man

You may recall old TV show called “6 million dollar man.” This is like a half human and half robot being that does incredible stuffs whenever there is a trouble.

But, guess what? there is one dollar man in the corporate world who is so entrepreneurial and withholds immediate personal interests for a while until he proves himself. Steve Jobs has got his fame taking very nominal salary (like $1) and also Kim Jung-Tae who led Kookmin Bank, the largest bank conglomerates in Korea out of trouble also collected zero paycheck for his incredibly challenging mission. Though, what made them to be really paid off at the end for their hard work were their stock-options or existing shares. In that case, their interests were totally aligned with other shareholders. If these entrepreneurial CEOs were really turning around the company, then they can be rewarded with roaring stock prices and they can eventually cash out.

This “one dollar man mind-set” maybe something we often expect from venture founders. Especially, when there are unproductive valuation or compensation battle between founders and institutional investors, we always hope that founders minimize or put off their expectation for immediate personal gain (like sales of founder shares or lucrative compensation package) for a while.

I saw two different cases. One of co-founders wanted to cut her paycheck at $350K while she was ok with her share position to be low. Initial funding wasn’t that great, but the board approved her package because she was a so called “high flier” who had great track-record.

The other case was that a founder already made some fortune from his previous venture. He was willing to cut a nominal salary like $1 for him to act as an entrepreneurial CEO until company hit certain milestone. It took longer than expected but he was totally fine with the fact that he was not rewarded immediately. He thought that other investors were also taking enormous risks, too. So, he thought that it was a good gesture and motivational factor for him to focus more on earliest moment of his new venture and to have a more efficient P&L until it started generating sufficient profit to create huge upside.

We definitely had more successful result from the second case. Though, in reality, we don’t see too many brave one dollar men. As investors, we also suggest more balanced approach. Though, we still try to disregard extremely personal-gain-oriented founders who have very lavish life style. We’d better working with someone who is humble and caring. As an investor, we don’t want to distress hard-working venture management team. However, we always hope that founders can really have forward-looking thoughts that they know what they are getting into and allocate resource to the most needed place.

What’s your business that makes you feel brave enough to take a short-term risk but yield huge outcome at the end of day?

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