Originally from South Korea, MJ has always been into computers. The first time that he ever saw a computer he was 6 years old, he recalls being fascinated by it. “It was a very enlightening moment, I realized that I wanted to see how this machine that waits for my command, works.” From that moment on he began learning how to code and since then he hasn’t thought about anything other than that, in regards to his future. One of the first computer languages he started with was Cobol; today he knows several. While in Canada MJ had an internship at a gaming company and studied computer science. He got a job offer to work for a gaming company in Scotland due to his experience and the ability to speak Korean. Not only was this an exciting offer to move to a faraway place, but it also meant he could get away from his parents. Which whether you want to admit it or not, has been everyone’s goal at one point of another.
He describes his year in Scotland as a great time, though he didn’t drink as much as most Scottish residents. While in Scotland MJ got a job offer from Google to move to Silicon Valley and join their engineering team. In the engineering world, being recruited by one of the big tech firms to work in Silicon Valley is a dream. Working at Google taught him that he had a lot to learn to consider himself a good engineer. During his four years there he learned a lot and improved his skills tremendously. As the saying goes, “surround yourself with people that are better than you.”
For those looking to learn coding to build prototypes and Minimal Viable Products (MVP) he feels that coding bootcamps are sufficient enough. For those looking to become programmers he suggests that the university is the best route.
MJ helps out with a humanitarian organization in North Korea for orphans. One year when preparing to make the trip to N. Korea he had 9 people who were interested in joining him. As you can imagine the process to get to North Korea from the USA isn’t an easy one. There was a lot of preparation required which included training people on what and what not to do, visas. By the time the date came for them to leave, there were only 4 still committed to the trip. Unfortunately MJ had already planned for ten and had to take on the cost for the five people that flaked. I’m sure we’ve all been there before. Not necessarily for a trip to Korea, but people commit, then flake last minute leaving the organizer holding the bill. Through this very painful experience MJ and his cofounder came up with the idea for Gatheric.com. Essentially crowdfunding for events. Whether it’s for a Sunday BBQ at the park with friends or a weekend in Vegas. Gatheric.com allows you, the organizer, to collect funds in advance from would-be attendees. Yes, it’s like a flaker repellent. If people are serious about going they’ll put their money in and if something comes up later they’ll be more committed to sticking with their original plans because they’ve already paid. If people don’t put money in, they were going to flake anyway. Either way you’re not stuck with the hefty bill because a friend decided to do something else. Another cool part is that the site allows you to leave the event open to the public, so who knows you may just make some new friends.
“I have this fear of hosting events.”
Shortly after coming up with the idea, MJ left Google and went to work on his idea. After making the site they hit the streets to see what people liked about it and what people had to say about their competitors. It’s important to show off your MVP to see what people think before deciding to pour a lot of your resources into the idea. MJ and his cofounder decided to go to events like pitchathons where people would tell them what they like and compare them to their competitors in an attempt to learn about their differentiator.
“Entrepreneurship is like jumping off of a cliff and building your plane as you fall down and hoping that you don’t crash before you’re done. I thought I had plans when I left Google, I thought I had everything calculated...not at all!”
At the time that we spoke MJ and his cofounder were funding the company from their personal savings or better known as bootstrapping. He’s worked in every café in Downtown San Francisco and can tell you who’s got a good brew. MJ built the prototype himself, which took about 6 months. His cofounder is a great sales guy; he’s in charge of raising money and marketing the brand. It’s important to have a cofounder that compliments your own skills with others that are important for success.
“I think one of the biggest, unexpected pain points that I faced when starting this company. Initially not coming from the startup world I thought that when we built a product that we thought people would like, people would catch on automatically. That’s what I thought from reading all the articles, but getting the word out is very difficult.”
Getting the word out about what you’re selling can be one of the most difficult aspects of business and usually makes or breaks folks. In order to get the word out initially, MJ went to several networking events, for a while he was going to one every night. Getting the word out can not only be tough to initiate, but can also be tough to endure. You’ll meet people that won’t see why your product is important, they will be blind to the value. Which can make anyone second think their idea.
“The reception was also something that I didn’t expect either. I thought that when we shared the idea, people would be just as excited as I am. But there were people that were not. There were people that thought we weren’t offering enough value to the user.”
He found that he had to perfect his pitch in order to convey his value efficiently or he could be losing potential future customers. Being able to convey your value is important. According to MJ most people lose interest in what you’re saying after 30 seconds or 5 sentences, so it’s important to say the most in the least amount of words.
“I think I learn as we go along.”
For those who specialize in a technical skill and lack the business education, MJ suggests you look in to the podcast “How to start a startup” which is hosted by Stanford. It’ll take about a week, but will get you caught up on some fundamentals.
MJ’s future plans consist of ensuring that Gatheric is used to connect people from all over the world to have real life experiences. He also has a vision to have Gatheric used as a tool by entrepreneurs who are in the event planning space, so that they can operate leaner.
What advice would you have for aspiring entrepreneurs?
“I would recommend that they join another startup and work for them as an intern at least, for a year or two. Either that or read up on things that people say like interviews like this, seeing what pain points people felt through running a startup. I think those things would really help too. It helps people to really shape up their idea, at least from my end and the people that I’ve met with. People that have a burning passion to turn their idea for a startup into an actual product, they could be sitting on a gold mine of an idea but it they don’t know how to run an actual startup, it’s sad to see that idea go to waste.”