John Kim, da SendBird

Episódio 019 do Founder Coffee

John S. Kim, da SendBird

Sou Jeroen, da Salesflare, e este é o Founder Coffee.

A cada duas semanas, tomo caf√© com um fundador diferente. Conversamos sobre a vida, as paix√Ķes, os aprendizados... em uma conversa √≠ntima, conhecendo a pessoa por tr√°s da empresa.

Para este décimo nono episódio, conversei com John Kim, da SendBird, o back-end de mensagens de usuário para usuário que alimenta o bate-papo de sites e aplicativos como o Reddit.

Based on the belief that starting a company was the only way he could do what he loved, John started one of Korea’s first startups, raised money in an environment that had never heard about it, and then was one of the first to sell his startup to a company outside Korea.

After this, John started a community for moms, raised money for it, pivoted (before that was even a word) to a messaging backend company, and got accepted to Y Combinator. He’s now leading one of the hottest messaging companies around.

Falamos sobre sua maneira extremamente racional de tomar decis√Ķes, o ecossistema e a √©tica de trabalho coreanos, a Estrutura de Motiva√ß√£o Intr√≠nseca e, mais uma vez, a Estrutura de Minimiza√ß√£o do Arrependimento.

Bem-vindo ao Founder Coffee.

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Jeroen: Hi, John. It’s great to have you on Founder Coffee.

John: Hey, man. How’s it going?

Jeroen: As coisas est√£o indo bem, obrigado.

Jeroen: You’re the founder of SendBird. For those who don’t know yet what does SendBird do?

John: O SendBird √© uma API de bate-papo. Basicamente, potencializamos as mensagens de usu√°rio para usu√°rio em aplicativos m√≥veis e sites. Voc√™ pode pensar nisso como um caso de uso em mercados em que muitos vendedores conversam com compradores. Ou produtos de consumo, como comunidades on-line, como o Reddit, ou jogos, ou encontros, bem como algumas transmiss√Ķes de v√≠deo ao vivo, em que voc√™ tamb√©m conversa com outros p√ļblicos.

Jeroen: So, companies like Reddit are using your software basically to build a chat so they don’t have to do it themselves. Right?

John: Exactly. So, Reddit has to be one of our most fantastic customers. Obviously they’re one of the third largest websites in the US, and they’ve been using us for their user-to-user direct messaging as well as Subreddit chat.

Jeroen: Cool. How did you get the idea to start a chat backend company? How does that actually happen? Was it like, “A chat backend company, that would be a nice company to build.”

John: Sim. Bem, nada é tão fácil. Então, quando iniciamos nossa jornada em 2013, começamos como uma empresa B2C que tentava criar uma comunidade para mães, na qual fosse possível encontrar outras mães em sua região com filhos da mesma idade. Basicamente, para planejar encontros para brincar, comprar e vender produtos usados para bebês e outras coisas.

When we were trying to create this community for moms and that’s exactly the year when, you know, Mary Meeker came out with a report, “Hey, like messaging is overtaking the world.”

: I think it was around 2014 – 2015 when like WhatsApp, Telegram, these kinds of apps became the most used apps in the world. So, everyone in the industry was trying to see what kind of chat experience they can also put into their own application.

We also wanted to add a chat, and we looked around, tried a couple of different open source solutions, they didn’t really work out the way we wanted, so we also built on top of things like Firebase. That too didn’t quite have the flexibility and feature set that we wanted. So we ended up scratching all that and building everything from the ground up ourselves.

Well the truth is, we were running out of money. We had a couple hundred thousand users, but it wasn’t the next Facebook. So, it was sort of hard to see ourselves getting into a proper series A, with that amount of traction.

While, on the sideline, we had a lot of friends in the industry who were trying to build a chat themselves. We were one of the first ones who build a chat among all our friend groups. You know, a group of entrepreneurs. So they started asking questions like, “Can we use your technology?” We were like, “Of course not. It’s our stuff.” And they’re like, “We’ll pay you.”

And because we had zero revenue and were running out of money, we thought that was a pretty good idea. Very tempting. So we did a hackathon over a couple days, pulled it out to NCK, started selling on the sideline. We started out with a terrible pricing, we just asked, “Hey, how much can you pay me, like 50 bucks?”, and they’re like, “Sure.”

So our first customer was like $49 or $50 a month customer. The next customer we had to go and say, “150 bucks?”, and they were like, “Sure.” So we get had about two dozen customers within a couple of months in the early private testing. And then we applied to YC with that idea at the end of 2015.

To think about it, it’s like first two and a half years we were struggling with this B2C application, and then this small weekend hackathon thing became the core idea of our company. So we completely pivoted in December 2016. At the beginning of 2016 when we launched in YC, and then from there on we’ve grown pretty nicely.

Jeroen: Como devo imaginar a empresa no momento em que vocês decidiram mudar de uma comunidade para mães para uma empresa de mensagens, basicamente? Qual era o seu tamanho, você tinha financiamento inicial?

John: Yeah, we had some small seed funding. We had four co-founders, and about 10-11 people at large. I said it like overnight, but it was actually a course of 6 months of careful transition because obviously, investors invested in that mom’s community app.

As pessoas que entraram na empresa obviamente ainda estavam projetando e criando produtos para esse aplicativo de comunidade de mães e, pensando bem, as pessoas que são apaixonadas por B2C nem sempre são apaixonadas por B2B. Então, tivemos que descobrir como nos alinhar, como gerenciar as expectativas, qual é o cronograma, como validar que isso pode realmente funcionar?

So internally we had some assumptions, “Hey if we get X dollars of revenue or X number of customers, we might have something that works.” So we had this roughly set internal goals, and we started asking people around. We were running two businesses in parallel, under the same entity.

Tínhamos mães e continuávamos a implementar recursos, mas um pouco mais lentamente, porque agora estávamos investindo apenas alguns recursos nisso. Mas também começamos a aquecer nossos investidores durante esse período. Tínhamos uma espécie de reunião informal da diretoria, na qual conversávamos com nossos investidores trimestralmente, ou a cada dois meses, eu acho.

And then we were telling them, “Hey, well here’s a side product we’re thinking about, it’s nothing serious yet, but if we think it has potential, we’ll let you know,” and we would keep updating them with our progress.

Then once we hit certain milestones and traction, we actually told them, “You know what? This might be something real, and we are going to start charging and once we have enough customers, then we’ll let you know.”

Assim, continuamos a aquecê-los ao longo de seis meses. E, por fim, chegar à YC com essa ideia, com dezenas de milhares de dólares em receita, foi um sinal muito bom para nós. Foi um curso de seis erros gritantes.

Jeroen: Yeah I can imagine, you’re stuck between two very different businesses. Did anyone from the team leave because of your pivots? Did all the founders stay?

John: Yeah, all the co-founders are still with the company. Thankfully they’ve been very flexible in adapting in that manner. A couple of the employees were very specific to B2C applications around graphs and resources and things like that. They ended up finding other job opportunities.

We were very careful in communicating that because ultimately we know and they also accept that they won’t be happy at a B2B company. From an APIs versus community for moms, there’s going to be an amount of pretty graph face, and emojis. So we made that transition. I think one or two people left early on in the company, and maybe one or two later on. After that, the co-founding and the early engineers stayed with the company.

Jeroen: That’s super interesting. Is that your first thought of the mom community?

John: Não, esta é minha segunda start-up. Fundei minha primeira empresa, uma empresa de jogos sociais, no final de 2007; se você pensar bem, em 2008. Foi um período bastante interessante, com as hipotecas subprime e outras coisas, então todo o mercado quebrou. Não havia financiamento.

Anyway, so we again had a dark tunnel of no funding, just trying to barely stay alive. But we ran the company for four and a half years, grew to about 30 people and we got acquired by Gree, they’re a public company in Japan.

So it was an interesting thing where if you just don’t give up, good things happen. So we were one of those guys standing on Facebook, along with Zynga and whatnot.

Jeroen: E de onde essa empresa foi criada, a empresa de jogos sociais?

John: Yeah, it was a social gaming company, we ran out of South Korea. We ran for four and a half years and then sold it. Three of the four co-founders have been working with me from my previous start-up, so we’ve been working together for, I don’t know, the ninth year now. It’s been pretty long.

Jeroen: So you started off in South Korea? But now you’re based in San Francisco, right?

John: Sim, um pouco ao sul de São Francisco, em um lugar chamado San Mateo. O clima é um pouco mais agradável. Então, sim, realmente funciona. Funciona para nós!

Jeroen: A temperatura é um pouco mais baixa do que na Coreia do Sul?

John: Na verdade, a Coreia do Sul é bem fria nessa época.

Jeroen: Durante o inverno?

John: Yeah, during winter it’s very chilly. Then in summer, it’s very hot and humid, so the volatility is quite high. California is always sunny. California kind of thing.

Jeroen: A equipe fundadora completa também é coreana ou não? E eles estão em São Francisco ou em Seul?

John: Como começamos na Coreia, nossa equipe cofundadora era toda coreana. Mas agora, dois de nós estão aqui e dois estão na Coreia. Portanto, temos um bom equilíbrio de cultura e pessoas que entendem a história e os bastidores da empresa e estão distribuídas uniformemente pela região.

And then we ended up building out a more senior management team over the course of our company. So we have a CFO, and we have a head of sales, who joined our company almost two quarters now, and they are here. So we’ve been trying to add diversity.

It’s weird because we started out in Korea, we are now adding American people into a part of our management team to add diversity. But yeah, that’s how our team has been evolving.

Jeroen: When you started off with your first start-up in Korea, was that a normal thing to do? Because currently the Korean government is putting a lot of money into start-ups if I’m not mistaken, and they have this big award thing going on and a big fund etc.

Mas em 2008, foi assim?

John: That’s very insightful that you are on top of what is happening in Korea!

Se voc√™ pesquisar a m√≠dia coreana em 2007-8, talvez at√© por volta de 2009, nenhuma m√≠dia importante jamais usou a palavra startup. Era assim que as coisas eram. Naquela √©poca, eram chamadas de empresas de risco. N√£o havia muitos recursos, nem muitas pessoas a quem perguntar. √Č claro que havia empresas que come√ßaram h√° muito tempo, seja ou antes, mas muitas delas eram empresas de manufatura com hardware. Porque a fabrica√ß√£o √© um dos maiores setores da Coreia.

So there weren’t a lot of startups, to be honest, and when you have those kinds of meet-ups where successful folks show up, you meet about 20-30 companies. And if you go to the next meet-up, those same companies show up. So if you go through about three iterations, you literally know everyone in the industries. That’s how small the community was. Whereas if you’re a little venture funding, you might be able to raise a million dollars as Series A, and that would take three to six months, and not a lot of angel investment for sure unless you actually knew people who were somewhat rich.

There weren’t a lot of resources, but it got way better over 2009-10 and by 2011. You could see the word coming out and you could start to see angel investors grouping up. Then around the time when we exited, I think the environment had turned quite a bit.

Fomos um dos primeiros a ser adquiridos por uma empresa de software japonesa na Coreia. E antes disso, acho que houve uma outra empresa que foi adquirida por uma empresa de software estrangeira, uma aquisição feita pelo Google. Até mesmo a M&A/aquisição, não havia ninguém para perguntar.

What’s going to happen, how to prepare, how to negotiate? All those things, resources were pretty hard to come by.

Jeroen: So how did you get into this? How did you think, “Nobody’s doing this here in Korea, but I’m going to start a company and it’s going to end up well”?

John: That’d be a great definition of a crazy person. So I actually approached it from more of a some might call it a ‘first principle basis’. But, I try to look at what I want to do with my life. I’d been thinking about that question for three years before graduating from university.

Trabalhei em uma empresa chamada NCSoft. Tive muita sorte de ter uma experiência maravilhosa lá, pois fazia parte de uma equipe de negócios. Mas antes disso, eu era engenheiro de software. Então, eu sabia como criar coisas e coisas do gênero.

Quando eu estava trabalhando na √°rea comercial, vi muitas coisas que eram muito ineficientes. As pessoas copiavam/colavam coisas em documentos do Word e depois as copiavam/colavam novamente em planilhas do Excel. Algu√©m teve que aprender por meio de macros a executar estat√≠sticas e colaborar em um √ļnico conjunto de dados, algu√©m teve que se voluntariar e fazer o download de todas as planilhas do Excel criadas em um per√≠odo de 30 dias, por uma centena de pessoas e, em seguida, abrir cada uma delas, copiar/colar e coisas assim.

So, it was very inefficient. But if you have at least a minimal engineering background you can immediately build an online forum, or an online software tool that you can have people just punch-in the numbers and the stats will always be running in real time, right? It’s not rocket science!

Enquanto trabalhava no lado comercial, percebi as ineficiências, então criei uma ferramenta interna quase como um projeto paralelo dentro da empresa. Na verdade, ela se tornou a ferramenta oficial da empresa. Foi uma experiência muito interessante ver como uma pequena tecnologia pode criar tanta vantagem para as pessoas comuns.

So, that got me pretty inspired, and I thought like, “Wow! I want to do this for the rest of my life.” Just to be able to acknowledge what sort of makes people’s lives easier, and get feedback on it, because the feedback I think is the most important part – when people say, “John, this is great,” or “this is so easy to use, can you fix this?”, or “can we add this to that?”

And just that process alone was so rewarding. So I’m like “I just want to do this for the rest of my life.” So I went back to school, finished my studies and then as soon as I graduated I kept thinking about how do I do this forever?

Tentei fazer engenharia reversa e havia v√°rios caminhos, certo? Voc√™ pode come√ßar agora mesmo, que era a √ļltima op√ß√£o, ou pode ir para uma empresa de consultoria. Na √©poca, achei que era a coisa mais racional a fazer, mas agora, pensando bem, talvez n√£o seja o melhor caminho. Passar por uma consultoria e depois fazer um MBA, depois abrir uma empresa, ou trabalhar em outra empresa de tecnologia e depois ir estudar nos EUA, e fazer coisas desse tipo.

So I drew out a decision tree, ordered a type of path, waited and what I found to be interesting was, I also put in burn-rate and the risk of losing whatever I had, as an important input. If you do a simple maths, the lowest risk of running a tech company is when you start right away. When you’re not married, you don’t have kids, you have a very low burn. You can just go by with soya mince and raw mince.

Sort of like, starting right now is the lowest risk thing I can do, because if I go through all the consulting and MBA and things like that, I’d be married, have two kids, this is how my burn-rate would go up, there’s a social reputation now I’ve to keep up with, my parents would be disappointed. There are so many things that I had to think about, whereas if I start right now, I lose almost nothing – maybe a couple of years. But if something works, then you know. You learn how to ride a bike, sort of.

Long story short, I think it’s the lowest risk thing that I could do at the moment.

Jeroen: E você calculou tudo isso por meio da árvore de decisão e de uma planilha do Excel etc., certo?

John: Yeah, it was actually a pretty long thought process. I came back to school, I finished my studies over the course of two and half years, graduated. So while over the course of two and a half years, I wrote a lot of notes so that I didn’t regret my decisions, and part of that process was that decision tree. So I think over the course of a year I was thinking about what to do with my life, and yeah, that was sort of was the result.

Jeroen: Há alguém que o tenha inspirado especificamente nesse processo?

John: A few, obviously the founder of the company that I worked for briefly. But also there’s a pretty well known intriguing billionaire, a gaming mogul named Jay. And then Masayoshi San of SoftBank. I don’t think he was statically famous, but I read a biography of him and that really was inspiring. Richard Branson was also pretty cool. But I guess Masayoshi Son was a little bit more of a lion. Sort of like a figure I really found to be very inspiring, but now he’s at a much larger scale now. So I’m like, “Oh, how will I ever catch up with that guy.”

Jeroen: What is it that you like most about growing a startup? You mentioned a few things like building software, solving people’s problems, getting their feedback and improving it.

John: I guess a couple of things. One is, the opportunity to grow as a person is just so rewarding. You get to meet so many incredible people, be able to work with them, learn from them directly. So I guess just being able to connect with a lot of very, very smart people really quickly, has been a very rewarding thing. Sometimes, helping them join our company, that was so much fun. And very rewarding. I’m very grateful for that.

But I guess, when you think about, Daniel Pink, intrinsic motivation framework, there are three things: purpose, autonomy and mastery. Literally founding and running a start-up has the highest alignment in all of those three factors. Like purpose, of course, you’re starting this because you are passionate about it, you have a meaning for it. Of course, you don’t want to start a company because you read something cool about those industry and tech giants. Those companies tend to fail miserably, not always, but mostly. So finding a purpose, your inner calling, is very rewarding.

Then two is the mastery piece, where literally you’ve just started a company, you have to learn so many things and you have to be somewhat good at it, that itself opens up a great chance of mastering the last piece: autonomy.

Again, we are running a small company. You don’t have to deal with a lot of processes, learning about the systems of the company, and whatever that thing is. You have a lot of autonomy, especially in the beginning stage when you can literally steer the ship, too quickly sometimes. So you get all of these three dimensions fully checked, and then there you have it: you have this intrinsic motivation.

Jeroen: E como o fato de ser fundador de uma startup mudou para você do início de dezembro até agora?

John: Wow. I learned so much, I think I’m constantly changing. I have to change, so much. But I guess one way to phrase it, our CFO said a term like, “Live the dream,” and I do feel like I am living the dream. Of course, I’m not saying that every day is an easy-peasy kind of walk in the park, but back in 2007 in May, I was in Korea, out of this small studio with a friend and just pushing out code, and we were always searching articles from Silicon Valley. You think of like a Y Combinator and I’m like, “Oh my god, that’s so cool! One day I really want to be there,” but then it was like, Y Combinator was this star that was far, far away, raising money from Silicon Valley so-called Sand Hill Road investors. Even meeting them was a dream for me, building a tech company that had global users with great logos, whether it be Reddit or just really big companies with a lot of users.

Essas s√£o todas as coisas muito sonhadoras em que pens√°vamos, na Coreia, quando n√£o t√≠nhamos dinheiro. Ent√£o, agora que penso nisso, estou realmente fazendo parte desse processo. A jornada. Estou aqui, trabalhando com pessoas fabulosas, literalmente conversando com embaixadores do Vale do Sil√≠cio todos os dias. N√£o todo dia, mas talvez uma vez por semana. E conversando com todos esses clientes incr√≠veis e dezenas de milh√Ķes de usu√°rios mensalmente.

It is a slog. There are so many problems to solve but, if you take a 10,000 feet view, a bird’s eye view, it’s like, “Wow! I am sort of living that dream.” It is not as glamorous as I thought, but I don’t care about glamour, so it’s okay.

So it’s been fun. A lot of that has inspired me and changed me in hopefully good ways, I guess.

Jeroen: O que você faz pessoalmente agora? Como é o seu dia, ou quais são as coisas que o mantêm ocupado?

John: Oh, uau! Ent√£o, eu vejo os neg√≥cios em quatro dimens√Ķes diferentes. Eu a chamo de estrutura 2 PM: pessoas, produto, mercado e dinheiro. Como CEO, voc√™ est√° constantemente fazendo malabarismos com essas quatro coisas. Mercado/clientes, onde voc√™ tenta vender, mas tamb√©m conversa com os clientes, entende o mercado, encontra uma vis√£o e encontra os problemas a serem resolvidos. E, ent√£o, voc√™ meio que cristaliza isso em seu produto, que √© uma solu√ß√£o para esse problema ou para essa vis√£o. Para fazer isso, √© preciso contratar as pessoas certas e, para contratar essas pessoas, √© preciso ter o modelo de neg√≥cios certo ou uma campanha de arrecada√ß√£o de fundos, coisas desse tipo.

Once you solve a certain problem, then the next problem comes in. It cuts costs and sort of like a circle of life where one problem comes right after, or sometimes in parallel with the first. So these days, I’ve been trying to focus more on obviously, the go-to-market side of things. Talking to bigger customers.

Hiring is one of the highest valued activity any leader can do, or any manager can do. So I do spend more time hiring, meeting customers, and just talking to our product/engineering executives team about what is sort of like a more start for our product, and what are some of the high-level product ideas and items that we want to put in the roadmap that’s maybe not in the immediate items that we’ll issue next week. Or something that we want to think through to 2019 and what are some of the items that we want to deliver by when to open new markets and position our company a little bit differently.

So it’s things like that.

Jeroen: You’re talking about ambitions now and future plans, where do you see SendBird is going in the long-term?

John: So we actually have a mission statement on our website that says, “We’re digitizing the human interactions for businesses,” because when we think about “chat” many people think about it as just a feature where you send a text on the screen.

Mas se pensarmos em alguns anos atrás e pensarmos na primeira vez em que tivemos um modem discado, um dos primeiros casos de uso foi quando as pessoas criaram salas de bate-papo on-line. Depois disso, foi como o ICQ, o IRC, todo tipo de tecnologia avançada que as pessoas pediam por melhores ferramentas de comunicação e tecnologia. E acho que o bate-papo é uma dessas coisas que existem porque é provavelmente uma das maneiras mais eficientes de manter contato e interagir com as pessoas.

So that’s why we have a messaging app category. It is the most widely used app category in the world. So we think that a lot of human interactions being digitized will continue as long as our population grows and more and more people get the internet.

If you take a step further, when you want to chat with your significant other or someone you’re dating, or your family, sometimes you get into this argument, where you’re like, “Hold on, let’s jump on a call, or let’s meet up for a coffee,” and that gets the result. That means there’s still something that’s missing from that interaction. Whether it be emojis, or videos, or voice, there’s got to be another layer to augment some of the things that are I guess you could call them, “shortcomings” on chat.

So we’re thinking of different ways, how do we make this experience, even more, richer, so that one day we can fully say, “Oh, let’s just chat”, and then you can sort of have a real, genuine human-to-human interaction. And then after that will come a phase where things are only possible on digital media, whether sending a 3D photo that you can look around in AR or VR, or things like that. So how do we make this experience even better, so that we can actually help that digital interaction become the defacto standard of human communication?

That’s sort of our long-term thing. And to get there we have a lot of, part of the roadmap features, a lot of different things to learn from customers, and we just need a lot of people to build up this vision.

So yeah, that’s sort of our, I guess longer-term goal. But in terms of actual traction, we’ve been growing, like tripling every year for the past couple years or so. We’re trying to see how far into the future can we continue with this rate of growth, and that part is also pretty exciting. Because growth is not just dollar amounts, but how many people are chatting through our platform, how many messages are being sent through our platform. Things like that.

It’s exciting.

Jeroen: So you’re kind of seeing the impact of your platform?

John: Yeah. And especially when you meet customers in real life too. You’re so inspired it’s like, “Oh we thought you were just a million MAU, with ten million messages.” Now if you look at it, you’re like, “Oh you’re a real company, these are your vendors or customers or service providers” – things like that. You see them in action, and we are so inspired because you are actually making their lives easier.

Jeroen: And is everything chat-centric, to make chat better basically? Or do you also see SendBird going into other types of communication? Or will everything remain around chat, even if it’s a video call, it just comes from chat?

Como isso funciona?

John: No momento, estamos dobrando a aposta no chat porque ainda vemos muitas oportunidades inexploradas e muitos clientes que deveriam estar nos usando e n√£o est√£o. Queremos realmente ajud√°-los a migrar para nossa plataforma.

We think we have probably one or two good years of just fully focusing on that, but getting back to our mission, we think there are other ways to communicate in real time that can be a great augmenting factor to our chat experience. So we’re also doing some research on those areas, that could be voice, that could be video.

But right now, to your question, it’s mostly centred around chat.

Jeroen: Um pouco mais sobre a vida profissional e pessoal. Como é seu dia a dia? Imagino que você trabalhe com coreanos, então como você adapta seu dia em termos de horas?

John: I hope someone has a silver bullet for this because we have a situation in our time differences – between US and Korea. It’s good and bad. It’s good because you at least get a couple of hours to overlap, but bad because you don’t have the entire overlap if you do really want to collaborate with Korea more sensibly. You got to work double shifts, meaning, let’s say you come into the office around 9 or 10, work till whatever, 5 or 6, or even 7 and then you start getting these Slack and email notifications when you’re like 4 or 5 PM here. Then if you really want to chat or communicate with the Korean office a lot, then you’ve got to work until 10 PM or midnight, so it is a slog.

It’s worth it though because you are communicating more. But it’s not so worth it if you’re starting to hurt your relationship with people around you. So you’ve got to find the right balance, and the right cadence and things like that. So far, we haven’t found like a super silver bullet, so we’re just trying to work hard so that we can always be in sync.

Jeroen: Seus dias de trabalho vão até as 22h, então?

John: I hope people won’t freak out, but on an average I go to sleep around 2 AM. This is a pretty long working hour situation for the past about 3 years. But these days I’ve been trying to cap myself to work only, or to go to sleep at least before midnight. It’s been hard. It’s not like they’re constantly pinging me late in the evening, they are also aware that the US has to sleep. But sometimes you see them chatting with Slack, or you’re seeing an email that comes in and you’re like, “Oh, I can help Bob with that,” or like, “Oh yes, I have some thoughts on that,” and you jump in, and you’re like, “Oh right, here we go again. My brain is fully awoken, so let’s jump on another call.”

So that’s how it works and I have been very blessed, that I don’t almost ever get stressed from work, I really enjoy it. So that part’s not really hard for me. You cannot expect everyone in the company to work that way, and that’s not how to run a company. So I’ve been trying to get people to have some more harmony to life.

Jeroen: Now that I think, isn’t there a culture clash right there? Because if I’m not mistaken, in Korea you work quite late, and you do long working hours. And then in the US, it’s a bit more moderate.

John: Wow. Okay. Again, you are on top of Korean culture. They’re not to the extreme – I don’t want to stereotype but when you read about these things online from Michael Morris or things like that, people say, “Hey China work 9-9-6.” Well Korea, we’re not like 9-9-6, we’re maybe closer to 9-8-5, or 9-9-5, sometimes 9-10-5. A little bit better.

But yes, that’s your point, we do in general work longer hours. But I think it is a different culture. Here it’s not necessarily when people go home they shut off and they don’t work. They have dinner with their family, and they log back in and they work if they need to. So I guess it’s more flexible and fluid, and the culture is different.

Also, Korea and Japan, maybe Germany, is very sensitive around time, even with team things – not necessarily meetings, say client meetings and stuff like that. Showing up to office exactly on time, for instance, is more cherished in those cultures. Whereas here in Silicon Valley, where there’s less focus on manufacturing or things like that, the strictness around time is a little bit different. Of course, with customer meetings, we all are very punctual.

So those things do create a discrepancy in culture, but ultimately I think I read somewhere, was what HSBC said, “World’s local bank, you have to think globally, but act locally.” We are also trying to adopt policies and systems that cater to local culture and evolve towards that direction. So we are working on those kinds of things.

Essa foi uma resposta muito longa.

Jeroen: Há algo que você faça além de trabalhar consistentemente?

John: A couple of things I guess. I like reading books, but I guess that’s almost a cliché. I do like cars quite a bit because I don’t think I’ve fully matured internally. I like cars and big noises and things like that. I do enjoy driving on the mountain roads, and things like that when I sort of feel like, “Oh, this is a lot of stress,” and I go on a quick ride to the mountains and then come back and I’m like, “Okay, this is great.” So I do that.

Jeroen: Que tipo de carro você dirige para as montanhas?

John: After selling my first company I went through a lot of different cars. Terrible ways to invest. Never buy a lot of highly depreciating assets – it’s not even assets, it’s just things. But yeah, I generally small cars that make noise.

It’s not good for the environment so I know I have to transition to the electrics soon. But I know it’s coming, sort of old school in that way.

Jeroen: What’s your favourite car right now?

John: Oh boy! There are a few. But I do like the overall German engineering. Kind of precision with perfection, and obsession over quality. So brands like, whether it be Mercedes, or Porsche is a brand I like. BMW’s M2 series are really nice too. Obviously being frugal, if you want to go up, Ferraris are obviously really nice. But if I had to pick my poison, Porsche would be favorite.

Jeroen: Que Porsche é esse?

John: 911, GT3 or GTS. I drive a GTS, it’s a nice choice. But it doesn’t have a backseat, so it’s not really good for a family. Well one can argue, is GTS even remotely good for a family? But I do think GTS is a family car, so.

Jeroen: You also briefly mentioned you like to read books, what’s the latest good book you’ve read? And why did you choose to read it?

John: Oh wow, okay. Recently I’ve been reading Stephen Hawking’s latest book, I think it was ‘Brief Answers on Big Questions’ that has been pretty fun to read. Just getting a refresh on black holes, on the latest in the quantum mechanics, just frameworks around how to look at life, and things like that. That has been fruitful.

Also, I like Gil’s ‘High Growth Handbook’ that’s been pretty nice, I’m about halfway through it. I try to read through three books in parallel. Just to not to bore myself to death.

Eu simplesmente leio muitos livros de ci√™ncias, seja de neuroci√™ncia, evolu√ß√£o, ci√™ncia cognitiva, psicologia, ci√™ncia da complexidade. Essas coisas tendem a me interessar. Depois, economia comportamental. Eu simplesmente tento encontrar padr√Ķes e regras na vida com os quais eu possa aprender, que eu possa aplicar a neg√≥cios, relacionamentos humanos ou coisas do g√™nero.

Jeroen: Gosto muito do pensamento do primeiro princípio, de encontrá-lo em livros e aplicá-lo.

John: Yeah. This is interesting because I’d never really heard about the first principle thinking until recently. But I guess anything you get the urge, you sort of tend to do that because you don’t want to create code versus things that are overly complex, that solves the problem in a very efficient way. So you always have to make it into a simpler and more elegant form.

Isso faz você pensar, acho que é o que chamam de pensamento de primeiro princípio.

Jeroen: Há algo que você gostaria de ter sabido quando começou?

John: Puxa vida! Todas as coisas que eu sei hoje.

Jeroen: Sim, obviamente.

John: Things like people management is something that you just have to learn. I mean some people are better with people and they’re so even when they are young. But I was a pretty antisocial kid, who only played a ton of games. I was a professional gamer in Korea when I was young. I was a very geeky guy. Not good with people at all. Just totally did not understand how people think, operated or got motivated. So I learned it the hard way over the course of the past decade, on how to work with people. That has been an interesting journey. So if I had known that earlier, it would have made everyone’s life easier.

And things like expectation management – how to communicate with not just the people who work with you, but your investors, your family members. Just how to set the right set of expectations, and how to provide the right set of feedbacks. Those have been things that I really just have to learn by just making a ton of mistakes.

Então, eu realmente gostaria de ter sabido dessas coisas antes. Mas outras coisas são tipos de coisas que você pode aprender no caminho.

Jeroen: Last question. What’s the best piece of advice you ever got?

John: O melhor conselho. Oh, uau! Muito bem. H√° alguns mantras pelos quais eu meio que vivo: n√£o h√° decis√Ķes certas ou erradas. Voc√™ precisa tomar as decis√Ķes certas, √© claro, com base no fato de que precisa ser moral e legalmente correto, mas, do ponto de vista comercial, voc√™ quer tomar a decis√£o com uma quantidade de informa√ß√Ķes 30%, n√£o quando tiver 70% de informa√ß√Ķes.

A quick decision is always better than a slow and right decision, so try to make up your mind faster. That’s been of great advice.

The other thing would be: this too shall pass. As I assess as a start-up founder, you go through this emotional roller-coaster. I had a severe one in my first company. And when you raise your first million dollars you’re like, “Yeah! I’m king of the world. I can go and conquer the world now!” And you just quickly realize a million dollars is money that you can probably spend really quickly, just by hiring a couple folks.

So this too shall pass, as in when you have great moments, make sure to plan for the future, don’t get overly excited. But also when there are really dark tunnels, when you go through dark tunnels you’re like, “Okay,” but as long as you get through. There’s almost always a way out. So just keep persevering, don’t give up.

Things like that, have been pretty good advice. But overall, the framework I use is something called “MicroMentor” which is, everyone around you has at least one superpower that you want to learn from. So just focus on that and don’t try to look at the entire person, because no one is perfect. But if you just look at that one single dimension of that person, that person has that superpower, and you constantly could try to create a collection of superpowers around you, to learn from. Literally, 30 people around you can be like 30 micro mentors.

In that sense, I’m then getting advice literally every single day.

Jeroen: That’s some great advice. Well, thank you again, John, for being on Founder Coffee.

John: Sim, foi divertido. Obrigado pelas perguntas interessantes.

Jeroen: Obrigado.

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Jeroen Corthout