Nexon CEO eyes global start-ups
Kim Jung-ju, CEO and founder of NXC, the 20-year-old holding company for Korea’s No. 1 game company Nexon, said he has also been eyeing start-ups across Europe, the United States and Korea since a few years ago.
Kim has often expressed his frustration over Korean society being too constrained and said in an interview with the JoongAng Ilbo at Nexon’s headquarters at Pangyo Techno Valley in Seongnam, southern Gyeonggi, on Saturday that he hopes the nation will become more flexible.
Q. Most companies that you have invested in, such as BrickLink, Stokke and Lit Motors, have become an issue. Why is this?
A. There are distinctive start-ups in eastern United States. I invest in companies that seem interesting and into businesses that other people would not usually [invest in], rather than the promising ones with a seemingly high possibility of success.
I do not invest in start-ups with a goal to make 10 times more than the amount of the investment. While there are many technology-based start-ups in western United States of America around Silicon Valley, start-ups in eastern United States are like a school to me, where I can learn new things.
There are many start-ups in Korea. How about investing in them?
Korean start-ups are too similar to each other, and there are too many game companies. I hope that society and institutions become healthier. The government emphasizes a creative economy, yet I feel that many [companies] have their hands and feet tied.
It is a good idea for the government to provide financial support to start-up entrepreneurs, but there should be more than that. If it improves diplomatic relations with Japan, our products would sell more in Japan.
You are the first generation of IT start-ups. Has the business environment become worse than 20 years ago?
Of course, there are people who are doing much better than first-generation start-ups. But in Korea, once they fail there is no way back. It is a very frustrating situation. I also think that the pressure has become much higher to start a business recently. For instance, when people try to enroll in start-up academies in Daechi-dong, Gangnam, in southern Seoul, they must take and pass exams. They are also not allowed to enroll in the middle of a course for reasons such as that it would destroy the atmosphere.
Do you think that Korean start-ups lack global competitiveness?
In the U.S., enormous start-ups are emerging. The global bed-and-breakfast sharing service Airbnb is worth 11 trillion won [$10.7 billion] and the service that connects people with a driver, Uber, is worth 14 trillion won.
While these start-ups are leading the global market, all we talk about in Korea is how much commission fees Naver Band and Kakao will receive from game developers. When we talk about social car-sharing services, we ask whether it would be for commercial taxis or private cars or rental cars. I hope that society will be able to accept new ideas more flexibly.
Are you saying that youth entrepreneurship will be difficult?
Nevertheless, I believe people should start businesses. We cannot stick to one existing business model anymore. We live longer and the world is changing drastically.
Do you think that young people prefer stable paths?
Honestly, I think that society still has a prejudice against business entrepreneurs and large conglomerates. I think that also affects young people’s choices. However, there is no portal company like Naver anywhere else in the world that has kept dominance in its own domestic market. Heinz Ketchup also failed in Korea due to the dominating presence of Korea’s Ottogi ketchup. I think these companies do contribute to Korea’s economy and our lives.
You started your business in the PC era. Now it is a mobile generation. What is next?
I always think about it, but it’s really difficult. When we first had computers, no one expected that we would carry smartphones in our hands. I have no idea how the world will change in the next three years. It will change much more at a faster rate.
Nest Labs, which Google recently purchased, is promising in the next generation. Nest creates the Nest Learning Thermostat, which learns the temperature preferences of its users. When I look at this, I feel very frustrated. We can also create thermostats. Companies join hands in a variety of ways without limitations. It is a threat that global companies are moving so rapidly compared to Korean companies.
BY PARK SOO-RYEON [firstname.lastname@example.org]
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