Korean Americans Can Succeed in the Korean Startup Ecosystem

Many Korean Americans come to Korea to reconnect with family roots.  While they are here they love to party and have a great time in places like Gangnam, Itaewon, Hongdae, etc.  However, besides the aspect of having fun, there are many business opportunities for them, especially in the Korean startup ecosystem.  Most of the Korean Americans that come to Korea, come as English Language teachers.  That is a great way to get accustomed to living in Korea and to be honest the first two years I lived in Korea, teaching at Hagwons was some of the happiest times of my life.  However, you can only be an English teacher for so long.  There are a lot of opportunities for Korean Americans in Korea, from working at a tech startup to working for one of the major Korean corporations.

Silicon Valley to Seoul

Many feel that the Korean startup scene is a year behind say Silicon Valley.  It will not be a surprise to see ideas take off in Silicon Valley and then a year later someone starts the same business in Seoul.  A Korean American that has been an entrepreneur in the states, has much more knowledge and value.  They can bring a different perspective, a more global perspective.  Therefore this is one of the key strengths they can bring to the table in Korea.  In the states, they are just another typical entrepreneur. In Korea, they become a much more valuable global connector.  There are hundreds of business ideas that have found success in America but haven’t yet been implemented in Korea.  If you take a closer look at some of the more successful Korean startups, you will usually find a Korean American founder behind it.

Korean Americans in High demand

More and more companies are looking to hire Korean Americans (Gypos) that have a deep understanding of how business works outside of Korea. Accelerators and Incubators in Korea prefer startups that have a Gypo CEO because they know there is a larger potential to go global.  In addition, Gypo CEOs are more confident at giving pitches in English (for obvious reasons) but also they tend to more aggressive in their desire to expand outside of Korea.  Also, Korean-Americans have a better understanding of Korean culture than westerners.  This allows them the benefit of both worlds.  If a Gypo has the ability to turn on and off Korean culture mannerisms, they will have no issues working with both Korean companies and global companies.   Many Gypos can even speak the Korean which is helpful in bridging the gap between their Korean co-workers.

Foreigners lack the understanding of the Korean culture which in turns makes it hard to get along with their Korean colleagues.  It is common for Korean workers to avoid hanging out with Foreigners after work and vise Versa.  Korean Americans help bridge this gap.

Koreans are looking outside their country in order to find ways for their company to go Global.  Going global is one of the main barriers for Korean startups.  Many tend to stay in the comfort and bubble of their home country.  However many foreigners that come to Korea to work, can get shocked by the Korean working culture.  Many end up leaving the company after a few months.  Korean Americans have a much deeper understanding of Korean work culture and can adapt a lot easier than foreigners.

Changing the Korean work Culture

Many young Korean-American entrepreneurs have come to Korea and really changed how companies are run.  Startups, Accelerators, Incubators, etc were not terms that were around in Korea before these Korean-American entrepreneurs brought them here.  There are hundreds of startups started by Korean Americans.  They do not have the intense working culture of the typical Korean company.  There are also many global companies that have expanded into Korea.  For example, WeWork has expanded all across Seoul and have over 12 locations and growing.  Furthermore, many Korean companies which have not found success through foreigners are now turning their attention to Gyopos in order to move their company forward.  For those Korean Americans struggling in America, they would have a greater chance of success moving to Korea and working in the Korean startup scene.

The Korean Startup Scene

Korean Americans living in Korea might get offers from Korean conglomerates like Samsung, LG, etc.  However, these major corporations are still very traditional, even tho they have made a lot of progress.  Lately, there has been a rise in entrepreneurship in Korea as more and more Koreans are going away from the stability of companies like Samsung or government jobs and into working for a startup in Korea.

There are many successful Korean startups like Coupang, Kakao, Viva Republica and more.  Some of these successful startups were started by Korean Americans who have now become role models and mentors.  Furthermore many Korean conglomerates like Samsung and Naver are investing in new startups.  Therefore more and more young people in Korea are becoming more attracted to the startup scene.  The competition for getting a C-Level position at a successful startup in the States is high.  However many of these global startups have entered Korea and are looking for talented people to help them enter the Korean market.

More Money Flowing into the Korean Startup Ecosystem

Korean startups will start to see an influx of capital not just from Korean VC firms but also from the Korean government.  The mayor of Seoul has stated that the Korean government will invest billions in Korean startups over the next couple of years.  The Korean government realizes that they need to invest a large amount of money for research and development in the fields of health care, e-commerce, IoT, AI, enterprise software, and even Korean entertainment.

However, overall, the amount of money Korean startups are raising is small compared with what startups can raise in Silicon Valley.  This is because of the fact that Korean startups tend to focus only on the Korean market because most of their workers are Korean.  This is why Korean startups are looking for Gypos to them break the language and cultural barriers.