Last week we just completed our 7th DemoDay where over 1,800 people attended from throughout Asia. While our event has become the largest accelerator demo day in the world, we are not misguided in our achievements since we know if Y Combinator opened their doors to the public it would put our event to shame.
It is important for our team to continue to generate interest in startups and help the innovation ecosystem in South Korea and Asia grow. Our team at SparkLabs wanted our demo days to encourage new entrepreneurs to break from the walls of Samsung, LG, NHN and Nexon in Korea, to spur new investors and drawing interest from potential corporate partners.
It’s been a long, wild ride since HanJoo Lee, Jimmy Kim and I started on this idea during April 2012 and launched our first batch in December 2012. We were supported by our illustrious advisors, such as Mark Cuban (owner of the Dallas Mavericks and outspoken billionaire), Vint Cerf (Chief Internet Evangelist at Google and “a Father of the Internet”) and Ray Ozzie (Former Chief Software Architect at Microsoft and creator of Lotus Notes). More importantly, we were joined by over 120 active mentors for our startups who have been invaluable to the success of our program.
Eventually we were strengthened by our other partners joining us: Jay McCarthy, Frank Meehan, Net Jacobsson and Eugene Kim, who runs the program and operations of SparkLabs.
The hard work of Eugene Kim, Sophia Choi, Harry Han and other full-time team members have contributed to our 56 graduates creating over $690 million in equity value, over 800 jobs and follow-on rate of over 75%. Part of the high follow-on rate is the ability for us to attract strong teams. The average raise prior to going through our accelerator program is over $400,000 and funds raised afterwards is over $3 million. I can confidently state that productivity for SparkLabs is one of the best in the world.
It has been a fast 3.5 years since HanJoo pitched me and then Jimmy to become the “YC of Korea” and then launching SparkLabs. It hasn’t been an easy road like any new venture, but it has been incredibly exhilarating and rewarding. Being a bit reflective, I wanted to share the top 8 things we learned from growing SparkLabs into a leading accelerator program in Asia and growing our ambitions from becoming the “YC of Korea” to becoming the “YC of Asia.”
1. Every Hire is Critical. This mantra is always stated, often cited, but not always executed upon. I believe the success of SparkLabs came with our first hire, which was Eugene Kim, who runs our accelerator operations and program, and each subsequent hire. Eugene was recently promoted to a partner with SparkLabs and he deserves all the praise that comes with our success.
All the founders have to approve a hire because we truly believe every hire is critical. We have had a few times where everyone of us wanted to hire a candidate but the last person said “no”, which we respected.
2. Details Matter. Our team believes that details are critical towards success. From every lighting on our demo day stage to emails written to corporate partners to pixels on our website. We care about the details because we believe excellence is the minimum standard we strive for and want the companies that go through SparkLabs to do the same.
3. Relationships Matter. Everything is done through relationships. To build strong relationships takes time and effort, so nothing can be treated with a short-term perspective.
4. Follow the Golden Rule. As a baseline, we seek to treat others as we would want to be treated, so we treat people well. If people make mistakes, we want to exercise patience and understanding but also don’t expect the same.
5. Going Beyond the Golden Rule. This applies those partners and people who have worked with us the longest, who contributes the most or who needs help the most. We seek to go that extra mile for everyone in our network, but will go an extra few miles for those who really understand our passion and vision to help out other entrepreneurs.
6. Embrace Feedback and Criticism. Some say perception is reality, so we work hard to embrace all feedback and criticism that we receive. Even if the criticism is a minority view, since we are one of the leaders in South Korea’s startup ecosystem, it is important to listen, learn and improve.
7. Ignore the Haters. On the other hand, sometimes the criticism is just too ridiculous, so just have to ignore it. If we can response with little effort and time, then we might do so. For example, we initially received questions (quiet chatter) on whether we really knew people on our website and others in our “supposed global network,” but those doubts dissipated soon after our launch. We invited our advisor, Ray Ozzie, to speak where he graciously did along with others such as Bin Lin, Co-founder of Xiaomi, and Kai Huang, Co-founder of Red Octane/Guitar Hero, within the first year of our launch. We continue to bring global thought leaders and entrepreneurs to Seoul encourage and inspire the whole startup ecosystem.
8. Integrity Matters. Integrity is an absolute starting point. Maybe because many on our team lived in the MidWest (Chicago, Ann Arbor), but we truly believe all a person has is his or her word. We also emphasize this to our companies; don’t lie to your investors, don’t lie to your company’s partners, don’t lie to your employees, and don’t lie to yourself.
Our team is looking forward to the next 10 years and beyond in building SparkLabs and the overall startup ecosystem in Asia. This is our passion, our drive and our mission. To help entrepreneurs throughout the globe change the world and SparkLabs is our vehicle to do so.
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