On August 28, there was a lecture titled “Digital Nomad Meetup” at J-Space in the Jeju Creative Economy Innovation Center. Three lecturers shared the expertise they gained so far or their current direction of work under the theme of “Smart Work, Working Smart”. Presentations were given in the order of Section Chief Ji Yoon Hwang from Microsoft Korea, President Ji Hwan Kim from Alleys Wonderlab, and Team Leader Hyeon Ah Moon from Jeju Smart Welfare Center. The interviewee I had scheduled in advance was with President Ji Hwan Kim.
President Ji Hwan Kim giving a lecture at the “Digital Nomad Meetup” - Jeju Creative Economy Innovation Center / 2017
Other than the fact that he participated in the “Jeju Daum” program in April, I listened to President Kim’s lecture without knowing any other information. I actually laughed out loud as I listened to his stories. It wasn’t because the stories were particularly enjoyable or funny, but because his attitude in handling any situation was so interesting and shocking. I think most people probably thought the same. President Ji Hwan Kim explained the past image of difficult companies and their future direction sharp-witted and refreshing manner. His stories may have been more interesting because I could never be in his shoes. I met him right after his lecture and decided to listen to what kind person he is.
# My life is an experiment regarding work
Ji Hwan Kim I studied design in engineering school, but I always struggled with my identity. “What kind of work am I doing now, and what must I do?” was a lifelong project for me. That’s how I cam to create my very own life and work style. My way of life is the result of my experience with delivering newspapers, working as a 3D animation intern, Naver UXDP, entering graduate school, working at a conglomerate, and a startup. To the people around me, I was always someone who was doing something new, a person who is always experimenting. When I decided to create a startup, my family and friends weren’t even surprised, probably because they saw through all these years that this was my way of life and attitude.
“You have to try it to know. Let’s try it!”
I didn’t know that I would end up becoming the president of a startup. I just wanted to do what I wanted to do, and that’s how I ended up here today. I entered graduate school and graduated with a degree in UX and interaction design, then I worked as a researcher at LG Electronics for about 3 years. I wasn’t very creative, but I loved new ideas and trying new things, and I started doing work that involved discovering UX ideas using future technology. For 3 years, we applied for patents for over 400 ideas. LG Electronics complemented me, gave me an award for being the king of inventions, my patents went in the hall of fame, and even got sold to Microsoft. Seeing all of this, I began to realize that people actually need my ideas. I started wanting to launch my services, products, and ideas to people and the world, and that’s how I created a startup.
# A completely different way of life, Start “up”
With company employees, President Ji Hwan Kim, Co-founder Samuel Lee, Co-founder Rae Yeong Chang, Co-founder Wung Jun
Ji Hwan Kim Creating a new business was not easy. Everything from gathering team members, creating an organization for that company that we would be operating together, collecting the required funds were all unfamiliar and difficult tasks. I first started to gather team members as I was discovering new ideas in the Future Play Incubator, and I started looking for investors and was able to establish a corporation after 1 year. 4 outstanding co-founders had my back as they worked with me, and a total of 6 people are working together to create this business today. Even after 2 years, everything is still new and we’re still doing things that we’ve never done before. We experienced things that we only read about in books. Executing a business idea and turning it into a reality was much more difficult than I expected.
We are turning street view videos posted by users spatial terrain information, and using this data to create video maps that can be used to explore regions. Since we’re a startup, instead of saying that we’re doing something specific, I think it’s more appropriate to say that we’re working hard to do what we love in our very own style. We’re creating our own culture and finding the business in a free environment where nothing is set in stone. Carrying out our very own business in our very own style. That’s my way of life. It’s also the reason why I created a startup.
# Then, there’s nothing I can’t do.
There are lots of people who created startups, and I’m well aware of their characteristics. They try to find a more efficient and fun method that is different from traditional methods, they create their own colors that stand out from others, and focus on giving shape to ideas and items that they make together instead of working for money. But I was shocked while listening to President Ji Hwan Kim’s lecture because he actually turned ALL his ideas into actions. What he said at the beginning of his lecture still rings in my mind. If you increase efficiency, there’s nothing you can’t do.
Ji Hwan Kim My first thought when I created the startup was, “I’m the president, I can make the system however I want! What should I do first?” First, I established a basic system then I unfolded my ideas just as they are. So what I tried was the free clock-in system. When I was working at a conglomerate, it was so hard because it was so far away. That’s why I decided to get rid of designated work hours! That’s how I started the company. I created a freestyle culture where we can turned on gaming broadcasts or Netflix on secondary monitors of company computers and even created a space where we can play games together. We played games after eating meals together, and even had company barbecues that I only ever dreamed about. And isn’t working from home essential for a startup? I tried allowing people to join tasks through video chat. About 3 months later, I started to regret that decision.
None of the employees were coming to the office very much. It wasn’t work the smart life that I had intended, but it was because of laziness. The purpose of the main monitor and secondary monitory became switched, and things were crazy when it was baseball playoff season. The games we played after meals were not just break times because they started lasting for 3 hours, and once company dinners ended, everyone just scattered. I allowed employees to work from home as much as they like, but they often just wanted to rest instead of working hard. I decided that this could not continue and started reflecting on what I’ve been misunderstanding.
Since I kept referencing the culture of Silicon Valley, I felt like I should be something doing. All the co-founders are from conglomerates and I felt bad that I was giving them the salary of a fresh employee, so I kept giving them things because I felt like I should be compensating them. I thought that doing that would motivate them. But as I kept up the “motivation” experiment, I realized that motivation does not come from any benefit but from the feedback we received from users of our program. When a developer achieved something, everyone applauded, we uploaded the results. When users gave feedback requesting that we fix a problem they encountered by using the program, we naturally started to work harder.
From the left Development Team Leader Rae Yeong Change, CTO Wung Jun, CXO Samuel Lee, President Ji Hwan Kim,
Web Developer Jae Kwon Han, Android Developer Seok Weon Chung
In the end, I thought about efficiency. I started revising methods I tried in order to improve efficiency. I kept the free clock-in system, but I made 11:00 meetings mandatory. During these meetings, we started communicating on things that happened the day before and the present. We continuously communicated on why we have to do certain things for all tasks, and we kept updating our individual objectives. When we had company dinners, we didn’t do it without a purpose anymore. We designated an “Everything Day” where we looked through and reviewed something we developed and released, then went to eat pork belly or something as a sense of a reward. I allowed working from home for reasons related to efficiency. Even if they worked from home, they had to join meetings through video, their screen in the office would have to be on the video chat screen, and they should always be in their seat. I kept experimenting with efficiency in this way and I don’t plan on stopping.
# Working remotely, Digital Nomad and Jeju Daum
I initially wanted to talk about “Digital Nomad” and “Smart Working”, but President Kim’s lecture came as a surprise. During his lecture, he said, “There were no digital nomads there.” I wanted to know more about this, so I asked him about the “Jeju Daum” program that he took part in.
Ji Hwan Kim While I was experimenting with efficient work, I started taking an interest in people who “work remotely”. So while I was researching digital nomads, I found out about “Jeju Daum” and participated in April. I said this to the team leader before he went. “I’m going to try the digital nomad experiment for one month. I’ll give the same amount of work, but do whatever you want to do while doing 100% of the work that is given. If results are at 80% for one month, it’s a failure. If it’s at 120%, then we’ve expanded.” The team leader took part in the Jeju Daum program and worked very hard. His conclusion was that our experiment was a failure. When I said there were no digital nomads there, I was referring to developers, of course. It wasn’t the right work environment for developers. That’s why we’re still analyzing results in order to try the next digital nomad experiment.
Apart from the interview, I talked to President Ji Hwan Kim about the definition of “digital nomad” for a long time. As the term started getting popularized, didn’t it start to have a static image? I wholeheartedly shared his concern that this lifestyle had an image of “extravagance” as if you can only be called a digital nomad if you’re working at a cafe, a place where you can see the ocean, or ALWAYS moving around.
Ji Hwan Kim I think if you call yourself a digital nomad, then you’re a digital nomad.
President Kim said you can still be a digital nomad even if you work in an office and I agree with him. What we have to focus on is not the “image of a digital nomad”, but finding and establishing the work environment that is right for each person,
# Digital Nomad in Nepal
President Kim said he went to Nepal in order to experiment with digital nomad again. He thought that since efficiency suffered when one person tried it last time, he wanted to try it with everyone. I laughed again at his efforts in turning ideas into reality.
Ji Hwan Kim We planned on going to Nepal as a global project because we wondered what it would be like to get a video map of the Himalayas, thinking it may be commercially viable. In Nepal, there are guides and porters. We thought it would be fun to take videos with them and create video maps. That’s how we started this project and got funding. At the end of the year, we’ll all be going to Nepal to implement our project in line with the environment and really work together. I’m going to see what it’s like to go overseas with all my employees and experiment with them. If the Nepal project is successful, I’d like to apply the project to landmarks across the world such as Angkor Wat and the pyramids in Egypt. But first, I’d like to have employees do testing through this first experiment.
Introducing and explaining AlleysMap to a Google local guide - Kathmandu, Nepal / August 2017
# Failure is an advantage
After getting completely immersed in his story, I had forgotten why I was there about halfway through. I had to get an interview I could contain in writing, but I kept asking things I was curious about instead. I wanted to hear more about his time in Jeju. I asked him what advantages he gained from spending one month in Jeju through “Jeju Daum”.
Ji Hwan Kim I think the fact that we failed in our experiment is a benefit in itself. I don’t think of failure as a bad thing. If you end in failure, that’s certainly a problem. That’s because failure doesn’t mean I’m going to quit, but rather that I’ll keep going. To be honest, experimenting with something is not always easy. How much money could a company with 6 people have? I wanted to spend time in Jeju, but the cost of accommodations was considerably high. The fact that I was able to experiment through this program was reason enough for me to take part in the program. If this program can be marketed, they should say, “Come as you are. Experiment and experience failure!” I didn’t think that we absolutely have to succeed after coming here. Startups have the greatest advantage of being a place of experiment.
I was just so happy that I even had the opportunity to try. I think it would be great to experiment with various other things in the future. For example, if I can try something at Jeju Daum, I will create a digital nomad persona or character. I would create different types of digital nomad characters based on statistics, such as a person who works at a seaside cafe or a person who works quietly in a corner, and ask what type of character I would be if I supported Jeju Daum? It would also be fun to participate for one month, then find out what kind of character I am. I love these different methods. I hope the Jeju Daum program is fun and successful. I think it would also be nice to rent out a cafe instead of having it here in the future!
Group photo from the first day of Jeju Daum - Gandrock Guest House / April 2017
President Kim said his attendance at this lecture is related to the Jeju Daum Program. As he was recollecting his memories from the program, I asked him what I also asked many other people in July. What is Jeju Daum to you? He smiled bashfully as he asked, “Am I supposed to answer these questions without any preparation?” but he answered without much hesitation.
Ji Hwan Kim: I think Jeju Daum is like a laboratory and I’d like it to stay that way.
# Jeju once again
Near the end of the interview, I asked him another question. If you could stay in Jeju for another month, what would you want to do? How would you spend your time? His answer was short but clear.
Ji Hwan Kim I just want to come and rest. I just want to experience Jeju’s peaceful natural scenery, fresh air, and tranquil starlight without having to think about anything. Before I began my startup, I was busy exploring these vacation spots. Now, when I travel, it’s often for work. I’ve been to all the famous vacation spots at least once, and I’m familiar with Jeju now, so I would just like to experience rest in Jeju. I’m just not sure when that day will come (laughter).
I nodded and laughed in agreement at his last words. That’s Jeju, simply put.