Tag Archives: business

Five Things I’ve Learned At a Startup – Week 1

It’s been a week and I’m still here. The startup world hasn’t scared me away just yet. In fact, my job isn’t much different from any other job I’ve held. But there are a few things that will take some getting used to.

  • My job changes every day. I’m a member of the sales team, but I am often loaned out to other teams when they need warm bodies. This is occasionally inconvenient, but it usually offers and interesting look into what the guys around me are doing.
  • The company’s goals change constantly. I don’t mean short-term goals; the overarching vision for the future of the organization is subject to change. Few startups are able to enter a new market and maintain a steady course for very long. When the business plan meets the real world, constant course-corrections are inevitable.
  • There is no such thing as a “normal workday”. This is similar to my time as a detective. Some days are 9-5, but that is subject to change suddenly. A coding mistake or a special request from a client can turn an 8-hour day into a 20-hour binge.
  • I am responsible for becoming knowledgable about the market and product. Newborn organizations don’t have employee handbooks and training manuals. With such limited manpower, we have to train on the fly. After a week of studying, the jargon is becoming familiar and it no longer sounds my like coworkers are speaking a different language.
  • There isn’t anyone to watch over my shoulder. As I government worker, I was accustomed to micromanagement. My current job is the opposite; I am trusted to do my work on time. Failing to do so risks disappointing my coworkers and causing them more work. This is a better incentive to perform than any overbearing manager can provide.

I’ll continue to post as I have more to share with you. How does this compare to your work experience? If you’ve worked in a startup, or started a company, I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below.

Until next time.

-Taft

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Keep Your Gift

I just finished one of the more strange and frustrating conversations that I’ve ever had with a coworker. Although not a typical conversation, it perfectly exemplifies my frustrations with working in Korea.

Mr. Choi and I recently came in second place in a nation in a teaching competition with over a thousand schools. We worked together to create an innovative lesson plan. Mr. Choi has received many special honors, but I’ve mostly excluded because I’m not a Korean or a career teacher. To make sure I don’t feel too left out, the National Office of Education wanted to do something special for me.

This was my conversation with Mr. Choi today:

Choi: Taft, I have good news! The representative from the NOE was impressed with your teaching. She was sad that you could not attend the meetings or celebration, so her office gave approval to give you a special gift.
Me: Wow, that’s really nice. What is it?
Choi: She said you can choose anything you want. The budget allows up to 400,000 won (about $375). She suggested a coffee maker.
Me: That’s generous, but I don’t drink coffee. Maybe something different? Since I’m moving soon, maybe we could request something nice for the teachers’ office that all of the teachers want.
Choi: Ok, let me call and ask…. No, I’m sorry that’s not acceptable. It must be something just for you.
Me: I am moving soon, and I’m short on room, so maybe not a thing. I’ve been dying to go skiing. How about an extra day of vacation and a ski pass? That’s much less than 400,000 won.
Choi: Ok, let me call and ask…. No that’s not acceptable either. They cannot give you an extra day off because of your contract.
Me: How about just a ski trip, then. Even if they include transportation, admissions, and rental it would only be 250,000 won.
Choi: Ok, let me ask…. No, they can’t do a ski trip. They said it’s not a good gift. They suggested a coffee maker again, but she said you can pick whatever you want.
Me: No, apparently I cannot pick whatever I want. How about a gift certificate to a restaurant? I would definitely use that.
Choi: Ok, let me call and ask…. No, they said that a gift certificate is not acceptable because it’s not really a gift. It must be a physical item. Maybe you want some electronics.
Me: I’m so over this. Pick something you want for your family and request it. Tell them it’s what I want.
Choi: No, that’s against the rules. They would not allow it.
Me: I have an idea. I want to buy a new suit before I leave. The one I want costs about 330,000 won. That is a physical thing. It is within the price range. And it’s something I actually want.
Choi: Ok, I’ll check… No, they said that’s not a typical gift. You should pick a normal gift.
Me: That’s it. I’m done. This is completely insane. Tell them I would pay them 400,000 won to never talk about this again.
Choi: But you must pick something.
Me: I already did. Their move.

I love the lifestyle in Korea, but I won’t miss working here. Everybody talks about “the rules” constantly, but I’m starting to suspect that there are no codified rules. The “rules” are whatever the person in charge happens to decide at the moment.

Until next time.

-Taft

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Brilliant Advertising

Wall Street English is a company that runs English academies around the world. They are well established in China, Russia and several other countries with large ESL markets. I started noticing their ads around Daegu early this year.

The ads always feature beautiful college-age western women. They’re sexy, they have absolutely nothing to do with English or education, and they stand out against the sea of ads directed at Korean tiger parents.

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The reason these ads are so brilliant is because they appeal to the students, not the parents. No wonder this company is doing so well.

Until next time.

– Taft

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I Got A New Job

I got a new part time job a few weeks ago, and I’m excited about it. I am the English-language marketing manager for Yooii Studios (pronounced You-ee). Yooii is a small startup based in Seoul that produces smartphone apps. The studio was founded by Robert Song, an experienced mobile game designer and former director of EA Games Asia.

Yooii Studios Banner

My primary responsibility is handling SNS (Social Network Service) marketing for the United States and Europe. I’ll spend a lot of time spreading the word about Yooii and our apps to all English-speaking markets. I’m excited about getting involved in marketing! I completed an MBA a few years ago, but this is my first chance to put that knowledge to use in a small business environment.

Most of my work is done over the internet, but I’ve had the pleasure of spending a few hours in the Daegu studio with the designers. The programming and design teams are comprised of students and recent graduates from Kyungpook National University. They are all young, but surprisingly talented. There are some great apps in the pipeline and I can’t wait to share them with you as they come out. But don’t worry, this blog won’t become a running advertisement – I am in the process of creating a Yooii Studios blog for that. There’s not much there yet, but feel free to take a look at my opening post.

Until next time.

-Taft

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Koreans Love Free S%!t

Seriously, they love it!  I thought Americans loved free stuff, but we don’t hold a candle to the Koreans.  Every time I go downtown on the weekend, I see at least one ridiculously long line of Koreans waiting patiently in the sweltering heat for a chance to win a free small drink at Burger King (or something equally exciting).

I first noticed this phenomenon in my neighborhood a month or so ago when a new restaurant opened.  As I was walking home from school, I saw a line of people that started inside the restaurant, continued outside and turned the corner at the end of the block.

I told a Korean friend about what I saw.  I said that the line reminded me of my hometown, where hordes of dumbasses will wait for hours to eat at any new restaurant (no matter which restaurant it is).  They will spend an eternity waiting to try the new Wendy’s (Newsflash: it’s the same as every other Wendy’s, morons!).  But my Korean friend said that I was wrong – they weren’t waiting because it was new.  They were there because at the grand opening, every customer gets a free side dish with their meal.

This must mean that the side dishes are expensive and delicious, right?  Wrong!  The most expensive one was 1,800 won (about $1.70).  It turns out that the new restaurant is an inexpensive fast food chicken place that is part of a large chain in Daegu.

Yesterday, I had to push my way through a long line of people just to walk down the sidewalk near the downtown subway station.  Despite the fact that every pedestrian on that (very busy) side of the road was forced to push their way through this line, the people still waited patiently.  This piqued my curiosity, of course.  If people are willing to be bumped and pushed for such a long time, there must be something pretty damn good at the end – right?

Wrong!  It was some high-school aged kid holding a foam dart board while people threw little plastic darts at it.  Each person hoping to hit the bulls-eye and win the grand prize of….(wait for it)….50% off at Bennigans.  Really, Korea?  Really?

If I ever start a business in Korea, I know that the key to success is free junk.

Until next time.

-Taft

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