Scaling a B2B start-up globally sounds nice, but how do you do this? To find out, I interviewed D.K. Lee, co-founder of Marqvision, a promising US start-up with operations in Korea and European presence in Paris, France. I spent some time with D.K. to understand his background, here is a written account of this fascinating discussion with a seasoned multicultural entrepreneur.
D.K. Lee was born and raised in Seoul until he was 14 years old. Then he moved to Canada mainly to study English, and then spent his middle and high school years in Canada near Toronto.
Subsequently, he crossed the border and moved to Cornell to study management.
Right after college D.K. (aka Do Kyung), joined EY where he was “fortunate enough to work with large corporations in Seoul like Samsung and LG and help them on digital transformation matters behind the scenes” he told us.
This is when he realised that “Digital transformation was actually happening within big companies, not just in Korea but all over the world”. He then joined a start-up, Seoul-based Dailyhotel, as chief of staff and investment manager.
In 2019, the company was sold to a larger business, Yanolja, with a $60-million valuation. Yanolja is, according to their LinkedIn page, the fastest-growing and No.1 travel platform and the only ‘Unicorn’ among travel-related companies in South Korea.
“That was my first exit experience,” D.K. told us. “Although I was not a founder, I was one of the older members of the company.”
He then went on to found Marqvision in 2020. He first met his co-founder in 2019. “We gradually built up our idea, worked on the prototype, and launched our project in the first quarter of 2020.”
“The US provides a better foundation for entrepreneurs to scale their companies globally” D. K. Lee told Visionary Marketing. That’s only one of the reasons, though.
“I think it’s still the place where you find the best talents in the tech industry, whether it be engineers, product managers and the sales and marketing folks,” he added.
Recruitment is essential for my start-up to scale.
Marqvision isn’t located in Silicon Valley, though, but 400 miles south of San Jose, in Los Angeles. The reason being that entertainment and luxury goods companies are situated near the city of angels, not San Francisco nor the Valley.
Despite the reports we are having in Europe that Silicon Valley is going through a slump and the economic climate is rotten, it seems no other place on earth can beat California.
One distinct sign of this is that all other competing technology areas are rebranding themselves as XXX Silicon Something. Replace XXX with Berlin, Tel Aviv and “Something” with Roundabout for London or Sentier for Paris and you have it.
A vast majority of technological innovations are still coming from the United States, mostly from Silicon Valley
Marqvision is off a great start and it happened in just two years. I’m still amazed at the speed at which such businesses grow. In this case it’s no miracle. The start-up did find the solution to a major business problem (See our story here)
D.K. thinks he’s “been lucky in many ways”. Having met a great co-founder and all the folks who worked with Marqvision.
Yet, the building and scaling of a start-up worldwide that fast can hardly be the result of luck alone. I asked D.K. how he’d done it so as to share his tips with our readers.
“In order to really scale your start-up globally, especially if you’re in the B2B space, you need to meet your customers face to face
“That’s the only way to get a vivid, and real feedback about your product, about your solution, about your service,” he said.
That’s a clear warning to all these would-be entrepreneurs I’ve seen who are afraid to share their thoughts with you in the early stage of building their business.
“And that’s the only way to continuously enhance your product to the next level,” he added. In order to do that, your team must sit by your side to meet with your client.”
And the result is staggering. In just two years, Marqvision was able to operate in five different offices across the world.
Marqvision’s success didn’t pass unnoticed. LVMH awarded the US start-up the prize for innovation in the data and AI category whereas “more than a 1,000 companies had applied for this prestigious award”.
“Following the award, we joined La maison des start-ups,” D.K. Lee added, “a start-up acceleration programme offered by LVMH group.”
This is why Marqvision is also based in Paris’s Station F. “We have our Paris office over there until next year,” he told us.
“I love working with French people,” D.K. told us, “I love the breadth and depth of their experience and what they brought to the company in the field of the luxury industry.”
Admittedly, there are some language issues he confided, but “we have a great product manager who is acting as an ombudsman between the locals and the rest of the team in Seoul and the US”.
The sheer distance and time difference between all three continents are also an issue he admitted. “Working remotely is an inevitable trend moving forward,” he added, “but we should not deny all the benefits coming from working together side by side and in a nice office.”
Hence the organisation of all hands meetings to ensure that everyone is on the same page.
I know some people might find it ironic that large businesses are moving forward with WFH policies and start-ups are pushing back on that same issue. It is perfectly understandable, however.
Big companies are more suited for remote working, I strongly believe that working together side by side for smaller start-ups is a much better way to build a stronger foundation early on
There is no doubt that collaboration tools have brought a great deal to modern management techniques and we, at Visionary Marketing, are using them on a daily basis.
However, D.K. has a valid point when he says, “all those tools are just a means to an end, and the end is actually the gathering of people. We could do that in person at a physical site, or we could do that through a gym or an audio conference. But I think one should know that it’s actually important for all people to get together.”
Marqvision even invited, a month ago, all its leaders from the US (East and West Coast) and Paris to their Seoul office. “So they could meet with our engineers, analysts and back-office employees. We had a great time, for just about a week. We had nice dinners and that was a great way to boost our morale.”
Scaling a start-up isn’t just about working hard. It’s also about keeping the old team spirit alive across all time zones.
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