Careers: Interviews
Josh Hong, Multi-Awarded Global Executive Chairman, Investor, Serial Entrepreneur

This week, Stephen Ibaraki has an exclusive interview with Josh Hong.

Josh HongJoshua Hong is an Internet-media entrepreneur. He worked at Arthur Andersen Worldwide as a Technology and Corporate Strategy Consultant and at Deutsche Bank in its Global Investment Banking and M&A Group prior to starting North America's first free-to-play MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role playing game) publisher, K2 Network, which became one of the largest free-to-play MMORPG publishers in the Western Hemisphere with offices in U.S, India, Brazil and Turkey. He also started a virtual game asset trading platform, Item*Star, in China while helping to build Playspan, the largest virtual currency payment platform for gamers in North America as its early backer, shareholder and a board member, and it was acquired by Visa International

He won the Orange County Business Journal's Excellence in Entrepreneurship Award in 2010, and was chosen as one of the OC Metro's 40 under 40 in 2011. He is an active member of YPO in the California Coast Chapter since 2009, and completed the Singularity University Executive Program in 2012 and FutureMed in 2013. He is currently Executive Chairman and Co-Founder of Curely, a telehealth mobile marketplace for board certified medical doctors and consumers and Chairman, Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder of Kuddly, a telehealth mobile marketplace for licensed veterinarians and pet owners. He is also Founder and Managing Partner of Exponential Partners, an early-stage venture capital group based in Orange County, California.

He has a B.S. in Industrial Engineering from Purdue University and an MBA from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business with concentrations in Finance, Accounting and International Business.

He is also a runner, meditator and yoga practitioner.

To listen to the interview, click on this MP3 file link

The latest blog on the interview can be found in the Canadian IT Pro Connection where you can provide your comments in an interactive dialogue.
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PARTIAL EXTRACTS AND QUOTES FROM THE EXTENSIVE DISCUSSION:

Interview Time Index (MM:SS) and Topic

:00:56: Please profile your work with Arthur Andersen Worldwide and any useful lessons that you can share.
"....I joined Arthur Anderson back in 1993. It was one of the dominant accounting consultancies based in Chicago. I went through some incredible growth experiences being part of a private partnership that was doing some very large scale IT consulting projects at that time. A couple of major takeaways for me: I learned how to communicate effectively as a consultant and that was a very good investment for me at a deeply personal level. The second thing I learned was the role of technology. I began to see technology not just as an enabler of certain business functions, I started seeing technology as a real competitive weapon even for small companies to be able to compete effectively against large corporations. So that was a time of enormous learning for me and I really appreciated my experience during that time...."

:06:45: What about your work with Deutsche Bank; are there any other useful lessons you can share?
"....I did not stay at the bank for a very long time and it was mainly because I just couldn't fit into the culture and I couldn't agree with what was happening at Wall Street at the time....I realized that it was something I didn't enjoy pursuing and came to my full realization that I wanted to leave....My experience at Deutsche Bank came down to one thing: there's not enough time and energy in my life to push through something I don't want to do anymore and that was a big inflection point in my life at the time...."

:13:18: You just mentioned that you went into gaming and you also got into creating asset trading and currency platforms. Are there any key lessons that you want to share from that experience?
"....Number one, as an entrepreneur when you start to see something happening you can't quite explain and you don't have data points to fully justify but your gut tells you that this is going somewhere, I learned through my experience that it's far better to go with your gut feeling than using your brain too much, that is always looking for more data points. There are never enough data points when you make a decision. So I learned how to trust my instincts and also to train my gut instincts constantly....The second lesson that I learned is that when you operate in China you really cannot make an assumption based on based on your experiences and successes that were achieved in markets outside of China. China is essentially a bubble and in order to be successful in China the combination of the idea and particular style has to be Chinese. I learned that it's far better to work with the really indigenous Chinese team if you are going to do something in China and usually that's not very possible as a foreigner, but if you must then it's better to go with a very local Chinese team and then follow their approach as opposed to a foreign approach which almost never works in China...."

:24:04: You have this South Korean connection and you have this North American and European connection as well. How does this global enterprise thinking arise in you, from a young age to where you are now? Was your family very much entrepreneurial in South Korea? You are fluent in multiple languages. How did that all come about, this dispersion of your family?
"....I do come from a family of entrepreneurs....Our childhood planted a seed in me and my brother and sister to be global-minded. So we had this attitude that we would explore or we would be constantly be looking to discover something new (that has a lot to do with it). We grew up as a kind of GenX, global immigrant kind of folks and I would say that's very much part of our ethos...."

:29:27: You have taken the leap from industry to being an entrepreneur. Can you name some of the attributes or qualities that make for a successful entrepreneur?
"....The first thing that comes to mind is a certain attitude that I'd call acceptance (other people may call that open mindedness, flexibility or agility)....The second thing that I like or appreciate (which many entrepreneurs may disagree), is being willing to embrace my own solitude. Some people may call that courage, independent mindedness or self-reliance, but I call that embracing solitude and I see that quality (not in all successful entrepreneurs), but in some of the very, best entrepreneurs out there....Another quality is a propensity to accept ones frugality, although here are many entrepreneurs who would disagree with me...."

:37:10: What are the steps for start-up success and how do you measure progress (but in the context of something that you are working on right now)? Within that framework what were the gaps that you saw within that marketplace and what triggered you to design this company to meet that need? How do you envision rolling this out this year and in the next two years (this really being a model for start-up success)? How do you measure that progress?
"....Kuddly is a mobile first marketplace for pet owners (and there are millions out there). This is an international marketplace where any veterinarian with a viable license to practice and a diploma from a veterinarian school can join the platform and we'll verify them and then they get to open their online clinic. On the other side of this two-sided marketplace, pet owners can create a profile for their pet and if they have questions then they simply come and download Kuddly from any app store out there and basically send messages to veterinarians of their choice....Here in the US there are literally millions of pets out there, but in terms of pet health insurance only two percent of the pets are insured, so you can effectively say in a practical sense that there is no insurance coverage so most pet owners would pay out of their pocket. The second phenomena is that there is an oversupply of veterinarians in America....So we decided to create this platform to bring veterinarians to join and then find consumers and pet owners around the world. This is a pure supply and demand multiplier, where before everything was controlled by time and space, now we are saying we can open this entire thing to the globe and anyone with a license can join and anyone with a pet can join...."

:47:00: I see the steps that you took to create this very successful building and growing enterprise, is there anything else to add to that?
"....It's two-sided so there's a supplier of a service or product and there's a consumer who is consuming those products and services. So the challenge of marketplace is that you need to seed the initial transactions. It needs to come from one side first and then you work with the other side and then you work on the opposite side and then the other side and then back and forth and that's how you grow. A current example would be Amazon...."

:56:54: You've got this successful platform with Kuddly and it has great validation and you've been able to scale it. Do you see other things that you want to do to get additional support or any other areas that would provide additional validation? How will you build on that?
"....There are a couple of things that we'll work on. I think one is that our initial target audience will be millennials who are more likely to be female than male....The second thing that we are also really passionate about is supporting veterinarians with a very altruistic mission in mind that supports our idea of borderless care. We are very much a global company so we are in the process of talking to one of the organizations on the East coast who recruit volunteer veterinarians and then send them out to remote parts of the world and help animals or certain types of pets out there who have been stranded....We really believe in our mission to bring efficiency to curing the mismatch problem between supply and demand and veterinary care on a global scale and we do that on a global marketplace, but at the same time we want our veterinarians to have an experience that is more than their day to day clinic...."

:01:03:08: Are there any start-ups that you can briefly overview that you think also follow these models and are demonstrating success?
"....I'm always working on more than one project. I think that one that I can mention is this angel investment fund that I created with two other partners. It's called Exponential Partners and we are specifically looking for very early stage start-ups out there that have the capacity to grow exponentially - even the rare of what we call exponential technologies, these are either synthetic biology or digital health companies or 3D printings or AI or maybe even autonomous driving categories...."

:01:05:10: In describing Exponential Partners, do you have a website that people could go to get a feel for what you are trying to build?
"....exponential.vc...."

:01:05:32: Do you have some steps that you look at when making an investment? Do you have some idea of the parameters that you are looking for? Do you want to keep that under the radar at the moment or do you want to explore any of that?
"....From the audience, anyone who would like to partner with us, we would love to talk to you. There are no real, hard-line criteria per se, other than two things: number one, we'd like to see that the company has been backed by outside investors for at least 250,000 dollars before we get involved. When we get involved, for an angel investor we write relatively big cheques and we want to see that the entrepreneurs have the ability to raise money (that is something that we are pretty seriously looking for). The second thing is that we don't back just a one page summary based idea, rather we would like to back someone who is a tinkerer, experimenter, someone who is a doer, so the product has to be beta tested in at least some form of a public setting...."

:01:09:10: How do you differentiate yourself; what makes your group different?
"....We view the future of mankind's innovation primarily driven by start-ups. Large corporations today become more acquisition machines and the bulk of the heavy lifting that needs to be done in terms of creating that innovation will come from entrepreneurs....When we get involved we get involved pretty deeply, so we get to know the entrepreneurs and we'd rather take time to get to know them even before we make an investment so the post connection aspect is very important to us. Number two, we like local companies so we would like to back companies who are at least down in California, and if they are not located nearby then we will try to find a way to relocate. That already implies that when we are talking to companies that are pretty small, we'd also love to work with entrepreneurs who are willing to kind of roll with us. We will help in making the transitions. One of our investments is based in Halifax, Nova Scotia in Canada and we are actually relocating the company to here in Orange County so that is one example. We are not an accelerator nor are we an incubator; we are just a very hands-on, entrepreneurial minded venture capitalist...."

:01:12:17: Is there some alignment in terms of what you are trying to do from an entrepreneurship side or from a new investment fund side and your experiences with YPO, CEO or Singularity University?
"....We have very close relationships with Singularity University. Although we haven't done this yet it is likely that we will be in the position to back a few of the SU graduates or a company just started by SU graduates....YPO has about 23,000 CEO members; collectively the member companies contributed more than a trillion dollars in total revenues to the global economy so it's a very powerful organization with a lot of connections and we bring that to the fund. So that clearly sets us apart from other equity-based crowdfunding sites out there...."

:01:15:24: Are there any closing comments that you want to make?
"....Any prospective entrepreneurs who are listening to this podcast, my parting words to you is to do it now and start fast.....I think this is the new economy where it is mainly the doers and entrepreneurs getting their hands dirty and making things happen. I would highly urge anyone who is listening to this podcast to get involved and maybe it's just a small pet project...."

  Additional Question: How do you see Windows 10 impacting the global ecosystem and especially business?
"I think Windows 10 will surge the demand for the Surface Pro, which has been quickly replacing tablets and laptops. It seems to me that Windows 10 has done a better job of blending the old Windows with new mobile-friendly features. Personally, I think tablets will slowly diminish as the smartphone will get larger and larger. And the Surface Pro will start to replace laptops (for many business users). So, the market will be diametrically dominated by large smartphones and touch-screen tablets that function like laptops (like the Surface Pro)."

:01:18:45: Josh, with your demanding schedule, we are indeed fortunate to have you come in to do this interview. Thank you for sharing your substantial wisdom with our audience.

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