Bernard Moon // Ep 78 // Igniting Your Passion with SparkLabs

Welcome to Episode 78 of the Asian Hustle Network Podcast! We are very excited to have Bernard Moon on this week's episode.

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We interview Asian entrepreneurs around the world to amplify their voices and empower Asians to pursue their dreams and goals. We believe that each person has a message and a unique story from their entrepreneurial journey that they can share with all of us.

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Bernard Moon is a Co-founder & Partner at SparkLabs Group, which is a network of accelerators and venture capital funds that has invested in over 300 companies across 6 continents since 2013. Previously, he was Co-founder & CEO of Vidquik, a web conferencing & sales solutions platform. Bernard was a Managing Director at the Lunsford Group, which is a private investment firm with holdings in real estate, healthcare and other industries. Bernard was Co-founder & VP of Business Development of GoingOn Networks, a social media platform for companies, and also led their product development where BusinessWeek recognized them in their “Best of the Web” list. He serves on the advisory boards to Seoul National University’s Graduate School of Data Science and Nanyang Technological University’s EcoLabs (Centre of Innovation for Energy).

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Transcript

Intro: (00:00:00) Hey guys, welcome to Asian Hustle Network Podcast, My name is Bryan. 

And my name is Maggie 

And we interview Asian entrepreneurs around the world to amplify their voices and empower Asians to pursue their dreams and goals.

We believe that each person has a message and a unique story from their entrepreneurial journey that they can share with all of us.

Maggie: (00:00:23) Hi, everyone. Welcome to the Asian hustle network podcast. Today, we have a very special guest with us. His name is Bernard Moon. Bernard is a co-founder and partner at spark labs group, which is a network of accelerators and venture capital funds that has invested in over 300 companies across six continents, since 2013 previously, he was co-founder and CEO of vid quake. A web conferencing and sales solutions platform. Bernard was a managing director at the lens for group, which is a private investment firm with holdings in real estate, healthcare and other industries. Bernard was co-founder and VP of business development of going on networks, a social media platform for companies, and also led their product development where business week recognize them in their best of the web list. He serves on the advisory boards to Seoul national university. Estes graduate school of data science and Nan yang, techno technological universities, eco labs, center of innovation for energy Bernard. Welcome to the show.

Bernard: (00:01:23) Yeah, thanks for having me.

 

Bryan: (00:01:26) Oh, you are so impressive. Like just looking through your ball and your LinkedIn, everything you want to hype heartbreak into. What was your upbringing like that help influence you to become the person that you are today?

Bernard: (00:01:39) Well, I grew up in a, I grew up in suburban Chicago and Northbrook, and my parents definitely had a strong influence on me. They were both entrepreneurs, right. They basically, um, I mean, I, I mean, to befrank, it wasn’t like a hard path for them, but what they did is they, when they immigrated, uh, like someone like my mother, she had to completely change jobs or careers. Right. She was, uh, in medical school in Korea. And on our way to be a doctor. And then she married my father and they moved to Chicago and she switched to a CPA. So what was interesting is that she, she was actually one of the first. Um, Asian American immigrants that obtained her CPA license license in the state of Illinois. And then, uh, eventually her and my father started doing small businesses in Chicago. Like first they did like a, a chain of beauty supply stores. Right. Then they moved on to like luggage and then they eventually, uh, looked into, uh, bringing some us, um, Franchises to South Korea. So they fi uh, eventually obtained the rights for a Gloria Jean’s coffee, which back then in the nineties, it was like the second largest coffee chain in North America after Starbucks took it there. And then eventually they grew it to 12 stores and sold it. Um, but the first influence is interesting that my parents had on me was the fact that they’re very active in the community. Uh, not just the Korean-American community, but the, uh, overall, I guess, Chicago community. Right in various non-profit activities. So that’s what spurred my first interest. When I got to college, when I went to Wisconsin, I became a very politically and socially active. And then during college, my mind was set on not like running for office or being in politics, but being involved in public policy. Right. So that was my first love, so,

Bryan: (00:03:42) well, I mean, we do have to highlight Arby’s, you know, want to hear more about that first experience that you had our music, because it’s so unique, you know, and I think for me, it’s like one of my first jobs was to like working at a restaurant. So like hearing this stories like, huh. Is it correlation showing before we dive into the fellow? I want to hear about the RV story.

 

Bernard: (00:04:04) Yeah, it was during my, uh, Going into my senior year, my friend, my close friend, Haman was like, Hey. I need a summer job. Do you want to work with me at Arby’s? I’m like, sure. So we, uh, you both worked there. I mean, we actually got on the same shift and everything like that, and I think it was a good experience because, you know, you’re definitely on the ground floor doing everything from cleaning the. You know, the restaurant floors to all like the greasy. Um, you know, if you’ve been in a, in a restaurant, all the greasy stuff in the back to obviously making sandwiches. And the funny thing is I already loved RVs before, but I heard from friends, I worked at other fast food chains after they worked there. They wouldn’t eat there again. Right. But Arby’s after I worked there that summer, I was like, Oh, I trust the food. So I still eat at Arby’s and I have faith in it. So that was great.

 

Bryan: (00:04:58) Sorry. Quickly

 

Maggie: (00:05:03) bumped us to humble beginnings. I love it.

 

Bryan: (00:05:05) But yeah, I’m kind of curious too, like we were, as your parents being entrepreneurs, what did it teach you about failing about taking chances about success? You know, because there, these are, the types of values are pretty unique to having guests on our podcast, too. There’s a lot of us are afraid to take this chance and, you know, move from the traditional path to untraditional path, but you’d done an untraditional path and your entire life, and you’ve been very successful at that. So kind of core values that your parents preach into you. About taking chances and try new things.

 

Maggie: (00:05:35) Yeah. And on top of that, yeah. You know, we noticed that your parents were in a few different industries trying out different things to do. So I think a lot of people have this misconception going into entrepreneurship that they have to like nail it down. Right. And then they’re going to live with that company for the rest of their lives. Right. And they have to do it perfectly, but it seems like your parents were, you know, very versatile and they wanted to try out different things. So talk a little bit about how that kind of shaped your mindset as well. Going into entrepreneurship.

 

Bernard: (00:06:03) Yeah. I mean, I think, um, first I’m compared to, well that wave of immigrant parents, I mean one, I was in Chicago, so I think it’s a little different than if you’re Asian American and you immigrate to New York or LA, uh, the dynamics of Chicago is slightly different. I mean, you do obviously hang out with a lot of other Asian Americans, but it’s not as, I would say, like a closed loop. Like, you know, I have friends that grew up in LA, all they do is hang out with like Korean Americans or Chinese Americans or whatnot. Um, it was a little more sort of diverse in that way. And then, um, you know, just learning from my parents, you know, they, first of all, they grew up speaking to me in English. Right. Which I would say maybe like less than half of my peers, they had their parents speak in English. Right. And then they always emphasize really going into the mainstream. Right. And that sort of set the groundwork of them even being just open about everything. So when there are giant businesses, there’ll be open about yeah. You know, this is really struggling. Right or, Oh, this one, we, you know, we tried this, but we had to shut it down. Right. Actually, I remember Matt can say it now. I was like, so it was so long ago they actually started, uh, trying to do like, um, in-between some of their venture, uh, ventures. They try to do, uh, a laundry service for hotels, like a commercial laundry service. Right. Um, but some aspects that didn’t work out well. And so they actually quickly learned to shut it down within a year. Wow right. Then they moved on to their next thing. So I think I wasn’t thinking about it at that time, but that helped me sort of build resistance and, um, Almost like a, you know, a thick skin towards failure. Right. So I learned from them indirectly that, you know, failure is okay. And that’s how you sort of learn and move on. Right?

 

Maggie: (00:07:57) Yeah. That’s really important. I think like the key takeaway there is knowing. When to let go. Right. And then knowing when to kind of put your foot on the gas pedal and, you know, if you know when to let go, then it’s, it’s a really good sign that you know what you’re doing, because you know, there could be other opportunities that are just waiting for you out there.

 

Bryan: (00:08:13) Definitely. Yeah. Let’s dive deep into your first getting involved with politics. You know, you did a lot of activism and how did that lead you down the path of eventually becoming entrepreneur and the venture capitalist that you are today?

 

Bernard: (00:08:26) Well, yeah, so I definitely don’t have a traditional career path. I think, um, you know, it was, it’s definitely convoluted, right? I was interested in government and public policy. So after, uh, I graduated from university of Wisconsin, I went to work for the governor of Illinois at that time as a low-level lobbyist. And, um, My objective actually at that time was, Hey, if I find that I could work in this environment and not be, not become jaded right. Then I think I could stay within this career path. And, um, you know, I saw a lot of things be behind the scenes, even as a low-level person, just cause I, you know, I think I had good access, good mentors at the time. Um, Definitely the world of state and local politics is very corrupt in various ways. It’s good to a lot of people. There’s a handful of people that are looking at yeah. For good. But then there’s also a lot of people that are just trying to sort of, you know, grease their own wheels and just be part of a machine. Right. And so it’s interesting just seeing the dynamics of politics, uh, especially related to a city like Chicago, right. It’s definitely old school politics. Um, and then, uh, you know, you see a lot of old practices that have probably been around for over a hundred years. Oh, wow. Um, So after that, you know, I found out about this, uh, choral fellowship. So I decided to apply it. And luckily I got in at that time, they only took 48 people nationwide. Um, it’s a very strong alumni of, uh, current and former congressmen and senators. Right. And a lot of people that are active in politics and government. So I got in, I, uh, there was, at that time, there were four locations and I got into the St. Louis center. So I moved to St. Louis for a year. It was a very intense program. I still say that it was. The second best career experience for me after my first startup, because there were literally for this it’s interesting for a public policy fellowship, and I was working like 70, a hundred hours a week. It was very project oriented and they put you in different sectors of government. Um, You know, actually, uh, different sectors of society, not just government. So it was like you had a government placement, you worked in a corporate setting, you work for a labor union, right. You work for a nonprofit. Right. And then we got high level access to, uh, interview. So that’s what we also learned is how to question, question things and question people. Right? So that was a core principle of the fellowship. And, you know, that’s where we actually met, like, President Clinton at that time, Al Gore, we met, um, the president of, uh, McDonald Douglas, which is a major airline manufacturer at that time before they got acquired by Boeing, uh, the mayor of St. Louis. I mean, it just gave us incredible access to a lot of leaders where we could learn different leadership styles. So that’s what it was basically, uh, uh, uh, leadership, um, in public, you know, a public fellows program, right? Where you learn leadership from different people. Um, After the choral fellowship, uh, I went to graduate school at Columbia and I was there for two years, but it was during, you know, the first internet, boom.I was there in 96 to 98. And during my second year in graduate school, two groups of my friends pitched me to work on startups. Right, cause they knew that my parents were entrepreneurs and. They knew I was involved. And so they wanted to bounce off ideas. So my friends at that time that were like in investment banking and consulting, they were like, you know, pitching me different ideas. And, you know, we were, I was just giving feedback. And then finally they asked me to help out. So during my second and graduate school, I was, you know, obviously I was busy at school, but I was helping out in these two ventures and at the. And end of my second year, I picked one. Right. And that happened to be view plus, which is at that time, a video on demand company. And, uh, that’s how I met my co-founder spark labs. Oh, wow. So, uh, the two co-founders review plus. When we launched it, it was, uh, Jimmy Kim and our CTO, Peter Chang. And that’s sort of led me down this path of entrepreneurship and startups. And I haven’t looked back since, um, I really found out from that first startup experience that, uh, I really enjoy the whole beginning process, you know, the chaotic mess of, you know, starting with a concept and just launching and building a product. Right and everything that goes in between them. That’s where I really learned the hustle right. You know, that’s where you really learn. I mean, not just theoretically from watching my parents facing failure, but you get used to rejection, right. At that time, there weren’t as many active, uh, you know, angel firms or, or angel investors. Right. So we were, you know, pitching like hundreds of people to invest in our company. I am getting so many rejections and even for. On that, on the product side, you know, pitching so many companies, begging them to partner with us. Obviously we’re going to tell them we’re begging, but you know, we’re begging them to partner with us. And, um, it, it was a great learning experience, right? I mean, we put in our own savings, we obviously. We begged our parents for some money, but, you know, uh, you know, it’s a story I commonly tell like Jimmy at that time, my, my co-founder, he flew in from Korea because we were developing the technology in Korea. I remember where I were on a computer, literally going to credit card sites and applying to like 20 different credit cards. Right. So at that time we, you know, we were putting, you know, a lot of debt on credit cards to, to, to build our company.

 

Bryan: (00:14:14) Yeah. I love hearing these social stories, you know, cause we were looking at your Bernard and man Bernard’s as accessible as spark labs all over the world. You sent him the deck that I looked through. I’m like, man, there’s no way I can compare it to Bernard his parents, his story to you while you’re in your humble beginnings or house mentality, overcome rejections. It’s a common theme among all first on boundaries, you know, and out of curiosity too, like what, are there any time in this journey where you’re just like, I just wanted to stop. This is too crazy for me. I want to go back to a normal job. And, um, just, just let’s get an accurate timeline too. Like when you first started your first starter, how old are you at the time?

 

Bernard: (00:14:52) A man blanking out on my age purpose. I mean, it was like 20 wait, so I was blanking out. I was in my, I was in my upper twenties, let’s say, so it was actually eight 28. Yeah, I was, yeah, I was in my upper twenties starting the first startup, like, like around 28. Um, but you’re asking about, uh, wait, I’m sorry, what was the question?

 

Bryan: (00:15:20) Yeah. Just asking about like, what was the, what was the biggest challenge during the first startup? And have you thought about quitting at any point of time and going back to the corporate job?

 

Bernard: (00:15:29) No, I think I was a stubborn, like a lot, a lot of entrepreneurs. I mean, we were, um, you know, there’s a funny story because also one of those times when didn’t Jimmy came over and were, were pitching for investors and partnerships, right. Um, at that time we, you know, we didn’t, uh, I think we had like a small amount of capital maybe. Right. And we had obviously like credit card debt and everything and we’re, um, You know, we were fundraising and, you know, after like six months in, uh, my dad calls me in. Right. And you know, even though I’m, you know, an adult at that time, my dad’s still sort of struck a little fear in me. Right. You know, he’s also on like six Swan at that time. What around was like two, two 20, but my dad’s also six feet, but he’s wider. He’s actually very built. Right. So he has a physically commanding presence and he calls me in and he’s like, Bernard you for six months. You haven’t raised any money yet. Right? Barely anything. He’s like, you know, Businesses like poker, you have to know when to quit. Right. And the funny thing is, if you hear, if you asked my co-founder Jimmy, he was actually. In the other room trying to go to sleep and he hears this conversation and he said he couldn’t sleep all night because he felt this like weight of my dad’s guilt on it. And like, he was like rolling around tossing in bed. Right. He’s like, Oh man, we have to close. And I remember I told my dad, I’m like, look, dad, you know, understand it’s fair. You’ve been supporting me in this. I’m in a lot of debt, you know, give us four more months. Right. And that’s basically a, and he’s like, you know, he tried to push back, but he knew and saw the determination right. That I had. And then, you know, eventually we, we closed our, um, yeah, we, we closed our angel round. Right. And that’s what sort of led us to the next stage. Right. Which was, um, uh, we closed about 600,000 in angel funding. Wow. Right. So that it was definitely a long haul after like almost a year of pounding the pavement. And then we, um, God terms too. It was a combination of, of things that we were doing at that time. But term terms for 33 million. Wow. That’s insane. That was about a year after the funding. But, um, but that was like during like the whole, obviously like internet, boom and. You know, we, we got this large commitment, but the funny thing is then when we were building our platform, it was, it was basically, it was a video on demand platform for cable and satellite systems. Right. So as background back then, uh, what, what we take for granted like Netflix on the internet, but it was actually even, um, Video on demand like instant viewing on cable boxes was super expensive, right? In the nineties, actually to build out the infrastructure. It costs almost, let’s say a million per home back then. All right, so super expensive. So we found the intermediate solution where you basically tear it and you stream the content into the setup boxes with hard drives. Right. And this is actually before, even, I don’t know if you remember a TiVo and replay came out right. And then set the ups. I actually, all of a sudden, you know, they were building, building them out with hard drives and memory. So we were talking at that time to the leading set-top box manufacturers, general instrument and scientific Atlanta. And, um, you know, we got into their partner program and initially they told us that their setups, this new generation of setups with hard drives, right. That could store things would come out in six months. Right. Then they extended it to a year plus. So we just got this money and. They’re saying that we wouldn’t be ready to launch for a year out. Oh, wow. Right. So we didn’t know what to do at the time we were debating back and forth. I remember like intense debates with my co-founders Jimmy and Peter and concurrently. We got an offer to, um, back on it. To start, uh, the Korea division or Korea, uh, entity of a new startup called Hayne. You know, it was a voice portal back in 2000. And so the background on the backstory on that is, um, you know, through a common contact. We met these four Microsoft execs right there. They’re high level guys that left Microsoft to start this voice portal called Hey, Anita and voices, very hot back then, um, in 2000, even right where even you didn’t have mobile, but voice commands was actually, the technology was very.  It’s not that much better today in terms of like voice commands. Right. But you’re, you’re doing it through landlines. So there’s companies as tell me, tell me, be vocal and then eventually, Hey Anita. And they, uh, Hey, Nita back then they actually had a term sheet from Sequoia. Wow. But in, in, uh, 2099, um, some, a little history is that Masayoshi son at that time was the second richest man in the world. And he was worth like something 66, 60 billion or something from his investment in Yahoo. So he put a big bet into Yahoo early on, Yahoo blew up and he became the second richest man after bill Gates. Uh, so these guys wanted SoftBank money, um, through our mutual contact who actually knew that. So my co-founder Jimmy, his, uh, God uncle was very close with Matsu Yossi son. So Jimmy said, Oh, you know, fine. I could do the introduction. So he introduced them. And then these guys got a term sheet from SoftBank for, um, let’s say it was like North of 30 million. Right. So, so, uh, he, they came back to us and they said, Hey, we want to launch concurrently in Asia. Can you guys do, Hey, need a career? That time. We were like, Oh no, we have our own star. You know, we have our own startup, we just got money it’s okay. Right. And then during that time we had that set, going back to that set top box story, you know, we’re like, Oh crap. We can’t launch our product until at least a year out. Right. So we were like, should we take this off? Or from the Hey Nita guys? Right. And then we went back and forth and then finally, You know, we just gave in and said, fine, we’ll take it. So that’s how I actually, as an adult, moved to Korea for the very first time, since I was an infant to do our second startup, um, the Korean entity was separately bank, uh, backed by SoftBank Korea. Right. Cause uh, us guys are we’re backed by. Uh, SoftBank Japan and the U S at the time. And then we were backed by SoftBank Korea. And then those are our second startups, same team, Jimmy, Peter, and I, we were the co-founders of this, and then we were launching this new voice portal in the South Korea.

 

Bryan: (00:22:54) Wow. That’s that’s quite the story on the journey. That’s right. Uh, Cleanliness started to play out and work out. You know, I think the hardest thing with most boundaries, like you can’t see that light at the end of the tunnel when you’re struggling and that’s the creative factor, what your story is. A lot of things happen very short amount of time. As long as you stay mentally ready, you see opportunity all the time, you know? So hats off to you and your partners.

 

Bernard: (00:23:19) Yeah. I mean, I think it’s sort of hard because you know, there’s obviously a lot of chance or luck involved at that time where if we decided to fold, like, even like couple of months before, you know, maybe we would have to raise even that first 600,000 angel money, right. Or if by chance, like we didn’t help out these, Hey Nita guys. And it went to lead to this other opportunity in Korea. Right. Yeah. For a lot of things. I mean, sometimes it’s, you know, it’s by these like chance moments and calls or meetings. Right. And you just have to sort of stick with it. Right. Right.

 

Bryan: (00:23:55) Yeah. I feel that when those happens in the universe, trying to help you out, it’s like, whatever you want to do, it’s like, here you go all at once, you know?

 

Maggie: (00:24:04) Yeah. What was that transition? Like just, you know, being in Korea. And

 

Bryan: (00:24:07) I know we want to hear about that because spark labs in and career now, It’s just pretty crazy,

 

Bernard: (00:24:13) well, like time limit and Korea, uh, Korea as adult, it was definitely adjustment because I’m, you know, I mentioned that I grew up in Chicago, so I’m definitely more, I would say American in my base thinking. Right. Versus I would say if you grew up in LA, right. Um, or New York even. Right. So, and I was in, I was a suburban kid. Right. So when I went to Chicago, definitely being very American, I didn’t like some of the cultural norms there. Right. It’s uh, as a background, like Korea is definitely a strict Confucian hierarchy, similar to Japan. Right. It’s interesting because you know, we’re confusing. Confucianism was born in China. You know, that hierarchy was almost a race cause of communism. Right. Um, but so you had these, you know, sort of strict social norms. Like if someone’s a year older than you. I mean, luckily I didn’t, you know, I spoke like baby Korean and I still do, but you know, um, you know, if someone’s a year older than you, then you sort of show that respect. Right. And you show that, uh, and you speak to them in the honorific. Yeah. So when I went there, there was already some, uh, you know, friends or acquaintances that I knew that, um, moved to Korea because. The first wave, I would say in the nineties, a lot of, a lot of Korean Americans went there to teach English. Right. But in the late nineties, it was a shift where a lot of white collar professionals started coming into the Asia or the Korean market, like Korea, Hong Kong, Japan. Right. A lot of the. Banks and consulting firms, they had Asian Americans now they can transplant to Asia. Right? So that was an interesting time. And so even my friends that were fluent in Korean, they told me that they would speak in English. Right to level the playing field because they were younger than most of their either clients or counterparts. Right. And so initially I would say I was resistant because I saw, and I still sort of do see this Confucian hierarchy as I call it the crutch for the weak. Right. Um, it’s not just even age it’s definitely. And it’s not even spoken about sometimes. And I think, um, I think some, um, I would say ignorant Korean American sort of try to defend it, but there’s a lot of sexism involved here. Right. And it’s still there where they sort of be little the women in the professional field. So that’s my overall, I just call it a crutch for the weak, right? Why do you have to lean on something on this hierarchy, right. To sort of make yourself either feel better or have this position of power over someone else? Um, some of it is cultural and I’m not saying everyone abuses it. Right, but there’s definitely abuse. Right. And I think everyone has insecurities. And when you have these insecurities and you have it as power, I think you, you leverage it at times. Right? So that’s something that I definitely. Was against, but I had to adjust. Right. And not be so brash because, you know, when you, you know, when you’re younger, you’re definitely more brash and confrontational I lease or I was right now, I was like, Oh man, I have to earn it my respect.  Right. Like, you know, they can’t like talk like that or wa or whatever. Um, you know, I think I settled down and tried to, you know, be more in flow of the culture, but not accepted things that I disagree with.

 

Bryan: (00:27:35) Right. Yeah. Very interesting. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I do want to kind of highlight, um, you starting spark glassy tree and back in 2012. You know what you’re doing? They’re so inspirational to me because something that I want to do sometime later on in my career. So when I I’m talking to you about this, I’m like visualizing myself, where do I want to be? You know? So I want to ask you, like, like how did the inspiration behind sparks loud Korea tell them about, and how’d you guys find similar success globally. He has her best into a lot of different country, a lot of different companies. They. What was the formula like, and where does idea come from?

 

Maggie: (00:28:09) We’ve heard from like previous podcasts too, that it’s kind of like the YC of Korea. Right. And so kind of want to hear about how that inspiration came about. Yeah.

 

Bernard: (00:28:21) Well, it was actually started by my, uh, co-founder hunt, Julie, the idea. Right. So how did you, at that time, he, uh, started host way, which was a top five global hosting company. And, uh, several years before they launched host to Korea. So he was literally going like two weeks, Chicago, two weeks, soul back and forth. And also during that period, he started angel investing more into Korean startups. So he was flying through San Francisco and he asked to meet for lunch. I said, yeah, sure. And it was in, I think, March of 2012 where he said, Hey, you know, I think it’s a good time to start a Y Combinator of Korea. You know, why don’t we do it together? And just said, you know, I’m pretty busy with my startup. Why don’t we, uh, you know, I can advise you. He’s like, no, no, we got to do it together. I just said, okay, well you have your company. I might companies. So we have to find. Someone else to run it. And I just said, I think we need a third. So I said, let me ask Jimmy. He said, yeah, you know, why don’t you go ask Jimmy? I said, yeah, if Jimmy does it, then I’m definitely in. So later that day, you know, I call once Jimmy wakes up in Seoul, I call him and say, Hey, you know, Hunter has this idea. He wants to start. Uh, YC of South Korea and Jimmy was hilarious. Cause he was at first like, Oh man, I don’t know if Korean entrepreneurs are good to work with. It’s like, why are you such a hater your career? It’s like, he’s like, Oh, I don’t know. Is there enough good startups? I’m like, dude, I was like, If star started in Boulder, looked like our Denver greater Denver area with like a million people. Seoul is 25 million people. I’m sure there’s enough startups. And he’s like, ah, I don’t know. I was like, look, you could do it. You’ll just be part time. Just come in once a month, you speak a little here and there and that’s it. He’s like, Oh, I fine. Right. So that’s how the idea came about. And then, um, You know that first month I remember just setting the groundwork. Right? One of the things obviously accelerators have is mentors, right? Yeah. So I remember emailing like 50 close friends and, you know, friends, sorry, actually acquaintances in Silicon Valley. And you know, that’s how we initially started getting momentum. Cause we got very sort of high profile mentors. We knew that, uh, in Asia, especially cause I mentioned this Confucian hierarchy, sometimes age is a factor. Right. So when I looked at the other programs, if you know that they had mentors, you know, they, you know, they have a mix of high to mid-level managers or whatnot. And I thought initially for Korea, because they’re so fixated on this age thing, we had to get all senior people. . Right. So that’s why we got a lot of, uh, successful entrepreneurs or senior execs at tech companies as mentors. And then Jimmy was interesting. Jimmy. I had an idea. He’s like, Hey, why don’t you, uh, try to target some of like these, uh, you know, big names and tech. And I just said, Well, I don’t know. I didn’t see any accelerators with like advisers or anything. He’s like, no, let’s do it. It’s good marketing. So I said, Oh, you’re fine. And so, you know, that’s when, um, you know, I started contacting some people and luckily at that time, um, you know, my wife was at Google, so she was at Google for nine years, two out of the nine. She sat actually right next to Vint Cerf, you know, one of the fathers of the internet. And so I asked it in, I’m like, Hey, you know, No, this is, uh, Christine’s husband. We’re still launching this accelerator. Can you be an advisor? Right? He said, sure. So I was very lucky. I’m very fortunate that he liked my wife. So, so Vince came on as an advisor and then it just sort of rolled from there. You know, I met Mark Cuban years before at a technology conference. Got Mark Cuban on board. Um, Ray Ozzie, who was CTO of Microsoft at the time. He came on board, Tom Peters and it just started rolling. And then in the fall we launched the program. Um, you know, our target was small, like six companies, right. And it was interesting cause it was this range even of bootstrap, even for our first batch was bootstrap to, uh, accompany a start that raised three, a $3 million series a. Right. So majority of the companies actually raised, um, 500,000 to 3 million and they all wanted to be part of this network. And our positioning was to help Korean startups go global. Right. And during that time there, it was, it was very competitive already in Korea. You know, even in 2012, there was, you know, at least 20 accelerators there. Um, Korea was already a vibrant ecosystem. Right. But through, I think our positioning of helping companies go global and the fact that all the founders, we did our own startups, or we’re doing our own startups, right. That created this initial affinity. So if you ask, you know, what sort of our secret sauce, I mean, it’s not a secret sauce. We, you know, we’re very open about it is that all the core partners did our own startups. Right. Because we were entrepreneurs. So you naturally have this affinity, right. With the people that go through your program. Right. And you could tell your war stories. I could tell about only my failures, but then obviously my other co-founders Jimmy and hanji, they could talk about their successes and failures. Right. And that was sort of like a core tenant of spark labs is helping these startups go global. Right. And also just, um, helping them, knowing how to help them out. Right. Regardless of what stage they’re at, because we went through it. All right. And so that’s how the success sort of rolled about. I would say it took a couple of years, but by 2015, we became clearly I think at that time known as like the leading accelerator in South Korea. And then we figured we could replicate this model. And that’s how we grew. Like, you know, we launched in Taipei, I would say Edgar Chu has done a great job with our support. And it’s clearly the leading accelerator in Taiwan now. And in Australia, our spark labs cultivate, which is a ag tech food tech accelerator, where clearly the leader, I would say in that market too. So it’s grown in terms of just reputation and branding. Um, also I would say, you know, metrics are our investment performance is, is I would say top 10% in the world. And also even in terms of like shallow marketing, like, you know, Korea now we host the largest startup demo day in the world. Like before the pandemic, like 3000 people would attend our half day demo day in, uh, South Korea, Taiwan, you know, this past November, they just had a thousand in-person demo day. Uh, it’s also in Taiwan, it’s the must-see event. One of the must see events in Taiwan. And then, uh, in Australia too, So I think we learned how to not only run an accelerator program, but also help build out these startup ecosystems within these markets.

 

Bryan: (00:35:29) Out of curiosity, does your, a startup it’s inspiring the startup Korean drama and really popular on Netflix?

 

Bernard: (00:35:39) Yeah. I don’t know if you know, but we were actually the official consultants.

 

Bryan: (00:35:43) Wow. I don’t know why. I remember seeing some similar logos to your deputy, send me with the cream John was watching. So I wanted to ask this question.

 

Maggie: (00:35:52) I’ve heard that their drama is actually based off of a true celebrate. Yeah,

 

Bernard: (00:35:58) yeah, yeah. So if you lookI mean, they do flashes, but they actually have pictures of our actual demo day and yeah, they actually had more, but they, um, I think for copyright concerns, they, they, they turned it down. Uh, they actually showed like 20 plus of our company accelerator, uh, logo, but they changed the names. Right. Made it like fake names. You can tell it’s it’s our portfolio companies. Yeah. And then, uh, we had some product placement, so well taking a step back. So. The year before they, you know, they started showing it on Netflix and in, in Korea, uh, they approached, um, our partner, you know, my partner and colleague Eugene Kim, who is the managing partner for spark labs, Korea. They asked him to, uh, consult. So Eugene and, and about four or five others from the spark labs, Korea team started consulting, um, the startup, uh, K drama. And then, uh, it led to other things like, uh, it got product placement for one of our companies called end things. You, if you remember in, um, in the VCs, uh, uh, what is the apartment there’s disease? Uh, there was these, yeah, there’s these, uh, uh, Oh my gosh. Why am I blanking out this smart farming plants, right? Yeah. Yeah. So that’s actually a, our portfolio company’s product. Wow. Right. And then, um, one of our venture partners, uh, channel park, I don’t know, who’s a former LA Dodgers pitcher. So he was actually, you know, in the, in the drama and before COVID hit, though, they also invited our spark labs, creative team to be on the set, but they can’t to cancel it. And so I was guessing maybe Eugene or someone might’ve gotten a short, uh, you know, a brief cameo or something. I mean, who knows. But yeah, so we, yeah, we were the official, uh, consultants for, for it. And then, you know, they, they did definitely give, they gave various, uh, I would say hat, hat, hat tips to us, you know, during the show. So

 

Bryan: (00:38:06) yeah, I knew it and I had to confirm this podcast. Thank you, Bernard. And for you guys who don’t know what, what the drama we’re talking about a startup. It’s a Korean drama on Netflix. Check it out. You know, that’s really good.

 

Maggie: (00:38:21) Yeah. It is really good. We really enjoyed it. So we know, you know, you, you all started knowing how to operate the accelerator. You, we know how you got the mentors, um, and advisors. Can you talk a little bit about the, the actual startups? Like what did you guys typically look for in a startup? And like, how did you do outreach? Did you wait for inflow or did you kind of do your own outreach and scout for them? And what was like the biggest difference between startups in Korea as opposed to America?

 

Bryan: (00:38:52) And to add on to that too, when you started it started and then the initial funding, did it, was this like self funded or did you guys raise money to begin with, um, to start the accelerator?

 

Bernard: (00:39:01) Um, so we structured it as a fund, so it’s a small fund. So most accelerator funds, I would say. Are not like are very small funds. You don’t, you don’t need that much cap. Um, excuse me. Um, as background, I would say globally, most funds range from 2 million to 10. Okay. Right. Uh, the carried interest is the same as any VC fund where it’s 80, 20, right. You pay back the principal, then you split the profits. 80% goes to investors. 20% goes to the team. Uh, that runs the fund. Uh, uh, accelerator funds are a little different in a sense where usually half the, because it’s a small fund, there’s a lot of more operating costs for the, for the accelerator. Right. And it’s more intensive than, uh, if it’s like a regular VC fund because it’s more program centered. So 50% of the capital raise goes to operations. Right. It’s like pay the staff demo day, bring in speakers, et cetera. Right. So that’s how we did initially raise a $3 million fund for spark labs, Korea. Right. And then we started investing. Actually I forgot the exact numbers. I think we were like YC, we invested 25 K and then we upped it to 50. And now it’s like a hundred thousand for up to 6%. Right. The initial, um, you know, you’ll hear this from like, I think any sort of VC, uh, it’s usually through personal network right. And referral. And that that’s actually how we started out. A lot of the companies, we did do a PR blitz in Korea and then. We opened it up the applications, but the strongest companies actually came from our network. Right. So an example is like, one of them is a first batch, was nobody, it was at a tech company. And that was actually referred by one of my friends. Um, another company Aguilar, uh, I was, it was, it was funny at that time, this well-known, um, Sierra entrepreneur in South Korea, he asked me to be advisor. His name is Chester RO, right. He actually was the first Korean starter. He co-founded the first Korean startup that got acquired by Google. And so he asked me to advise her and just said, Hey, we’re starting this new accelerator and a fund. So we can’t take outside positions. He’s like, why don’t you be a part of it? Right then I can help you out. And so that’s how we recruited that company or the first batch. Right? So it was initially through personal referral, but now as our, you know, reputation and, and, um, branding grew, you know, we do get. Like sometimes up to our over 400,000 applications. I’m sorry, 400, sorry, not 400. I’m sorry. 400, 400 applicants. Sorry, I missed that four. I’m sorry. Sorry. I misspoke. So 400 applications for each batch, right. Which is twice a year. Um, but then we also, that doesn’t come through the online system. We have all these personal referrals. Right. So now it’s, it’s, it’s a mixed of, you know, sort of this accelerator machine and then referrals. And then we also get even not just direct referrals on our own network, but referrals now from the mentors. Yeah. Right. So that’s the great thing too, is that, um, as the mentors get involved and they love. Obviously helping out new entrepreneurs. Um, they also, you know, like the program, hopefully when they do like the program, you know, they’ll refer, you know, startups that they know of. So it all happens once you start building out that ecosystem. And that’s what we found out. It’s really, um, it’s a really interesting thing to see. And it’s exciting when we launch a new accelerator is that we definitely expand the network like tenfold. Right. Cause when we launch a new accelerator, like in Taiwan, um, you know, I’m the, you know, we had Edgar, right. And then it was excused to Edgar and I, and others. We recruited all these mentors that wanted to help out Taiwanese startups. And then we, you know, got like, I got, you know, my friends like Charles and Kai Wong, the Qatar hero brothers to, to be on the advisory board. Um, I asked through a friend, a Steve Chen co-founder of YouTube. So he was initially one of the advisors and then it just expanded from there.

 

Bryan: (00:43:33) Wow. That’s amazing. Is there any notable startups that you can mention that you guys invest into over the years? And you’re like, Whoa, it totally blew up that we all know about.

 

Bernard: (00:43:43) Um, I can go, well, it’s mainly in Asia, so most, most of them, I’m not sure if you know, from here. I mean, there’s. Mimi box that has done well there in our first batch. Right. Um, you know, they raised $126 million series C and then, um, uh, Johnson and Johnson re you know, did a small series D of 35 million and they’re on a good track. Uh, they, uh, they’re not as visible because they’re the white label provider for a Sephora. Hmm for, for key beauty products, but their, their product brand is called Kaja, which is a number one, uh, actual brand for Sephora for, I think, 15 to 20 five-year-olds. Right. So it it’s, it’s done very well and, and that’s, that’s tracking well. Um, there’s, I mean, there’s different, uh, there’s different ones that are, I guess, like, Known in, in, in each market in Korea or Taiwan or Australia. Um, I’m not sure if you recognize them.

 

Bryan: (00:44:47) We might, but our podcast is very international as well. Layman’s brands get people all over the world. We’re really excited to hear about them. Yeah.

 

Bernard: (00:44:45) Yeah. So, um, I mean, there’s a wanted it’s it’s actually doing well. It’s a, it’s a job site right. In, in the Korean and Japanese market. Uh, two, I’m just trying to think like, like you, no worries. I mean, like if you watch like YouTube stuff, like Asian boss was also wow. Yeah. Yeah. They’re they’re one of our portfolio companies. They went through our program, uh,

 

Bryan: (00:45:19) was 88, a part of your portfolio and taco app take home. Taco taco

 

Bernard: (00:45:24) taco we invested. Yeah. And then, uh, ADA was actually on our seed fund side. Oh, wow. Right. So, you know, we, we launched also the venture capital firm, a fund on the other half. So, uh, yeah, we invested out of our us fund into ADA rising. Um, that was interesting. Cause you know, when Jason ma like pitched me, I don’t think he was like, You didn’t know what to expect. Right. And then I like, I like the vision and I’m not one that gets really excited. And these pictures, it’s not on par anything purposeful. Like, I don’t like try to do a poker face, but I just don’t get like emotionally excited. Yeah. Right. So I just liked, I was like, Oh, this is great. Yeah. So I just said, Hey, you want me to introduce you to a couple of our, uh, You know, LPs our investors in our funds. And then so in their seed round, I did bring two of our LPs into it. One of them was a GDP ventures out of Indonesia, and then GDP actually led their series C round. Wow. You know, they raised like a $20 million series C. So, you know, we definitely, if we obviously liked the founders, then as we continue to see them perform. You know, you know, we bring them closer into, into our network.

 

Bryan: (00:46:40) So I love that appreciate the, the help hospitality that you have for the community. And I guess one of the second to last question I had is it’s going to be a pretty big question, Bernard. Sorry about that. And we’ll apologize ahead, but what is your why and your vision of why you do everything? You know, what’s the reason why you wake up every morning and. Just, why do you do things you do? Because you look at, you were so successful already, you know, and you’d done so many different things. You have to impact so many different lives, but we want to, I want to understand, like, what is your why of doing everything that you do

 

Bernard: (00:47:15) well, taking a step? I don’t know if I think I’m there successful yet. We think you’re very successful by the way. Okay. Okay. Um, I think I just found. What I’d like to do, and I’m not one of those that believes that you always have to sort of follow your passion, right? Yeah. You know, maybe towards the later end of your career, you do, but I think early on, like, you definitely take sacrifices. Right. But I think I was fortunate enough to, uh, that I did find what I liked. Right. In terms of sort of the startups are you create a creation and also. What I didn’t mention is one thing that Jimmy and I did also during all those startup years is help other entrepreneurs, right? We always gave free advice to other entrepreneurs, like what to do and what not to do. Right. And tell them our war stories. So when we launched spark labs, you know, we, we joked around, Oh, this is what we’re doing, but we’re just adding a check. You know, we’re adding a 50 K checkout of our accelerator or a million dollar check out of one of our VC funds. And so I think that’s what keeps me excited. Right. Because I enjoy just helping other people. Right. And it just happens that yeah, I’m writing a check for them, but you know, I was already doing it for 20 years for free. Right. So it’s just something that I think I enjoy. Um, I enjoy helping them out. I enjoy them seeing their own sort of excitement when they hit their sort of stages of success. Right. But I’m also, you know, I. Understand, even the downturns, cause it startup life is a lot of ups and downs, right? It’s not all about, you know, basking in the glory or being on, you know, ink magazine or Forbes or whatever. Right. Most of it is actually, um, you know, very stressful, right? It’s a lot of rejection. It’s a lot of failure. Right. And it’s a lot of fears. Because, you know, I, even, when I was going through my third startup, when I moved to the Bay area, it was when, um, our kids were very young. Yeah. Right. And it was a lot of risk. And then it stressed out my wife a lot. Who’s not who at that time, wasn’t a startup person, you know, very much, uh, valued security. Right. And, and to be Frank, it D to create tension in our marriage because. You know, there’s so much stress and uncertainty involved. Right. So since I went through that at all, I definitely sympathize with our entrepreneurs and founders. Right. And I could, you know, convey and tell them at least, you know, what I went through or what I was thinking. Right. Every person in every individual is different in terms of how they react and take distress. I definitely think I’m an outlier because I really don’t get it. That that’s stressed, but I do get stressed with my wife’s stress. I learned that that’s important factor. We write that down important factor, even if you’re not as stressed as you, you want to show. You should show that you’re very stressed.

 

Maggie: (00:50:28) We also know my wife is also a founder now, too. Yeah.

 

Bernard: (00:50:32) Yeah, she is. So, yeah, surprisingly, she took the leap, uh, over a year ago to launch a autonomous driving startup for. Uh, for mass transit and the greater space. So

 

Bryan: (00:50:45) did that affect a startup like Korean drama? The tone is starting at the very end in the series and

 

Bernard: (00:50:52) people said they might’ve gotten that idea. Well, cause it’s funny. Cause I guess the naming again, I, you know, I speak like. Baby Korean, but the name and the show was, could be interpreted as the name of actually my wife’s company, which is blue space.

 

Bryan: (00:51:10) Wow. Yeah. All right. Well, you guys listening, this is spoiler alert, apologize.

 

Maggie: (00:51:16) So many similarities. Oh yeah. No more spoilers. Some people haven’t watched it yet. Okay. So Bernard, we have one last question for you, and that is what one advice could you give to an aspiring entrepreneur? If you could just choose one.

 

Bryan: (00:51:27) And that advice is someone that. Is that when you get back to yourself, when you first started your journey since day one,

 

Bernard: (00:51:36) um, let me think about this advice. Nice. I would say, you know, Okay. One thing. Well, this is more critique on myself though. I’m not sure. I’m just trying to, I’m just thinking out loud, like one thing, like looking back, like I think I would have been, um, more thorough in some of my planning for the startups. Right. Uh, definitely pay attention to all the details. Right. And then I would say, um, I would say also just, you know, enjoy the moment more, right. Whether, whether it is good or bad, um, definitely be more self-reflective and learn from the situations that you’re in. Right. Because everything becomes a blur when, you know, in life and when you’re doing a startup. Right. And so sometimes you sort of miss those learning moments, right. That could maybe. Make your next startup or next stage of life, you know, better, more efficient, more enjoyable. Right? I think sometimes, um, especially myself, but I think people in general, sometimes you, you just are in this blur of life. Right. And you just don’t pause and think about either yourself or how you could react, right. Or how he could improve yourself or how you can treat people better. Right. And those are, those are some things I’m not a person that would regrets, I would say my past or, or look back too much. Right. I think in some of those moments, you know, when I do look back, um, I wish maybe I didn’t like blow up at my co-founder at one time or I didn’t make a rash decision. I should’ve thought about it better. Right. I should have been more thoughtful to my wife. Right. Or, or, or things like that. Um, you know, even still, now it’s hard to pause, I think. Right. Cause I I’m, you know, we are relatively young in the venture space. We’re eight years in, right. We’re still running at a hundred miles per hour. Right. I’m still working like. 80 plus hours a week. Right. And we, you know, we’re still trying to build this firm and we’re, we are trying to build a firm beyond ourselves. Right. We’re trying to build our spar class for something to the last, you know, 10 20, 30 years beyond, beyond this. Right. So it’s not just about our immediate gain. And that’s why we’re very cautious about, um, I would say our reputation and how we treat people and how we treat our founders. Right. Cause, cause we’ve seen some short-term firms, like, you know, just looking for their, you know, to cash out and then they move on. Right. So know, I think. The core founders, you know, and myself, you know, we’ve built a very strong vision in terms of what we want to accomplish over the, I would say the next 10 years, and then we want to pass the torch to the next generation.

 

Maggie: (00:54:47) So, wow. That’s very insightful.

 

Bryan: (00:54:49) Thank you for that Bernard for what you do, you know, very inspirational. We keep hearing sport last on, come up, come up time and time again. When we talked to other entrepreneurs, especially in Korea and just watching the Korean drama, that’s definitely part of LAUSD.

 

Maggie: (00:55:06) Awesome. Well, Bernard, how can our listeners find out more about you and spark labs online?

 

Bernard: (00:55:11) Yeah, they could, uh, go to spark labs, group.com or they could, um, go to any of our sites from spark labs, group.com or spark labs@sierra.kr, go to our websites. And, uh, they, you know, if your listeners want to contact me and ask for advice or. Or pitch their startup. They could email me directly it’s Bernard at spark labs, global.com.

 

Bryan: (00:55:37) Awesome. Thank you for that Bernard and be careful what you wish for and thank you for your time.

 

 

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