Soo-Jin Kim is an EMBA graduate of Columbia Business School in the US and founder of In•clued, a service that researches event venues for companies. She launched the business in 2012 after learning five web programming languages and market testing while attending Columbia and working full-time at American Express.
As the daughter of a South Korean diplomat, Ms Kim grew up in 12 cities across five continents. Her favourite was Kathmandu and her least favourite Tripoli because of its giant flying cockroaches. She enjoys visiting restaurants, running and practising Ashtanga yoga.
1. Who are your business heroes?
My father is my business hero because he taught me how to place a value on every experience. This is why we chose ‘Every Experience Matters’ as the tagline for my company. During his three decades as a diplomat, my father valued every experience like it was front-page news and people as if they were key characters in a novel. Whenever my brother and I whined about not having snacks or entertainment in the emerging country we lived in, my father reminded us how the opportunity to experience a foreign country trumped lacking first-world comfort.
2. What inspires you?
The professionals in the food and beverage industry are some of the hardest-working people. They are also brilliant at cultivating relationships and continuously innovate without compromising on their convictions. The ones that survive also have a wicked business sense. Every time I need a bit of motivation, I [consider] how hard they work. So, I implore you – if you think your waiter deserves that extra percentage tip or simple thank you, please make that gesture.
3. What is the best piece of advice given to you by a teacher?
“Test your idea without spending a dime”, from Professor Morten Sorensen, [and] “Selling is the hardest thing to learn. Learn the market by talking to potential customers”, from Prof Jack Kaplan and Don Weiss.
4. What is your biggest lesson learnt?
From launching my own business, I’ve learnt sales is king, brand is king and execution is also king. All three matter equally and anyone who tells you otherwise is just trying not to scare you.
5. What is the last book you read?
Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow, which was a gift from a former colleague. It’s a brilliant summary of how we make instinctive v logical choices. It was also a humbling reminder of how I need to be more conscious and deliberate in my decision-making. It’s a must read for every marketer and leader.
6. What is your favourite business book?
The Goal by Eliyahu Goldratt. It’s one of the classics of the genre that teaches how to resolve operational bottlenecks. This book reminds you that you need to listen to your team, see what’s on the shop floor and not just trust or hide behind the statistics a computer spews out. The book’s simple yet illuminating lessons enabled me to solve an operational bottleneck that had stunted productivity in my business unit at Amex for years.
7. Where would be your favourite place to study?
You will rarely find me in a library unless I need to take a nap. I need to have noise that I can block out as the silence deafens me. There’s a wonderful place called Vintner Wine Market in Hell’s Kitchen, New York with great, knowledgeable staff, a fridge full of craft beer, great cheese and wine that I frequent when I need to “study” for my business. It helps me to go somewhere that doesn’t remind me of work.
8. How do you deal with pressure?
I run and practise Ashtanga yoga regularly to deal with everyday stress. However, nothing beats a great drink and meal with a friend or loved one.
9. Have you even been to any workshops/seminars that have helped you in your career?
An Ultralight start-up conference about how to take your concept to website changed my life. One of the panellists said he taught himself coding to launch his e-commerce because you can’t respond nimbly to shifting market demands when you rely on outsourced help. Inspired, I studied coding for eight months with the goal of having a minimal viable product, [which] allowed me to collaborate well with a highly talented designer to publish a beta and full website each in one month. It was no picnic spending my evenings and weekends reading a 600-page programming book after a 12-hour working day. But it has paid off in spades.
10. What is your plan B?
I don’t mean to sound dramatic, but if you want to succeed with your start-up, don’t plan for plan B. Live for plan A and pivot until you are sick of pivoting. Then, pivot some more, pause, have a drink, and pivot again.