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Trekking the UnknownAn interview with Kwon Hyuk-bin, the group CEO of smilegate
Kim Yeon-seung  |
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승인 2017.08.25  22:20:45
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WHEN I entered the office to have an interview with the fourth wealthiest man in Korea according to Forbes, Kwon Hyuk-bin, I was surprised by his simple plaid shirt and his friendly-uncle-like disposition. I had expected more opulence from a man who has gained the honor of being listed in top 500 wealthiest people in the world, according to *Bloomberg* billionaire index. But he spoke nothing of things like Armani suits and a cabinet full of expensive whiskey bottles. Rather, he spoke passionately of his dreams. Here was a man who followed his dreams rather than the bounty. Kwon Hyuk-bin is one of the most well-known entrepreneurs as the group CEO & founder of *Smilegate*, a company that offers online and mobile game services. He is also the creator of multiple online service games, including *CROSSFIRE*, which is known for its soaring popularity as it is played by 8 million concurrent users and registered by 650 million members. CEO Kwon has successfully managed to export his creation of online games to a bigger global market, as seen by the colossal number of international users, over 4 million in just China alone. Prior to the interview, I have researched about him and his company, and felt pretty overwhelmed by his trailblazing achievements. Despite his achievements, he seemed like an ordinary man throughout the interview. Nonetheless, he is an extraordinary man who has great drive and passion in attaining his dreams. CEO Kwon rarely accepts interviews from the media. Fortunately, the *Yonsei Annals* had a chance to have an exclusive interview with him to share his secret to success. Here is the interview:

*Annals*: I have heard that you have turned down one of the most prestigious job offers in South Korea, a position at the Samsung Electronics, to start your business. How did you start your business and how did you cope with the risk of failure?
Kwon: I know many people focus on the fact that I have started a business, but it really is not about starting my own business, but more about what I did for my business. I have only decided to start a business to follow my dream of developing global software. I have been offered a job at Samsung electronics, but what I had come to realize is that even though working at Samsung offered many perks, the job was far from what I was willing to achieve. My dream was to develop a global software, but the work at Samsung mostly dealt with developing national programs like the *Hoonminjungum* and System Integration (SI) programs. Now, I do not mean to undermine the job in any way, and if working at Samsung Electronics is what you want to do, by all means, go for it. All I am trying to say is that the job was not for me. To develop my globally renowned software, at first, I tried applying for a foreign company. To do so, I studied English and developed a program called Shareware, which received great reviews. In the midst of all this, there was a boom for start-up businesses so naturally I had an opportunity to start my business. Here, I was left with three options: accept the job offered at Samsung, apply to a foreign IT company, or start my own business. The safest option, working at Samsung, was furthest away from my dreams. So I pondered the last two options and I just happened to choose the last one. To be honest, even if I had chosen to work for a foreign IT company, I do not think I would have regretted that choice. I would have been perfectly content as long as I could achieve my dream. But I chose to start my own business. Many people peg me for being this missionary of start-up businesses but I have not once recommended someone to go and start a business. I know first handedly how difficult and risky this whole process is. Starting a business was not my dream and only a way of achieving it.
*Annals*: You just rejected the title of being the missionary of start-up businesses. However, I believe you have started a center called *Orange farm* that funds and supports start-up businesses.
Kwon: I started *Orange Farm* not to encourage people to start businesses, but to help those who already have. I know how difficult this path is so I do not try to lead anybody towards it, but for the people that have already chosen this path, I have a sense of duty to help them. I have realized over time that many people start a business to make money, or simply to add another line to their resume. However, starting a business should not be for either of those reasons. You should only choose to start a business when it is the closest way to achieve your dreams. Your ultimate goal should not be starting a business—your business should be the means to achieve your dream. A lot of people ask me what kind of business they should start. However, I don’t have a specific answer to this question. If someone wants to arrive at a destination, I can only recommend them the best way to get there, but asking for the destination itself is quite ludicrous.
*Annals*: Could you tell us a little more of what kind of difficulties you faced when you were building your business? How did you overcome the various failures and tribulations?
Kwon: I mean the whole process is difficult. Let me put it this way. Have you ever gone hiking? And if you did, have you ever strayed away from the trail? Once you get off path, everything is a challenge. The only thing that drives you is the passion that you have for your dream. The passion and energy are what keep you on track. I cannot really give any advice on what kind of trials and tribulations they would encounter when they start a business. What seemed difficult to me may come surprisingly easy to someone else. But I do want to tell you this. Is your passion worth it? Is your will and energy to achieve your dream strong enough to guide you through the perils of trekking an unknown path? You may fall in the process. But note that you have two options: you may pick yourself up and continue your journey, or simply come back. I realize that not all will successfully finish the journey. But even if you do come back, you come back with an invaluable experience. Business failure is just a setback in your life. But you are still alive. You can either choose to continue with your chosen path or just go back with that invaluable life experience in hand.
*Annals*: In the beginning of the interview, you have mentioned that your dream was to create a globally known software. In doing so, you have chosen to create a rather unconventional field of software, online games. Did your parents disapprove in any way by the fact that you were launching an online game business and what prompted you to make this bold choice?
Kwon: When I first told my parents about my decision to start a business, I firmly told them that I would not ask for any financial help. When I was growing up, both of my parents worked so I had a lot of free time on my own. Hence, I had a lot of leeway on the choices that I have made. Naturally, my parents did not necessarily disapprove of my choice to start a business, but made it clear that I was to do this on my own. As I was not from a wealthy family, and my parents could only afford to pay for my college, it was critical for me to not rely on my parent’s financial support. Therefore, I decided to start off with an online game company; I first started a solution IT company that dealt with SI (System Integration) programs. I tried to create our own program to export to other countries, but soon realized that online games had the biggest chance to succeed in the international market. *Smilegate*’s online games are not just about playing the game, but it is more about connecting to other users and forming a close community among the players. In the sense that our games including *CROSSFIRE* provide users a special type of online social relationship, they are more of an online service than a game. 
*Annals*: Did you have a specific strategy in creating a successful global enterprise?
Kwon: No I did not. I did not start out with a single strategy. Instead, I learned from my mistakes. I failed at my first attempt to start a business, so I went over what went wrong and modified my methods. And that is basically how I came to be here. My ultimate strategy developed from a series of continuous revising and modifying, after assessing my mistakes and failures. My failures became my motive. And after a while, I arrived at my treasure island, because I continued to journey on. I did not let my failures stop me, but rather became the foundation of my next strategy.
*Annals*: Many people believe that you have already achieved great economic and societal success. However, you seem to thirst for more. Could you tell us about your future goal and prospects you have for your company, Smilegate?
Kwon: I think my biggest reward for creating this company is not the money but the chance for me and my company to play in the big league. After spending my energy in developing global software and creating a somewhat successful company, it took me some time to find a another passion. But eventually I did; I hope to make my business something great. I hope to transform my business into a company with global vision that can compete with top companies in the world. In order to do so, we are currently developing a platform called ‘STOVE,’, which is a global creation and a social platform. The platform business we are currently engaging in will enable us to advance to a company with global vision .
*Annals*: Are there any words of advice you would like to give out to Yonsei University students?
Kwon: I know that most of you are already very well-educated, so rather than spending your time and effort on what you are already good at, spend them on what you lack. For instance, work on your character and high-level abilities. By high-level abilities, I mean your creativity and insight. These high-level abilities stem from the personal experience that you acquire during your free time. Despite what you may think, free time is very important; it is a time to find your self-worth and interest. In this time, go out for diverse experience, discuss it with your friends, and ponder it. It is like eating food. Eat to experience, chew to discuss, and digest to ponder. Final push that makes you great from good, a super hero from a talented person, comes from your dream and your drive to achieve it. To me, the most pitiful people are those who peaked in life when they were accepted to a prestigious university. An entrance at a prestigious university should not define who you are nor be the single achievement in life. A university does not tell who you are; your dream does.
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