THE LEAP that many people do not dare to make, the wall only a few dare to climb. There are many ways people view entrepreneurship. Starting a new enterprise is not a walk in the park. Daniel Byun (’94, Dept. of Law) was not exempt from such hardships. Starting out with literally nothing but the clothes on his back, he set up the company B. Brain Technology, together with his brother. His company created the world’s cheapest mp3 player, the Turtle S9. It soon swept the global mp3 market and quickly established itself among the global mp3 giants
Annals: What sets apart the Turtle S9 from other mp3 players, and how did you come to develop it?
Byun: The Turtle S9 is our star product. Our aim was to offer a product with high quality sound and an affordable price. In order to sell our product, we found that there were two decisive factors. Either the product has to be unique (like an mp3 that works underwater), or it has to be affordable. For a start-up company like ours, developing the technology for a unique product was far too costly, so we naturally chose to focus on the latter. We started by removing all the unnecessary functions that many of the top brand mp3 players had. The most notable feature was to remove the internal memory that many mp3 players viewed as a necessity and replace this with an external memory card reader instead. This was the decisive factor that made our product able to become the cheapest mp3 player in the world.
What motivated you to start B. Brain Technology, and what is the significance of the company’s name?
After I graduated from college, my family had a large debt. In order to pay the debt, my brother and I started to work part-time jobs at many companies. Among these was an audio solutions company. While working there, we developed the techniques required to build an mp3 player. It was only a matter of time before we decided to create an mp3 player of our own, thus starting the B. Brain Technology company.
The name of our company has a very significant meaning. Most people think that the “B.” in our company is an abbreviation for something, but it does not stand for any single word. Actually, the “B.” in B. Brain Technology has no definite meaning. It was deliberately left as “B.” to be abstract. We wanted it to be a motivator in our work. Sometimes it could mean “Be Brain Technology,” suggesting we should be smart about what we do. Other times, it could mean “Best Brain Technology,” thus constantly reminding us to try our best.
There was an interesting phenomenon that occurred because of our company’s name. I work together with my brother to run this company, and when we succeeded in making the world’s cheapest mp3 player people started to call our company the “Brave Brothers’ Teamwork”.
How was your school life?
As a child, I was what everybody would call a rascal. Back then, I was the neighborhood bully, beating up kids without any reason. One day, I overheard a parents’ conference. There, other students’ parents were questioning my parents about why I beat up their kids. Two thoughts quickly crossed my mind. One, that I was going to get a heavy beating that night, and the other, that I needed to quit being such a delinquent. Afterwards, I started to study at a young age. Throughout middle school and high school, I never missed being at the top of my class.
Doing well in high school, I got accepted to Yonsei. However, when I became a college student I did not have the life that people dream about. Yonsei’s tuition is not that cheap. My family was not very financially stable, so it was hard for them to pay my tuition. Basically, I had to work for my tuition. I even had to take a break from my studies to earn money. Because of this, I could not study as much as I wanted to. It is something I regret even to this day.
What kind of hardships did you encounter while starting this business, and how did you overcome them?
There were two main troubles I ran into while starting my business. First was the fact that I lacked the experience required in running a business. Unlike other things, experience is something that cannot be taught. Most importantly, I was lacking experience in communication skills. The other difficulty I faced was the fact that I lacked money. During this time, I barely managed to pay my debt. When I first started the business, I stayed in a half-basement room with my brother and one other staff member sitting at one table. When we decided to relocate our office, we had to extend the time given to us to pay the down payment for a whole month. Furthermore, there were even times when we had to live off of one cup noodles for three days. From an employer’s vantage point, to see one’s employees having a hard time is heartbreaking. It was alright for me to starve, but seeing my employees struggling because of me was really hard to bear.
Overcoming these hardships was not easy, but the solution I found was to just “jump into” the business. I had no clue at first, but as time passed I realized something: “Time fixes everything.” Gradually, I gained experience in the business, and developed the communication skills necessary to survive. Together with the support of my brother and fellow workers, I have continued through times of hardship.
What do you plan for the future of your company? Any new projects you are working on, or interested in?
Using the current infrastructure, I would like to develop a communication system that costs nearly nothing. People spend a large portion of their income on three things. These are communication, transportation, and nutrition. People need to communicate with other people. In order to communicate with someone else, we either do it by phone or directly in person. In order to meet someone, we need transportation, and, if we meet someone, we often times eat with them. It is a natural cycle. Of these, I want to focus on communication. Another thing I am working on is cutting the cost of our current product even further. I want to reduce the Turtle S9’s price, our current product, from \9,900 to around \5,000.
What would you like to tell Yonseians?
Yonsei Univ. students are the best in Korea. They are an elite group in our society. However, Yonseians may have a mistaken understanding of society. Society is not as easy as some people might think. Just because one graduates from an elite school like Yonsei does not mean one will easily land a job in society. I would like to advise Yonseians trying to enter into business by telling them this: “For five days during the coldest winter time, be prepared to sleep on nothing but boxes.” This is the kind of hardship and mindset that I have lived with, and this is the resolve that people who are trying to start a new company must have in their heart.
In addition, Yonseians must have two things. Externally, they need to be apt at maintaining good relationships with other people. Internally, they need to have a strong will. There is a Yonsei cheers that states, “March on courageously, brave Yonsei warriors.” So, to my fellow Yonseians, “Be gentlemen on the outside, but brave warriors on the inside.”