What kind of feedback did you get in Silicon Valley, and can you tell us more about your future plan?
We initially had 3 objectives on this program. The first was to build up a network needed for doing business here by meeting with investors and legal experts. Second, we wanted to get feedback about our product. The third was to find out the needs towards our service by conducting surveys or having face-to-face meetings with mothers. Our research revealed that moms in the US also wanted to have a service such as Smile Mom. Above all, there are many working moms here, so we got a lot of feedback from them, too. They tend to be more interested in effectively and efficiently gathering information, rather than collecting all information. They think that it is very important to be balanced between work and life.
At the initial stage, Smile Mom mostly focused on how to solve the loneliness of moms who just gave birth to babies, and this type of loneliness is like the one you can see in ‘the lonely crowd’ rather than the loneliness from the mere absence of communication. We found that the moms wanted to belong to a community and share their hardships in the role conflict between mother and worker.
Another thing that we want to share is that there are diverse cultural spectrum in the US. In terms of geographic, ethnic and income levels, there are many groups and it is necessary to make a one-stop solution that covers all of those groups. As people who use the same kindergarten or post natal care center show a common identity or a sense of belonging, and people here also show that kind of identity for those who send their children to pre-schools. This tells us that the fundamental need is equal, but only different in the way it expresses with different cultural backgrounds.
When we are in Korea, we usually feel a lot of pressure in doing everything on our own. In the global market, only those companies that were able to sharpen their services eventually succeeded in differentiating themselves. Smile Mom’s initial direction was to offer photos, moving pictures and a social service, and now we are trying to focus more on the social service. We are planning to release the updated version in January that will definitely show the core service and hide what might blur the characteristics of the service at the same time.
What would you recommend to Korean start-ups that want to go overseas?
It is right to have a sufficient quantity because normally a good quality can originate from a sufficient quantity. As the population of figure skaters has grown because Yuna Kim has made excellent achievements in world competitions, more quantity will definitely have outstanding results, which in turn causes innovation. It is required to raise the quality of start-ups we meet, mentors and working space. Just being in the US does not guarantee any success and is not totally related to the success of your business.
In my opinion, there is no ‘US market’. In Korea’s case, normally people target Seoul and Gyeonggi province first and if you get them, then it is all over. But things are very different in the US. You should segment the market into very small pieces in order to have an appropriate distribution strategy. Successful customer-based services in the US started from a certain location first and expanded their areas gradually, so where you start from really matters. ‘Our service has a lot of US customers’ is different from ‘our service has a lot of Korean users’. We can generate meaningful data by analyzing cultural, regional and income level aspects in details.