How is this millennial entrepreneur running a multimillion dollar startup in Japan

Sae Hyung-jung remembers a time when he was worried about not having enough money for his next meal.

He was 20 years old, and he had just started an artificial intelligence (AI) company that helped students improve their test scores on college entrance exams — but it wasn’t very good.

“I had a lot of debt and had to use my credit card to give my salary to my employees,” Psy said. CNBC Make It.

Ten years later, the life of the serial businessman paints a somewhat different picture.

I was obsessed with making it work because it was my own product.

Sae Hyung Joong

Founder and CEO, oVice

He is now the founder and CEO of vicewhich is a virtual office platform created to bring collective energy into physical office spaces for remote teams.

For example, the platform allows informal check-ups with colleagues without “online meeting formalities,” according to oVice.

The company is headquartered in Japan where Sai, a South Korean, now lives.

late last month, OVice raised $32 million In a Series B funding round led by a group of investors from Japan and abroad. The latest funding raised the total capital to $45 million.

According to Say, the company has annual recurring revenue of $6 million.

CNBC Make It discovers what the young entrepreneur learned from his failures, and how a new startup was eventually born.

Flexibility is the key

Say admitted that the biggest problem with the failed AI project was that it had not “find the market”.

“My AI platform specialized in this test that foreign students had to take to come to Japan,” he said, referring to the Japanese Universities Entrance Examination for International Students (EJU).

Sai, who was studying in Japan in 2017, took the same test and struggled while preparing for it.

“There weren’t a lot of books to study at EJU…I collected questions from local university exams and made artificial intelligence that generates questions to improve students’ grades,” he said.

“But [at that time]There were only 1,000 people taking this test every year, so that was it [a] A really small niche market.”

Investors told him that in order to invest in the startup, he would need to expand the market.

But Sai said he was stubborn. “I said no. I want to solve this problem.”

Despite its determination, the platform struggled to stay afloat and, as Say put it simply – “It failed.”

Sae Hyung-Jung is now the founder and CEO of oVice, a virtual office platform created to bring collective energy into physical office spaces — for remote teams.

vice

If you have flexibility, you will have a greater chance of success.

Sae Hyung Joong

Founder and CEO, oVice

Given how unsustainable the business was, Sae decided to close his company and pursue a university degree in Japan instead.

Looking at his experiences, he realized that adaptability is critical in entrepreneurship.

“If you don’t succeed, that’s fine. I’ll start something else. If you have flexibility, you will have a much closer chance of success.”

An idea was born

Across the university and graduate school, Sae worked as a consultant for artificial intelligence and blockchain. In February 2020, his turn took him to Tunisia – which is about 925 kilometers, or 575 miles, from Italy.

At that time, it was Covid-19 virus It was spreading rapidly throughout Italy, which became The The epicenter of the first outbreak of the Corona virus in Europe.

“The Tunisian government said you need to go out tomorrow because we’re going to close. But the trips to Japan were once a day, so that was impossible,” Sy said.

Ali Sai was stuck in Tunisia Distance workingalong with his colleagues in Japan who were also working from home.

But he soon became frustrated with remote work, as there was little collaboration between employees.

Doing work remotely… It felt like a blackout, you don’t know anything going on in the company anymore.

Sae Hyung Joong

Founder and CEO, oVice

“In the office, I can go ask for project updates and quickly identify bottlenecks, or I can spot problems from conversations I somehow overheard,” he explained.

“But doing the work remotely, communicating through ZoomAnd the slack…that doesn’t give you the same kind of experience. I felt the power outage, you don’t know anything going on in the company anymore.”

Sae decided to take matters into his own hands, and recreated the concept of sharing space for the office – bringing it online.

For example, his virtual office platform allows users, or their avatars, to connect with a colleague to start a conversation or have a casual conversation – like in a physical office.

Don’t want to hear? Psy said you can “lock” the conversation or take it to a private virtual meeting room.

oVice allows employees to connect with colleagues to start a conversation or have a casual conversation – just like in a physical office.

vice

After spending two weeks building his first prototype and sharing it with his colleagues, Sai realized that his creativity had brought him great satisfaction.

“Because I enjoyed it so much, I think people who feel the need to be in an office will be satisfied, too.”

oVice launched in Japan in August 2020, and Sai said there has been a significant increase in the number of companies paying for the service as they realized the pandemic wasn’t going away any time soon.

“Companies are starting to think about networking and co-working remotely and oVice has helped.”

Hub on mixed action

How remote work and the hybrid changed the office

“A lot of people now are like, ‘I love being in the office, but if my company decides to go to the office 100%, I’m going to quit. Companies know thatSai added.

“Yes, we’ll go back to the office, but that doesn’t mean that [online collaboration] will disappear.”

Psy remains confident that his platform will continue to thrive as workplaces move toward hybrid work and back to normal before the pandemic.

It was nice to experience some failure, they taught me important lessons.

Sae Hyung Joong

Founder and CEO, oVice

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