Not all South Korean startups today are spearheaded by hip, young enthusiasts. Chester Roh, 37 years old, is a more down-to-earth guy who jumped into the fledgling startup scene just as the Asian country was getting a kick-start on Internet culture in the 1990s.
Deeply interested in computer science from early on, Mr. Roh once ventured into the underworld of hackers and took a break as a student from KAIST, South Korea’s top technology school, as he was losing interest in his studies.
In 1997, he turned his life around and had a fresh start as an entrepreneur after joining up with senior school colleagues. They set up an Internet security company, where Mr. Roh’s hacking skills were put to better use designing security programs.
“Back then people were just starting to know what the Internet was, getting excited that the Internet will change the world,” Mr. Roh said, adding that starting an Internet security company happened “naturally,” for him.
One of Mr. Roh’s greatest successes of the past decade was his third company, TNC, a company much like WordPress that he sold to Google Inc. in 2008 for an undisclosed amount of money.
He said the decision to sell to Google came easily.
“In 2008, Google was considered a rock star in the tech world here,” Mr. Roh said. “After getting the offer from Google, our engineers already had their heart set on joining Google, wanting to be a part of what they do.”
Mr. Roh himself worked as a product manager for Google for two years following the acquisition, during which he witnessed the tech startup environment in Silicon Valley.
“‘Wow, I want to create a company like the ones in Silicon Valley before I die,’ I thought,” he said.
In 2010, he left Google with big dreams and set up his fourth company which ventured into various types of mobile services, mostly in vain.
After years of search, he finally came across one that worked, providing analysis of customer behavioral habits for mobile game developers using big data.
“5Rocks was initially just a project name,” he said. But his friends in the gaming industry showed interest in the program 5Rocks was testing and Mr. Roh eventually dropped all other projects to focus on developing the service for game companies.
Earlier this year he changed the name of his company to 5Rocks, though the business is still “underwater.” Mr. Roh expects his company to start seeing profits next year.
As a serial entrepreneur Mr. Roh is currently an angel investor for over 10 startups, saying that despite a 99% chance of failure in typical startups, the pursuit of success is worth the venture.
“Korea needs a stronger backbone to its industrial power, which can come from these startups,” Mr. Roh says, noting that the country’s export-driven economy relies too much on big names like Samsung and Hyundai.
“I think having an increasing number of success cases is the most important thing in bringing about changes.”
Though he acknowledges the positive changes in cultural atmosphere towards startups, he believes it still has room for improvement whilegovernment support is needed.