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Millennial CEO Yunha Kim: In pursuit of app-iness

Yunha Kim sold her first tech start-up, Locket, in 2015. Her experiences as a busy, young CEO served as the inspiration for her current app, Simple Habit. Tapping into the trend for mindfulness, Kim’s latest venture is gaining considerable traction with consumers and investors alike.




How it all started
Kim studied Economics at Duke University and graduated magna cum laude in 2011. She then moved to New York, where she worked as an investment banking analyst on Wall Street. Having spotted a business opportunity in the form of mobile phone lock-screens, she quit her job to begin working on Locket, her first start-up. Kim raised more than USD 3 million of investment and three years later, in 2015, Locket was acquired by Wish.

Following the acquisition, Kim began studying Business at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business, eventually dropping out in November 2016 to pursue the expansion of her second start-up, Simple Habit.

“In recent years, there’s been so much interest in the mindfulness space,” Kim explains. “There’s been considerable growth in research on meditation and how it impacts productivity, happiness, creativity, sleep, and much more. People have started to realise the impact of their mental health on their everyday life.” Simple Habit is tapping into the growing trend for mindfulness and aiming to play a key role in making meditation a daily habit for people.

Kim herself suffered from a burnout after the acquisition of Locket, during which she turned to meditation. After exploring the meditation apps on the market, she noticed that apps were predominantly built around one single teacher or a fixed number of lessons that would eventually become repetitive. Frustrated with the limited offerings, she began to explore the idea of creating a “Spotify-type model” for mindfulness. Following months of research and collaboration with mindfulness experts worldwide, including a Harvard psychologist and the former head of Google’s Mindfulness Program Search Inside Yourself, Kim launched the first version of her new app in June 2016.

In November 2016, the app started to gain considerable traction. “That’s when I decided to drop out,” Kim explains, “and now I live back in San Francisco, where we have our office and are currently going through Y Combinator’s accelerator programme.” Y Combinator is one of Silicon Valley’s most prestigious incubators, with previous success stories including Airbnb and Dropbox.

Biggest challenges
“I went through so many challenges at Locket,” Kim recalls. “One day, one of our business models didn’t work out and I had to lay off half of my team.” As is so often the case with start-ups, CEOs have to learn from their failures, and the second time round Kim has been able to avoid any significant setbacks. Of course, as a small team experiencing significant growth – Kim says that they are growing between six and eight per cent week-on-week – prioritising to get as much done as possible has been a challenge, as was juggling her rigorous study schedule with the responsibilities of running a nascent business.

Starting a business today
“I feel extremely grateful for our predecessors who made it possible for a woman like me to be able to start a business, raise money, and hire a team,” says Kim. “I’m not sure I could have done it 50 years ago.” Thanks to the examples set by other founders, young entrepreneurs such as Kim have access to a huge amount of knowledge and experience, facilitated mainly by the Internet. “The Internet allows people to get access to knowledge,” she explains. “In the past you needed to know an expert to gain new information, but today those experts are online. When I started I did not know how to build a meditation app, but I was able to try because I can rely on the knowledge of other experts that have built something similar.”

Kim also notes that the “appetite for risk is different” today. Young entrepreneurs are less afraid of losing their jobs. In today’s start-up market, hires are made not on the back of ten years of experience but rather on the ability to learn quickly. So, if one idea goes south, you learn quickly and try something new.

Millennial managerial style
Finding herself as a CEO of her first company at just 23 years of age, Kim learnt how to manage on the job. With time she is “getting more involved and finding what is more natural” for her when it comes to managerial style. One of the biggest lessons she learnt from her first company, though, is that hiring the right people is vital: “As a start-up, you don’t really have a product yet. You may have a product that you think is working, but at the end of the day, until you get a significant amount of traction, it’s still your team that is your product.”

Hiring staff who believe in your product and your company ethos, and who are “a good cultural fit”, is key, especially given the fact that in the world of start-ups you are often working long hours in close proximity to your team. So, as Kim says, “The number one thing is the people on your team. That’s the most important factor in your business.”

This article has been first published in issue 6 of Julius Baer’s ‘Vision’ corporate magazine. The magazine, which appears twice a year, takes a deep look into the trends that could potentially affect the world and our business in the future.

The article is intended for information purposes only and constitutes neither an endorsement nor an investment recommendation.

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