You may have noticed that Seoul Startups has been on the quiet side this year. No meetups, no workations in Jeju or Yangyang, no ecosystem mapping projects. The Slack channel is still there but other than weekly event posts and organic conversations, it’s been very uneventful there.
I have been running Seoul Startups pretty much since 2017. What was supposed to be a side project for shits and giggles has turned into a 3,300+ member community that needs to be maintained and admined daily. And I am the person responsible for that. Since 2020 Seoul Startups has been registered as an individual proprietaire business, which has allied paid projects and sponsorships that have been the source of keeping the page and group running. We’ve worked with government institutions like KISED or SBA, NGOs like The Asan Nanum Foundation and partnered on initiatives like Impact Collective.
But now it’s all gone quiet. Why?
I am guilty as charged for that and owe everyone an explanation.
I moved to Busan….
As mentioned in the previous post, I left Seoul for the South and moved to the seaside Busan. And as much as Seoul Startups, despite its name, is a country-wide initiative, most of its members are based in Seoul and Gyeonggi-do province. Meaning all sorts of events and meetups should take place there. And with me not being physically in Seoul, it’s hard to make anything happen.
I have been focusing on Busan projects, like South Ventures and Busan Startups. And even though my initial plants didn’t turn out as expected, Busan is not as robust and flourishing ecosystem as Seoul, and so it needs more work and effort. And that means I have to focus my energy here rather than there. Seoul may not be far away (1 hour by plane, 2.5 hours by train) but to be honest I am not motivated to leave my ocean view office unless I really really have to.
That being said, I have also been asked by SBA to run a series of events under the Seoul Startups brand. So hopefully we will have at least one or two Seoul Startups meetups before the end of the year.
Community building is a Sisyphus labor… and it’s not paid
Community/Ecosystem Builder is a full-time occupation and, at least in Korea, for the most part it’s not paid. In fact, Seoul Startups has been my investment project for the last 5 years, where, other than the few paid gigs we got, all has been covered out of my pocket. And that’s fine – I am happy to do so, because I believe that the community movement is something bigger than myself.
But it’s more than that: community running requires other resources like time, engagement and people. And that has been a great struggle. Seoul Startups is blessed with a team of Community Leaders. But these Community Leaders have jobs, families and other engagements that will come first before the Seoul Startups. To be honest, it used to upset me a lot – how could something be more important than the community?? But I learned to let go and understand that everyone has their priorities and that’s fine. Rather than fight them, I want to support the Community Leaders in their own projects and pursuits as much as I can.
But that means running the community falls on my shoulders. Every day I spend a couple of hours admining the Slack group, updating the event calendar, meeting with our partners and putting together Seoul Startups-branded gigs.
Because I do have other jobs (like German Entrepreneurship or South Ventures), it means I had to give up on things like community newsletter, SNS content building, blogging, ecosystem mapping and other ideas the Community Leaders had during the memorable workshop in Yangyang in 2020.
In short, I cannot do it all alone without compromising my paid jobs.
There is another aspect to all this. As much as I get a thrill of seeing the community grow and support itself, I’ve learned that no one is ever going to credit me for the work I put in. And I think that’s what has discouraged a lot of community leaders in the past. We have to realize we are doing this for something bigger than ourselves.
Does Korea need Seoul Startups?
Working with both government and NGO partners I really do wonder whether they understand what a startup community is and why it’s important. It’s the glue that connects all the ecosystem players with the core of the scene – the entrepreneurs. I believe Korea really lacks on this side as in the center, instead of the startups, we have the government with it’s well-meant but ill-executed policies.
Like I mentioned, when I introduce my job as a ‘community-builder’ it makes people smirk, thinking I’m a glorified coworking space manager at best. Sure, the recent NFT rage has brought the focus onto ‘community’ but it’s still misunderstood and misinterpreted. People tend to think that Seoul Startups is just a group of foreigners waiting to be promoted something. As much as all the Seoul Startups members, I’m also tired of just spamming some programs and events that usually have little to no value. But I am expected to, in order to be in the good graces of current and potential partners.
And it makes me wonder. Do the Korean startup ecosystem players even want Seoul Startups to be around? Wouldn’t they rather have some other, more conforming organization, run by a local, preferably male, with a reputable network? What’s an angry white girl got to do here?
Yes, I’m sour and disheartened. Maybe I was never the right person for this and should just close the whole thing down?
I don’t know what will happen from now on with Seoul Startups. I wish someone could bring back my passion and enthusiasm back, but I doubt that will happen. I will continue to maintain it, because I can never fully give up on it. Maybe I will drop an SNS post here and there. Organize those events with SBA.
I am very sorry to everyone that I’ve been such a failure and disappointment.