Tech Inclusion 2016 Conference (photo by Techboogie Media)

We Need Diversity in South Korea

We will try to create diversity in Korea Tech Scene.

I have been busy since recently getting back from Chiang Mai. In the meantime, I’ve encountered a few incidents on Facebook. My friends on Facebook may have seen several mentions of these incidents on my timeline.

These incidents include troubling stories of startups like Memebox and Zigbang. These startups are considered success cases in the startup sphere and have also attracted a lot of investments.

Memebox and Zigbang have both released apologies based on their actions, but failed to outline what exactly they did wrong in their official apologies. All they promised was that they would prevent it from repeating these mistakes in the future — without directly apologizing to the women they victimized. (If you read the comments left on the apology posts, a lot of people were asking why they weren’t issuing a proper apology but instead listed a bunch of excuses. And I’m genuinely curious — why can’t they apologize properly?)

But the strange thing is, every time a ridiculous f*ck up occurs, the startup sphere (and I’m talking about everyone related to the industry such as the media, investors, and influencers) stays silent. (Of course, I can’t say that I’ve looked at every industry related person’s social media. But I can say that I follow most media outlets and industry influencers on social media closely.)

I’ve frequently discussed these issues with my close acquaintances Keywon, and Shin, but I’m still left with a lot of curiosity. When Memebox released an ad for a nipple lightening cream, urging women to lighten their dark nipples to a more pleasing pink shade, it was the consumers who were enraged. However, the media as well as the influencers stayed silent. (If there is an individual who raised the issue, please let me know. I understand there were limitations or me to check all related posts.) And a mere month later, the news coverage Memebox received were those of a congratulatory nature — since they were able to attract a lot of investment buzz.

As someone who runs a coworking space, I get to hear a lot about the startup ecosystem. People tend to bring up innovation when talking about startups. I think that innovation has several meanings. Innovation could refer to a business model, or it could be an innovation that changes people’s lives. In my opinion, the innovation that most people talk about is the innovation to improve our society and how we live.

But if indifference is how we respond to backlash every time an incident or f*ck up occurs, I’m not sure we can foster innovation. And I’m not sure we even have a healthy startup ecosystem here in Korea.

If at least the media and influencers had reprimanded Memebox for what they did, I think it could have prevented similar incidents from happening (read:Zigbang). This is because the reality is that we don’t hold these companies responsible. If these incidents continue to occur and accumulate, surely this can’t be good. These patterns will inevitably lead to either a terrible infrastructure or a collapse in the ecosystem.


When I meet people that want to start their startups, they often mention ways to receive funding through government-aided programs. To survive in the current market structure, there really aren’t many choices. And through this process (coupled with tremendous effort), they will create their service and get funded. This process is very challenging. I’m not sure when it exactly started, but the above mentioned method is now widely regarded as a formula in creating a startup. (I’m rooting for every single person who is working on building their startup.)

However, it is tough to meet startups that have grown with bootstrapping. On the other hand, there are a lot of news that some startups have received funding. But it is hard to hear about women creating startups. (The Korean government even has a policy to encourage women-led startups.) It is also difficult to see foreigners and Koreans working together to make a startup (There are a few cases but very rare.)

Why is this hard to see?

The number may be too small or unknown. Or people may be reluctant to reveal it. But I think there needs to be more examples of diversity in order to see more cases such as these. And I believe that the ecosystem should play a role to cover these various aspects. So far, there are too few cases. At this point, we need diversity.

Women easily committing to their ideas and going for it, foreigners coming to Korea to work with Koreans and create a new startup, startups that succeed on their own without funding — all of these people coming together to share their ideas and opinions — isn’t this what we’re all striving for? Isn’t this image of diversity part of the reason why we envy Silicon Valley? ( I’ve never been to Silicon Valley before, but I believe we should be like this when we think of an ecosystem centered around people.)

So I will try to make various attempts this year at Hive Arena. And we will keep working towards this idea. (Hive Arena will be moving locations next year, and we will share what we have in store for Hive Arena 2.0 soon. We are looking for partners to join us on our journey.)

There are four keywords on how we want to focus our vision for diversity.

Women, Global, Developer/ Designer, Bootstrapping Company

Women

At Hive Arena, there is a meetup of women working in the domestic tech industry called “ HER. “ ( We are currently seeking a weak connection ). We make some tech meetups related to women. Women in Korea should enjoy equal rights and obligations as a member of the tech industry apart from the distinction between us. The situation of South Korea is not so; we plan to make a movement as one of the various voices.

Global

It is a keyword we are consistently interested in. Since Hive Arena opened in November 2014, more than 230 digital nomads(most of them are software engineers from abroad) have visited it. We are also making friendship with our community friends and partners, such as Seoul Elixir Meetup and Seoul Tech Society. And we were featured on Forbes and FastCompany.

Until now, we had been meeting with foreigners and our coworkers, And we would like to make an environment local developers, and digital nomads can be friends each other through meetups. And we will create exciting programs with diverse groups including coworking spaces in South-East Asia.

Developer / Designer

I don’t know when many coworking spaces in Korea are the areas that help startup growth. And many people think it as a space for startup only.

Our thoughts are a little different. The coworking space is a space for people rather than a space for a company/organization. Start-up is an organization created by a team of people and repeats success and failure at any time. The important thing is people.

We had partnerships with some tech communities, including Pyjog(Python developers meetup). But we want to make a relationship with more developer/designer communities. We are planning to create a huge community with some tech communities for people want to be developers/designers(We have heard that there are indeed various communities, but we have not seen each other yet. And if you know them, please let me know.)

Bootstrapping Company

There are many ways to grow your company, including getting funded from the investment. Among them, we are making a community with bootstrapping. The reason is to be free from outside influences for the independence and freedom of our coworking community. Also, we think that there are a lot more companies that have grown up with their strengths and make various voices in the startup scene.( A company that grows in the wrong way regardless of means and methods is not a good company.)

In fact, it’s hard to see the example of a bootstrapping company in Korea. There are companies like Github in the United States.(More detailed examples in Quora: What is the most successful bootstrapped startup?)

We don’t know how many bootstrapping startups there are in Korea, but we would like to create a meetup we can keep in touch. We hope that this will create another voice in the ecosystem.


In the above, we have mentioned only keywords, but we talked our friends with detailed plans. We can’t do this alone, and we think that diversity will be created by people if they work together consistently. Diversity and communities grow, ecosystems will get better through diversity. Thank you for reading to the end.

They are coworking community members of Hive Arena from abroad.

Hive Arena is the best coworking space in Seoul. If you are interested in our community, please contact us. Email : hello@hivearena.com

And Anum Yoon helped translate this article. Thanks.