Startup Interview

  • [StartupInterview] Seyeob Kim,Howook Shin CO-CEOs of “SELECTSTAR”, an AI data collection and annotation platform
  • 창업원
  • 2022-10-30 04:59:33
  • 240

SELECTSTAR is a startup that collects and processes AI data in a crowdsourcing manner upon requests from businesses. The company has been growing at a rapid pace while successfully engaging in a number of projects together with 125 businesses, including LG CNS, Naver, and SK Telecom. SELECTSTAR, which was incubated through KAIST’s startup support program, now stands shoulder to shoulder with many other competitors. We met with the co-CEOs of the company, who have led the company with unparalleled passion and zeal.

Seyeob Kim (hereinafter referred to as “Kim”) and Howook Shin (hereinafter referred to as “Shin”), co-CEOs

Would you tell us about SELECTSTAR?

Kim: SELECTSTAR is a company that operates a mobile crowdsourcing platform intended for AI learning data. This platform allows an unspecified number of individuals to sign up for and execute mobile app cash missions in which necessary data is collected and processed, which requires a great deal of manual work. Afterward, the participants are rewarded for their work. Our company was established in November 2018 and has been one of the fastest-growing companies with 125 clients and a revenue of 7 billion won. We have also attracted an investment of 4.4 billion won. The company name “SELECTSTAR” refers to the SQL command “SELECT*.” As its name indicates, our company is determined to deal with all kinds of data out there in the world.

What made you start a business?

Shin: Well, at that time, Kim and I were close friends, sharing many school activities, such as club and college orientation preparation activities. Meanwhile, some members who were studying deep learning found that collecting and processing AI learning data required a great deal of manual work. This realization led to an idea of attempting to link this work to people who intend to make money in their spare time. We decided to join E*5 KAIST, Startup KAIST’s startup competition, and this is how our team was initiated.

What made you participate in Startup KAIST’s startup support program? How did it go, and what benefits did you get from the program?

Shin: The E5 startup competition means a lot to us because it was where SELECTSTAR was incubated, and our relationship with those who later made the seed investment in our company was initiated. At that time, we were given a space in Startup Studio on the second floor of the Startup KAIST Building, and all this support was a great help in bringing our company on the right track because our initial fund was not sufficient to cover the required costs back then.

I think its greatest advantage is that participants are given an opportunity to get help and guidance from mentors who are from some of the best seed investment companies in the country. Also, participants are given a workspace, which allows them to save money on rent and work in a familiar environment with better accessibility because these spaces are located on campus.

What was the most difficult thing while running a business, and how could you overcome it?

Shin: Even from the first year of starting the company, we initiated a partnership with 40 clients and achieved a revenue of 1.5 billion won. On the surface, these figures might look quite impressive, but, in reality, those projects we took on were simply beyond our ability. Back then, we felt as if we were walking on thin ice every day. The participation of the crowd in our platform was not as great as it is today, project processes were not fully established, and we were short on manpower. We did everything that we could to get through those difficulties. We leveraged all our personal connections to recruit a project manager, and all our members other than developers served as project managers. For some projects in which the participation of the crowd was smaller than required, we had to produce necessary data by hiring dozens of freelancers or identifying partners. When the situation was very urgent, we ourselves produced data. I still remember all of us staying up all night to draw a box on a picture of a pig. After all these years of hardship and struggle, we were able to properly reorganize our company, and this has propelled our company to greater achievements.

How did you attract investments, and what did it mean to your company?

Shin: The seed investment was made by Kakao Ventures in July 2019, and amounted to 400 million won. We heard that the investment decision was made by Ki Jun Kim, Vice President of Kakao Ventures, who helped our team as a mentor at the E*5 KAIST startup competition and was impressed by our team’s ability to execute given tasks. Receiving investment from one of the best seed investors in the market meant a lot and acted as a good reference for us. It was really helpful.

Kim: In August this year, we acquired a Series A investment of 4 billion won from Kolon Investments, Company K Partners, and Kakao Ventures. We participated in this round with the goal of completing it in two months, and thankfully, we were able to fulfill our goal. Series A investment is something between seed investment, which focuses on ideas, and Series B investment, which focuses on definite figures. Therefore, attracting Series A investment means convincing investors that both the present and future of our company are worth investment. We made a great deal of effort to show what we will be achieving in the future based on what we have achieved so far while putting an emphasis on our differentiated technological prowess. With all the efforts and hard work of our team members combined with the follow-up investment made by Kakao Ventures, which made our company even more attractive to investors, we were very successful at this round again in attracting quality investors. In June, we opened a new office in Seoul, and a lot more people joined our team, but we felt a little nervous and unsettled despite all these good things happening due to the greater financial burden. Thankfully, however, this round of investment has made us feel a little relieved.

Is there anything you wish you had known before you started SELECTSTAR, or have you had any regrets since you started a business?

Shin: I think that it would be better if I had had a chance to receive formal education about entrepreneurship as a regular curriculum course. In elementary, middle, and high school, students learn things through a one-way knowledge transfer process. As they get accustomed to this learning pattern, most of them, let alone college students, find themselves failing to design their own lives in a proactive manner and just follow what others do. With the experience of starting a business, however, I have learned that the most important knowledge in life is a certain philosophy that guides us to sensitively respond to the external environment, always pursue opportunities, and create new values through innovative thinking. Another name of this philosophy is entrepreneurship. This knowledge is necessary not only for those who intend to start a business but also for all those who desire to live a more proactive, mindful, and happier life.

Would you describe a day in the life of an entrepreneur?

Kim: I’m in charge of the overall management of SELECTSTAR. My primary job is to reflect on the overall direction of the company and ensure clear alignment between each team based on the OKRs, a goal achievement tool. Therefore, I spend time in meetings during the daytime and do other work in the evening. In my leisure time, I like to dance, which has long been my hobby, or I spend time with friends to manage stress.

Shin: I don’t start my day very early. I usually get up around 9 or 10, have breakfast, and read for about an hour on my way to work on the subway. I’m in charge of the overall management of our company’s data production projects. Our project team is very large, which accounts for almost half of our organization. Accordingly, communication takes a lot of time. I lead each team’s sprint meeting, where the current status of each project is shared and reviewed, and spend a lot of time having meetings to promote communication within and between each team. During the nighttime hours, I do other work that I can deal with on my own, or I attend classes and do my homework because I am currently in a master’s program.

What do you think are the qualities or attitudes that entrepreneurs should possess?

Shin: As mentioned earlier, I think the most important thing is entrepreneurship. Besides that, student entrepreneurs may try to assure themselves that they have a place to go back to in case things don’t work out because they are students. I think such an attitude should be avoided. It is natural for them to believe that even if things do not go well, they may instead go to a graduate school by leveraging that experience and later start a new career. I strongly recommend that you enjoy this sense of relief only when you make the right decisions in a relaxed mental state. When you run a startup, however, devote everything you have to it with full passion and diligence as if there is no second chance. Even if you do so, your success is never guaranteed. Building a successful startup is that difficult.

What factors would you consider most important in recruiting employees? Tell us about your recruiting process.

Kim: I think the most important factors are customer-oriented thinking, autonomy, a sense of responsibility, and their ability to fit our corporate culture, for example, a horizontal organizational structure. Meanwhile, sustainable growth is ensured only when the growth of the company is well aligned with the growth of each of its members. Therefore, it is also important to know how they would like to grow within the company. Applicants are asked to submit a resume and answer the pre-questions. Based on the results, we perform the document screening process. Afterward, we interview them to assess their ability to fit our organizational culture, as well as their job suitability. Those who have passed all the tests start to work as temporary staff, and after three months of the review period, it is decided whether they will be converted to regular staff.

Do you have anything to say to aspiring engineers or scientists in preparation of starting a business?

Kim: People say, “A little bit of skill and a lot of luck.” I cannot agree with it more these days where we are making significant progress thanks to favorable market conditions. I know that much of our success today is owed to luck, and this makes me feel more humble and modest. In the meantime, however, those results have been achieved through our devotion and commitment to pondering the nature of things around us in a consistent manner. Therefore, we do not underestimate what we have achieved so far. They say there is no royal road in business, and thus what’s important is to do our best at every moment to make the right decisions and fast executions. Above all, teaming is very important. We have witnessed the company move up to the next level every time competent members have joined us. Despite all the difficulties facing us, it would be a great pleasure to work with those who are sincere and passionate about their job.

This is the last question. What is the vision of our company?

Our company’s mission is to make the world a comfortable place by developing IT industry through data. It will be a tech-based data platform where anyone can obtain the best quality of data for a low cost.

SELCTSTAR has the technological competitiveness in data collection and processing based on an AI era through crowdsourcing, so further business development is expected in the future. The data collection and annotation Technology based on AI will become a lead in the global market, and the company is hoped to make the world a more comfortable place through data.

We have met with co-CEOs Seyeob Kim and Howook Shin of SELECTSTAR today.