Interview with Hwaseong Jeon, CEO of CNT Tech

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Since 2013, student entrepreneurs at KAIST have received inspiration from their mentor under the E*5 KAIST program. That mentor is Hwaseong Jeon, the CEO of CNT Tech. When Jeon was a student at KAIST in 2000, he gained valuable experience from participating in a similar program to E*5 KAIST. From that time, he realized how important it is for students to get school support on entrepreneurial activities. Today, Jeon is doing his part to encourage young entrepreneurs to follow in his footsteps and help keep their dreams alive.

“Engineers get great satisfaction from a business model out of their own technology and generating profits. That’s why I highly recommend startups. Students can make use of the E*5 KAIST program for systematic support, information services, and networking opportunities.”

  • Accelerating Startups Through E*5 KAIST

Jeon, a pioneer in the Online to Offline (O2O) dining platform market, launched CNT Tech in 2003. He poured his heart and soul into the company, which occupied 90% of the market in 2010. This was when he turned his eyes to nurturing young startups that showed promise. He wanted to share his experiences and knowhow with young entrepreneurial talents.

“I became a mentor in 2013 after being invited by the Institute for Startup KAIST. I was part of the second run of E*5 KAIST. Thinking back to 2000, I wanted to give back what I could to the younger students. When you’re starting something new, you have to go through trial and error if there’s no one around to help. This ends as failure sometimes. Mistakes can be avoided by getting advice or learning from those who walked the path before you. That’s the role I hoped to play as a mentor under E*5 KAIST, and it is what I’m doing.”

Becoming a startup accelerator was a turning point in Jeon’s life. Serving as a mentor to young entrepreneurs was his way of giving back to society. Inspired by the E*5 KAIST program he created his own startup accelerator program called Hwaseong Jeon’s Adventure. In addition to helping KAIST students under E*5 KAIST, he mentors and invests in startups within and outside Korea through his own program. Through these activities, Jeon has gained a reputation as a global startup accelerator.

  • KAIST to Become Korea’s Startup Hub

The E*5 KAIST program holds great significance in Korea’s startup ecosystem. “KAIST is the only university that has offered an entrepreneurial support program for such a long period. Actually, it’s not easy to get alumni to return and provide mentoring for students. This is one area that KAIST has excelled in. Because the program has been around for such a long time, those who received support naturally return after graduating to help younger generations.”

Jeon believes that KAIST will emerge as a startup hub in Korea if it continues to promote entrepreneurship on campus. “In the United States, Stanford is known for producing startups. In China, you have Tsinghua University and Shanghai Jiao Tong University. KAIST has a strong foundation since it has supported startups since the late 1990s. The E*5 KAIST and the Institute for Startup KAIST are its key driving forces.

  • Taking Over the O2O Dining Market with Creativity and Technology

Launched by Jeon, CNT Tech is a pioneer of Korea’s O2O dining platform market. Up to 2002, hotlines were an unfamiliar concept. Consumers had to call stores near their homes to get food delivered. It was only in 2003 that hotlines beginning with 1588 were introduced. CNT Tech has greatly improved our lives ever since.

“We introduced online and mobile ordering services. These services were integrated into mobile food delivery applications. More recently, we launched a food delivery service under KakaoTalk. Our services, from hotlines to Kakao food delivery, were achieved over the past 15 years. They are currently available in eight countries in East Asia.”

CNT Tech has dominated 97% of the market. Although the company is not one-of-a-kind in its technology, it has succeeded thanks to its efficient operations and significant lowering of costs.

  • Young CEO Eyes Asia and Beyond

Jeon sees the next three years, from 2018 to 2020, as a time to focus on the East Asia market. He has already launched subsidiaries across East Asia, including China, and plans to relocate the headquarters to Hong Kong. For Jeon, success in the East Asia market is an indicator of CNT Tech’s technological impact on the world.

“Korea has not yet enjoyed worldwide success based on technical software alone. My goal is to spread CNT Tech’s technology to more than 80 countries around the world. If I continue to devote myself to this job, I might be able to see that happen in 40 years. The year 2019 will open new doors for the company and take us beyond Southeast Asia.”

Of course, Jeon will continue to help young entrepreneurs and startups through the E*5 KAIST program and Hwaseong Jeon’s Adventure. He describes his entrepreneurial spirit as a “positive influence.” “My company’s motto is Creating New Transaction Technology, meaning that we develop technology for the greater good. I want to develop technology that benefits people and has a positive influence on society.”

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