John Sung Kim (@JohnSungKim) always wanted to make a lot of money and money is the driving factor for most entrepreneurs. Those around him shared stories of childhood businesses like selling candy out of their backpacks or having a landscaping business, but not so for Kim who fell into the business game later in life.
In high school, he built a horse-simulation game in Applesoft Basic at Manhattan Middle School and ran a gambling business. As fun as it was to save money for Atari games, it didn’t prepare him for building a tech company. When he moved to San Francisco he was completely clueless except for one thing: determination.
And his decision came at the worse possible moment, right after the dot com crash, leaving many people jobless and VC’s scratching their heads. The logical thing would have been to go back home, but thank goodness he didn’t do the logical thing.
His brilliant idea struck when he worked at a discount brokerage firm where he trained for a whole two weeks on how to execute online stock trades at a call center in San Diego. The teacher giving the class smirked when he said the call center system he was teaching him cost $30 000. It struck him that if he could build a cheaper call center software, he could create his own company.
Luckily for him, his roommate had called to brag that a software he had developed was being developed by Cisco, encouraging Kim to fly to Boston to create their own startup.
“After a weekend of discussing dreams and man-feelings, we got each other excited enough to decide to quit our jobs the following Monday. I gave my two weeks notice.”
Then the unthinkable happened: his friend called to tell him it wasn’t a good idea for him to quit his job. He referred Kim to a friend who was interested in building software and the two got to talk on their way to a snowboard trip to Tahoe.
“He explained to me that he and The Fro had worked at a startup that created software for call centers, an ages-old industry they had revolutionized by adding a .com to the name of the company.”
After agreeing on to re-create the class of software, his new partner sent an email to his boss and quit that night, sold his house in boston and moved to the Bay Area. What made him a brilliant programmer didn’t stop him from being insensitive towards Kim’s lack of software knowledge, asking him if he was an idiot at times.
After several hires, getting investors on board and not giving up, they got their company off the ground. The first year they made $0, the next year $900, 000 and the next year $3 million.
“I led the company to $10 million in annually recurring revenues before I departed. The truth was, the company had become its own entity and didn’t need me anymore.”
The company is now called Five9, is traded on the NASDAQ and employs hundreds with an IPO that gave it a 350 million valuation. The point is, you don’t have to be an Ivy League graduate, have a lot a money or even know that much about programming. What you do need is to believe in yourself. Hold onto your dream and before you know it, you’ll be joining Kim in Mexico for margaritas on the beach.
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