Yong-Soo Chung always knew he wanted to own a business. While working on Wall Street, he dreamed of running a hedge fund. When he left finance and bought a one-way ticket to California, his dream of owning a business remained unchanged, but the product he offered shifted. Since 2015, Yong-Soo has founded three companies: Urban EDC, a carry gear brand; Growth Jet, a third-party logistics provider; and Spotted By Humphrey, a curated dog boutique.
Episode 08 – Yong-Soo Chung
[00:00:55] Sanjay Parekh: As a serial entrepreneur myself, I love talking to other folks who have the same passions. On the show today, I'm talking to Yong-Soo Chung. He's been here, there, and everywhere, from college in Maine to working for a hot Silicon Valley blockchain company to founding not one, not two, but three businesses in the last eight years. Also, he's a podcast host, but we're going to turn the tables on him and make him the guest today. Obviously, we have a lot to chat about today, so let's get into it. Yong-Soo, welcome to the show.
[00:01:26] Yong-Soo Chung: Sanjay, thanks so much for having me on.
[00:01:29] Sanjay Parekh: I gave a little bit about your background, but why don't you give us like a 30-second overview about you and what got you to where you are right now?
[00:01:37] Yong-Soo Chung: Sure. So, I graduated in 2009, which if you, if your audience remembers that timeframe, it's during the great recession, one of the worst times to graduate from college. And so, I actually started my career on Wall Street. So, because, I was essentially like driving my career towards finance. So, I did an internship at Merrill Lynch. I did one at Goldman Sachs. And then this whole financial thing happened. And then I was fortunate enough to get a job as a trader, basically on Wall Street, like we were a block away. And so, I was there for about a year. And then I switched jobs to another trading company. This time it was a hedge fund in Midtown, so I did couple years of trading in finance.
And then all during that time, I was really interested in entrepreneurship and wanted to dive deeper into that. So, I was just devouring podcasts and YouTube channels on entrepreneurship, startups. And I tried to, I actually had some side projects going around that same time too. Which all didn't really get anywhere. But I tried reaching out to a few people in the startup community in New York City, but it just wasn't vibrant back then. And maybe it's changed now since it's a little bit more broad in terms of the community.
But I just wanted to be in a place where I'll be right in the thick of it. So, I bought a one way — this is in 2012 — to go to San Francisco. And so, I flew, a one way ticket with just one suitcase. I only knew two people, a high school friend and a college friend. And I crashed with him on the floor on an air mattress for three months. And I basically needed to go see a chiropractor after those three months for my back pain. But it was challenging because you know, I had no job and I had really no place to stay. But, you know, I was eating burritos every lunch and it was an interesting time for sure. And so, I actually was able to find a job at a startup and I stayed there for about two and a half years. And then decided to go into engineering. So, a little more on engineering side, because I was essentially a trader analyzing stocks and all that.
And so, I went into the startup world as almost like a business development analyst. It was like a makeshift position for me because I didn't really fit into any bucket in the startup world. And so that happened and then I decided to go to an engineering bootcamp called Hack Reactor, and that was 13 weeks. It was 9:00 AM till 9:00 PM Monday through Saturday. And it was the most intensive learning experience I've ever had, including high school, college, everything. And to be honest, it was in that period I learned more than I did during my four years in college. And at the end of it I was fortunate enough to land a job as a software engineer at a company called Ripple, which is a blockchain company.
And from there I stayed there for about a year and a half and then started dabbling in side projects again. And I actually bought a bunch of these really well machined earphones. They're made out of titanium. And I thought that I would sell these things on Amazon just to make some side income. But then when I got them and tried selling them, no one was buying. So, I decided, you know what, I've got to create my own channel. And so, I actually my first business that I launched, and this is 2015 October, it's called Urban EDC, and EDC stands for Every Day Carry. So, things that you would carry on a normal everyday basis, like your wallet, a pen, maybe a flashlight. And that shop launched actually out of a need to sell these headphones because I had so much of these headphones that were just not moving. But yeah, that's how, in a nutshell.
[00:06:11] Sanjay Parekh: How many pairs of headphones did you buy on that first deal?
[00:06:13] Yong-Soo Chung: I think it was a hundred. And these are not cheap either. These are like $300 headphones. These are high-end, high-fidelity headphones. And I had to...
[00:06:25] Sanjay Parekh: So, $30,000 worth of commit that you had there? Why weren't they selling? Did you ever figure out why they weren't selling on Amazon? Was it just, it was hard to find, or nobody was looking for it?
[00:06:36] Yong-Soo Chung: In retrospect I think it had to do with, the brand itself was a new brand based in the UK and it didn't have... so, I believed in that company’s values and the headphones themselves were really high quality, but no one knew the brand and it was really hard to convince someone that hasn't heard of a brand to spend $200 – $300 on headphones. And so that was a good lesson for me early on, which is, definitely start small. Like I shot way over what I should have. And so that was a really good first lesson for me.
[00:07:18] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. So, that's a great entrepreneurial experience and you learned a lot from that. But first I want to ask you was this your first time doing something entrepreneurial or did you do something when you were younger, when you were a kid, that was your first entrepreneurial attempt?
[00:07:35] Yong-Soo Chung: Yeah, so when I was in New York, so we'll go back a little bit, 2010, around there. First of all I started writing for a personal finance blog and I was getting paid $25 per article I wrote, and that was, it took me a couple hours to write. So, it's what, $12.50 an hour or so? That's like below minimum wage maybe. But I feel like it was a good learning, like it was a good experience to essentially, like I wanted to own my own income, I guess. Because I didn't want to rely on the paycheck every two weeks. And so, it gave me a taste of okay, at least I'm getting something and it's like on my own. And so that's like my first taste of real money outside of a job, like a safe job that I was bringing in. And then I tried to launch – this is when the iPhone was really taking off, like the apps — so, I tried to launch a couple different apps on the iPhone, and I outsourced development and that was really challenging. And then I pivoted into an app that's kind of like a group chat. This is before WhatsApp existed, before any of this existed. This is before Facebook groups, so this is like way back. And so that was being developed. But then Facebook groups launched maybe a few months after I was working on this.
And I can't go up against Facebook. And I was outsourcing development. And so, that was just not good, it was not good to outsource like your core competency. So basically, it just didn't work out. And so that was, those are my kind of my first forays into entrepreneurship.
[00:09:30] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. Did you have experience of anybody else in the family that was an entrepreneur that you got to see that lifestyle and how they worked?
[00:09:40] Yong-Soo Chung: So, my dad is a doctor. Both my parents are actually in Korea. And I came to America when I was around eight years old. And then when I went off to high school, I went to a boarding school for high school and then they went back to Korea. So, my dad's a doctor and so he owns his own practice in Korea. And my mom, her side of the family is very entrepreneurial. So, you know, they've run restaurants, they've run cafes, a bunch of stuff. And I think that's like where my entrepreneurial instincts and the genes come from, is on my mom's side. And yeah, I would say that's, but it's interesting because if my parents, if my mom was born, when I was born, I think it, she would've a totally different business. But because she was born in that, more of an older generation, like I feel like that like her setting up a restaurant was a very entrepreneurial thing, but, but now it's like you want to do something online and all that stuff, but yeah.
[00:10:46] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. That's interesting. And that's an interesting point too, although obviously we still see plenty of restaurants and things like that, but I think they're different than the kind that you're talking about, that your mom started and ran. That's interesting. Okay, so you launched Urban EDC because you had 300 pairs of headphones you needed to unload. What made you make that transition from being a software engineer? After spending 13 weeks in a 72-hour-a-week bootcamp, which by the way is intense. And then to give that up and be like, yeah, you know what, I'm going to do this thing, full-time. What made you make that transition into doing Urban EDC full-time?
[00:11:30] Yong-Soo Chung: Yeah, so this is a really funny thing because a lot of my colleagues thought I was insane. Think about it like, I'm literally a software engineer in Silicon Valley at one of the hottest trends or industries, right? Crypto. And then I quit that and now I'm starting, I'm selling pocketknives online. That transition doesn't make any sense. And so, to be honest, I don't know, like right around that time when I quit, there was a lot of talk with regulators and there was a lot of financial, I don't know, there's a lot of blockers and I just felt this I didn't want anything to block me. And so, I kind of bet on myself that an e-commerce shop is something that I can handle. There won't be any regulatory risk for sure. It's all about execution risk, and that's something that I could double down on and bet myself on. And so that's why I didn't want to do another blockchain project because that required building out a team and raising venture capital and just, it gets a lot bigger. But I wanted to just do something where I had control over my own actions, and I was a hundred percent accountable for the success and for the struggles of the business. And that's something that I could take a chance on.
[00:13:06] Sanjay Parekh: Was there a certain metric or like a level of revenue that you achieved with Urban EDC that caused you to make that leap and be like, okay, yeah, I can do this, and I'll be okay? Or was it just like you saw the writing on the wall, of this is going to be painful doing this blockchain stuff, and just like sleeping on the air mattress for three months. You're like, I just got to do it. Which one was it?
[00:13:31] Yong-Soo Chung: I think it was just, first of all, ever since I was growing up, I wanted to start my own company, so that was like deeply rooted inside me. And so, when I was doing finance, I actually wanted to start a hedge fund when I was older. And I was positioning myself as starting something at some point. And so, it's just a matter of when, and for me, because I had that long-term view, I saved up a lot of money from the job I had, the nine to five I had, and it just felt like it was the right moment, the right time to make the leap. And I'm not really sure, if the feeling that I had is something that can be calculated. It's a more of a gut feeling, I would say for someone who has a side hustle, let's say, to going a full-time. But I think it's just more of like signals that you get. For example I actually validated the idea as well. I actually bought some stuff off of Amazon to resell. Obviously not for profit, but just to test the idea that an Every Day Carry boutique store would resonate with the audience. And when I saw these little signals I thought maybe, okay, this is something I can, it won't be like a crazy idea, but it’s something that I can control and something that I can grow steadily month over month. And yeah, I don't know. It just was more of a feeling than anything else.
[00:15:10] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. Did you build into yourself like a cushion? Did you have some money saved that you're like, okay, I've got this amount of personal runway that I can use to make sure that I can get this up off the ground?
[00:15:23] Yong-Soo Chung: Yeah, for sure. So, the personal runway is huge. So that gives you a sense of a little bit of a safety net. And I actually pretty much went into my Urban EDC pretty much without, I didn't build it up. Like I guess I had a little bit of a ramp up to it because I was building an Instagram account for Urban EDC maybe starting around July, August, and then October is when I launched it. But it wasn't something where I dragged it out for a year, two years before launching it. It was like, okay, I'm going to quit my job, which was mid-September, and then I had one month to work on it and fully launch it. And that was like the biggest, I was so motivated during that month. I must have, when you just quit like that and you go all in on something like that really lights your butt on fire, right? Literally, you're like, okay, I got to make this work or else I'm not going to be able to feed myself or whatever, right?
So, I don't know if I recommend that path to most people. I think you have to really, because it depends on how you react. So, if I react in a way where I freeze up and I get really nervous, I'm not productive then I probably wouldn't have done that. But I know myself and I know that motivates me. And I knew that it was going to just drive me to produce at a level that is unseen. So, I knew about myself on that, and so I just did it because I knew I could just bet on myself.
[00:17:09] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. How many months of runway did you have personally when you went all in to Urban EDC?
[00:17:15] Yong-Soo Chung: Six months.
[00:17:17] Sanjay Parekh: Six months of personal runway. Did you do anything before that to reduce your personal burn? Were there things that you were like, okay, I can get rid of this stuff and extend my runway by doing that?
[00:17:28] Yong-Soo Chung: I didn't really have, I wasn't doing anything. I guess I was like buying clothes and stuff, but I cut down on that significantly right when I left. And it's funny I still have some of the clothes from those years and I still wear them. My style basically has not changed for 10 years. And it's funny because some of it is like coming back in style now. So, I like waited 10 years and then it's like back in style now.
[00:18:01] Sanjay Parekh: It seems to always happen with clothes. It's just, the problem with that is that you're just out of fashion for a few years in between while you're waiting for it to come back around.
[00:18:12] Adam Walker: Support for this podcast comes from Hiscox committed to helping small businesses protect their dreams since 1901. Quotes and information on customized insurance for specific risks are available at Hiscox.com. Hiscox, the business insurance experts.
[00:18:33] Sanjay Parekh: Okay, so from Urban EDC, you've now launched two more companies. Tell us a little bit about those and why you decided to tack on even more to your plate.
[00:18:44] Yong-Soo Chung: Yeah, so, in 2017 my wife and I brought home a French bulldog and we didn't plan on doing anything. We just basically created an Instagram account and we just started posting videos and photos. Obviously, our dog was really cute and we're a little biased, but he's a really good-looking French bulldog, right? So yeah, we just started doing that. And then this is like 2017. The space on Instagram wasn't as crowded as it is now. And his videos started taking off, like one of the videos, it's like me cradling him like a baby and like you can see my torso like in that video. And that's been viewed over a million times. So, my torso has gone viral along with Humphrey. So that video went viral and from then on we just kept going. And so, after a certain point we're like, okay, because people were asking like, hey, like, where did you get that leash? Or where did you get that harness? And so instead of just telling them, hey, go here and buy it, we just thought, oh, we can do the same model that we did with Urban EDC. But cater it towards dog enthusiasts. And so that's what we did. And my wife, she is the manager for a dog shop called Spotted by Humphrey. And so, it's a play on words of Spotted Humphrey is our French Humphrey's Instagram handle and TikTok as well. And so, it was a play on words of that. And so that was also really fun because it was just like, we got invited to, to film a segment with Shopify. We got invited down to LA and we went to an entire set and literally the team that was filming us had filmed a commercial for Google, like the week prior. And so here we are, my wife and I and our French bulldog, we're like going on the set and. It was a full 15, 20-person, camera, crew. And it was just a crazy scene. And yeah, it was a really fun thing that we did.
[00:21:08] Sanjay Parekh: Please tell me you had something crazy in your writer like Humphrey only eats green M&M's, or something like that.
[00:21:15] Yong-Soo Chung: Humphrey was, Humphrey's actually pretty picky about his water.
[00:21:20] Sanjay Parekh: Only drinks Fiji water. You can only have Fiji water.
[00:21:25] Yong-Soo Chung: Exactly. But he's pretty snobby with his water.
[00:21:28] Sanjay Parekh: Huh. Interesting. Very picky dog with his water. So, from those two, then, you then also launched a third one. And I find this one interesting just because of some of the side hustle things I was doing last year. Tell us about Growth Jet.
[00:21:45] Yong-Soo Chung: So, Growth Jet is a climate neutral certified third-party logistics company. And this actually came out because I had a lot of issues with fulfillment myself with Urban EDC and like some stories.
We would get an email from a customer saying, hey, is this a joke? You literally shipped us an empty box. And so, I'm like, what? You got an empty box? And he said, yeah, I opened the box, I opened the actual product inside and there's nothing inside. And I'm like, that's really weird. And so, I was like, what's going on here? And it turns out like one of the people that, the 3PL that I was using, had stolen the knife from the item from the box and shipped an empty box.
I did a lot of research before picking this 3PL and this is the level of quality for the highest rated 3PL. And I was like, the bar is so low, I can definitely do better than this. Right around the time we actually got people like asking us, who's doing your fulfillment? Because my fulfillment is terrible. And the company actually launched with no name and no website. We already had paying clients. And so, at a certain point we're like, all right, we should just make this an official thing. And so that's when Growth Jet was born. That was in 2019 when Growth Jet was born.
[00:23:11] Sanjay Parekh: Okay. And it's interesting you take the Tack of Climate Neutral. I don't know that I've seen that at any other 3PL. Maybe there are probably some others, but I've not gone looking. Why did you decide that was an important selling feature of this 3PL?
[00:23:27] Yong-Soo Chung: Yeah, so climate neutral, we are actually the first 3PL that is climate neutral certified. And it just, it was born out of the observation I made, which is like, there was so much trash and waste in the industry, and I thought that we needed to do something about it. And I always believe that value-driven businesses are more powerful. The way I put it is, I see sales as like oxygen, and so obviously you need sales and cash flow to survive, but that's not the reason why you are doing your business, right? That's not the reason why you're living. And you need to have a mission on some kind of a value system to really drive you towards something. And that really helps with attracting the right employees, but also attracting the right customers too.
If clients come to us and all they care about is paying the lowest price ever, then we're probably not going to be the right fit for them because, we do everything correctly. With their employees and all that stuff. So yeah, we did go the climate neutral route because I thought that was a very the right thing to do, first of all. But also, it resonated, this is right around the time when like all the California wildfires were happening in 2020. And there was a — we didn't really plan on that this way, but it got a lot of a lot of brands thinking about their sustainable strategy and, it became a, like an advantage for us to be climate neutral certified. So, it worked out for us, but it was definitely not planned like that. It was just, okay we should do this for the planet. And then it helped us.
[00:25:15] Sanjay Parekh: Okay, so now you've got these three companies. Obviously, Growth Jet helps you with the other two because you're fulfilling your own stuff and then getting other clients to help you scale that business. And that helps drive down the price for the other two. But how different, and obviously now your wife is running one, so you're really on Urban EDC and then I guess together on Growth Jet. But how is it different for the two of you to run three companies versus one? Like how do you manage that on a day-to-day basis?
[00:25:50] Yong-Soo Chung: Yeah, so this is a really good question. The key is to delegate not only tasks, because I think tasks is like a good first step. People who are solopreneurs, it's totally fine. You should start off as a solopreneur. But once you start delegating tasks, that's great, but that's only the first step. The second step is delegating decisions, and that's a much harder step, but essentially you need to be so in sync with your team that you trust the decisions that they're going to be making. And there have been instances where there were decisions made that I know that there will be some issues with it, but I almost let those things surface because it's a learning lesson for the team.
It's like the old saying where you teach a man to fish, that kind of thing. And so, you don't want to keep making the decisions for them because then you are the bottleneck. Literally, like the team won't be able to do anything without your approval. And so that's been the really big key is, have like a manager, a general manager in each area of the business making the big decisions. And then there's like teammates underneath that will report up to the general manager who will make those big decisions. And of course, I will be involved as well, but it's not like every decision is me.
[00:27:16] Sanjay Parekh: That's an interesting point and I feel like that's a challenge for founders, especially when you're starting, you're involved in every single piece of the decision tree. And so, I think the Type A founder that wants everything to be perfection. It's hard to take that step back. So how did you think about that and how did you force yourself to step back from those decisions?
[00:27:47] Yong-Soo Chung: Yeah, this is a really, this is a decision that I think a lot of founders have to make at a certain point, but ultimately you will not be able to get 100% of your own vision and thoughts of the company. But if you can get someone that's like a 7 out of 10 or an 8 out of 10. Then that's way better, and then you can focus your attention and energy on something else. That's way better than you working on something a hundred percent on whatever project, and then not being able to work on other parts of the business that need growth. When you realize that, and it took me a while too because I was doing all the product photography, I was doing all the product descriptions, everything. But when I realized, what am I doing? Like there's people who are way better at taking photos and editing them than I am, yet here I am literally spending, I have to wait for the perfect hour of the day where the light hits our coffee table just right. And I'm like, this is not sustainable. And when I realized that, then it just made a lot more sense. And it just helps. Your growth will come when you start thinking this way versus trying to, it's almost like a fixed mindset versus growth mindset. You don't need control over every single little piece of your business. Let the team do their thing, and then you can focus on other areas.
[00:29:17] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. Okay. Let's switch gears a little bit. I want to talk about the fact your wife is involved in this you're involved in this. I don't know if the dog is actually doing anything other than taking pictures. How do you manage kind of that work life balance, because both of you are in the business and so it's so easy to slip into talking about work when other things are going on. So, how do you think about that and how do you build those kind of barriers or walls between all of that stuff?
[00:29:49] Yong-Soo Chung: Yeah, so this is a great question. If you set up the systems correctly. For example, Urban EDC right now, I would say that's our biggest revenue driver. And I only work on Urban EDC for about an hour a day. And so, I meet with my, the GM for Urban EDC a hour a day, and all the decisions that he needs to check with me, we just discuss it and that's it. And there was a point when I felt like my day was almost like it was empty. It was a really weird feeling. I was running these different parts of the company, but it was just delegated, and it was all the systems were set in place where I didn't need to manage those systems. And it was just running on its own. And so I felt like it was good.
Whenever these things happen, I always get bored and so I start new things. And so, every two or three years I always start a new project. And yeah, it's all about systems. It's all about the team that you surround yourself with. The thing that I always say is you put the systems in place and the systems run your business. So, you don't run the business. The systems run the business. But you have to be the one that kind of puts everything together. But that's it.
[00:31:14] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. Give us an idea of scale, though. What you're at with Urban EDC now. Like how many people, how much revenue are we talking about at this point?
[00:31:23] Yong-Soo Chung: Yeah, so the entire the entire company is about 20 people. And yeah, we're getting close to eight figures in revenue. And Urban EDC by itself is I'd say five to seven people. We have some employees that are contractors abroad, outside of the US that do very specific things. But yeah, that's the structure.
[00:31:48] Sanjay Parekh: And folks are mostly remote? Obviously the logistics side you can't be remote, you got to be local. But what about the other teams?
[00:31:56] Yong-Soo Chung: So yeah, Urban EDC is actually almost fully remote. A lot of US people, but then we have some abroad. And obviously the Growth Jet company, we can't do remote, but we can do some of it. We can do some like sales or something. We can do stuff that doesn't require you to be in the warehouse.
[00:32:22] Sanjay Parekh: But picking and packing boxes basically.
[00:32:24] Yong-Soo Chung: You can't do that.
[00:32:25] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. Got to be in person for that.
[00:32:26] Yong-Soo Chung: Yeah, exactly. But yeah, I think that we're going to try to utilize more offshore talent because it's so expensive to do business in, first of all, the US but second of all, in California. And then third of all in, in the Bay Area. Yeah. It's a triple whammy for us, but yeah, no, I'm definitely going to start looking outside and also like, just doing business here with the employment laws are very difficult to do in California. And it's actually advantageous to look abroad and get talent that way.
[00:33:06] Sanjay Parekh: Well, you know, Yong-Soo, that one-way tickets still exists so you can fly anywhere else. And I think maybe this time you wouldn't have to sleep on anybody's floor. Okay, last question for you before we wrap up. Thinking back about your time now, it's been a number of years, is there anything that you would have done differently? Knowing what you know now, is there something that you're like, man if I'd known this, then I would've done it this way instead?
[00:33:35] Yong-Soo Chung: I think that the first thing, the lesson that I learned is to start small. So even if you are confident just always test first.
[00:33:46] Sanjay Parekh: Don't buy $30,000 worth of headphones.
[00:33:50] Yong-Soo Chung: Definitely not, definitely not. And then I guess the second thing is just put your ego in check. And what I mean by that is when you first start anything, your friends and your colleagues will think you're weird, and that's normal. Because you're essentially going off the path of what regular employees are supposed to do. And just being weird and being labeled as something else is part of the process. And so, I see a lot of future entrepreneurs. They're worried about what others might think of them. They're worried about losing their identity as I am this person working for this company, but you don't have to worry about that. I would say don't worry about what others think of you in terms of your title or whatever, your accomplishments. Just do what makes you happy. And honestly, if you being at that company makes you happy, then just keep doing that. Right? But if you want to start a business, then don't be afraid of shedding that identity. And honestly just embrace it because I feel like a lot of people are held back by that. And the faster you shed your identity on that, the better it is.
[00:35:14] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. Great advice. I love it. Yong-Soo thank you so much for coming on.
[00:35:20] Yong-Soo Chung: Sanjay, it's been a pleasure. Thanks so much for having me on.
[00:35:29] Sanjay Parekh: Thank you for listening to this week's episode of the Side Hustle to Small Business Podcast, powered by Hiscox. To learn more about how Hiscox can help protect your small business through intelligent insurance solutions, visit hiscox.com. And if you have a story you want to hear on this podcast, please visit www.hiscox.com/shareyourstory. I'm your host Sanjay Parekh. You can find me on Twitter at @sanjay or on my website at www.sanjayparekh.com.