Start-ups. Fast-following. China and the Internet. These were just some of the buzzwords shared and discussed in our first installment of conversation between interviewees Richard Min of SeoulSpace and Kai Lukoff of TechRice. The two technology pundits shared insights about the environments where they operate, and discovered some uncanny parallels between the tech scenes of Seoul and Beijing. There was also talk of the impressive rise of the consumer Internet in both countries.
As the interview progressed, there was a glimmer of optimism about the opening up of Asian markets, as well as general enthusiasm about the prospects that were emerging for both interviewees. Min and Lukoff confirmed that their bridge roles served to provide valuable insights tech web post . In their separate spheres, they give the insider scoop on emerging entrepreneurs and behind-the-scene stories of Silicon Valley companies competing in the Asia markets. Both believe there are lessons to be learned from the failures and successes of companies like Google, Facebook, and Twitter.
The conversation even took a philosophical turn. With increasing localization in Asian technology, could we expect a more Asian touch to computers? Is the copying and cloning of iPhones in China, or a Twitter knock-off in South Korea a temporary phenomenon? We discussed this and much more in this exciting conversation that bridged the best of Beijing, Seoul and Silicon Valley initiative.
Richard: (Laughs) Well interestingly, it depends how you want to look at that. The implication here is, again now, are we talking about being good business, being a good start-up, or being good innovators. Korea is criticized a lot on the innovation front, and even Samsung admits to being a fast-follower. And they do it proudly. So if you want to say that their ability to fast-follow is better than anyone else, in that sense, it’s a very good thing. So when you’re talking emulation, copying, or why is there so much of it, it’s because you can, and a lot of the forces that reach globally don’t hit Korea, and so then if they’re able to copy and do it better, then more power to them.
But at the same time I guess the underlying tone is here how do we release the walled garden of actual innovation, so that it’s not just fast following in a more expansive, rapid rate, but actually being an inspiration for new innovations in Asia. The first step is to lower barriers to entry, both in and out, which is very much what is happening right now. Korea has been the hermit nation forever, right? It’s been historically protectionist, which is a great way to be a Galapagos Island. It’s an independent evolution, where you see very unique things happening but no one really realizes it unless you’re here. But now with social networks and iPhones acting as Trojan horses in both directions, there’s no way to stop the leaks from coming out, and you’re just going to see more innovations. Plus Koreans are just innovators of cool technologies, which is why you’re going to see the beginnings of a renaissance of Korean start-ups in IT.
Kai: (In China) there’s a lot of copying and cloning, no doubt about it. There’s a whole word for it, Shanzhai, which is equivalent to a ‘mountain fortress,’ basically a secluded area where they copy lots of foreign innovations, or innovations of other companies. And the entire market in Shenzhen is built around building the “Hi-Phone” or the “Apple Phone,” just countless versions of the iPhone or the iPad, and every other product that one can imagine. I think the reason why is one, because the opportunities are there. There’s just so much low hanging fruit in the Chinese market, that both entrepreneurs and venture capitalists ask themselves “Why should I experiment or come up with a new business model, a new product, when I can simply copy one that’s proven to work in the US, and will probably work here too?” So I think that’s the story of the growth of a lot of businesses in China.
The second part of it I do think is somewhat cultural. In the US, in the Silicon Valley, if you came out with a clone, or an exact copy of the UI of another website, you’ll get hammered! You’ll be all over TechCrunch for all the wrong reasons. And you would really be like the black sheep in the industry. But in China the responses will range from, like, “Wow, how are you able to copy that so well,” to some consumers who believe they have the real thing, or never even heard of the US version, to some people frowning on it. But I think to some extent there’s an embracing of the Shanzhai culture.