Bill Aulet

Bill Aulet

The Korean startup space has made noticeable progress in recent years. Suddenly, global venture capitalists, accelerators and other startups are sitting up and watching the local scene take flight. That includes the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, better known as MIT.

Bill Aulet, Managing Director of the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship at MIT and author of Disciplined Entrepreneurship, is a headline speaker and mentor at MIT Global Entrepreneurship Bootcamp — its first international startup boot camp to be held on March 25-26 in Seoul, Korea.

Recently, Venture Square had a chance to interview him where he shares his perspective on Korean startups, the ecosystem and the upcoming event in Korea.

Here are the edited excerpts:

How did the entrepreneurship programme begin?

This programme began as a project by Rafael Reif, President of MIT. He was very impressed with the level of student enrolment and engagement in our MOOCs (Entrepreneurship 101 and 102, MOOC — short for Massive Open Online Course) worldwide. He wanted to explore and tested the very idea of ‘distance learning’ by inviting the cream of the crop from the online courses.

Though the online course received overwhelming response, education on entrepreneurship eventually needs to be done through team building and learning from peers.

class-MIT

Why did MIT choose Korea as the host country?

We chose Korea as the next hosting country shortly after my visit to the country in October 2015. I had given a talk at Ewha Womans University and was mesmerised by the level of enthusiasm for and interest in entrepreneurship that students showed.

I also wanted to introduce the notion of entrepreneurship to Korea, a nation that has achieved its remarkable economic growth mainly driven by chaebols, major local conglomerates.

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From your last visit to Korea, what would you say is your impression of the local startup scene?

I would not claim to be an expert in the Korean entrepreneurship scene, so would like you to allow me to share my views considering mine would not be accurate.

What seems obvious to me is that on my visit back in October last year, I could see a higher extent of dynamism and vibrancy in the startup scene, than I felt at the startup event held on the campus of Seoul National University in 2011.

That was very interesting and inspiring… that such a dramatic change occurred over a short period of time.

Are you familiar with any Korean startups or entrepreneurs?

My student Hyungsoo Kim — the CEO of Eone Timepieces and the inventor of the Bradley watch — is one of my favourites.

Another student of mine from MIT Sloan is Young Joon Cha, who founded onDemand Korea, a website that allows users to access Korean shows, dramas and news.

Do you think entrepreneurship can be taught?

Absolutely. At first, I didn’t think it could, but now I am certain anyone can learn it. Every day here at MIT, week by week and year by year, I see numerous students  — who have had no idea about entrepreneurship in the beginning — walk through the doors as entrepreneurs some time later.

What are the most important traits for entrepreneurs to succeed?

Building a team is the most important. Running a startup is about team play. In terms of being a successful entrepreneur, it takes ability to share his/her vision and values with others and find talents who are capable of filling the skill gap between one another, an integral part of the team.

The chart below shows that team building comes first, followed by execution, market and idea in order. The bigger the piece of pie, the more crucial it is for successfully starting up.

market

Which step is the most difficult for startups to take when they go through all 24 steps in your book?

Ironically, it was assessing customer acquisition cost. It turns out that entrepreneurs are not good at figuring out the costs to build a new customer base in a certain market, and mostly they make mistakes by bringing their estimates down.

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Why do some founders fail, and what should they do to tackle the problem?

Founders fail for a variety of reasons and it is tough to gauge the causes exactly.

If they fail in the first stage of their business, they lose their way up to the next one. For the most part, once they have certain ideas, they assume their business already has taken off as they think their idea is good enough to be turned to business. That is the biggest challenge.

Another problem is that founders often fail to think rationally — the reason being they tend to regard their products or services better than others, unwilling to listen to critiques. It is important to believe in what they think would work eventually.

However, being realistic is a requirement.

This article first appeared on Venture Square.

The views expressed here are of the author’s, and e27 may not necessarily subscribe to them. e27 invites members from Asia’s tech industry and startup community to share their honest opinions and expert knowledge with our readers. If you are interested in sharing your point of view, please send us an email at elaine[at]e27[dot]co