How this millennial entrepreneur runs a multi-million startup in Japan

Sae Hyung-jung remembers a time when he anxious about not having sufficient cash for his subsequent meal. 

He was 20 years previous, and had simply based a man-made intelligence (AI) firm that helped college students enhance their take a look at scores for college entry examinations — but it surely wasn’t doing nicely.

“I had so much debt and I even had to use my credit card to give salary to my employees,” Sae instructed CNBC Make It.

Ten years later, the serial entrepreneur’s life paints a moderately completely different image.

I used to be so obsessed about making it work as a result of it was my very own product.

Sae Hyung-jung

Founder and CEO, oVice

He is now the founder and CEO of oVice, a digital workplace platform created to deliver the collective power in bodily workplace areas to distant groups.

For instance, the platform permits informal check-ups with colleagues with out the “formalities of online meetings,” in keeping with oVice.

The firm is headquartered in Japan the place Sae, a South Korean, now lives.

Late final month, oVice raised $32 million in a Series B funding spherical led by a group of traders from Japan and abroad. The newest funding introduced the overall capital raised to $45 million.

The firm has been making $6 million in annual recurring income, in keeping with Sae.

CNBC Make It finds out what the younger entrepreneur discovered from his failures, and the way a new start-up was ultimately born.

Flexibility is essential

The largest drawback in regards to the failed AI enterprise was that he didn’t “find the market,” Sae acknowledged.

“My AI platform specialized in that one examination that overseas students needed to take to come to Japan,” he shared, referring to the Examination for Japanese University Admission for International Students (EJU).

Sae, who was learning in Japan in 2017, took the identical examination and struggled whereas getting ready for it.

“There were not many books to study for EJU… I collected questions from local university exams and made an AI that generates questions to improve students’ scores,” he stated.

“But [at that time], only 1,000 people were doing this exam every year, so it was [a] really niche and small market.”

Investors instructed him that for them to take a position in the start-up, he would want to increase the market.

But Sae stated he was cussed. “I said no. I want to solve this problem.”

Despite his resolve, the platform struggled to remain afloat, and as Sae put it merely — “it failed.”

Sae Hyung-Jung is now the founder and CEO of oVice, a digital workplace platform created to deliver the collective power in bodily workplace areas — to distant groups.


“I was so obsessed about making it work because it was my own product.”

He ultimately bought off the corporate, which helped him to repay his money owed and gave him the “reset” he stated he desperately wanted.

Even so, Sae did not hand over — as a result of entrepreneurship is a “continuous journey,” he stated. Moreover, it wasn’t his first style of failure. 

When he was 18, he began a commerce brokerage enterprise connecting corporations with provides and distributors in Japan and South Korea. But after a 12 months, Sae needed to shut store. 

“Back then, 2011, there was a big earthquake in Japan. It was crazy… my clients [in South Korea] were importing products from Japan, their buying prices were doubling.”

If you could have flexibility, you’ll have a nearer probability of success.

Sae Hyung-jung

Founder and CEO, oVice

Seeing how unsustainable the enterprise was, Sae determined to close down his enterprise and pursue a college diploma in Japan as an alternative. 

Looking again at his experiences, he realized being adaptable is essential in entrepreneurship. 

“If it’s not going to work, it’s okay. I will start another thing. If you have flexibility, you will have a closer chance of success.” 

An concept is born

Throughout college and graduate college, Sae labored as an AI and blockchain guide. In February 2020, his function introduced him to Tunisia — which is about 925 kilometers, or 575 miles, from Italy.

At that point, the Covid-19 virus was spreading shortly all through Italy, which turned the epicenter of Europe’s first coronavirus outbreak. 

“The Tunisian government said that you need to go out tomorrow because we’re going into lockdown. But flights to Japan happened once a day, so it was impossible,” Sae stated.

Stuck in Tunisia, Sae needed to work remotely, alongside together with his colleagues in Japan who had been working from residence as nicely. 

But he shortly grew pissed off with distant work, as there was little collaboration between workers. 

Doing distant work … It felt like a blackout, you do not know something that is taking place in the corporate anymore.

Sae Hyung-jung

Founder and CEO, oVice

“In the office, I could go ask for project updates and quickly identify bottlenecks, or I could discover problems from conversations I somehow overheard,” he defined.

“But doing remote work, communicating through Zoom, Slack… that doesn’t give you the same kind of experience. It felt like a blackout, you don’t know anything that’s happening in the company anymore.” 

Sae determined to take issues into his personal arms, and recreated the space-sharing idea of an workplace — taking it on-line. 

For instance, his digital workplace platform permits customers, or their avatars, to strategy a colleague to begin a dialog or have a informal chit-chat — very similar to in a bodily workplace.

Don’t wish to be overheard? You can “lock” the dialog or take it to a personal digital assembly room, Sae stated.

oVice permits workers to strategy their colleagues to begin a dialog or have a informal chit-chat — very similar to in a bodily workplace.


After taking two weeks to construct his first prototype and sharing it together with his colleagues, Sae realized his creation introduced him enormous satisfaction.

“Because I enjoyed it so much, I believe that the people who feel the need to be in an office will be satisfied as well.” 

oVice was launched in Japan in August 2020, and Sae stated there was a enormous uptick of corporations paying for the service as they realized the pandemic was not going away any time quickly. 

“Companies started thinking about communication and engagement with remote work and oVice helped with that.”

Pivot to hybrid work

Sae’s new firm loved enormous success in the final two years as a result of pandemic.

But as nations world wide relaxed restrictions and employees started returning to places of work, oVice started shifting its focus to corporations adapting to what some have known as, “the new normal” — hybrid working. 

“Many people are now like, I like being in the office, but if my company decides to go to office 100%, I will quit. And companies know that,” Sae added. 

“Yes, we are going back to the office, but it doesn’t mean that [online collaboration] will vanish.”

Sae stays assured that his platform will proceed to thrive as workplaces transfer towards hybrid work and pre-pandemic normalcy.

It was good to expertise some failure, they taught me necessary classes.

Sae Hyung-jung

Founder and CEO, oVice


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