Saeju Jeong is a repeat entrepreneur, driven to deliver a more proactive approach to healthcare. He’s already raised $120 million for the mission, and the data suggests their method is working.
Driven by his father and inspired by NYC’s growing startup scene this entrepreneur is now on his third venture. One which has become the largest of its type in the world.
Saeju Jeong recently appeared on the DealMakers Podcast where I interviewed him on how he found his purpose, his multiple startup ventures, and how to raise funding for your business ideas. Listen to the full interview and review the transcript here.
How To Help People At Scale
Saeju’s father was doing his residency at a medical center in the US when he was born. When he was just 14 months old the family moved back to a small fishing town in South Korea.
There are 29 medical doctors in the Jeong family. His father, grandfather, and uncles founded the first general hospital in their beautiful town.
Of course, it was natural for Saeju to take an interest in medicine and wellness. Yet, his father warned him that while becoming a doctor may be a great job, it doesn’t scale. Although a highly valuable, meaningful and much-needed profession, it’s really just highly paid manual labor.
He wished he could help even more people, but there were only so many hours in the day. He planted the seed in Saeju that as an entrepreneur with a service there may be more scalable ways to help even more people.
Hard To Buy
Saeju’s first startup was in the music business while still in school. He was a big fan of rock and heavy metal, which weren’t too popular in Korea at the time. From his perspective, it was hard to find and buy that kind of music. You had to travel to import it. Or the few retailers which had anything were very overpriced and not very kind.
So he set out to create an online service for niche music genres like heavy metal, classical and jazz, and at cheaper prices. He instantly hit on product-market fit. At just 19 years old and still in college, the business was profitable from day one. BuyHard Productions made millions in the first year.
Eventually losing interest in the business he passed it onto one of his competitors so that his users could still be serviced well.
Finding Your Purpose
While he may not have realized it at the time, much of Saeju’s drive comes from one of the hardest moments in his life.
He wasn’t happy just making money in the music business. People called him successful, but he didn’t feel fulfilled. He was missing out on having a mission and working in alignment with his purpose. Something worth working on.
One day he received a call from his mother. His father had lung cancer. He passed away.
This instilled a curiosity into why we spend so much money on health care, but most of that ends up being spent in the last stages when we die. He started asking himself, why haven’t we been investing and putting in the effort for prevention before we are sick?
Saeju went to serve his three years of mandatory military service. Afterward, he didn’t see Korea as providing a big opportunity for a startup. So, without speaking fluent English, he flew to New York City. He fell in love with the culture and the startup ecosystem and appreciated the investment and capital-rich environment.
He took a shot at a Broadway Show. His heart wasn’t really in it. He didn’t want to just do something for money. He decided he didn’t want to work with others who are just doing it for the money, and he was done with the music and Broadway space.
Friction, Fitness & Fixing Our Approach to Health
Saeju ran into his current co-founder Artem Petakov at an event. They instantly hit it off. Artem worked at Google. Yet, despite the great pay found fitness classes incredibly expensive. They decided to fix it.
They developed some prototypes, tried different things, and built out their founding team. Five of them ended up living and working out of Artem’s one-bedroom apartment.
Almost running out of money, the Android market started picking up, and they became the #1 in fitness. They accumulated 5 million users, in just six months. Today, Noom is the largest lifetime coaching business in the US.
Finding the Funding
Saeju spent three years hustling, pitching and networking and building a network before they raised a single dime in funding.
Then one day he receives a one-line email from Kleiner Perkins. It was a game-changing moment.
They’ve now raised $120 million. They have investors from all over the world, from Silicon Valley to New York, to Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, and Europe. Their investors include Sequoia Capital, RRE Ventures, Qualcomm Ventures, Samsung Ventures, TransLink Capital, Scrum Ventures, Recruit Strategic Partners, and LB Investment to name a few.
Storytelling is everything which is something that Saeju Jeong was able to master. Being able to capture the essence of what you are doing in 15 to 20 slides is the key. For a winning deck, take a look at the pitch deck template created by Silicon Valley legend, Peter Thiel (see it here) where the most critical slides are highlighted. Moreover, I also provided a commentary on a pitch deck from an Uber competitor that has raised over $400M (see it here).
What to Look for in Investors
The three things Saeju Jeong says he is most grateful for in investors are:
1) Great team players. Those who are consistently supporting the entrepreneur. Especially when there are challenges. They participate in the problem-solving.
2) A bird’s eye view and advice. VCs and advisors have the benefit of seeing what is working and not across large portfolios of companies. They know the competition. They can help fast track success and navigate pitfalls, without such lengthy trial and error.
3) Introductions to other investors. Fundraising can be time-consuming and distracting. A great investor can streamline this process with introductions to others for the next stages in funding and business development.
Listen to the full podcast episode to find out more, including:
- The book that changed everything for Noom
- Saeju’s top recommendation for what to do now
- His number one piece of business advice for newer entrepreneurs
- Finding your own purpose