Saeju Jeong is the cofounder and CEO of Noom which provides mobile health coaching, focused on combating chronic and pre-chronic conditions such as obesity, diabetes, and hypertension. The company has raised over $100 million from investors such as Kleiner Perkins, Sequoia Capital, RRE Ventures, Qualcomm Ventures, Samsung Ventures, TransLink Capital, Scrum Ventures, Recruit Strategic Partners, and LB Investment to name a few.
In this episode you will learn:
- 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
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About Saeju Jeong:
Saeju Jeong is the co-founder and CEO of Noom, a coaching platform designed to help people everywhere lead healthier lives through behavior change.
Born in South Korea to a family rooted in healthcare, he has always had an intense desire to help people.
At 21, knew his life’s work would be dedicated to improving the well-being of as many people as possible before they get sick, and wherever possible, actually preventing illness altogether.
Saeju knew that being a doctor wasn’t enough. His own father, who was a much-loved doctor, admitted to Saeju on his deathbed that by treating people who are already sick, doctors are not really in a position to help patients unless they are willing to make dramatic lifestyle changes. And most people aren’t interested in doing that until it’s too late. “We are just sick-care masters,” his father said of the medical profession.
He urged his son to go abroad and to use his entrepreneurial spirit (Saeju had already found South Korea’s first-ever heavy metal record label at that point) to truly change lives for the better.
After his father’s death, Saeju dropped out of college and moved to the US. He met his co-founder and best friend Artem Petakov at a cousin’s wedding. Before long he had convinced Artem to leave Google, where Artem worked as an engineer, to work full-time on Noom.
Today, Noom employs over 1,000 lifestyle coaches.
Connect with Saeju Jeong:
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FULL TRANSCRIPTION OF THE INTERVIEW:
Alejandro: Alrighty. Hello everyone and welcome to the DealMakers show. Today we have someone really exciting. Someone that I think is going to teach us quite a bit on building and scaling companies, and someone as well that is a foreign entrepreneur raised outside of the U.S. even though he was born in the U.S. Without further ado, I’d like to welcome Saeju Jeong. Welcome to the show today.
Saeju Jeong: Hi. Nice to meet you. It’s my honor that I am invited and that I can share my rough journey over Noom. Thank you.
Alejandro: The rough journey. That’s all about entrepreneurship. You’ve got to embrace it, Saeju. So, born in America, but then you moved to South Korea to a fishing town. Why was that?
Saeju Jeong: Yeah. I moved back to Korea when I was 14 months. So, literally, I have no memory about America, but I was lucky enough that I was born in America, so I don’t have any Visa issues that I could come back to the States. But in my heart, Korea is my hometown, and I was raised in a fishing town. It’s called Jeju, a beautiful, beautiful town in South Korea. My father had a residency in a medical center in America. That’s how I was born, but I moved back to South Korea.
Alejandro: Got it. And there, obviously, in the family, everyone was really involved with health care and with being doctors or having medical backgrounds. Then you go off and go into engineering? What happened?
Saeju Jeong: That’s a short but very good summary of my life. So, yeah. In my family, we have 29 medical doctors. We are quite a big, typical doctor family. That’s my family legacy. My father and my grandfather, and my uncles founded the first general hospital in our town. That’s our family legacy, and that’s how I was exposed about the real world since the beginning of my life. The hospital and medical field were like [3:25] all the time. So I was planning to become a doctor, but I’m a black sheep, so I didn’t pursue that round. I became an entrepreneur because I had a lot of passion in music and also, I like people. I like convincing people. I like to sell. So I think that naturally brought me to a startup. When I started, I did have a [3:53] called startup, but business is my life. I’ve been exposed to business since – first business I started when I was a freshman. I’ll pause it here. That’s how my background was like that.
Alejandro: Before we go into the first business because I think that your background is remarkable. So, I’d like to go bit by bit so the listeners can go through memory lane with you as you walk us through it. Why engineering? What got you into problem-solving?
Saeju Jeong: My father was a great medical doctor, and I had a very good relationship with him. I will tell you why. My father told me that being a doctor is a great job, but it’s not scalable because you need to take care of – he was a surgeon. He was an OB/GYN, so he had a lot of operations every day, but he said, “It’s really hard to scale is a service.” He cannot have that many people because he’s occupied with time. So he commented that it’s a highly-paid manual-labor job as a doctor. He didn’t say being a doctor is bad. It’s just that he wanted to help more lives, more people, more patients, but he cannot. So he encouraged me to think about being an entrepreneur because if I build a service, then that service can be scalable and help more people and make a bigger impact than a professional point of business. That’s what he told me all the time. I think that was the first question that he gave me, and that led me to become an entrepreneur too.
Alejandro: Really cool. You obviously started your first business at the same time you were in university. So what triggered you starting your own business?
Saeju Jeong: Very simple. I’ve been heavy metal – I’m a huge heavy metal, rock music fan. In Korea, that music was not the popular one, probably not in New York as well, but I was a huge fan of heavy metal. So, at college, I listened to a lot of metal bad music. I purchased a CD on the generation that I listened to CD and then streaming music. Getting music was very difficult because I had to travel to importing goods like the retail store and paid overpriced music. And they were not kind. That bothered me so much, so I wanted to do better than them because a found the incompetence about it. So my first business was out of frustration, but it was quite successful.
Alejandro: Let’s talk about the company and how you built it up. It was a couple of years that you spent building this business which it was called BuyHard Productions. Is that right?
Saeju Jeong: Yeah. It was so hard to buy. It was so hard to buy hard music, so that’s how I made the company BuyHard.
Alejandro: Tell us about how you built this business and what the life of the business looked like?
Saeju Jeong: I got an idea about this. Do a better service than the retailers, and also, apply online because by the time online – we all remember dot-com. Everything was converting to online, so I merged on two things: 1) the niche market for hard rock and heavy metal, jazz, classical music lovers can have great service online and much cheaper than they could get from a retail store. That’s how I figured product/market fit, and it was quite successful. From day one, it was profitable, made a few million dollars right away the first year. As a college student, 19 years old, that was a pretty good start, and I discovered about entrepreneurship. I did not plan so much, to be very frank, but I followed my feelings of passion, and I discovered the problem as a user, and that led me to the – I was lucky. I was extremely lucky that I figured out the product/market fit relatively quick and all quickly and also with little dollars. Given where we are now at Noom and what I learned the last ten years in America, the DC-back startup, tech startup, the product/market fit is so difficult, but I was lucky that I figured quite quickly at the first business. That’s a good part. The downside is, no matter how much success, people were addressing me at such an early age, but I didn’t feel that way – not at all. I was wondering why I am not happy when I achieve something? People call me as quite successful at business. I was wondering what was missing. Then eventually, I figured the mission part was missing. The mission is the true reason that I am devoting my life for something that I’m doing every day, which is work. That part was missing, I think. I like heavy metal, but heavy metal – listen, going to a heavy metal concert is not my life mission. I figured it’s so important to figure the mission when I engage my business. That’s the discovery that I did.
Alejandro: Of course. I think that we all, as human beings, go through that process of really understanding why we’re here. You know, what’s the purpose of our being in this world. We can go into that once we touch on Noom, but I’d like to ask you here whatever happened with BuyHard Productions? What was the outcome?
Saeju Jeong: So the business was good, and I was doing it well, but one day, I felt like, “Well.” I remembered that I was doing well, the business was good, and I felt like everything was so perfectly nice. I felt like I was the luckiest man in the world. But when I was feeling good about myself and the business, one day I got a call from my mother, and she shared some bad news that my father was not doing well. He was ill. I assessed that it was really bad news because otherwise, she would not call me up. I took a train down, and I met my father, and I heard that he had lung cancer. Eventually, he passed away because we discovered it too late. He never smoked, and he helped so many lives as a doctor, but ironically, he got lung cancer, became deadly ill, and passed away. That gave me the opportunity to think about my life. I had a great time with my father until the end of my father’s journey, and then he gave me a lot of advice about life. So, that’s what guided me to think about why am I here, and what should I do with my life and the business. That helped me to think about I wanted to stick with what I care about my life, the mission, and apply my talent to get it right. That’s how I felt. I applied to the military because all Korean men have to serve for the army anyway. So, I went to the military. I served for three years, and I finished my military duty, and as soon as I discharged from the government, I dropped my college and came to the United States because I knew that I already have seen a big world, and I studied electrical engineering at a previous school, but if I pursued that career, then I would have joined something with LG, which is a very good company; very good. But I didn’t have a passion. I didn’t have a mission in doing that work, and I have seen a big world as I can – small company but employer myself. I always felt like being in Korea as a small business owner, that would not give me the big opportunity. Also, again, like I said, I need to pursue my life toward what I really care. Over the work, I can deliver the great mission. So, that led me to come to the United States, New York City.
Alejandro: Got it. Just to close the chapter of BuyHard, did you sell the business, or did you close it down, or what did you do?
Saeju Jeong: I sold the company, but actually, I handed it over to my competitor because by the time I made enough money, to be very frank, and also, I lost interest. Money was not my interest by the time. Also, if I sell the company – M&A does not work that well in Korea anyway. I was looking for who can handle my business the best, and it’s my competitor. That way, my users can continue to receive a good service. So I handed it over to my competitor. That’s how I smoothly managed my transition from heavy metal, record label owner, and CEO toward coming to the United States.
Alejandro: You walked us through the process. So you sold this business; you handed it over to your competitor, and then you did the military. Obviously, the passing as well of your father, and then you landed in the U.S. One thing that is true is that as human beings when we go through these events where we lose a loved one or an event of this nature happens, it’s like life is slapping you across the face.
Saeju Jeong: Right.
Alejandro: And puts many, many things into perspective. In this case, perhaps that gave you some sense or some type of perspective that you didn’t have before. We’ve been talking about the life purpose and the mission of why we’re here in the world. What did you end up understanding that was your life purpose?
Saeju Jeong: That’s such a good comment, by the way. Thank you. It is true that the difficult life event gave me the opportunity to think about what is the priority in my life, and why I’m here, and what should I do? I was very young. I was 21 years old, so after I finished my major, I was only 24. So I felt like this is an amazing journey I can take, and what my father achieved, although he had a very short life, but he influenced a lot. He made a big impact to public health care. I got a lot of inspiration. Then I figured, let me come to the United States. That way, I can test myself and receive the challenge that I can discover my talent. I went to learn about what I’m good at. And second, going global market, which is the United States. New York City is very internationally friendly. That’s how I came. Third, health care because, yes, probably I get learnings from my family and my father. Also, I was curious why we spend so much money for our own health, but the old money and efforts are heavily concentrated to the latest stage, which is [15:36] management. Eventually, when people die, they spend most of dollars. So I feel like why not we are spending dollars and effort for prevention when we are not sick where we can handle and prevent and/or avoid any chronic conditions and also like acute conditions. I was curious about that, and I simply apply my entrepreneurial style, the problem-solving mind, and that’s how I discovered the health care vision, and that’s how I found a new.
Alejandro: And right before starting Noom – you know, we as founders, we all have our successes and our failures, but I think that you had another attempt at an entrepreneurship with a Broadway show. Tell us about that.
Saeju Jeong: Yeah. That’s kind of my dark story, to be frank, but I don’t mind to share about it. I came to America, and I actually had no English background. I still have some English problem, but I really had no English background by the time. So, I spent two years to learn my English and also learn about manner and culture like that. I needed to engage in some professional work because I got bored by just learning English, and I wanted to do something. Because I did my music business in South Korea, I was in touch with a lot of professionals. Broadway musical shows are very – by the time still, very much loved by Asian audiences. So I was thinking like what if we support the Broadway musical show, the older crew in a step to the local market so they can enjoy the regional Broadway musical show. That was the concept and actually launched that. It was quite successful in the beginning, but the management, and the company, the concert, and the show, again I faced a difficulty, or like it was not my passion. So the mission was not matched with my effort, so I still remember every night I felt like, “What am I doing now? Am I just working hard to make money, which is not the reason I’m here.” I had a lot of gap between my mission and the daily work. So I lost my interest eventually. I had a difficult time with my investors from South Korea, so I decided to drop that.
Alejandro: So, what did you do? Did you hand it over to a competitor, or did you close it altogether?
Saeju Jeong: I closed my – there was a headquarter in South Korea. I closed the shop for the United States. I let them manage the business. I dropped the project.
Alejandro: Got it. Obviously, when you go through a phase like this, and you were alluding to this that it was a dark period for you as an entrepreneur, which we all go through, by the way. I guess during these times is when someone really gets to learn about themselves, and then also to get incredible lessons that they can apply for the future. What were those lessons for you?
Saeju Jeong: Such a good question. Number one, I decided I’m not going to engage any work that the work does not allow me my life mission. Number two, I do not want to work with people who are just working for the money, I want to say. Third, I didn’t want to work on the music or the Broadway show industry. Not that the industry is wrong or bad, I just figured I am not the best person that I can perform well. So, that’s the thing that I learned in a very painful way, but it actually helped me learn about economics, business professionals, how they work, and it gave me the confidence I can actually execute and get things done. That actually helped me to do my own business again, and that’s how I did it new; that’s how I founded the company eventually.
Alejandro: Got it. I’m also raised outside of the U.S., and it was for me kind of a culture shock as well coming to the U.S., and getting adjusted to different ways of doing business and the way you would communicate or things like that. But for you, what was the most shocking one that you eventually got to learn and adjust to?
Saeju Jeong: In a good way. Actually, the cultural difference that I got – Korea is like a homogenous country. It’s all filled with the Korean people – all Asians speak Korean. I was always, literally, like a 99.9% person – I was crowded by Korean people, all ages, all Korean. Not even Japanese. All Korean. That was good, but as I came to New York, I felt like, “Oh, my gosh. So many different national backgrounds, different races, and it was awesome. I loved it. I still love it. I think that’s one of the best reasons I love this city, New York, and the diversity because they are very open to the foreigners, and they are – I don’t know. It’s just sort of different. I never experienced it that way – the true diversity. That was the first immediate difference, the cultural difference I had. Second, there are so many entrepreneurs in the United States. So many entrepreneurs compared to South Korea. Many like startups. That was also very cool. Third, different capital. The capital was like, again, the diversity. There’s a lot of capital like from Europe, Asia, African American flooding into New York City. I figure like, “Wow. If I have a great idea with a great team that I can raise capital because there are people looking for the new venture, and they wanted to invest. So the investment, the ecosystem is very well established here in America, in New York City. So [22:12] ecosystem with entrepreneurs is very good. That’s what I learned.
Alejandro: Absolutely. New York, is definitely like a United Nations of its own just like you were saying.
Saeju Jeong: I agree 100%. I agree 100% for sure; for sure.
Alejandro: And even better than that is that in New York, you have the best of the best from all over the world because getting to this city is very difficult because it’s difficult to get here, especially if you don’t have the Visa and all those papers. But getting to stay here is even tougher. So, really cool. Let’s talk about Noom, Saeju. We were talking about the life purpose. We were talking about more the idea of preventing rather than getting to curing when we’re thinking about health. What people realize is, it’s kind of late, and they need to spend a lot of money on that correction. But let’s talk about Noom. How did the idea of Noom come about?
Saeju Jeong: Of course. I met a lot of people in being in New York City. I met a bunch of new people. I was invited to many events. I also held many events. I met my current co-founder, Artem Petakov, at a random event. I fell in love with him because his idea and his attitude and his intelligence, his humble manner, I really admired him. Then I asked, “Let’s meet again.” I met him, and then we stayed until 4 a.m. We were chatting and discussion ideas. By the way, his background is, he’s a Ukraine background, Ukraine American. We had a lot of similar interests like the immigrants, the tech startup, and the cultural difference, but family value. We shared a lot of mutual interests. Then we became best friends with each other. Six months later, we start to think about – he was working for Google. He was a tech lead at Google in the New York City Office. He became my best friend by then. I was sharing ideas. “What do you see from Google?” He said, “Well, Saeju, there are so many good engineers and good product people with a lot of resources. It’s great at Google, but it’s very strange that once I step out of the office, I am now taking up fitness classes, and it’s very expensive. I’m making a lot of money that I think I’m overly paid, and I’m taking professional training service, and it’s so expensive to afford it. I wonder why it’s so expensive, and maybe this is why people do not invest in the prevention area.” When I hear that, I was like, “We should do the business.” Then we spent eight months to one year to think about the market. We did a lot of research, and we figured as we spend time on the health care, “We spent so much time on our health care and out of our salaries, a chunk of money go to health care right away. It’s tiers at the health care industry is not so great, so he and I were, “We should have fixed this problem.” We had a lot of research again, and we concluded the problem came from there are many companies, but it’s not an end-user-focused product-driven company. We thought, and still, we think a lot of health care companies are not focusing to end-user and the targeted service-oriented, and are not driven by product-driven people. We had a theory, “Let’s build our company fulfilled with a product-driven people, problem-solving people, and let’s build a service that actually delivers the outcome to end-users because we figure a lot of health care companies are getting paid by different stakeholders, but they are not bidding the service because there’s some distance between service providers and end-users, which is patients. So that was our theory, and that’s how we founded the company.
Alejandro: So then in this case, what would you say that really made this – because obviously, everything starts on the friendship side and choosing the co-founder wisely is probably the best decision that one can make before going into business. But in this case, you guys went from the friendship to more the professional side. What would you say really made this partnership work so magically? What did you bring to the table, and what did Artem bring to the table?
Saeju Jeong: Artem told me that I’m extremely smart, which I think I am. I see Artem as – I call him Dr. Petakov because he’s so smart. He’s genius to me, and he’s actually very, very smart, and he learns fast. So we complement each other for sure. He’s a product genius, and he’s a smart man, and I’m like the driver. My energy is quite high, and I’m like, “Let’s do it!” And I’m kind of the money guy. I know how to raise capital. I know how [27:50] money. It was very natural like the marriage, and then one day Artem shared the book. He said, “Saeju, you’ve got to read this book.” Artem is like a book eater. He reads at least one or two books per week. He gave me one book and said, “This is a great book.” “What is it?” “It’s called Good to Great by James Collins
Alejandro: James Collins. Yes.
Saeju Jeong: It’s an amazing book.
Alejandro: I love it.
Saeju Jeong: It’s an amazing book. I asked, “Why do you think this is a great book?” “Because the other books are all talking about like fact stuff, but this book was focused like the long-term great company story.
Saeju Jeong: Great company stories. “It’s quite rare, and the book is written by James Collins. He did research. So take a look.” I read it, and it was amazing. I got a lot of inspiration out of it. So that’s why I feel like, “We’ve got to start business now!”
Alejandro: I love it. So what ended up being the business model of Noom, so the people that are listening get it?
Saeju Jeong: In the beginning, we had a lot of failure. Still, we are facing a lot of errors, but in the beginning, we were so naïve. So, we didn’t have a good idea. We had a lot of ideas, and in the beginning, we thought like, “How can we make a real impact to end-users?” We thought fitness. Like most people think of fitness. So, “Yeah. Let’s make some fitness products. That way we can help people’s lives.” And we did it, but that was wrong. Why? Because people – first of all, people don’t exercise, and also the fitness market is so small. We made a lot of prototypes in the beginning like the Peloton Bike ideas. We actually had it. We built a prototype that comes with the touchscreen, some sensors converting the stationary bike to interactive bike. We built that prototype. I tried to sell it to a gym, and I failed. So that gave me the opportunity to think about how hard it is. The first three years, we couldn’t get any investment. We had a lot of prototypes. I was hustling. I was pitching all the time. I could not raise any single dime.
Alejandro: Wow. So then what happened? What was that corner that you guys needed to turn around to in order to have something, like you were saying, product/market fit on every single aspect with the customers, investors and –
Saeju Jeong: We kept failing, and we really didn’t have any money left. I was working at Artem’s apartment. Artem was moonlighting while he was working for Google. Then he was supporting to pitching to investors, but it didn’t work. By the time Artem attended a [31:02] in Berlin in 2005, which is the AI Research Lab at Berlin University. The team participated in the AI competition, and they won the medal. They came #1. So, Artem told me there was a great engineer from Germany. I met them. I come with two great engineers, and I also invite my best friend from South Korea who used to work for [31:28]. I found a founding team. We all stayed together – one bedroom. So, we stayed together, five people. It was like a jungle. Five gentlemen staying together, eat, sleep, and work. But we didn’t have money left, so we had the last chance before we had to figure out how we could survive. We heard that the Android is coming by then. By the time Apple launched the smartphone system, and Google was preparing to launch the Android on a platform, so we decided let’s give all this like a prototype that we built for fitness center because it’s so expensive and costly. Let’s stick with the software because we’re all engineers, except me. I’m like a journalist. So, our engineers, including my co-founder, Artem, we all head down to build the prototype on software, which is application. We launch as soon as the Android market starts, and we became the #1 fitness maker, and it was a great success. In six months, we had 5 million users, and that proved the success.
Saeju Jeong: Then the same year, I got an email from Kleiner Perkins, and they invested in us. So, that changed the company’s journey dramatically. We became a little more serious company than the five men in the one bedroom.
Alejandro: So, Kleiner Perkins came in. That was the first round that you guys were doing?
Saeju Jeong: Yes. Seed Round.
Alejandro: Was that like a cold email that you guys received, or how?
Saeju Jeong: I got an email from the partner. A one-line email. I still remember. I got a one-line email that said like, “I’m from Kleiner Perkins. I like what you’re doing. Let’s talk.”
Alejandro: I love it. I love it. Wow. That’s so cool. Kleiner Perkins, definitely one of the top. So definitely a Tier 1 investor. So really cool. How much have you guys raised now today?
Saeju Jeong: Currently, we raised nearly 120 million dollars.
Alejandro: 120 million. Okay, got it. And you were saying – and I see obviously, great investors. You were alluding to Kleiner Perkins, but then you guys also have Sequoia. You even have Samsung, RRE. So, here you are coming to the U.S. You have no clue of who is who. How did you build this network?
Saeju Jeong: Oh, my gosh. I hustled all the time. I hustled, and also my team worked so hard. It’s not only me. We worked so hard. I have no reservation on that. I can say that from my bottom heart. We worked so hard because we care about what we’re doing, and we are very passionate about it. We cannot fail because the amount of sacrifice that we made and also our family members supported us, and our early angel investors, it’s incredible. How can I fail? We cannot fail. I hustled a lot, meaning I attended a lot of random events for VC network, and I pitched as much as I can. I took the feedback because they are very savvy and smart. I shared that with my team. So we always listen from the smart VC investors. I attended events to start events so I can learn from how the other guys are doing it. Now, in the market change, and market trend, and also like the new tactics, strategies, and they’re all come and go. So, it’s: keep going. That’s how I built the network. Obviously, starting a network is quite like well-connected, so if like our team, our market, our products, then they are good people. They connect me here to someone else. That has been amazing. I try hard to follow-up, and that’s how I built my own network. So Noom has very interesting investors like from the United States, Silicon Valley, and Silicon Alley, from Korea, from Japan, Hong Kong, from Europe, London, Germany. We have a lot of different investors. So I had to travel quite a lot.
Alejandro: I can imagine. There’s one thing that comes to mind, and I think that the investor lenses or the investor way of thinking, it really changes from the U.S. to perhaps Asia or even Europe. So what have you seen in that regard?
Saeju Jeong: I agree. Frankly speaking, as I mentioned even before I started this tech startup, I knew, and I suspected that New York City is going to be the capital. New York City is the capital of the finance. Right? So I expect – if I have a strong story and I’m fortunate I can create, and I can meet many different sources of fund, it’s all true. From Europe, frankly speaking, not that many startups are happening from Europe. It’s happening, for sure, but compared to the United States, I think it’s still a little behind. So there are enough funds looking for the opportunity. They want to participate early enough and beat the strategy line so they can be involved with a startup from the United States. That’s how I was able to get in contact with the London-based investors and German. Also, the same thing like Korea and Japan, they’re always looking for global opportunities, and there are enough funds. They’re a very wealthy country. That’s how I got in contact with them, and obviously the business opportunity as well. Of course, like Silicon Valley, New York City’s now rising. It has been rising, and it’s big enough.
Saeju Jeong: And tech startups in. So New York City, I was able to meet many good investors, and eventually, we got RRE. I’m very, very thankful because they are the top in the New York City base.
Saeju Jeong: They’ve been extremely helpful. Also, like from the West Coast, I got Series A, B, C. We got the Translink Capital. They are strategically very well supporting our business, and also, they understand the value from Asia. So, that was good. Eventually, lately, we got Sequoia Capital cross-fund. They are, obviously, very powerful with a high network and extremely smart people with a lot of insight on how to operate a late-stage company. I am very grateful. I don’t know how I can express better, but I feel I’m lucky, and we are learning so much from different sources of fund. So much.
Alejandro: I don’t want to really take names out or anything because probably some of them might listen to this episode, but I want to ask you Saeju, if you take a look at all the investors that you have, and you had to pick the one that let’s say has contributed the most, or if you could only choose one of the investors that you have for another business or something like that, what would you say made those qualities? What are the qualities of that investor that really gives you that level of appreciation and gratefulness?
Saeju Jeong: Do you want me to name, or do you want me to share the merits?
Alejandro: No need to name because we want to be diplomatic, but in terms of merits and ingredients that made that investor who they are for you, and that appreciation that you have for them, what are the merits, or let’s say the skill sets or strengths that they have brought to the table?
Saeju Jeong: Absolutely, good question. From my last ten years of working with venture capitalist investors, I highlight these investors. 1) Consistently supporting the entrepreneur, meaning like the company is face up and down. So, I really appreciate when investors are participating to solve the problem when the company’s not doing well. And also sharing the company when the company’s doing well. But in the same manner, those investors are like very good because they are not just yelling to the entrepreneurs or CEO, “Just work hard.” It doesn’t help because startups are very difficult, and a startup is always experiencing a lack of resources. So if someone else can just yell into a CEO or the founders to do better, it doesn’t help because when they are having a hard time, it’s only like enough [41:01 – 41:07] they just need a better solution. Number one, merit is having a great team player. A team-player mindset I always appreciate in those investors, and they become my life partner, and I really honor the way they really care about the mission and company. That’s great. 2) Insight for comments because the startup scene is disrupting the market. That means we are also competing with the other startups. Startups are moving fast, and they are very smart, so meaning like if we are not good enough, we are not developing our technology better than the past, we’ll become behind out of the other available tech startup services. The VCs and investors are redoing the business all the time, the other business. So me, as a CEO and a founder, I spend my time for my service am busy. So probably I may have shortsighted my other view. Like maybe I see the tree very carefully because I want to build the best product and service. The VCs are exposed to the bigger market, and they see so many portfolios and prospective companies, so they see what’s working, what’s not working. It is so nice to have their advice and their comments and to have the birds-eye view like to view the forest rather than just the tree. That’s the value I think is very, very good to have. 3) Companies grow in different stages, as companies facing are good and bad, different types of devices are required. Mainly VC investors, when we reached to the high ceiling of their fund side, they help us to meet the greater size of fund so we can blend in well. Does that make sense to you? Like when we were preparing for Series B, C, and D, we were ready for a great scale of the business, so we needed to have a bigger fund manager. Right? The bigger, the fund that operating the VC, and we wanted to have a right introduction, so we transitioned to discuss with the later-staged focused VCs like that. So whether I go out and build the network from zero – it happened to me, actually. Well, introduction, so I can have a smooth conversation, so I can save my time, and when we need the financial support, we could get a right partner. That was the thing that I could get the benefit. So that’s the key merit I can point out.
Alejandro: Good to know, and obviously, you have many investors from very different areas of the world, so you have your fair amount of knowledge that you have gathered. So for the folks that are listening to get a better understanding of the operations of Noom, how big is the company today?
Saeju Jeong: We have around 1,400 employees. Mostly all fulltime. We have around 80 people in the New York City office, and the rest of our employees are working from 36 different states in the United States. We also have an office in South Korea and Japan. We plan to expand our business internationally from this year in a boarder way. That’s inside the company. We are the largest lifetime coaching company in the United States that own the full-time members.
Alejandro: Got it. Well, what a ride. What a journey, Saeju. There’s one question that I typically ask the guests that come on the show, and that is if you had the opportunity to have a chat with your younger self, let’s say that younger self that was still in university about to launch into the first business, the records company. Based on what you know now, all the ups and downs, all the life lessons that you’ve been able to collect, what would be that one piece of business advice that you would give to your younger self and why?
Saeju Jeong: You are such a good moderator. That is such a good question. Can I actually take your question?
Alejandro: What’s that?
Saeju Jeong: Can I actually answer personally and also in my professional if I have two answers.
Alejandro: Go for it.
Saeju Jeong: If I can go back to my young soul, then I would tell him like spend more time with the father asap. Spend time with the family right now because I miss him so much. I would tell that. Professionally, I would tell him like the stress that you are having right now will not go away, so just face it, and you will achieve a bigger success than what you can dream, but the journey that you are experiencing is going to be actually quite beautiful and nice, but while you are experiencing the day-to-day journey, you may feel like you are in h****, but you will know that journey will bring the diamond, the beauty of the light. It’s all good. That’s what I would tell my young soul.
Alejandro: Super profound, and just speaking about your father that you were mentioning, you finally never became a doctor, but definitely, you were changing the space, so I’m sure he’s looking down and being super proud of what you’ve done, Saeju.
Saeju Jeong: You’re very kind, man. You’re very kind. It means a lot to me. Seriously, thank you. And I care about that message because, yes, we are actually helping a lot of lives right now. We are helping people to manage better on their current disease or preventing the chronic conditions. So I take a lot of pride, and our new members are very proud of that mission. We’ve got to build a better service than today. We’ve got a lot of what we’ve got to do better. Thank you.
Alejandro: So, Saeju, for the folks that are listening, what is the best way for them to reach out and say hi?
Saeju Jeong: To who?
Alejandro: For the founders, or investors, or whoever is listening to us right now that are thinking, “Wow. I’m really inspired by Saeju. I would like to reach out and say hi.” Is there a social media channel, or email, or what would you like to provide them so they can get in touch with you?
Saeju Jeong: I think email’s the fastest way. If you have spent this much time with me right now, and the audience listened, I think you’ve earned to get my contact, and I want to know about your joining too. firstname.lastname@example.org
Alejandro: Amazing. Well, thank you so, so much Saeju. It has been an honor to have you on the DealMakers show today.
Saeju Jeong: My honor too. Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to share my humble story. Thank you.
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