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Mihee Kim, the CEO of Tutoring, leaving Samsung Electronics and entering mobile English market2017-03-31Hit:1010

During her undergraduate major in Advertising and Public Relations at Hanyang University, Mihee Kim swept a variety of contests while demonstrating her ‘unique whimsical style.’ One year before graduation, she succeeded in the official recruitment process of Samsung Electronics and was recognized for her outstanding talents. She went through a lot of trial and error in designing the user experience (UX) of the Galaxy series and she herself had grown up with the Galaxy. She suffered because of her poor English ability even after spending money for ten years in the company, and decided to commercialize what she had learned, which was how she started Tutoring.

Mihee Kim (34, photo), the CEO of Tutoring, demonstrated her inventiveness by assembling a science box or making three-dimensional objects from a cage as a child. She ignored formalized manuals and felt a strange joy in making various models in her own way. This talent helped her receive many awards in invention contests.

When she was a senior in high school, her homeroom teacher said, “I would like you to choose a major in which your unique whimsical style can be demonstrated as a unique talent,” and recommended that she major in Advertising and Public Relations. Admitted to Hanyang Univ., Dept. of Advertising and Public Relations in 2001, she majored in advertising marketing and minored in visual design. Her siblings were in college at the same time temporarily left school to relieve the financial burden of their parents. However, they were so enthusiastic about self-improvement that they completed a multimedia course with government support.

Kim’s talent was unquestionably recognized as she swept awards in prestigious contests in the advertising industry including the Cheil Worldwide Competition (Silver Prize) and the Global Marketing Forum of the Hyundai Motor Company (Grand Prize). Then, she was given an opportunity to apply for Samsung Group employment among the college students who had more than a year to graduate, and was accepted after taking a written exam and the interview. Kim said, “I did not tell anyone about entering Samsung Group for a year because most of my friends and seniors were having a difficult time getting a job.”

Deployed at the Samsung Digital Solution Center, she spent three years developing video content solutions and the time flew. As she worked, Kim noticed mobile growth potential and applied through in-house recruitment to be a planner for media services for smartphones.

“Within Samsung Electronics, there is a unique recruiting system called ‘job posting’, in which one could secretly apply for a position through an in-house recruitment process in which departments post jobs. Of course, the interview with the department manager takes place on the weekend, so the applicant’s current department has no idea. If you are selected, then you can move to the desired department. Even if not, you do not get any disadvantage.”

In the new department, she applied to be a user experience (UX) designer, and was put in charge of mobile design and service planning. From the earliest days of the Galaxy S series to the end of September, 2015, she was able to participate in Galaxy’s success. Although it was a dream job, she sometimes felt that the huge organization where she could not fully demonstrate her creativity was too much for her. She was scolded when she proposed a project that was out of the organization’s frame, and she drank a bitter cup of defeat when she suggested a business item for an in-house contest.

A turning point came to her when she enrolled in KAIST MBA program in 2014, and started a project to establish a business model strategy.

She was interested in English conversation, which was her biggest ‘Point of Pain.’ She herself felt uncomfortable, and as she was desperate to improve her skill, she thought she could understand the customers better than anyone else. For six months in KAIST MBA program, she could fully formulate the SWOT of her business model. In the classes, she generally documented her business model through market research and analysis, and the risks that she might encounter after opening the service.

Kim still cannot forget the great responses of professors and classmates when she presented her business model on Tutoring. Everyone was enthusiastic, and supported the business while believing in her ability to succeed. After completing her one-year MBA, she returned to the company, and then decided to start a business and quit his job in September 2015. In February of last year, she founded ‘Tutoring’, a mobile English conversation service company.

“Of course there was a lot of hesitation until I resigned. I was working on the Galaxy S7 design plan back then, and I was hesitant to leave my favorite work. But I thought I would not be able to quit forever if I delayed any longer, so I decided to quit.”

Kim thinks one of the strengths of Tutoring is the ownership by the employees. Of the 13 employees, four has been CEOs, and they had already established eight startups. She explains that the team is diversified with various entrepreneurial experiences. Marketability is also bright. The English tutoring market for adults is worth 1.8 trillion won, and there is also statistics showing that the cost of English education per person is 200 million won a lifetime.

In the past, while telephone English and video English services were the mainstream, there was no satisfactory contents for consumers. On the other hand, hiring a private tutor is effective, but the cost per hour is too high, making continuous education difficult. Kim had used all of these services as a consumer so she decided to offer a service tailored to the needs of consumers while complementing the weaknesses of the existing market. Thus, the most important point was to lower the price, but to improve the quality of the lectures. Also, as a mobile education service, stability of the system was a prerequisite.

Existing phone English services rent a local call center overseas and hire full time teachers and a Korean manager. Hiring a lot of Philippine instructors at a low cost was still expensive to maintain, and the burden was on consumers. Video English service is a way to leverage existing VOIP platforms such as Skype, WitChat, and Google Hangouts. The price is relatively low due to the lack of operating infrastructure, but it was very inconvenient to use.

After several months of development, Tutoring released its own P2P (personal-to-person) platform in September last year, and both instructors and students can use the service just by installing the mobile app. Thanks to improvements in the existing relay system structure, the unit service price has decreased and the margin has improved. In fact, if you take lessons from an instructor in the Philippines 200 minutes per month, the existing video English service costs between 100,000 and 150,000 won, while it is possible through Tutoring for approximately 39,000 won. Lessons from native English instructors are also available at less than 70,000 won, which is less than half of the market price. While the service has been developed in line with the adult English market, she plans to advance into the global market by adding languages such as Korean and Chinese, and provide Korean tutoring service for the Chinese. As the global tutoring market is worth 120 trillion won, while 90% is from Asia, she judges the business is well worth the odds.

Tutoring, which has been open for six months, since last September, has already secured more than ten thousand subscribers. The number of subscribers is increasing by over 20% each week, on average, and 10% of the subscribers convert to paid users. With this trend, sales is expected to surpass 5 billion won this year.

Kim left the big company to establish her own company, and she advised her juniors who dream of starting a business not to start on if they are not ready.

“Being ready means that you think you are going to spend the rest of your life regretting that you gave up the idea you have. You first need to objectively and closely examine whether you have confidence in your item, and whether you can make the item work by concentrating your capabilities. I also want to stress that a startup requires great sacrifice. You have to constantly ask yourself and decide whether you can give up all the comfort and peace that you are enjoying and whether you have enough passion to overcome the extreme stress that comes after starting the business. Otherwise, I would stop anyone from establishing a startup.”

/Journalist Jung, Minjung (jminj@sedaily.com)

Contact : Lee, Sohyun ( sohyun.c.lee@kaist.ac.kr )