Welcome to Episode 38!
Our guest for STIMY Episode 38 is John Yohan Kim.
John Yohan Kim serves as Managing Partner at Amasia, a cross-border venture capital firm that helps technology companies get global. He is a Kauffman Fellow, a Term Member at the Council of Foreign Relations, a member of the Young Leader’s Circle at the Milken Institute and serves on various corporate and non-profit boards including those of Dialpad Communications, Kairos Society Asean and the Choson Exchange.
But before all that, John began his career as a serial entrepreneur, founding a music internet and e-consulting business called The Y Group before joining as a violinist in the Ally, where he toured around the US and collaborated with top artists across the US and Korea, most notably receiving a platinum record for contributing to an album with Grammy Award winner, Brandy.
All of that ended when John realised that he was still depressed despite pursuing his passion in music and during one performance, he heard God’s voice calling him to come home. Which kickstarted a journey that took him from the USA to Korea and now, Singapore.
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Who is John Kim?
John is a Korean-American who grew up in a small town where he stood out as a minority. This resulted in him getting picked up, feeling suicidal at the age of 10 before eventually discovering that rebelling… allowed him to be accepted!
A discovery that led him down a path towards drinking, making fake IDs, doing drugs, dealing with drugs…
- 3:36: Being a rebel to be accepted by society
- 6:04: Suffering senioritis & nearly losing his place in University of Pennsylvania!
Serial Entrepreneur & Musician
John eventually decided to start his own business and for a time, was also a professional musician! An experience that led to him obtaining a platinum record.
- 9:04: Hearing God telling him to “Come home”
- 17:56: Joining the rock band, The Ally, as a performing musician
- 19:09: Getting a platinum record for contributing to Grammy award-winning Brandy’s album
- 22:25: Crossing paths with John… Legend!
Faith, Hedge Fund & Venture Capital
A pivotal moment in John’s life came when he was performing as part of The Ally, and he heard God tell him to “Come home.”
This path eventually led him into a decade-long career in investment before he eventually settled in Singapore and started a venture capital firm of his own called Amasia.
John shares how God moved in his life & career, including the reason for him becoming a vlogger on the John Kim Show!
- 29:35: Pivoting from music to hedge funds
- 31:56: Corporate culture in Asia versus the West
- 33:18: Co-founding his own VC firm, Amasia
- 41:22: God is not a vending machine
- 43:25: Workplace conflict when work clashes with faith
- 54:57: Amasia’s 4Rs of Behaviour Change
- 58:01: Investing in Dialpad
- 1:05:00: Hearing God tell him to become a vlogger
- 1:06:00: Meeting Nuseir of @nasdaily
- 1:09:00: What Nas advised John to go from 200 views to 170k views and now, almost 1 million views!
- 1:12:23: Involving his family in his vlogs
- 1:17:14: Thoughts on Clubhouse
If you’re looking for more inspirational stories of people in the science/creative industry, check out:
- Austen Allred: Co-Founder of Lambda School – a Y-Combinator backed coding school that lets students learn coding for FREE using the Income Sharing Agreement (ISA) scheme, where its graduates pay back only after they earn over $50k/year. Past graduates have worked for Fortune 500 companies including Google, Facebook, IBM etc.
- Kendrick Nguyen: Co-Founder of Republic – one of the top 3 equity crowdfunding platforms in the US
- Rahul Chaudhary: MD & Heir to the 160-year-old Chaudhary Group, a family empire headed by his father, Binod Chaudhary (Nepal’s first & only Forbes billionaire)
- Amra Naidoo: Co-Founder of Accelerating Asia – an early stage VC fund & accelerator based in Singapore
- Dr. Finian Tan – former Deputy Secretary of Singapore’s Ministry of Trade & Industry, and Chairman & Co-Founder of Vickers Venture Partners, a $3 billion deep tech VC firm based in Singapore
- Ashley Dean – South African First Artist at the Royal Ballet in London on sacrifice, faith and family in her journey as a premier ballerina
If you enjoyed this episode with John Kim, you can:
- Tag us at @JohnKim & @sothisismywhy
- Tweet your thoughts & takeaways from the episode to Ling Yah here!
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Some of the things we talked about in this STIMY Episode can be found below:
- John Kim: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Medium
- The John Kim Show
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Ep 38: John Yohan Kim [Managing Partner & Co-Founder, Amasia]
Ling Yah: Hey everyone.
Welcome to episode 38 of the So This Is My Why podcast. I'm your host and producer, Ling Yah,and today's guest is John Yohan Kim. John is a Korean American serial entrepreneur musician, former hedge fund manager, and co-founder of Amasia. A thesis driven venture capital firm with offices in the Bay area and Singapore, where he works with founders on fighting the climate crisis and then hunting sustainability through behavior change.
But above all, he is also a child of God. And in this episode, we talked about his colorful childhood. Of how he rebelled as a way of being accepted by society, his journey and building his various companies, including being a musician in The Alley, receiving a platinum record of contributing to Grammy award winner, Brandy's album, and how he turned back to his faith, After hearing God's voice on stage.
Which took him on a journey from the States to Korea and finally, Singapore. Where he established a venture capital firm called Amasia. We also touched on his vlogging journey as a VC and his thoughts on Clubhouse.
But before I begin, if you've been enjoying this show and you want an easy way to support it, please leave a review on Apple podcast. It's probably the best way to have others find the show. And I would really appreciate it.
Now, are you ready?
Your grandparents are from North Korea and your parents came to the States as immigrants and served at the department of defense for years, but you didn't exactly have the easiest time growing up and you have used the words to describe yourself as unacceptable disrespect and repulsive.
And these are very unusual words to describe oneself as a child. And I wonder if you could show why that was so.
John Kim: I grew up in the US in a little town called Wayland, Massachusetts.
It's 30 minutes outside of Boston. And it was a town with very few Asians. So I was very much a minority. Everybody in the town was either Irish or Italian and all of their parents knew each other and they were part of this very tight knit community. They were all Catholic as well as most Irish and most Italian folks are.
And they went to one of two Catholic churches in the town.
And I being Korean American, we went to a Korean church that was 30 minutes outside of the town. So we were very much outside of the community that meant that I wasn't invited to the parties. I didn't know what clothes were cool to wear.
When everyone was wearing jams, my mom was sewing my clothes. I just was very much an outsider and very much not accepted into the community and respected and affirmed and all that. So I wanted that really badly. I just wanted to be. Part of the gang and I really wasn't. And so by the time I was 10 I started to have suicidal thoughts.
I just thinking like, Hey, you know, if I just went away and killed myself and disappeared, then they would be sorry that they were treating me that way. And they got bullied verbally, emotionally, and physically.
So yeah, that was kind of the environment that I grew up in until I was basically a teenager.
Ling Yah: And how did you transition from all that to a life of, I suppose you could say quote, unquote crime because you were like shoplifting and dealing with drugs. there was, once you shoplifted CDs from Harvard Coop Bookstore, and then you later sent a cheque to say, you're sorry for that.
John Kim: I mean, I think like most places, kids go through rebellion. But the funny thing about the States is when you go through rebellion for not everyone, but pretty much everyone like the broad swath of your peers, the more you rebel, the more accepted you are, the more cool you are.
And so I started to rebel, like, I mean, like everybody else did, but I just realized that, hey, all of a sudden, everybody started to accept me more and respect me more. And they went from saying things like, oh you know, John Kim, he's half woman half man, like he's such a girl that sort of thing to wow, that guy's got balls, man.
He's willing to do stuff I'm not willing to do. And I thought, wow, this is really easy. This is, I just kind of doubled down on that strategy, head over heels into rebellion. And I was a very, very good kid. I mean, up until that point, I was super submissive and obedient and really like an ideal child in many ways, I think.
But yeah, I went from that to stealing CDs, cars. I started doing a lot of partying, drinking for cigarettes, and then a lot of drugs. Started dealing drugs. Actually bought eventually my first car with drug money. And then eventually my first house with drug money.
So it wasn't just kinda selling to friends. It was a pretty decent sized operation, I guess. And yeah, what was really deep into this kind of rebellion. And for me, that was the reason for all that again, was just to gain that affirmation and respect of people not just the money, but I guess when you walk into a party that age let's say, Let's go get some beers and find a place to hang out.
So if you're the guy who makes the fake IDs, which I did and then, is willing to drive without a license and pick up your friends, which I did. And you can go buy the alcohol, which I did and find the drugs, which I did. Then you became the life of the party, right. Everybody wanted to hang out with you.
So all of a sudden it was just this totally reverse dynamic. And I guess I found in a way, what I had been searching for. Or I thought I found what I'd been searching for my entire life.
Ling Yah: Did you feel that you found the information that was exactly what you're looking for?
John Kim: Well, yeah I did , but I gotta say it was a lot of ups and downs.
So I always felt it was great to be liked. But then I kind of started to realize that people didn't really like me. They didn't like me for who I was. They liked me for what I could do for them. And I actually had multiple sort of episodes where I kind of lost faith in people in many ways.
It sort of culminated in my senior year in college. I had applied early decision to UPenn and early decision means if you get in and then you have to go you can't go somewhere else.
So I got in, it was this program was an engineering and business program, which I really wanted to get into. It was called Jerome Fisher. And I got in and I was like, I need to go there anyway. And it's my ideal program, so I wasn't gonna apply anywhere else. But then I had a really, really bad case of senioritis.
So, and from getting A's and B's to like D's and F's.
I got a mail from Dean Stetson Willis. Stetson, I still remember his name, the Dean of admissions at Penn. Saying we just got a copy of your final transcript. Your admission has now been revoked. And sorry, you can't come here anymore.
And I was just devastated because obviously, any family, but especially Asian family and your whole life is geared towards going to college and. Your life is over.
If you can't go to college and you would have to do a gap year, and then of course, all the schools, the next year would ask you why and tell them, and then get your transcript you know, so my life was over effectively.
They did write in the letter if you want, you can try and explain to us why you did so poorly. Pending that we might let you back in. So I wrote them a letter and what I wrote them was that I had lost faith in humanity over the course of my senior year. And I kind of told the narrative and it was all true, but I, sort of slightly exaggerated and made it sort of all culminated my senior year, I guess you could say.
But basically I said only person I felt who could understand me was this Russian composer named Shostakovitch and Justa Covich is a guy. He had written an opera called lady Macbeth of Minsk which was kind of like denigrating towards the Stalinist regime and Stalin killed a bunch of his family. A bunch of his other family members died.
He said the next piece that you write it has to be glorifying the iron curtain. And if you don't, then I'm going to kill you basically is kind of what he faced. So he wrote this fifth symphony, which we played in my orchestra at the New England conservatory, my senior year.
And on the surface, there's this like glorious, very triumphant, victorious themes throughout it. But then if you listen deeply, there's just a very, very, very deep and dark depressed melancholy. And that's what I felt like my life was because all of a sudden I was this popular kid. All of a sudden everyone had been up to hang out with me.
I had everything that I could ever hope for. But really deep down, I realized like, hey, these people actually don't really care about me. they just want to be able to hang out with somebody who can make them fake IDs to get drinks and drugs and pick them up with a car and yada, yada.
And so I developed a bit of a, a defense mechanism, I guess you could say against people and actually my dad has a similar mechanism for slightly different reasons, but I'm kind of like had a lot of acquaintances but very, very few kind of true deep friends for most of my life, I would say, actually.
So did I achieve what I wanted in a sense? Yes, I was the life of the party. People wanted to hang out with me. People respected me, affirmed me, all that stuff, but I realized that that's a really double-edged sword.
I wrote the letter. They got the letter my mother had called Dean Stetson and said, Hey, we just wanted you to know that we read the letter as well.
And we support John and everything in there is true and so on. And he said, Oh yeah, don't worry about it. We read his letter and we're very convinced he's going to be just fine here. So they let me back in probably.
So I went there and it was more of the same, but the thing is I didn't have to deal with the baggage of the past.
I think when I got there. And I was a pretty likable guy, I guess. And again, for the cohort of people who liked to party and things like that, I was the life of the party in some senses.
And another manifestation, I think of all of that was music. Music has been something that's very central in my life.
I got into playing in bands in high school as well. In college, I started a few bands and one of them, I ended up playing professionally with for some time and we toured around the U S and at our peak, I think our largest show, we played for an audience of a few thousand people at this venue called the electric factory.
So, I think a lot of my motivation for playing music had to do with that same thread, which was when you have thousands of people or even like tens of people. My first shows were at this little tiny bar on UPN campus called Smokey Joe's.
I think it felt like a hundred people or something. But when that place is packed and they're cheering for you, you feel like, wow, , so accepted, so affirmed, so respected You know, but what I realized is like with each greater shot of affirmation that you get from something like that, there's a lower low that comes afterwards.
I was also a psychology minor, and so I kind of realized what's happening for people. We're searching after things like money or acceptance, relationships or sex or whatever these outside manifestations of things in the world but really what's driving that behavior is a little squirt of dopamine or some neurotransmitter in your brain.
So you get a little bit of it and you're like, it feels good. So they're like, Oh, I want more of that. So then you go after that same behavior and the same behavior. But the thing is we're adaptive mechanisms. So in the sense that in Arnold Schwartzenegger when I was into lifting at one point, I was reading his encyclopedia of bodybuilding and he said something really interesting, which is if you put a five horsepower load on a three horsepower motor, it breaks.
But if you put a five horse power load on a three horsepower person, becomes a five horse power person.
And so we're adaptive makers and that's a beautiful thing because it means we can get stronger. We can learn, we can get smarter. But on the flip side, whatever shot of dopamine that you got the last time, let's say you earned a dollar and you get the score to dopamine.
The next time, if you earn a dollar, it's not going to be the same sort of dopamine. You need to earn a dollar 50 and then $2 and then $5 and so on. I just realized like, actually, what I'm searching after is so meaningless, this thing that I'd wanted my whole life.
And I was kind of starting to get, I was like, this is totally, totally pointless. And so I actually started getting really, really depressed , in the midst of all of that. There was one show in particular where I was looking out at the crowd. And I heard this voice. This voice said come home and I kind of like looked around.
I was like, what the heck is that? And I wasn't sure if anybody else had heard it or anything and they hadn't.
First of all, it's very confused. Cause it's like, what is home for me? I grew up in the Boston area. I moved to Philadelphia for school. By this point I was playing in a band full-time sort of traveling around the country, literally living out of hotel rooms, very, very homeless in a sense.
My parents had moved away from Boston to Korea by that point. So I didn't have family in Boston anymore. And Korea was definitely not my home. Not only that, but the three reasons that I blamed for getting bullied originally were the fact that I was Korean because, that's why I was not part of the community, the fact that I had a different faith.
Like I was a Protestant versus Catholic. I mean, they're pretty similar, but that's another reason why I was different from everybody. And that's why we went to this church that was so far away. And then the third thing was just that my parents, they were who they were and they were immigrants and they didn't know.
And so I wanted nothing to do with Korea. I want nothing to do with my parents. I wanted nothing to do with my faith for a long time. But when I heard this voice, I realized that, huh, it wasn't a physical place. It was a state of mind. And it was actually those three things, which I'd just thrown away for these 10 years when I went into that period of very deep rebellion.
after that, I moved to Korea and I lived with my parents. I reconciled with them. I'd really been very far from them for all those years in between. I started learning a language, , I started getting to know Korean folks started making Korean friends, dating Korean girls. And then I eventually started working there and I started going to church again.
And so I kind of slowly started to find my faith and reconcile with all of those elements of my past.
Ling Yah: You did internships with IDG, which is the largest technology publishing in the world. And that inspired you to start your first company, the Y group.
How did that happen?
John Kim: Yeah, I just threw my resume up online. It was not nearly as common as it is now to throw your resume up online as much more campus recruiting, through your own personal networks or whatever, and it ended up there was a guy named stew needles who.
Found my resume. And IDG says, you mentioned the largest tech publisher in the world. I think still today. At the time they owned 50 plus magazines, a macro PC world CIO magazine. So they do all the dummies books. So like HTML for dummies, wine for dummies, all that, that they own all that stuff.
They had published a number of articles across all of their magazines, talking about the parallel between and the relationship between computer science and other repetitive structural, areas of thought things like architecture or math, recursive loops that go over and over again.
And music is one that's very, very common, same thing. Music, if you think about it, it's all numbers. Frequencies, it's all numbers. Rhythm, it's all numbers. You loop certain parts of the piece over and over. And those are like four loops or wild loops and computer programming.
And so he had just read these series of articles. So he just went online and did this random search of who is in this database that has a music background and who is a freshman or whatever, a sophomore in college and might be from around the area. And it ends up their headquarters is actually the next town over from where I grew up, , it's not a big town.
So then he found my resume.
He paid me and I ended up going in and getting the internship and I reported to him and then directly to the CIO. Eventually I know it was an amazing, amazing experience. To do that. , very, I guess, lucky or, you know,, I think there was something divine maybe in that it's, that's happened in various threads of my career, I think.
But in terms of the actual experience, because they had all these different CEOs of their subsidiaries, they wanted to be able to search a database. Saying, Hey, what's, ad revenue, , in my magazine or maybe across magazines or, let's slice it up by advertiser what sector they're in or geography or all these sorts of things.
And that's just the database query. But until then database queries were actually all taking place either offline or maybe in an intranet. it wasn't really possible through web until like right around that time. This is like 96, 97, I think. And so we were building that and I saw, Oh, this is a really interesting technology to be able to search databases online until then every website was kind of static.
It was like the same thing every time you looked at it. I thought maybe this would be fun to use this, to solve a pain point that I had.
Again, I love music, so I'm always trying to figure out what cool music show is taking place. And if I maybe could search it by city or by genre or by band or by whatever.
And so I started to build this thing at night. I called some friends from school from Pat and then, we started building it. after the internship and we came back to school and we continue to build it. And then we realized like, okay, actually, a lot of the bands and the venues and the, so on that we want to list, they don't have their own website and they're willing to pay for it because they know this is the future.
So they started asking us to make that. So, we started doing this consulting work and I, it was good money. So we're like, we're happy to do that. And then we realized, Oh, we like live music events anyway. And then if we had these relationships, why not just throw some parties? Cause we liked the party anyway.
So we did that. And then I went to our kind of advisor. He's the guy who started the Jerome Fisher MIT program that I went to. His name is bill Hamilton and he's on the board of some very, very big companies and has advised a number of startups as well. And he's, he just basically told me something which is now very obvious.
And I think because the internet, most entrepreneurs should know this, but you gotta focus on one thing. I need to have a beachhead that needs to scale in one specific area first, and then you can kind of layer on different products or different offerings. And so he told me that and I said, Oh, okay, we should probably split this thing up.
So the consulting business was earning the most money. Immediate cash flow. I was like, Oh, I think I'll just take that. And then I let some friends take the other two businesses that the other one the original idea ended up becoming part of city search.
And so I think probably a much better ultimate outcome for those guys.
Another lesson I think I learned out of that was it's really important to have a very long-term perspective instead of thinking with sort of short term blinders on. But yeah, that's how that happened and that's how we ended up starting the company.
Ling Yah: It sounds like you were doing pretty well. So why did you decide to follow after a couple of years and move on?
John Kim: I guess I always kinda knew that there had to be something greater. Like everything I just said about being accepted and so forth.
I mean, I think in the undercurrent of that, I knew that there was something greater. I mean, I grew up in this household where faith was very important. And so even though I kind of succumbed to my worldly desires and so forth, I kind of knew in my head that there's always gotta be something more somehow.
In this particular case, the mission for me was just about getting the music to the people and getting the people to the music. And then when it sort of loses that e-consulting, you can make websites and systems for bands and venues and record labels and so forth.
But if you really want to just do that, it doesn't make sense.
So we ended up doing e-commerce, I'm going to like much bigger companies and money was much better. Margins were much better. We could scale a team on that, but it lost its music focus. And then suddenly I just didn't feel right anymore.
It wasn't about the original mission. So I sold my shares back to the partners and then I moved on from there. And you gotta remember, we did take some time off school, but this was all kind of like during school for the most part.
Ling Yah: So you ended up going to Merck, then you went to The Alley and you were there for three years. So how do you begin to build that rock band?
John Kim: So I actually started the band before graduating. And is there an organic, I mean, I, don't wanna say I started the band. It was a bunch of us started it together.
We had to do a few different turns of folks. But we started doing some shows before graduating. Upon graduating, I wasn't ready to do it full-time so I was an enterprise IT at Merck, a big pharmaceutical company. That was a great experience too.
We were gigging on nights and weekends, with a full-time job and it just really wasn't sustainable.
And so as we were seeing more and more traction with the band, we said, let's take this full-time, let's go on tour, put out some records and so forth. And so we started the Ally kept at it for awhile. And it was fun. It was a great experience.
I think all of my bandmates are still playing music professionally, quite successfully. I would say , one is he's got a band. I think they were signed to Sony. Not that long ago, but he also does commercial music. That's been on the super bowl and all these things, because he's got a business doing that.
Another one of the bandmates he started a band called yeasayer they went on tour with Radiohead and Beck and a bunch of people so played on the Tonight show. And then there's another, our drummer Mike is in a couple bands, actually. I think he plays with disco, biscuits and Lotus they're playing on stadiums around the U S and stuff.
So yeah. They've all kept with music. I'm very proud of all of this and yeah, it feels like several lifetimes ago, but it was a great experience.
Ling Yah: I imagine one of your highlights where it's getting the platinum record for contributing to Brandy's album. How was that? What was the experience like?
John Kim: It was great. So what happened was we were recording the ally, our band. We were recording our album. at this place called The Studio. It's a very original name, but it was kind of a JV between this guy named Larry gold, who is actually a cellist originally , Jewish guy, long ponytail trained classically, but he was just really in love with soul music.
So like he was doing string arrangements and producing and stuff for Motown from like the sixties all the way through. It was a JV between him and the roots. We were there recording and they have on their wall, just like blind with platinum records.
And so I was in a corner warming up before my session. And this African-American gentlemen, bigger guy comes over and he's kind of like checking me out. And I see him out of the corner of my eye. And apparently before that, he had gone to my bass player and drum my band names basically.
And he said, Oh, who is that playing the violin? And they're like, Oh yeah, that's John Yohan Kimbo. He just came fresh off the boat from Korea. He doesn't speak any English. And he was like, no way. That's crazy. So he walked over and he's just kinda like checking me out. And I saw them out of the corner of my eye and I turned out, I was like, Hey, Hey man, what's going on?
I'm Kimbo. And I gave him like a big high five and he jumped, I've never seen such a big man jump. He jumps so far back. And he's like, Oh yeah, yeah. My name is Rodney. And he's said you wanna play on a record sometime? I was like, yeah, I'll play on a record. Am I going to get a credit?
And he's like, yeah, you get a credit. Don't worry. And then he walked away and one of the guys from the studio came up and he's like, Hey, do you know who that is? And I said, no, he's like Rodney? Yeah that's Rodney Jerkins. He's like the top producer in the world right now. He's knocking himself out of number one, like every single number one, single.
he just finished with Michael Jackson, Aliyah spice, girls, Brittany Spears, , like anybody J-Lo, will Smith. You can imagine he's been producing them. so he ended up pulling me into the Brandy record.
It was great, man.
Some people you just know when they're so on top of their craft, I mean, it was literally like I walked into the session and. It was like, they were like musical notes, just oozing out of every pore of this man's body. I mean, it was crazy. you just be like, yeah, please play this. And then he just says something. He'd sing like a little lick and then I play it back.
And being classically trained, there's certain ways that scales are, and he would sing it. And I would think that he sang it. in error in a way, but then he'd be like, no, no, no, that's not what I meant. He meant like this. And he intentionally, is just a little bit outside the box. Not so much that it sounds crazy and distorted, but enough so it's fresh. So everything new is like a new sound. And that's why he's just such an amazing producer.
So. that was uh, that experience. And I got to say there were a couple, misses in a way too. So just before that what had happened was Jay Z was recording his unplugged album. I'm a huge fan of Jay's. I mean, I love Brandy, don't get me wrong, but like Jay Z for me is just like, I mean, there's no comparison.
So he was recording in New York, his unplugged album and the Rootz were doing the backup and Larry gold was doing the string. So he's putting a quartet together. He had this raspy voice. I'd be like, Hey, Hey Larry, can you pull me into the record? I'd love to get on that record.
And he's like, yeah, yeah, Kimball, I'll get you on that record. No problem. I was like, yeah. Yeah. Awesome. Awesome. And then, I didn't hear from the guy. What happened was apparently he was in New York when I pinged him in. He came back and said, Oh, I'm so sorry, Kimball.
I forgot. And I was like, Oh my God, Larry, this is like my life's dream. And it would have killed us all to just be able to do this.
I mean, I would've loved to play on that record, that would but we gotta be thankful for what happened.
I guess if I can just share one more music story from around that era.
So this is all like, kind of when we were at school at Penn and the other guy at Penn who had a platinum record was this guy named John Stevens. And John Stevens, he played the piano and he sang in an acapella group and he gigged around like solo here and there. And I sang in acapella group too. And I'd see him around and we did some shows together and things I'd see him and kinda just joke around with like, yeah, you ain't got no talent.
Come on, man. And, and all this stuff. I mean, he's very, very talented, but I think he played on the miseducation of Lauryn Hill, a little bit of piano Lauren House from Fuji's , someone I admire a lot love for music. So that went platinum, won a Grammy.
And then the next year I got to do this thing with Brandy that went platinum and won a Grammy. So we're the two guys on campus with platinum records. And he graduated a year before me. He went to New York. And then he was a consultant at BCG, but he still played music, kind of like me. He had his job, but he played music on nights and weekends and like dingy little bars in New York.
And at one of these dingy little bars, his roommate from Penn, who is Kanye West's cousin, brought Kanye to his show. And apparently Kanye was like, Hey man, what are you doing like consulting? You should be playing music. You're really good. And he's like, yeah, well, nobody wants to sign me, sign me.
He's like, all right, I'll sign you. So he signed him and he brought him on tour with himself and usher. And he changed his last name to legend. So this is John legend. We're talking about. And I don't know if you want like five Grammys that year and became John legend.
So moral of the story is if I'd change my last name to legend, I would have been John legend because we're the two guys I think were the two Johns on campus and platinum records.
No, I mean like really, really obviously like really, really, really talented dude. And just yeah, so thankful to have had any brushing with him , in a past life, but yeah, music's music.
It's just so divine, right? It's an incredible way to get to know people and to connect with something that's just so much greater than yourself.
Ling Yah: It's just so interesting to me that these opportunities come almost by luck is that you just have to be at the right place with the right people. And these all come together.
I mean, I grew up with classical and then I played like he was sung at church and I went to London and I joined an African Caribbean church. These musicians had never had a single proper lesson before. So the chords they played are so out of this world.
So it was a bit of an adjustment for me to figure out, to play with them so that you have that moment of adjustment. And if you're going where you were?
John Kim: Yeah, I guess it was incremental in a sense, I started with violin when I was seven and then at nine I picked up the saxophone, but it's like very simple saxophone you do in school. But you kind of get exposed a little bit to like jazz music and funk and these sorts of things. But really, I mean, it was very surface level, really.
When I was, I think in maybe eighth or ninth grade , 14 ish I got really into Dave Matthews band and Dave Matthews band. They had this electric violinist named Boyd Tinsley, who was incredible as a violinist. But just like really stylish , he's also, African-American like very, Fiddler type of guy, like he definitely didn't use classical technique.
Let's just put it that way. But had so much soul.
I ended up later actually getting sponsored by the same violin company that sponsors him. That's called data.
It was just such an honor for me, he got a much better deal. He got lots of free stuff and, , I think I got a little discount or something, but that was my first full foray into like, Hey, wow, you can use the violin. And it was kind of bluegrass influenced rock and roll music basically. So you could kind of use the violin in a more fiddle esque type of way.
And then there was this fiddle camp, actually, there's a guy named Mark O'Connor, who was actually also sponsored by the same violin company.
I think by the time he was nine, He grew up in bluegrass, like country music sort of scene. By the time he was nine or 10, he had won every single competition in that, whole thing, like in the world or something. And so then he kind of started going and conquering other genres one by one.
So he did a classical album with yo-yo ma, he did a jazz album with Wynton Marsalis and it was just amazing.
So he's at this fiddle camp in Nashville, like it's a little bit outside Nashville. And so he's got all sorts of people coming from all around the world and, all the best teachers, they're like the best jazz violinists you could think of, the best classical violinists you could think of.
And bluegrass like Irish Celtic and Nova Scotian, whatever. And so you just go there and just jamming and learning all these different types of music. And they're like these improvisational, whatever circles, like just hoedowns, basically that take place into the night.
So I guess it was incremental. Like I learned a little bit more, a little bit more, a little more. At school, there was a jazz improvisation class where they were very shocked. Guthrie ramsey is the professor's name. He had never seen a violinist come for his jazz class.
But yeah, I guess each time. It was a little more exposure for me. And that's what I love. I loved my orchestra conductor in high school at a new England conservatory that sort of the youth program, his name was Benjamin Zander. An incredibly inspirational guy.
One of the really big influences I think in my life and my thinking.
But he does this exercise one time. He basically said like, we're about to go to a retreat. So we're about to get on a bus and then go across the Boston opera in a boat, and then eventually go to this Island and be there for three days doing stuff.
And so he said, I want each of you and this trip going over there to do something that you wouldn't normally do. And from there we're going to share about it.
So we all take the trip and then we go there and we sit down in our positions in the orchestra and he says, okay, so everyone shares.
So then somebody gets up and says, Oh yeah, I punched somebody. I'm really not violent, but I actually punched somebody. And I said, I did a Cartwheel. Like I'm really usually very safe and like always buckling my seatbelt, but I actually did a Cartwheel on the bus while it was moving. And all these people are sharing stuff that they've never done before, but they did on this trip and then he said, I just wanted to use this exercise to illustrate that we as people.
We have a place where we stop. We have a boundary.
That things inside there are things that we do and things outside, there are things that we don't do. And the process for us to become more ourselves is to expand that boundary out a little bit more. And that's what growth is really ultimately.
And then he had us actually get up out of our seats and then move somewhere else. So the whole orchestra was mixed up in totally different places. And then we played the same piece that we've been playing for months and months and months, but all of a sudden, like, the flute was actually, on the left now and the cellos had always been on the left, but it's actually in front of you now.
You experience the same piece, but in a totally different way. And it becomes so much more alive and so much more real and experience from a different perspective. But then when we got back together, we could understand it in a different way and bring that depth to it that we couldn't before having just experienced in a very unidimensional way before that.
So I think that this process of expanding my boundary and also helping other people to expand that boundary is something that, yeah, is very kind of core to what I believe is I'm about, and I think, growth is all about.
Ling Yah: Why do you decide to leave the Alley since there was this something that you clearly love so much?
John Kim: Yeah, I did. I loved it. But then that was sort of the peak of the rebellion years, in a sense.
That was the peak of the dealing drugs, doing drugs. I mean, there were groupies, you know, I was traveling around, there were lots of highs and like engineered highs and then lots of crashes afterwards. And then, yeah, so there was that moment where I heard, I think now I process it as God's voice and come home.
And I realized like, yeah, this chasing the next score to dopamine is not really what my life is about. That's why I kind of decided to head back to my roots. And so that's why I left the band.
Ling Yah: What's interesting for me. So you had that moment, when you went to find yourself, I imagine most people would decide to go straight to Goldman Sachs.
Really just working nonstop. I think you were going out, drinking into 3m and backing off at 7:00 AM. I mean, there was an insane pace. So how did you end up in Goldman Sachs?
John Kim: Actually before Goldman, I went to a hedge fund in Korea and this is again like the zigzags.
So when we were on tour in Chicago, we stayed with my friend and lighting director for the band's uncle. And I got along well with him. I had actually, never forget I knocked on his door. When we arrived at his house, we're still close friends. And I think he's got five kids.
And so the youngest one opened the door and she kind of looked up at me.
I used to dress very eccentrically though. I had a pink, fuzzy hat, furry jacket, I think it had feathers sticking out of it or something leather. Red bell bottoms and blue suede shoes. And so she just took one look at me and she's like, what the heck is this animal?
She just found me very curious anyway, so, so we would go in and then we went up to our room upstairs and that happened to be where their toys are, so they knocked on their door. And so, yeah, come in, come in. And they came in and they started playing with their dolls. So I went over to them and I took a Barbie doll and I took another Barbie doll and I started playing with them.
And then they ran downstairs and they said, mommy, daddy Kimbo plays with dolls. And I said, they said, no, come on, stop bothering him. He must be so tired. Let him rest. And they said, no, no, he really likes it. So I would send it Christmas cards for many years that had like a stick figure with a pink hat and Kimbo plays with dolls as the tagline.
Anyway somehow I just got along with them. And I decided to go home and get to Korea So the uncle was telling his neighbor about me and, and I guess the neighbor said he was the president of this hedge fund that had an office in Korea and he said, Oh, he sounds interesting.
Tell him to give me a buzz if he wants to work.
And I had thought that I would want to go and go to school, actually, both my parents were professors. I think they would deny it now, but I think they've at least originally harbored a lot of hope that I would eventually become an academic of some sort , or at least get a PhD.
I think their standards went down over the years or at least get a master's or at least get an MBA. They totally given up. But yeah, I think said, it's a very long shot, but I'm going to shoot for an honorary doctorate. So it's not completely over at this point.
So yeah, I guess. There was a stop in between going to the fund in Korea. And so I was trading derivatives there very randomly. And so I did that for four years and then this position opened up at Goldman. And then I moved there and it was trading something actually very different commodities.
And I did that for five years. Yeah, and it's what brought me to Singapore. I like to say, I came to Singapore for work. I married a Singaporean, so I stayed for love. We have three kids and now I'm stuck, but it's okay. There are worse places in the world to be stuck.
Ling Yah: It must have been very interesting learning to operate in Asia because it's quite relationship-driven compared to the West. How was it like transitioning to that kind of environment?
John Kim: Yeah, I think I was very blessed. God is good. He didn't throw me in right away. My first role was at this fund in Korea, but they say Confucianism was invented in China, but it's still strongest today in Korea.
Because I mean, man, it's very hierarchical top-down and there's some benefits to that. Don't get me wrong. But if you're coming from Western perspective, it's very difficult to get involved, to go work for Samsung. If you went to grew up in the U S so this fund, it was actually Chicago based.
And it was a small office. There were like five of us, and I was the first person of Korean blood in the office. I worked with a bunch of Caucasian guys. And our broker is Korean. I became the default Korean guy, my Korean wasn't great, but I could speak some Korean.
So then they, I became the guy to talk with the brokers and stuff like that. And so it was good. It was a good ease into sort of culture experience a little bit, but not be totally. Inundated with it, I suppose. , Goldman in Singapore, so Singapore, or they say Asia light, it's much easier as much more Western in many senses than Korea.
It was fine. It was quite doable and same thing with mercury. And then we set up our own firm after that, so it took some getting used to, but I think all in all, it was a relatively light transition compared to what it could have been.
Ling Yah: What sparked your decision to start your own venture capital?
John Kim: It was just another one of these seemingly random things because, okay. What happened was in my last three roles at this fund in Korea, at Goldman and at the Swiss firm called Mercuria. I was predominantly trading, so that means listed stuff mostly. But I got pulled into private deals, private equity, basically.
And I found that quite stimulating. It's a very, just different part of the universe, the investment universe and , rather than sitting there and sort of like playing a video game on a screen, which is what trading is, and that's very fun. Don't get me wrong, but I like people as well. And so PE is much more relational.
Like if it go the sourcing of the deal, it means meeting a lot of people. And actually as you get earlier stage more towards venture, that's even more about people. So I just found that quite interesting. And I got pulled into a few deals saw a little bit of that side of the world.
And there was at the end of my time in mercurial one transaction I was working on. We were selling 50% of a subsidiary that had some oil terminals in Europe. Eventually we sold it to a Chinese SOE, but one of the bidders on the project was a Korean conglomerate.
So my chairman and CEO from Mercuria, who were European guys, they said, Hey you're Korean, can you come and just meet the chairman of this conglomerate?
Because you're Korean, he's Korean and just do whatever you Koreans do when you conduct business, which makes me drink a lot of alcohol and be really silly. And so we did that. I went over, it was actually in Istanbul. There was a world economic forum event there.
It was the worst meeting ever. We were late, he was so upset. But then afterwards we invited him to my chairman's boat to have dinner and a couple of glasses of wine.
Like a lot of people, but especially a lot of Korean men, I think after a couple of drinks, he became very friendly from being very upset before, and then it ended up, he knew my dad. Not very well they're acquaintances.
They went to the same grad school and kind of same alumni association. And this guy actually the chairman used to teach for a year at the same university as my dad.
So next thing you know, he's like putting his arm around and he say, hey, you know, let's look at some other stuff that we can work on together.
And I said, Oh, well, I know that you invest in funds. I've always thought about starting a fund. Like, what are you looking for? And he said, I was involved in a hedge fund that blew up. I can't do that anymore. But if you have any ideas in private equity, like private space, I can take a look at that.
And he has some tech interests, telco and things. And so, so, okay. Interesting. Well let me come back to.
I started working with his team and I realized like, hey, my entrepreneurial tech sort of roots. And my investment experience, maybe there's a way that I can marry these two things together.
So I went out and I started to just talk to some mentors of mine who were in the space broadly. And one of them I had met through Penn actually, and he had been in the business for a long time. I went to him more as like, Hey, can you be an advisor? Just give me some advice.
And maybe there's something I can do for you at some point, but he's 11 years, my senior from Penn. And anyways, we met a few times in the course of talking through the ideas, he kind of said, Hey, I've been thinking about similar things.
Maybe we can work together on this. And then he actually ended up suggesting that we partner up. And so that's how the firms started. We kind of ate our own dog food, a lot of entrepreneurs, the best practice these days is to start with an MVP, minimum viable product, do something very, very small.
Just test it out with a very small number of people instead of like trying to build something for a year. So we did that.
We just did some angel investing, something we could do without setting up a whole fund and affirm and hiring people and all that stuff. So we did some angel investing just to test our test, our hypothesis, which was really around cross border at the time and globalization.
And we were very surprised that we were getting into really interesting companies. So then we set up a small fund and we started doing some SPVs and we've scaled through the years. And now it's actually we realized that we're riding on a lot of the sectors that we're investing, riding on the tailwinds of globalization, but they're also helping solve some biggest problems caused by globalization. So we double-clicked on climate change is one of those.
Our thesis currently is about sustainability. So very much focused on that.
Ling Yah: Unlike a lot of VCs, yours are very faith-driven.
And the reason that you go into MSA was also because God gave you a picture.
John Kim: Yeah. So that was more like if I'm remembering what you're referring to. I don't get pictures a lot, first of all right. So the stories that I'm telling here, I heard God's voice and it sounded audible and I looked around and was like, that doesn't happen a lot, right. Okay. I'm not a very visual person.
It's starting to happen a little bit more recently actually, that I'm getting sort of these pictures. But , especially at the time it was not frequent at all. So anyways, I'm sitting here, we had started the company, and I just really wanted it to be successful. I wanted so badly for it do well.
And I knew going into this thing that it was going to be hard because entrepreneurship is hard. I'd tried that before. , I was just at a phase of my career. Like I had, young kids, newly married, family to look after.
And so I just, really, really wanted it to do well. So I was praying And I kind of asked God like, Hey God, look, I'll do anything, man. Like, you want me to go anywhere, meet anyone, do anything like I will do it just please, please, please, can you bless my business? Like, I would just love for you to bless this business, and it's about you.
Like, I want to make money for the business to be successful, but that's not for me to go be a baller and stuff like that. I just wanna do the right thing.
And he gave me this picture. I mean, first he was kind of like Pat on the back, okay, fine.
He gave me a picture of my son. Kyan is his name, the first one. And he said, you know, imagine Kyan is older and he wants to start a company.
And by the way, he has started now a company. So it's become kind of like, kind of true. Yeah.
Imagine he comes to you and says, Apa, I started this company. I want you to bless the company. I want you to invest in the company. I want you to help me strategize about the company.
I want you to open up the Rolodex for all your friends to become customers, investors, whatever of the company. I just want you to do everything. Just bless the company so it can do well and be successful. Can you do that for me?
And God was kind of like, what'd you want that for your son? Of course, of course I want that I've wanted to be successful without a doubt.
Of course. And then he kind of like gave me two scenarios and he says, okay. So imagine Kyan comes to you and it says like I want to be successful. Apa, open up your Rolodex. Give me all the money because yo, I'm going to buy a company Ferrari. And I'm going to go out and I'm going to be the man, and we're going to get private jets and popping bottles of Don Perignon.
And all these girls are going to be all over me and all this stuff, and that's going to be amazing. We're going to love it. It's going to be awesome.
Or imagine he comes to you and he says, I want you to bless my company. And I know that I don't know what I'm doing. And I know, you know what you're doing a lot more than I do.
So I'm going to come back to you every single day. I actually want to build a company together with you. I mean, if you're not too busy, I'd love to just have you involved in the company and we'll come back and we're going to do it together. I'm going to spend a lot of time together doing this. I'm gonna get your advice.
I know you're good at this. So I have absolute faith. That's going to be accessible. So when it's successful, I want to use the resources and the success that we get to make a positive impact on the world. And do good things. Like maybe we donate a building to some university and put the family name on it or whatever.
Like let's get back with this.
And so God kind of asked me, like, in which of those scenarios would you want your son to be you successful? And I said kind of both he's like, yeah, but in the first scenario you would just be a little bit cautious about blessing him.
Because in a way, if you bless him, it could kill him.
If he has the right heart. It can actually help, but if he has the wrong heart and the wrong values in the wrong priorities, then blessing him can actually hurt him. On the flip side, if he's like the second version of Kyan and he comes in, he asks you all these things like wouldn't you do everything in your possibility, in your power to make sure that he's got all the resources to be successful.
And if he believes in you, and if you're good at this, and if you're influential in whatever, like he will be successful.
And how much more so if you think about your father in heaven like, I want this company to be successful even more than you want it to be successful.
It is something that is in my heart as the deepest desire of my heart. More than even you want it. But if you come to me with this attitude of like, yeah, I know what I'm doing. Just give me the money and I'm going to bounce. Then I still want you to be successful, but I'm just going to be worried about you because it can kill you literally.
But if you come back to me with that, humble heart and just saying like, Hey, I don't know what I'm doing, but God, I want to hang out with you. And I want you to do this together because you are all powerful. You're on a mission. You're omnipresent. Like every business belongs to you.
Like you can snap a finger and have 10 unicorns appear out of nowhere. And if you have that kind of faith and that kind of attitude and that kind of heart to spend time with me to give back to the kingdom, to do things for the name of the father, all these things, then of course, I'm going to bless you more than you can even begin to imagine.
I know now what I need to do. It's very clear the blueprint ahead of me, but I'm a person, so people sometimes will have it's diehard.
So like I said, that 10 year old kid sometimes comes out and I just gotta cut it and I'm getting better at it, but I gotta say it's just so categorical there's this whole area of Christianity. Called prosperity gospel where people say like, if you give money to the church, like 1-800-BLESSINGS, , like give the pastor tons of money, and then God will bless you.
He's going to give you vacations. And he's going to give you houses. like, that's fundamentally flawed theology.
God is not a vending machine, but I will say that God wants to bless you.
I mean, what loving father doesn't want to bless their kids, but it's not a transaction.
It's just more about getting your heart into the right place where you don't care about. So at this point, I actually don't care if he blesses me really, honestly, I'm just like, I just want to hang out with you.
When I hang out with God every day, it's very easy to get into the motions of like, I'll get you to read my Bible for however many minutes and so on and so forth.
But I realized God's everywhere, right? So we're always in his presence, but there are moments where you experienced like kind of manifest presence where it's like, he's like actually real and he touches your heart.
There are different things that happen to different people.
But for me, the first thing that happens when I really feel God is in the room and I feel like I just know so deeply that I'm loved and he'll go to any extent to come after me. And just to, bless me and to hold me in his arms, I cry. That's the first thing that happens to me.
And it happened a couple of times at retreats, these moments, these very special moments when you go away to church or whatever, but then I started realizing, Hey, can happen normally too, if you just really press it. I mean, , it's very obvious in scriptures is like, come near to me and I'll come near to you.
And so I started optimizing instead of checking the box and say, Hey, I read my Bible for many, many minutes. I started checking, like, did I cry today? And it's not about crying because you can go take acting classes and learn how to cry obviously. But it's more like, did I really meet God today to the point where I felt it in the bottom of my soul, that he loves me.
And I'll tell you when I get that feeling, I've done every single type of drug that you can imagine. I've done cocaine. I've been on heroin, lots of weed, of course, OPM. , DMT mushrooms, like acid, LSD, everything you can imagine. I'll tell you when you feel the presence of God, it is a thousand times better than any of those things combined, right? So that's kind of what I'm after every day.
And when you get that, you don't care about the deal getting done. You actually don't really care about the business, but that's when God knows your heart is in the right place. And he can bless your business all the more. Cause it's not about the business.
It's about God. So yeah, he's been teaching me that and it's very, very obvious to me. If I lose focus and I start to focus on the deal, instead of hanging out with God and being close to him, then the deal falls apart.
The minute I switched back, like it comes back together, like literally gets raised from the dead sort of thing. Like it's happened so many times. it's so crazy.
So now I know in my head and I'm getting there. Like I'm much closer than I was, you know, it's always a journey, I guess, but it's just so obvious what's important.
Ling Yah: At the very start at least, was the fact that you were so onto your faith, something that caused some tension because Ramanan on your partner is a very firm atheist. So he's probably looking at you thinking what on earth is John going on about ?
John Kim: Yeah. So after I heard God's voice and whatever, and I went to Korea. I started going to church again, but it was a very slow gradual journey of coming back into a relationship with him.
There's been a huge shift for me over the last seven years. Partly starting the company and then partly, also going to this new church it's called Solomon's porch, but the one thing that this church does is they fast for the first 21 days of every year.
You're supposed to pray and listen to God and see what he tells you to fast from. And in general, you should fast from something that's hard to give up because when you give up something that's hard to give up, you're basically saying, God, you're more important than this thing that I really value.
That's how important you are.
And with that space that you create by giving up that thing, you can feel the presence of God, the hunger to have more of God's presence. So our church started in Hong Kong, I think it's like, 15, 20 years ago now when they first started fasting, people thought they were crazy.
Like, what? This is so unhealthy. And also, recently there's been all this research coming out about how fast things are healthy for you.
So anyways, the first fast I was sitting there and trying to figure out what I should fast from. It kind of like the default quote, unquote, at the churches.
Most people don't eat for 21 days, but then they'll do like some sort of liquid diet that have some soups or some juices, that sort of thing. Like pregnant women might fast from social media. The hardest core thing that I heard about was one of our church members in Hong Kong actually fasted for 40 days, no food, no juice, no soup.
Just water. For 40 days, that's the craziest thing I've ever heard in my life.
So anyways, I'm sitting here and I'm trying to figure out what to fast from, and I don't really value food to be honest, I think it comes from again that desire to be accepted and all that stuff. Like it drove me to be very goal oriented and that leads to this mindset of deferring pleasure to get more pleasure later. And so I have much more of an investment for a later mindset rather than having pleasure now sort of mindset.
And so for me, food is kind of a source of calories. My college roommates used to laugh at me because they would find remnants of like a hamburger on the toilet seat because I've been sitting there taking a poo and eating at the same time, cause it was just a waste of time to go sit down and eat.
I used to wrestle as well in high school. And so we would not eat and, , exercise very, very intensely to drop weight to make our weight class. So I thought to myself, okay, I should probably not eat, but I don't know if I'm going to feel that in the same way as other people.
And so what else can I fast from what would be the most difficult thing for me to fast from? I sat there, I prayed about it. I thought about it and I went on a walk in our neighborhood and I remember sort of like looking up and it kind of just dawned on me.
Actually, the hardest thing for me to give up is work.
And again, it's tied into that fact that I got bullied and I want to prove myself and be accepted and affirmed, and that's how it manifests these days. So. I ran back in the house and I ran upstairs and burst in the room and I said, Elaine lane, this is my wife. I know what I need to fast from.
I need to fast from work. And she just looks at me with this quizzical look, she loves food, by the way, she's much more of a pleasure sort of oriented person. She looks at me, she's like that's not a fast, that's called a vacation. So I ended up doing this. I couldn't fast the whole day, but I ended up taking the whole morning off and into the afternoon and I'd go to Mick Richie reservoir year in Singapore.
And I just hang out with God. And I felt like I needed to tell Ramanan, my business partner, this and so we had this thing where we had done a lot of small deals together. And then we had this thing that was 18 times larger than. Our largest deal that fell apart around like November ish, December we're like reeling from that.
And we started to get going on this other deal, which is also 18 times as big as that as anything we'd ever done, same size, if anything, like even more coveted, it's sorta like co-investors that were involved in the scale of the entrepreneur and so forth.
And so here, we're in this like very, very critical moment in our firm's development. And then I just told my partners like, Hey, I'm going to stop working for half the day. And he's like, what? and I'm going to stop eating. He said, what are you talking about?
This makes absolutely no sense. You're not gonna have any energy. So like the time that you are working here to be completely unproductive, and you're not going to be working for much time, like, , this is so crucial that we had this thing fall apart just now. And then, , how, how are you going to do this in this moment.
And I said, well, look, I acknowledged that you believe something very different from what I believe, but in terms of what I believe. No. If you look at the scriptures in the Old Testament, the Israelites, they didn't fast as convenient. They fasted when they're about to go into battle, right?
Cause that's when it's important to demonstrate that it is really not their own strength, but God's strengths is to God's strength. That brings him the victory. So if anything like this is our battle, man. This is where we're about to go into battle. And this is the most crucial time and we should be bulking up and eating big fat steak dinners to get ourselves ready for battle.
But I think I'm going to fast from work and he's like, wow. And he just couldn't understand it. And we went back and forth and he resisted very fiercely, but eventually he saw I wasn't going to give in. So he kind of just said, okay, fine. , I don't understand it. I don't agree with it, but shoot.
Well, okay. I respect that we have a difference of opinion and you can do that.
Ling Yah: Your company, if it didn't work out this deal, it could fall.
John Kim: The whole thing could have been over. Yeah. We were reeling at that point and yeah, you need to start doing some bigger deals for things to make sense economically.
We've been investing into the business for awhile, so it's an existential threat.
So I go forth and I fast I mean, this is one of those stories, like where for that 21 days I would go and then I would hang out with God. But at the beginning of it, to be honest, I tried to do 15 minutes, maybe 30 minutes, a day of quiet time sort of thing.
Like maybe an hour if I was like really, really free or something, but to sit there for like four or five hours a day was totally mind blowing for me. And I went and so I'd sit there for an hour and kind of be like, okay, and sing some songs and then read the Bible, pray a bit and whatever. And then like at the end of an hour, he kind of like started losing steam and.
No by that hour and a half Mark, I'm starting to sort of my thumbs look around two hours like, Oh man, I'm really bored. What am I supposed to do here? It's kind of like I had this father who I was basically a stranger from who was my dad, but we had never really spent long chunks of time together. it just wasn't natural.
It felt all of a sudden, like really awkward. Like he was almost my stepdad or something. I'd have him for a little bits of time here and there, but that's not really what a father son relationship is all about.
So anyways, It was very awkward at first, but by the end of the 21 days, I talked about the pictures and visions and things, and just started to get much more clear communication and words And just to understand his heart really more than anything else and how much he loves me.
And another thing is, I feel a lot more comfortable talking about my faith now then. Before, because I used to think Christianity was this divisive thing.
Like, Oh, I'm Christian and you're not. But actually you realize when you understand the heart of the father. He talked to a lot of people who aren't Christians or who weren't Israelites or whatever. And I think the heart of God is like, we're all his children.
He loves all of us. Of course he wants a relationship with all of us. So if you don't have a relationship. Then yes, he wants to bring you into that. so that means coming to church. Yeah. Well, that's fantastic.
But I don't think my job is to convert anybody. So I used to think of, if I'm trying to convert somebody, it's awkward, if I talk about Jesus or not or whatever, but for me, I'm just trying to show God's love.
And I think if they see that they're attracted to God's love and it's God's role to show them what they should do. All I need to do is just sacrifices. The show itself, honor. People show them love and then God does the rest.
For a season every day I'd take an Uber or a grab. Every single Uber driver or grab driver that I took, I would pray for them. Muslims, Buddhists, agnostics, atheists, there are only like two out of probably thousands I think that said, no, I don't want you to pray for me.
When you just have that attitude of I just wanna bless you. It's okay. If you don't believe what I believe, but I feel like God, I believe He loves you, it doesn't matter what you believe. And so I just want to bless you with that, and who doesn't want to get blessed.
So we got that deal done.
From this point, Ramadan he'll sit there and every now and then I pull something crazy. Like I need to fast, at one point I was like, Hey, I need to go work one day a week from the church office, or like crazy things.
And I'm not doing that anymore, but at each point he'd resist. And I'd say like, God told me to do it eventually. And he'd be like, yeah, it's okay. Look. Well, it seems to be working. So I guess I'm fine. just go for it. He doesn't really question too much if I say God told me to do it.
Ling Yah: Are there any particular stories that come to mind where God really showed his hand in the work that you're doing?
John Kim: Yeah. I mean so many, I don't even know where to begin, but the deal that fell apart, the first one, we had been working on that for a long time and I become very friendly with the CEO. we're close. It wasn't just about, Hey, what should we do with the company? It was more like, How should you propose to your girlfriend and what is married lifelike and really deeper issues.
And we had signed a term sheet for a set of reasons, the term sheet expired, it took us a little bit longer. Another investor came and snake the deal out from under our legs and actually was kind of two investors. And I was obviously very upset, right?
This is like, transformational thing for us.
I flew to Jakarta immediately.
Ling Yah: This is Tokopedia.
John Kim: William, the CEO he said, I'm really, really sorry, but this thing happened. My hands are kinda tied and yada, yada, I felt like he could have fought a little bit harder for me.
But my wife said some funny things in this sort of like aftermath of just reeling from this whole thing that happened. She said something like you should go to Japan and go to the lead investors house. I mean, this guy is like , it's the guy that everyone would know.
So you go to his house and sit on his doorstep and demand that he give you the deal back when he walks into this house, I was like, that's fricking crazy because he's got security. There's no way I could do that.
And then she said, you should go tell William, like, Maybe God's using this for you to be a good testimony to William and everybody involved. I said oh, that's crazy, man, what are you talking about?
But then I went and I prayed about it and I did feel like God's saying that.
So at the end of this whole episode of several days of back and forth and trying to fight for getting the deal back and things he sent me an email and it said something to the effect of, like, I'm so sorry, blah, blah, blah.
And then at the end of it, he said and I hope that we can be friends again someday. I hope you can forgive me. And we can be friends again someday.
And the verse that I got was to turn the other cheek. And I felt like I had just been slapped in the face. But to be a good testimony is like, when you get slapped in the face, then you should actually turn the other cheek.
So I replied to this email and I said, William, I just want you to know. This is the hardest thing I've ever been through in my life, because yes, there was that moment when I actually told William about this, when I went and slept on couches, my friend's couch and ate pasta twice a day. Cause I couldn't even afford three square meals, had debts on my car, governed my apartment, but back then I didn't have a wife and kids and I have a little bit more buffer now, but I have a wife and kids and I actually feel way more pressure now than I did back then.
So it's the hardest thing I've ever been through. But I want you to know also that I've been through some really hard times and I gotten through them because of my faith. And I think my faith is going to carry me through this one too. And I also want to let that in my faith, it's really important that we care for people, not for what they can do for you, when you care for someone that you care for them for their own sake.
So I want you to know that I do care for you for your own sake. And even if you can't do anything for me or this happened, I want you to know that I want the best for you. I'm here to support you. You are my friend and just let me know whatever I can do to help you in your journey. I'm there for you.
And he was blown away by that.
We weren't the only ones who were involved in this consortium that got blown away. It says sort of like pushed aside. Some of them were actually very, very big, influential investors.
Some of them were saying things like, do you know who I am? Like, you're never going to do business in Indonesia. Again, like these families that I know, and I know the president, blah, blah, blah, all this other stuff.
So there's like the juxtaposition of the two reactions was quite interesting for William. Subsequently we actually stayed very close through that and about nine months later we explored various other ways that I could be engaged with the company, joining the company maybe advisor, whatever, all these things.
But I mean, it's nine months later they were thinking about raising some more money. So he came to me first. I ended up bringing a couple of families into the deal. So then the deal ended up being not 18 times larger, but 110 times larger than anything that we had ever done before.
So you can always say, coulda, woulda, shoulda, like you don't know how it have turned out.
If it was earlier, it would have been a higher, multiple, all these sorts of things. But I think that's one that is very clear that just sort of following the word. And also, I guess what God had told me at the time it led to a good outcome. I'm still on the board of that company. The last evaluation, I think it's an $8 billion company that started public.
Now those listed in the media that they're going to be outgoing soon for potentially with a merger, we go take up to $40 billion, all these things. So it's been an interesting journey to say the least.
Ling Yah: You mentioned bringing families on board.
At least in Asia, LPs tend to be families. they are those few people who are involved in many, many industries. And I imagine because they are your LPs, you would tend to source for deals that are working in a space as they are. And so how do you think of where to go in?
Because I think you also have this 4 Rs of behavior change as well. So you have a very unusual way of looking at deal flow.
John Kim: Yeah. I think on a deal by deal basis. That is true. In Asia it's very different than it is in the West.
So in the West, there's more like transactional trust saying if I bought this product from you, I trust you because it means you're good at this thing so I'm going to trust you to do this thing. And that's why companies tend to be much more focused on a product.
But in the East, it's more like I trust you because of you because of you, the person. And so I think that's why conglomerates are formed over here, much more so historically than things in the West, the concerns in the West.
They're very diversified across industry. Originally we sort of like sourced based on, okay, what industries are our families in. From there we would be able to pick out opportunities. Sometimes, it just doesn't make sense. Like we've looked at a squillion real estate deals because every big family in Asia, they make money in something and then they go invest in real estate.
So we knew that if there was a good real estate company, a real estate tech company to invest in that we'd have gobs of people to introduce them to. But it's been hard to find the right one. That had the right traction and adoption seems to be pretty slow.
But I think one that another sort of case study. The one that we ended up getting done during the fast that I mentioned earlier, it's this company called Dialpad. It's a company that needed telco relationships. So you know, we found our way to the company.
The entrepreneur had sold two companies. One of Yahoo became your voice, another one to Google opium, Google voice. This is third voice company. So really just like a different much more seasoned caliber of team and things. And rich miner led the series A from Google ventures, he's the co-founder of Android.
Mark Andreessen sits on the board there from Andreessen Horowitz. So here I am and fasting to try and win this deal amongst these giants of the industry.
Craig actually didn't even want to talk at first. He's like, yeah, I just raised money from these guys and I'm not talking to VCs right now, but can I call you back later?
Ping you back when I'm ready to raise more money and I said, Oh, maybe we can just be helpful. So happy to just have a conversation about that first. And we got on the phone and became clear he needed telco partnerships.
We ended up introducing them to a bunch of families that sit on telcos and that kind of led to us building some Goodwill.
And then this thing went live in January during the fast. So then we ended up leading the series C and it's been a crazy journey since then. Yeah. There's an iconic letter D. Just raised a hundred million dollars series E 125. And some interesting plans for the company
Ling Yah: I understand you recently invested in LivingFood last year, December, and it's the first Indian company, second food sector. And that's also TreeDots before that, where you even did a video to talk about food waste and what they were doing.
So it's so fascinating just to see the kind of things that happened in Southeast Asia. And I wonder if you could share a bit about your interest in that area and why food and climate change is nice, so closely interlinked.
John Kim: Yeah. Let me reverse a little bit and get into that.
So when you invest in companies like Dialpad. Dialpad is a communications platform. And they have a product like zoom, it's video conferencing. They have a product that replaces your desk phone so when somebody calls your office phone, it'll call you on your mobile and all the different end points that you have.
Their tagline is work is not a place you go. It's a thing that you do. And they've had this tagline since like 20, I don't know, 16 or 17 or something. So you can imagine in COVID what's been the. Single product that did most for the environment during the period of COVID, it's probably zoom cause it virtualized travel.
So all of a sudden like emissions go down like crazy because people can zoom. And so what we realized is that in the course of investing in companies and sectors like Dialpad is in that, Hey, a lot of these companies are actually related to some of the sectors that our LPs have interest in.
So yes, we can bring them into deals. And they're riding on the tailwinds of globalization. they're in the U S and they want to come over here. These partnerships with these families and sometimes governments is really helpful for them.
They also help solve some of the biggest problems caused by globalization, like climate change. And so we just double clicked on that. And it was really my partner who led the charge on that. He wrote a very lengthy set of thesis papers around this investment thesis of a behavior change specifically to fight the climate crisis.
A lot of people think of climate change. It's like solar panels and wind farms and very capital intensive hardware. So that's not us. It's all software internet things that we've always did before. But our lens on it is, hey, we're helping save the climate through behavior change.
As we double clicked on that, it helped us to surface some opportunities. And so when we go to these companies, we can say, Hey, well, we'll get you to Asia, if you want, we'll do all the things that VCs do, help you with recruiting and strategy and all that stuff. But we can also help in a differentiated way with these partnerships, in cross-border expansion.
But, oh, by the way, we've written hundreds of pages and we made these videos about specifically what you're doing and I'll give you, I'll give you one example.
So our most recent investment is a company called Joro. And it's an app you can download recommended for all you guys. You cannot be downloaded and you answer a few questions.
You connect your credit card data through plat. From there, it'll tell you what your carbon footprint is. And from there it will nudge you with certain suggestions and social challenges to help you decrease your carbon footprint over time.
Now Sequoia Bryan trier from there, I think it's 20 Dropbox and he's on board of Qualtrics and a great, great investor led the pre-seed for that company.
And then it came time to leave the seat. And he said, I'm fine with great angels, but I don't really want another VC firm in this deal. Your Sequoia and your Bryan trier, so. She got a, Senchali, CEO's is awesome force of nature. But she got the founders of Uber, Fitbit, Headspace, a bunch of others to come and participate like really great angels.
And then she went back to Brian and she said, Hey, there's this one firm that I need to have in there. And Brian was like, who's that? And she said, they're called Amasia. Obviously I wasn't there, but I can just imagine Brian trier being like who the heck is Amasia? Why do I need to let them into this deal?
And then she's like, here's, , a few hundred pages that they've written about behavior change to fight the climate crisis. That's exactly what we do. I mean, there's no other VC in the world that's thought as deeply about this. And so Brian took over, he's like, yeah, absolutely. We need to let these guys.
And so we ended up being the only other VC in this round. So we could have done Joro before. But I think now we wouldn't have won it, right? There would've been no reason to let us into that deal. But now with this thesis it's something that helps us to get into really interesting opportunities.
Cause there aren't many sort of VC firms that focus on sustainability. So we're quickly becoming kind of the go-to guys in this space.
Some of them are very obvious. Like Joel is very obvious. It's a climate change investment. I'd say some are a little bit more in the middle. So for instance, food is a trillion dollar industry and we waste a third to half of all the food that's produced for us to eat.
It's so bad. All the inputs that go into the fertilizers, the fact that when you go throw it in the dump, it produces methane, which is 84 times more pollutant than, than carbon dioxide. It's just so, so bad. So tree dots, it's a company that takes that food waste because a lot of times it's food is perfectly good, but it's just like, the chicken is a little bit too big or too small, so you can't sell it into , the grocery store, but you can sell it at F and B cause it's, it's totally fine.
You just cut it and play to make it look nice anyway, so it doesn't matter if it's a little bit too big or if it, has a broken bone or whatever. It's growing very quickly. They've been incredibly capital efficient.
All the metrics are there to make it like a good VC investment, but actually it has a very clear climate change angle. And probably not quite as clear in terms of, as Jorah is like it's slapped on there. It's like, this is all about climate. This is like kind of in the middle. Living food I'd say is also kind of in the middle.
The idea there is they give you insanely fresh, better than organic products that are produced, like down the street sort of thing. And so you get micro greens. They're grown in Bangalore and then you order, and it comes in a carton thing. It still has the dirt and it's still growing.
It's good for a week on your countertop. And when you're ready, you just snip it and you put it right in your salad. So it's as fresh as it can possibly be. This comes by the it living food.
But kombucha that's made in your neighborhood sourdough bread, which is like within a few, few hours of it being baked. It's on your doorstep and all the probiotics, which decay very quickly. They're there for you to consume right away.
And because of that, and especially in places like India, most of the food is produced. It's packaged, it's got a bunch of chemicals in it. Lots of sugar. It's made somewhere around the other side of the planet. They spend lots of money it's at scale. So it's cheaper in a way, but they spend lots of money and energy, like shipping that stuff around the world, and it's really bad for the environment.
So living food is not just better for you as a person, but also much better for the planet. When you go to living foods website, you don't necessarily think, oh, this is a climate change investment. You just think, Oh my goodness is actually living food.co you check it out. If you want to get hungry, man, these pictures are really good.
We have a social commerce company in Indonesia, for instance, it's kind of like the Pinto doff of Indonesia.
We definitely wanna think of that as a climate investment. But they cut out optimize the supply chain. So a lot more carbon used to get goods to where they need to go. So that's our lens on the whole sustainability angle and a little bit of our journey there.
The thinking used to be that if you want it to make can impact you had to sacrifice returns.
So it was kind of like, Oh, if you're an impact fund, I guess you make less money, but I think there's an increasing body of evidence that if you do it right, You can actually enhance returns. And I think increasingly you're going to need to do it, to enhance returns.
A lot of investors like BlackRock and Goldman, a bunch of these folks that said like, we're going to be shifting money and paying a lot more attention to this ESG stuff.
So yeah, I think you really need to I have a future. I have a story and have a strategy for that.
Ling Yah: The creator, passion economy is something that is really proving to be sustainable as well. Like Skillshare is a company that is really proving your third R, replacing bricks with bytes.
And as I understand, you came across Skillshare because of your journey into blogging. So can you share with us how that even began?
John Kim: I mean, it's ed tech, which means it's remote learning. it used to be, you have to go someplace to learn and now you can do it online.
So that helps with the carbon footprint and just like Dialpad and zoom do it is also empowering micro entrepreneurs. We call it a pro swimmer segment because a lot of these people are freelancers and there's just the gig economy. I mean, the economy is structurally shifting.
In our parents' generation. They'd worked for one company now. Folks around my age, they worked for a handful of companies and a lot of these millennials are just like, they don't even work for a company. They Airbnb hosts a little bit. They do some Uber here and there and whatever, it's a freelance design.
And so it's just empowering, that whole trend. But yeah, it was instrumental in my vlogging journey. I didn't come into it because of vlogging, but I started using the platform a lot more because of my vlogging.
Originally I felt God just telling me like, Hey, just start making videos.
Ling Yah: you heard a voice?
John Kim: Yeah. Not audible this time, but just in my prayer, like, it's just a sense, you know? it was like, Hey make videos. And in a way, it kind of made sense because in my work I see the future of media and obviously everything's moving towards video. But in so many ways it made no sense because I don't have any time.
I'd never made a video in my life. I didn't know anything about video editing and all this stuff around editing. It's not just the technical things, but the storytelling and the, , all that stuff. I knew idea any of it.
I tried a bunch of things kind of in my own strength in a way, and it didn't really work.
And many years later I heard it again and it was like, okay, now is the time. So I really just went all in on it. And for a year. So I went in Skillshare, I took a bunch of editing classes. There's this other great thing called jump cuts, the YC company, and Jumpcut teaches you more. What are the characteristics of viral content?
How do you get people to watch and share your content?
And so I poured my heart and soul hours and hours, heart, and soul into this thing. And I managed to get one video a month, which is not that much. I mean, if you want to be an influencer quote, unquote, you gotta be putting stuff out much more frequently than that, but for about a year, I really struggled.
And I, got one video and people liked it. They were my friends though. each video kind of average, like a couple hundred views. I don't think they were really sharing it.
I wanted to give up many times, but each time I just go back cause like, did you hear God's voice and yeah.
And smell well, it's kind of easy when you hear God's voice because you just know you need to do it. And so I get back on the horse and started riding again.
And that was really a step change in this whole thing when I met Nuseir from Nasdaily and we had dinner, it was me and him and his girlfriend and my wife.
And they were like, Hey, so how are you guys? , how are you guys doing? What's been going on? And we had just come back from this marriage conference actually, where there was crazy. It was like the most transformational experience that I've ever been through. Crazy transformational, crazy spiritual and NAS and Alyne they don't share the same faith as us, but I think we sat there and just talked for three hours about this thing.
And then we got very vulnerable because it's some very, very vulnerable stuff that happened to us. And they were just kind of shocked that we were getting so vulnerable and we were shocked too. We're like, what the heck is happening. But for some reason we just sharing all this stuff and then they got very vulnerable.
They shared a bunch of things about their upbringing, their relationship and stuff like that. And so anyways, we just really hit it off.
On the way home, we were driving them home and Nas said to me, he's like, Hey, so why were we introduced? We had a mutual friend who like, was gonna introduce us.
And so I said, I think Dominic just wanted to get us together because I make videos and , I'm one of a few investors make videos.Whatn you make videos? Nobody spent this whole dinner, like not talking about videos. Like this is what I do, . Then I'll lean to like, so it's again, I know that's, that's how I think you got to come by the office.
I came by the office and next week, and he spent like 90 minutes with me just going through my whole strategy and everything that was thinking through. He fixed me, I was really doing the wrong thing than many ways. He was so gracious, so generous with his time. Invested so much with me.
I joke around, I tell him, I owe him my first born son, because he was so generous and it's really transformational that know 200 views. The first video that he helped me with got 170,000 views and 400,000 and 600,000 top performing videos. I think about a million views now at this point.
It's not about views really.
It's about the engagement, the likes and the comments and things, but that those numbers are also very, very strong on the engagement side of things.
You mentioned the videos that I've done for like three dots and things. We have the strategy, I guess, at our firm where Ramadan he writes long, very in-depth pieces that a very small, but influential group. Read his blog I
Ling Yah: I appreciate the fact that he would write a specific blog for each company that's you invest in. Because it really gives me an understanding of where you're coming from.
John Kim: Yes. And the thesis and everything. So he attacks that side of things and then I kind of make some of that digestible or take a little piece of it and make it into a three minute video. That's more mass. You can't get that deep in three minute video, but I try and make it such that it's a little more shareable and just easy to digest, , don't use big words and things.
Ling Yah: I imagine people would be very curious. What was it that Nas was advising you that allowed you to experience that growth?
Because I think with that first video, Beware of black Christmas, you bounced that script between yourself five times. So he really had a love hand in making sure that it was as good as could be.
John Kim: Again, he was so generous. So the original tips, some of them were very tactical, like.
Facebook used to optimize for one minute videos, but now they're optimizing for three minute videos because they want longer form content. So make your videos three minutes. YouTube is more like eight to 10 minutes. So you gotta make them three minutes and make them shorter. But , I was doing like one minute videos on Facebook and 10 minute videos on YouTube.
He's like, no, it'll be three minute on Facebook. Facebook's easier to share. Cause there's no share button really. And I think there another is on YouTube, but there wasn't back then. You can share with your friends, we will check it out. YouTube is very different. So. I got off YouTube.
Some of it is stuff like a jump cut. They share the three characteristics of viral content is you need to tell a story and a story involves a character trying to overcome something like an obstacle. So that story it needs to be something that challenges, assumptions. So if you say the sky is blue, and this is why nobody's going to care.
But if you say the sky is actually green, but you thought it was blue and here's why then people are like, oh, interesting. That's what's sharing. And then the third thing has to solicit an emotional reaction.
So if it makes you laugh or inspires you and makes you cry or whatever it makes you angry, a lot of this stuff gets shared very quickly these days.
That's why fake news is really successful at getting viral, even though it's fake.
The thing that Nas really honed in on me was that if you want content, that's going to go sort of mass, he said, you need to forget everything you've learned about the English language.
And I said, what you mean? He's like, well, most people in the world don't speak English like you and me. Most people in the world don't speak English at all, but the ones who do, and they might understand some broken English or they can read some subtitles. They definitely don't speak it like you and me.
You have to forget everything you learned and just speak much more simply.
Let me give you an example. I made a video in Korea and I was talking about the Korean alphabet, which is a very famous story in Korea. There's a King who just used these Chinese alphabet. But then he's like, Hey, this doesn't make sense.
Let's make a phonetic. So he invented this alphabet. And so most videos that make that, story will say there was a King, his name was King Sejong. He invented the alphabet and is how he did it. This is still not his talking about it.
And he's like for my video, the Nasdaily video, I just say there was a King in Korea and he made the alphabet and this is how he did it because said, John, it doesn't matter, man.
If you know him, you know him already, if you don't know him, it's going to go one a year in one ear out the other year. And if you have a few words like that, people just shut off your video because you have so many choices for content these days. So just make it super simple. Like they all need to be words that you understand.
He's got this thing called Nas Academy.
So if anyone's interested in becoming a creator, like go there, it's amazing platform. It was offline first, but now to have it online.
He talks about, I forget the exact thing, but it's like if a 12 year old in Vietnam can not understand your video, then it's too complicated.
So you need to make it super, super simple. That's how it gets shared.
So that's the thing that he drove in to me more than anything else. I think that was quite different.
Ling Yah: I love that you channeled Naseir so well. It sounded just like him.
John Kim: Well, the first videos, my wife kept telling me, like, stop talking like Nas.
And I'm like, , when you learn a craft, when you learn the violin, you try and play like your teacher, right? When you learn painting, you have to paint like Leonardo or whatever. And so when I was learning vlogging I wanted to literally be like Nas. So I was doing everything he was telling me to do.
And then like emulating him completely. And then like with any craft that's you understand how to copy the master. Then you can start to develop your own style. Same thing for investing. Like I literally just tried to download Ramanan on his brain at the beginning, like understand why he made decisions the way he did.
The faster you do that, the faster you can develop your own intuition on why your opinion might differ or how you do it differently.
So, I learned to imitate and I was actually pretty, pretty well.
Ling Yah: And what was the process like involving your children as well in your videos? I noticed that Elaine appeared as well once, as the one who did not put her self interest before the company.
John Kim: Yes. Yes. I mean, Elaine is she's my biggest supporter, but I got to say she had a lot of questions about the vlog at various points in time.
She has this love, hate relationship with social media in general, I think. , I'd love to feature her more, but she's always just a little bit cautious about featuring, but then video, you gotta make sure makeup's done and all these things.
So with the kids, it's a lot more fluid, I guess, because as long as I pay them with screen time, they're willing to do whatever I ask them. And it's been awesome because anyone with kids will know, like it's always such a struggle to balance work.
When you're doing work, you feel guilty because you're not hanging out with kids. When you feel like hanging out with kids, you feel guilty if you're not working. And so for me, This has been this really interesting intersection at the Venn diagram where I'm making a video about tree dots or Joro or whatever.
And we actually get to sit there and hang out together and make a video that they're involved in. So I get to hang out with them, with my family and my kids while I'm doing something good for my work. And I feel like that's just such a tremendous blessing.
I didn't really think to get them involved at first, but they're just a lot cuter a lot more compelling than I am.
Ling Yah: Have you seen the vlogging have an impact on the kind of work that you do? I mean, like, it seems as though VCs are getting more and more involved in content creation.
There's like Jomo Tech, there's like Justin, Kan, Gary tan, there's Harry Stebbings, , they're really making a name for themselves by putting out their own content.
John Kim: Absolutely. I think it is an important differentiator. Not everyone needs to do it. I know some investors who are like amazing investors. I dunno if it's Brian who I mentioned earlier, or maybe Ryan Sweeney from Excel. I don't know what these guys that is sitting on a board with us in one of our companies.
I remember reading a bio saying, you won't see me at a conference. You won't see me tweeting. You won't see me blogging. , I want to spend all my time helping my companies directly. . Not building a brand for myself. I forget who it is, but it's like a somebody who's a very, very good investor and you know, anybody who would take their money.
But I think that, it's certainly an interesting way to differentiate yourself. It works for Harry Harry, Stebbings like, He came out of nowhere. And he just started.
Ling Yah: He's so young.
John Kim: He's such a genuine nice guy. And that's what I think it works with him. But he's so young and he knew nothing about the industry and now, I mean, he gets crazy deal flow, man and you know, he's got a friend he's got a firmly set up and everything.
In this business, When you start out in something, you have to figure out here, what is everyone doing? And then how can I emulate them?
But the more you want to be in the top 1%, the more, what you do has to look totally different from what everyone else is doing. Because if you just try and copy, then you're always going to try and catch up and you revert to the mean because the meat, the best practice is just to kind of get you to the mean.
So I remember when we started in the business, until like 2009, I think everyone's saw VC as like public equity or, kind of like let's pick the right horse, you bet on them and they do well and that's great.
But the thing is, it's a small space, so there's a lot more money available than there are interesting deals. And so there's a firm, Andreessen Horowitz, as I mentioned Mark earlier, they kind of realize, Hey, we need to disrupt this.
And we need to actually be much more proactive about how we add value.
So when I started in the industry, I was thinking, okay, there's actually a Harvard business review case study on Andreessen Horowitz. So I actually read the review and I said, okay, there's we need to be like them. I tried to do all these things that they were doing.
And I realized like, you're never going to beat Andreessen at Andreessen's game. There's just no way.
Ling Yah: They have so many people as well, like 90 people, I think.
John Kim: Yeah. I think it's a hundred something though.
You're never going to beat them at their game. But what we realized without pet, as I mentioned is like Mark Andreessen is not going to pick up the phone and call the Malaysian telco for Craig.
I mean, he has a ton of value, but I figured out how to add value in a very different way. There's this way to add value around this crossborder quarter stuff. This is a way to add value around some of the climate stuff. We were very sort of in depth and thinking about that.
And then, vlogging yeah. At the time, especially now Gary tan is doing some videos, which I think are great.
But yeah, at the time there was nobody doing videos in venture and for Juro, we actually wrote a song. I never, in a million years thought that music would be a source of value add for a portfolio company and a VC firm.
I'm pretty sure that I was the only VC in the world maybe who was making videos. Like vlogging as a source of value add in when you go to a company, you say, Hey, I'll get you half a million views. Exposure for your company.
Is that interesting? Yeah, they, they love it.
I was making a video about Joro and they're very thoughtful about their language , on their website and their values and all these things. So I was just writing the script in it. , I think two words happened to rhyme and I was like, Oh, that's kind of cool.
And then I just started writing, writing more. And then next thing you know, I had a song and I'm like, Oh, this is kind of cool. So, asked the K-pop friend, a producer friend of mine to help me with it a little bit. And I had centrally listened to it.
And she's like, this is amazing. , she loves it now. It's on Spotify, it's on Apple iTunes and things. And she shares it with all her friends.
I tried to blog. I mean Mark and Fred Wilson and Brad Feld, all these guys who I met and, , hugely admire, just trying to do the things they do.
But I realized like, it doesn't mean you shouldn't blog, but you can't copy other people. So I'm just increasingly getting comfortable in my own skin, doing things that are very different and realizing like that's okay. , in fact, you kind of need to do that.
If you want to get better and better at this game at any game, really.
Ling Yah: And another thing that everyone seems to be jumping onto is Clubhouse, which both you and your wife have Germans. And they are so many startup founders. and VCs as well on it. So what is your take of it after being on that platform?
John Kim: Yeah, clubhouse is great. I think I'm very weary of social media in general. Again, it's that like consumption versus investment mindset. I'm much more investment person. And so I think like deferred pleasure.
When I find myself swiping on something for a long time or talking on something or listening to something for a long time I'm just very careful about it because I'm very, goal-oriented still and so.
I got an invite, I think , late last year or something like that. And I just put it away. I was like, Oh, social media, can't deal with this. Whatever. And then my wife got on it a little bit after that. And she's like, Hey, this is your thing. You would really thrive here.
You really enjoy it. I guess I talk a lot. I like to talk , and she's like, it's a startup founders and VCs. it's the platform for that. And you bring a unique perspective with all this stuff that you're doing. And so you should totally be on this.
You spend more time. So I'm like, okay, fine. So that went on for one day, just like checking it out in the midst of the day and everything. And that night I ended up staying remodeling a room And ended up, I was up till 3:00 AM and I was like, Oh my goodness. it's amazing. Like people ask me all these questions and I'm able to help them.
And I'm also learning, I'm learning so much, where else are you going to hear like a real-time conversation of Malcolm Gladwell and Adam Grant talking about their latest book and how things have changed since the prior book. And it's like an amazing place to learn and to share.
But yeah, was also quite weary, like any social media thing. And my wife is very active. She watches Netflix. And so it's kind of replaced Netflix for her on certain nights and things. And I don't really watch much Netflix. So for me, it has to eat into other stuff like my sleep or I'm with the kids or work or time of God.
And so I haven't spent as much time as her. I said, I'll always mod a room with you. You just gotta give me notice you can't be like, Hey, let's go. And right now, , just give me some notice. I can plan around it. but we love it. And I think there's so many different applications, not just, work-wise obviously a ton like ton of VC startup stuff happening there, but faith wise as well, like we've started some rooms.
We're very prayerful about it because, , You don't wanna turn people off, I guess.
we've been on there and met people randomly who are actually from the same church as us, but in Beijing. And like, , we had a faith at work room that we set up. We ended up like praying for each other and people were crying because they're so impacted by it and just, , people from Kansas and stuff. Like we'd never, would've met otherwise.
And this is an area that I'm actually very passionate about. Like God using technology to bring people closer into relationship with each other and to him.
And so I feel like there's some really interesting applications in that realm as well and club out. So big fan a little bit wary just because of my character, but I think, really excited about it overall.
Ling Yah: I read that this year, your church said that it's all about creating space for God.
And one of the key verses is in my father's house, there are many rooms and I wonder how you are creating space this year and what your plans are.
John Kim: Very good question. Well, going into the year, I actually had a lot of stuff on my plate.
I was actually planning on auditing a seminary class this year. And , some, church responsibilities as well. Like I was running the finance committee at our church. So stepped back from that actually yesterday was the handover for the weekly operational responsibilities.
So work-wise not working less, but just trying to be much more focused on doing less things better. a lot of this actually coincided with my father got cancer late last year. And it was a very difficult thing to go through.
Lot of positives to it, I think, , God definitely has a plan.
Absolutely have faith that there are supernatural healing in store for him. I'm actually going to preach about it on March 7th here.
But yeah, there were definitely like ups and downs. it just puts things in perspective, like who cares about getting a deal done when your dad has got cancer.
The doctor say he's got a 10 to 30% chance of living and it coincided with my pastor kind of getting this download from God about, yeah. The, theme for this year is to create space. And so yeah, I realized I needed to just create as much space as possible. And yeah, those are some of the things that we managed to do.
it's still more to come, but those are some initial steps.
Ling Yah: Well, thank you, John so much for your time. I normally love to end all of my interviews with these questions. Do you feel like you've found your why?
John Kim: For sure. It's very, very, very obvious to me.
I've tried every free pleasure of the world. And I know that one day in his courts, . And the presence of God is better than a thousand years elsewhere. And so my mission in life is to experience extreme intimacy with God, firstly.
And secondly enable others in experiencing extreme intimacy with God, because I feel it's very selfish for me to without sharing it and just experience it myself.
And that very much aligns with what Jesus said, . Which is like, what are the greatest commandments? Love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, soul, mind, strength. And the second is love others as you love yourself. so to me, it's very obvious, like everything points to that.
Ling Yah: And what kind of legacy do you want to leave behind?
John Kim: I think this might be the first time I've ever actually said this in public.
I feel like God is doing something in the realm of technology. If you look historically in general, there's always this human resistance to change.
And I feel like God has always been in change, especially technological change. I mean, I'll give you an example so Billy Graham. Widely known as the kind of most successful quote unquote evangelist in the history of the world.
Well, I mean, besides Jesus, maybe.
He was an advisor to every single US president from, I forget like Nixon or Kennedy. I can't remember like straight through till he passed away places. Where it was like insane. Deng Xiao Ping, communist China. Kim Jong-il he went to go meet share with.
If you think about what he did and why he did it at the time it was very clear to him that he needed to use every tool at his disposal to accomplish this very big mission that he had.
And a lot of pastors at the time they were saying like, the new thing was TV and radio. Like there's an, Oh, TV, Hollywood, that's evil. That's the devil's area. You can't go there. And he's like, no, I mean, there's the Lord and everything in it does TV not belong to God?
We got to use TV, we got to use radio. So we went out there, use newspapers, use everything, and then use that to promote his crusades. And that's how he was able to have the impact that he had.
If you think about technological advancement, there's been the printing press that helped to get much, much more widespread adoption of all sorts of literature.
And so as we project forward, this like crazy stuff gonna happen Just going to be like VR, I don't know churches, and there's going to be things like clubhouse, where people from around the world can get together and pray for each other and have an impact. And , things like Uber have already enabled me to pray for thousands of Uber drivers.
so I think that there's something here that God is doing, and I'd love to just be a part of that. And I feel like there are 8 billion people in the world today, , a couple of billion people say that they're Christians in some way, shape or form.
God loves everybody.
It's not an in and out sort of in-group out-group sort of thing, but I think he wants deep, personal relationship with everybody. And I think that means the 2 billion people got to get closer to him. I think that more people got to just like know about him too. And so I'd love to get a billion, more people into the kingdom it's crazy to think about, but I'm gonna die trying.
To set up a foundation and really build it like a company and start iterating on some media and tech products that will enable us all to experience and enable others and experiencing extreme intimacy with God.
And actually the money is not really a problem. I think it's much more about getting the people.
It's the same thing for startups too. , I think money is, the air, but , you gotta have the body to breathe. I'm slowly starting to recruit people who want to be on that journey. So if any of your listeners are interested in that, please tell them to DM me .
Ling Yah: And what do you think are the most important qualities of a successful person?
John Kim: Well, I guess it depends on how you define success. I know that I used to define success in a certain way, and I thought that was really important, but I have a lot of people in my life. Who are very successful by the standards of the world who are miserable.
And we know this, right?
You go to places that have large swaths of populations who are not successful by the ways of the world, but they're very happy.
I've realized that the worldly definition of success doesn't really matter.
I think understanding what your purpose is, having meaning around your life and then being able to go and execute against that is what successes
Ling Yah: And where can people go to connect with you and support everything that you're doing?
John Kim: Well, my vlog is at the facebook.com/JohnKimco.
I have a website, John kim.co J O H N K m.co. So I post a daily devotional there. Weekdays. I take break on weekends. I still have few tea by the way. I just, I'm not posting it. And yeah, these subscribed there.
I'm very open, you know, you can ping me an email anytime I'm on LinkedIn, you can send me a DM there Instagram, whatever.
I'm not as active on, some of these, but I have a Twitter account. I have an Instagram account. I'm not super active there, but I check my messages from time to time.
Ling Yah: And that was the end of episode 38.
The transcripts and links to everything we've just talked about can be found at
www.sothisismywhy.com/38, including a link to sign up for a weekly newsletter that I run, where I list all the fascinating and inspiring things I've read and learned over the course of the week.
And stay tuned for next Sunday because we've been meeting a former serial entrepreneur venture capitalist, 15 time book author, podcaster, and chief evangelist of Apple and Canva on his journey to becoming one of the most known brand evangelists in the world, as well as what it was like working with the late Steve Jobs.
See you next Sunday.