5 Questions with Eunse Lee

March 1st, 2020


4-min read

Eunse Lee is a founder behind founders and empowers extraordinary founders to do awesome things. He joined Techstars in pursuit of such a life mission of his as the MD of the Techstars Korea Accelerator in Partnership with Hillstone Partners. Before joining Techstars, he had made his impact and contribution in the ecosystem as a founder, an investor, and an advisor to governments and policy makers.

01. What are the key elements you look for when sourcing startups for Techstars Korea Accelerator in partnership with Hillstone Partners?

There are three: founder-market fit, vision horizon, and the ability to envision something big.

Founder-market fit is the very first thing that dictates the company’s success. And the key questions are:

  • What is the problem they’re trying to solve?

  • Why do they want to do this?

  • Why does it matter to them?

  • Who are they?

  • Do they have the right set of capabilities to tackle the problem? If they don’t, do they have the plan to obtain them?

Vision horizon is fundamental to a great founder. Average founders respond to a pain-point of today and build something from there. The great ones foresee what the future will look like and respond to the challenges the future will face before no one else does.

Lastly, I always say “a company never gets bigger than the founder’s original vision,” and the ability to envision something big is a talent—a very rare talent and which we can’t really help with. If you don’t have it, you don’t have it.

02. What are some of the biggest learnings from your career and entrepreneurial journey that you bring to being a Techstars MD?

The most important thing I’ve learned is that a company really never gets bigger than the founder’s original vision. Therefore a founder must be able to envision something extraordinary. At Techstars, we have the expertise and resources to really help the founders, and as the Managing Director of the Techstars Korea Accelerator in Partnership with Hillstone Partners, I welcome those founders with truly big vision and will work with them throughout their journey.

Second, my background is in strategy, and from there I’ve learned that strategy is leadership. Strategy is nothing without execution and it’s the people who execute the strategy. Therefore, strategy is about the leadership that moves people to execute. If a founder understands this, I believe eight out 10 problems they’d face as an early-stage company could be either avoided or easily solved. With such a belief about strategy, I’d love to work with founders and help them understand what strategy really is, how to build effective strategies, and finally how to move people to get things done.

03. Describe a situation with a startup founder or team where you felt like you made a difference.

When a team loses their sense of purpose in the turmoils of challenges, the company becomes vulnerable. This has happened to my companies, to the companies I have worked with, and to the companies I have helped with.

Every time this happens, I sit down with the founders and have them think about why they wanted to do this in the first place. Why did it matter to them? Why did they have to do this? And what did they envision and want to achieve? With the founders, usually they quickly manage to go back to where they were and form a powerful statement about the purpose of the company’s being.

Once this purpose is re-set, then I communicate it to the team, preferably via a town hall-style meeting, and have them think about why they joined this company. What made them want to be part of this team? What contribution did they want to make? And most importantly, how important is what they do to the people they’re serving: the customers?

Most of the challenges any startup faces are related to people, and thinking about the original purpose of their being—not for themselves, but for somebody else they’re serving—helps them either mitigate or resolve these people-related challenges quickly.

04. What does our partner, Hillstone Partners, bring to the accelerator?

Traditionally Hillstone Partners has been operating as an M&A advisory; however, with Techstars it is expanding its business horizon into the startup world.

As the Partner to Techstars Korea Accelerator, it will leverage its deep understanding and expertise in the growth and later stage financing so our companies can be better prepared for their future growth.

05. What is your favorite thing about the startup scene in South Korea?

The increasing influx of fantastic talents into the ecosystem!

I’m not going to lie: not that I call this wrong, but Korea used to be a country where even the smartest people would want to get a job for a stable life. Not so much risk-taking.

Things have changed now!

The smartest students from the top universities now want to start their own companies and pursue their own visions, or want to join a fast-growing company to fully pursue their potential. Also, a large chunk of these brightest young minds are a globalized pool of talent, who want to and can make a global impact. The volume of foreign talents coming into the nation, pursuing the opportunities Korea has to offer, is constantly growing, and they either startup themselves or join startups—at least as much as they do with the traditional corporations.

With such a fantastic talent pool, I am so certain that Korea will be a great starting place for the founders who want to truly disrupt at a global scale.

Learn more about Techstars accelerators and see which ones are accepting applications now.

#Techstars Korea Accelerator#Managing Director#APAC