At only 17 years old, Sukon Hong made her entrepreneurial dream come true by creating not one but two businesses.
The first, a South Korean fashion brand of which he is CEO, generated more than $ 1 million in sales this year and earned accreditation from Harvard University. Second, there are advanced controls in the thousands of braille smartwatches for the visually impaired.
It’s a way of getting back to the bully.
“It was difficult for me to commit to school. I was sort of harassed. I had to find something that could change my life, ”Hong told CNBC Make It.
build a brand
Teen Hong started his entrepreneurial journey four years ago when he was only eighth grade.
Struggling to fit in with his classmates at his school in Seoul, he was eager to find a distraction by reselling designer clothes on the South Korean search engine Naver.
But with only $ 150 in his pocket, which is gone quickly, he realized he had to change his behavior.
Hong needed a unique selling point. So, thanks to a loan of $ 5,000 from his grandparents and with the help of a printing company, he decided to create his own clothing site, offering casual unisex clothing with simple and playful designs.
With this, Olaga Studios – Korean for “Going Up” – was born.
“Nothing happened in a week,” Hong said. “Then, Monday morning, there were 15 orders. Fifty at lunch. Eighty in the evening. That week I sold 300 shirts.
learn to give back
The three-year-old brand has since grown into a regional hit, generating $ 1.2 million in annual sales in six Asian markets and # 1 in StyleShare’s T-shirt category.
This allowed Hong to employ a team of 12 people to help manage the site. But it allowed him to reimburse his parents for the tuition fees of the American International School in Seoul, to which he was transferred.
And that’s where he found the inspiration for his latest venture, which he believes is his true calling.
“At first, I thought business was about making a lot of money,” Hong said. “But after going to school, I got a good education.”
“My teacher said that my experience could be used to start a business and help others,” he said.
With Paradox Computers, the company behind their braille smartwatch, that’s exactly what they’re aiming for.
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Braille smartwatches – which allow visually impaired people to receive real-time information, such as text messages and messages from their phones – have been on the market for many years.
But the exorbitant cost of these products – typically over $ 300 – can make them inaccessible to many people with disabilities.
After working on a school project on people with disabilities, Hong realized the disparity and decided there had to be another more affordable option.
“I found this very unfair,” he said. “And, at the same time, it’s a great opportunity for the company.”
So he turned to the visually impaired to understand their needs and to engineers to find solutions to understand the market.
Then, along with a contact book from his existing fashion business, Hong organized a rally to support his vision with an investment of $ 300,000 for a 30% stake.
“My experience as a CEO has helped me,” he said. “I’ve learned that even though I’m inexperienced in technology, I can still hire all of these people.
Six months later, Paradox Computers’ $ 80 braille smartwatch has sold in the hundreds, with 3,000 pre-orders currently underway from China. But in the midst of her success, Hong said she was determined to continue her education.
“When the business was booming, I thought about quitting school. But I met a lot of CEOs and they all told me I should go to college, ”he said.
And who knows, as a guest speaker and advisor at Harvard and Stanford, it might be worth it.
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