A 2011 graduate of USC, Tim Sae Koo decided it was time to take his love for discovering content on the web and make it something tangible: startup Hypemarks.
Based in Los Angeles, Hypemarks takes all of the links you’ve shared via Facebook and Twitter and puts them all on one neat page for anyone to see. It’s a way for you to see not only what your friends have shared in terms of interesting links, it’s also a way for you see what other high profile people are sharing as well such as Steve Case, Robert Scoble, and Bill Gross.
Visually, it’s a nice way to consume the mass of content already out there on Facebook and Twitter without having to navigate all of the other features and visual elements that clutter the two social networks.
We had a chance to talk to Tim about Hypemarks and he shared many important insights about what it’s like to launch a startup. He’s very clear regarding his vision and the kind of hard work and dedication it takes to follow something you love.
When did you realize Hypemarks could actually be launched as a startup?
I came up with the idea of Hypemarks my junior year for my USC entrepreneurship class (about 2 years ago). It was a lot different than what Hypemarks is today, but the vision was the same: making web discovery more efficient and meaningful for everyone.
I could tell you that I did my fair share of market research, spoke to many people about this idea to validate it, and pitched at competitions, but in the end, none of those were the motivating factors for me to launch Hypemarks. I noticed that I was thinking about Hypemarks and how I could make it better every single moment of my day. It was like an itch that couldn’t be scratched unless I actually tried to launch it.
In the end, if you have an idea you are die-hard passionate about, it’s a sign that you should probably launch it and learn from there. You could do what many people do, which is research everything about that industry, and talk to as many experts as possible. Or you can just launch it because you truly believe this idea will work, and no one can convince you otherwise. The idea may or may not take off, but at least you actually launched something and learned from it.
What has running Hypemarks taught you about entrepreneurship that you didn’t know before launching?
Success does not come overnight. The big companies you see today did not get to where they are immediately. It takes a bit of luck, and a lot of meticulous planning and execution. It is an easy pit to fall into because we are so used to reading articles every day of companies getting funded for an ‘easy’ idea.
Truth is, until you’re in the position where you’re trying to grow your startup, you won’t realize how much details there are. Everything who your investors know to tracking metrics on your business needs to be accounted for. I for one fell into that pit before.
What advantage(s) do you see Hypemarks having over the competition?
Our youth, our network, and our investors.
Being young has its advantages. We have no financial obligations and no set time we have to go back to our families. It also helps that we have a younger, fresh perspective on things going on today.
Our team is diverse in our skill-sets and interests, which has helped us grow a diverse network of people we can reach out to. Distribution is the name of the game in the Internet Consumer space, so it helps to have a strong network.
Lastly, partnering up with key investors can help your company more than you think. They are your partners, and they can introduce you to their network. That’s huge, because in the end, a lot of your success will be due to who you know and who can help you.
What’s it like running a startup in Los Angeles?
Running a startup in LA is exciting right now. You have a lot of startup activity emerging and going on, much different from a year ago. To be a part of this shift is awesome.
Each city has its advantages in running a startup. I’d say LA has its advantages in these certain industries and more: e-commerce, gaming, and advertising. Another significant advantage LA has is the Hollywood distribution. If you can merge tech with Hollywood, you need be in LA.
At what point did you feel you were ready to launch to the public?
We were in beta for probably 3 months before we launched to the public. The main reason to be in beta is because you have only built your minimal viable product, and want to learn what your customers are saying.
In that 3 months period we were in beta, we closely listened to what our users were saying and iterated on that feedback. We felt ready to launch to the public when most of our vision was portrayed in our product, even if the product wasn’t complete. If you keep building the product in private beta, you’re leaving out the opportunity to learn from your users/customers. The product doesn’t need to be perfect, as long as it solves the problem you set out to fix.
What previous experience has informed what you aim to accomplish with Hypemarks?
I am a very curious person. I love learning about new topics, ideas, and news. My friends and network are all experts on certain categories I’m interested in accessing information from since I trust them. They share all that information now on Facebook and Twitter, but its unorganized, time-sensitive, and surrounded by noise. I want to make that access to information much easier and efficient.
That’s how Hypemarks was born. Now we pull in all the content you’ve shared from Facebook and Twitter into your own Hypemarks page and let you manually organize them into collections. That way whenever your friends want to learn more about a certain topic you’re an ‘expert’ on, they can turn to your Hypemarks page. And if you ever want to find trusted information on a topic your friends share a lot on, you can easily discover it through their Hypemarks page.
Do you have a particular business philosophy that you’ve maintained throughout the process?
Two of them.
- Give more than you take. I truly believe in helping others, whether it be people or startups, whenever I can lend a hand. It always feels better knowing you made someone else’s life easier.
- Network like hell. I believe that in business, it’s less of what you know and more of who you know. You never know who can help skyrocket your business because they introduce you to the perfect partner for your company.
What’s been the most challenging part of running a startup and Hypemarks specifically?
For me, it’s been the work and play balance. I’m a huge believer that if you want to run a startup, you pretty much have to give up your life for it to stay focused, move fast, and get a shot at being “successful.” Hypemarks is my baby, and I will work my ass off to see it grow.
But on the other hand, I am constantly being reminded by my friends and family to take weekend breaks, hang out with them, and relax. I hate to agree, but taking breaks does relieve stress and helps you feel rejuvenated when you get back to work.
It’s a constant struggle, but something I’m getting better at every day.
What’s the one piece of advice you’ve received that gave you the “ah-ha, right!” moment?
“A job will always be waiting for you; an opportunity to pursue your risky dream is rare.” It was pretty obvious which path I would choose after that was told to me.
What’s your daily routine like at the moment?
The beauty of working at a startup is I have no daily routine. Everyday is so different from the previous ones, and that’s what makes working so much fun. I can have meetings all day on Monday, but be focused on product development all Tuesday. I guess that’s what makes it fun to get out of bed every morning since you have no idea what’s going to happen that day.
How is Hypemarks funded?
It was my bank account at first. I did get close to exhausting it since I was still a college student, but I was fortunately accepted to the StartEngine accelerator before it was. Received $20k from them and then raised another $350k from Bill Gross/Idealab few months after.
Where can the best hamburger be found in L.A.?
Is Hypemarks currently rocking any tunes in the office?
Our team is so eclectic regarding their music choices. We switch off from rock to alternative to classical and finally to my personal favorite, house.
What advice would you give someone interested in launching a startup that you wish someone had told you?
Ideas are worth nothing; execution is everything today. It sucks to say that, but it is true. That means do whatever it takes to get a product out the door as quickly as possible to test. No amount of research can validate your idea, only your customers paying you can.
What’s the best thing about Los Angeles?
Aside from the traffic, the weather and eclectic environment populated with such interesting people is what keeps me here.
Can you tell our readers about any new developments in the works that they should get excited about?
Two words: iOS app.
How can our readers get in touch with you?
Email me anytime. I love chatting with entrepreneurs or anybody who has any questions regarding getting started with their ideas.
Tim Sae Koo / Hypemarks