What the most ambitious people choose to do with their lives has a profound impact on society, the economy and culture — and it’s changing, fast. At Entrepreneur First, we believe that building technology startups will become the default career path for the world’s most ambitious people and Juwon Lee from our first Hong Kong cohort is a perfect example of this trend. Rather than finishing her degree at university and getting a highly paid job at a tech multinational, Juwon chose to found a high-impact company and is exactly the type of exceptional individual whose efforts we’re proud to amplify from the very beginning of their journey.
Juwon grew up in Seoul, South Korea, one of the world’s most technologically advanced and digitally connected cities. Since the 1960s, the Korean economy has grown rapidly from wide-scale industrialisation and the development of Chaebol corporations such as Samsung and LG, and Juwon’s grandparents and parents were part of this wave of unprecedented technological development. Her father is a hardware engineer and mother works in Finance doing computational investments, so Juwon grew up immersed in technology — whether it was conversations about software development at the dinner table with her mother or playing with her father’s hardware stray parts, which were always lying around the house.
Juwon had an urge to build things from a young age but hardware electronics like circuit boards and other components are expensive, which would have made young Juwon’s desire to tinker and experiment a very expensive one for her parents. So she taught herself to code, starting off by building some basic websites and advancing to more and more technically complex projects.
Unlike most Korean students, Juwon didn’t go the traditional route of studying for the notoriously brutal set of university entrance exams known as the Suneung, attending an international high school that prepared students for the American university system. Without the need to study as intensively as some of her peers, she had the time to work on side projects and develop her skills.
One of her earliest projects came from the desire to solve a problem of her own. “I’ve always had a lot of ideas,” Juwon explains “so I’d always be saying — ’I want to patent this, I want to patent that.’ But the process of doing the research to find out if my idea had already been patented or not was always long and drawn out.” So Juwon built a simple piece of software using natural language processing that helped people wanting to file patents by calculating the distance between patent description documents, reducing research time by an order of magnitude. This experience of solving a real world problem with something she’d built stuck with Juwon and gave her the confidence and momentum to take on more difficult tasks.