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A Harvard graduate turns into start-up entrepreneur in Korea

A Harvard graduate turns into start-up entrepreneur in Korea

Posted January. 15, 2014 06:29,   


"Last year, Oxford English Dictionary picked `selfie (a self-portrait photograph) ` as the word of the year for 2013. The term means just the same as `selca,` which has been a buzzword for the last 10 years in Korea. Do you now understand why I set up a start-up firm in Korea?"

A Dong-A Ilbo reporter met Monday Abel Acuna, cofounder and U.S. branch head of venture firm Ultra Caption headquartered in southern Seoul. He said he opened business in Korea because it is the country with the most advanced IT culture in the world. He added that Korean social networking services like KakaoTalk and Line have gained worldwide popularity due to Korea`s high culture competitiveness.

In just three years since he first came to Korea, Acuna launched jointly with his Korean colleagues an application that enables sharing of selfie photos. When people take a photo of themselves and upload it on a social networking service, their friends help them find an ideal man or woman. The application has gained 1 million downloads and over 300 million clicks from Asia including Japan and Taiwan.

Acuna said, "Despite disputes of privacy infringement, selfie culture is gaining popularity because people want to receive attention from others," adding, "The aggressive culture of the so-called selca among young Koreans has expanded globally. It is not an exaggeration to say that Facebook`s selfie culture has its origin in Korea."

A graduate of public policy school in Harvard University and previous viral marketing expert in New York and Boston, Acuna chose to come to Korea thanks to ties with challenging start-up venturers. In 2011, Seoul National University students created a social networking service called "Classmate" and asked him help link with Harvard University students. The following year, Acuna fled to Korea and co-founded Ultra Caption.

However, he was shocked to see young Koreans` narrow-minded business mindset. "In Korea, there is a wide perception that talented people should have a job in large companies like Samsung and Hyundai Motor," he said. The U.S. has a culture that encourages highly skilled people create their own businesses.

He said, "Seoul is clean and convenient compared to New York. It is also a route for expanding business into China and Japan," adding, "My dream is to make social networking services that everyone in the world can enjoy."