Kevin is an Amazon best-selling author of The Outlier Approach: How to Triumph in Your Career as a Nonconformist. Previously, Kevin grew his startup Dealflicks up to a $15M valuation. He is currently an advisor to several startups including Sinemia and executives/entrepreneurs.
Kevin’s work as an entrepreneur has been featured in CNBC, Times, Forbes, NY Times, LA Times, Xinhua News (China), Korea Times, NDR (Germany) and countless other media outlets globally. His writing has also been featured in CNBC, Forbes, Inc, HuffPost, and many more.
Kevin’s career began at 18, when he dropped out of college and began making nearly $10,000 per month in a networking marketing business despite speaking broken English after moving back from Korea.
After realizing he wanted to achieve bigger things in life, Kevin finished college with a degree in finance and became a stockbroker in Wall Street during the Great Recession and then a stock research analyst for William O’Neil (Investors’ Business Daily).
He then successfully transitioned his career to Silicon Valley to cofound his startup and afterwards, his success lead him to a C-Level position for a subsidiary of a publicly traded company (Vista Group – NZE:VGL) that was the most dominant POS provider in the movie industry.
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For those who have not as yet read The Outlier Approach, hopefully your responses to these questions will stimulate their interest and, better yet, encourage them to purchase a copy and read the book ASAP. First, when and why did you decide to write it?
Too often in Silicon Valley or in the world of business, the same people are quoted – Elon Musk, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Paul Graham, etc. As someone who lived in a van for three years (two years with Dealflicks and one year afterward) I had a lot of time to read books in the van and got tired of the same old stories. It seemed like everyone was being the same, by quoting the “same person/book” that was supposedly “different”. Every networking event, I hear the same Paul Graham said x and Steve Jobs did y.
I wanted to write something that encouraged others to carve out their own unique path to success. For example, by the age of 32, I had worked in finance, tech, entertainment, media/journalism as an entrepreneur and as an executive. Each move I was able to make an impact while learning some new moves. I did this with very little connections, having immigrant parents, and with broken English when I started off.
Time and time again, I was not only able to adapt but also flipped my weaknesses into strengths. I had to go through this route, not because I wanted to, but because it was the only ladder I saw to success for “me.” If I used some of the advice many of the books provided, I don’t think I would be where I am a today.
In this day and age, this adaptive mindset is needed while finding your own strengths and weaknesses to maximize your potential.
Were there any head-snapping revelations while writing it? Please explain.
My family and I didn’t always quite see each other eye to eye. I was different. As mentioned earlier, my parents wanted me to have an American education while I wanted the American Dream.
Prior to writing my book, my parents and I were barely on speaking terms. They couldn’t comprehend the lifestyle I chose and they thought with the effort I poured into entrepreneurship, I could have earned two PhDs!
But, as my parents read each page of the draft of this book, their understanding of me became deeper and deeper. Finally, at the age of 32, and for the first time in my life, I finally felt as though I had a family that accepted me for who I was—a nonconformist with an uninhibited entrepreneurial spirit.
The biggest win for me was finally having a family that understood me.
To what extent (if any) does the book in final form differ [begin italics] significantly [end italics] from what you originally envisioned?
Significantly! Originally, I wanted to write a simple book to help Koreans negotiate life in America. That went out the window as I realized quickly I could reach a much bigger audience.
What did you learn about yourself while writing The Outlier Approach that you did not know before?
Hong: That I am apparently a decent writer. I had no idea people would appreciate my writing. As someone who moved back to Korea at the age of 16, I began writing a journal to improve my English. That happened carried on for 17 years without anyone reading my journals. I was so surprised when many of my colleagues had finished my manuscript and had read my book multiple times. Quick frankly, I am still not used to it.
What are the core principles of the outlier approach philosophy?
Flip your weaknesses into strengths – Not everyone is like Steve Jobs or Elon Musk. However, that doesn’t mean massive success isn’t right around the corner. Often times, our perceived weaknesses are our greatest strengths.
Focus on trading social value opposed to networking – Our Most valuable resource is time. It is the only resource that is not replenishable. In the name of networking, we waste precious time spending it on networks that hold us back. Stay away from the Frenemy Zone and learn to build a vertical network.
Sell Vision Not Product – From building my last startup to a $15M valuation to selling beepers in Compton and making nearly $10K/month after immigrating to the US with broken English, I have learned the power of selling vision. You can sell vision to win job interviews, raise money, and recruit superstars for your cause even without adequate funding.
Re-engineer your reality by re-defining your expectations.
Reality is what you believe as real. When building Dealflicks, my sales team and I lived and worked out of a van for over two years. We raised over $4m in venture capital funds and our eccentric business strategy got us featured in the NY Times, LA Times, The Verge, CNBC, and many other media outlets.The exposure helped me become a contributor to CNBC, Forbes, Huffington Post, and Inc. Magazine.
You seem to be driven by an insatiable curiosity to gain knowledge and wisdom from a variety of sources. Please share the most valuable lessons you have learned from each of these. First, from your parents
As a kid, I watched my parents work tirelessly to build a better future for our family. We were immigrants three times because we made 2 round trips to American and back.
It was these moments I spent not just watching but also living the hardships with my parents that helped me shape who I am today.
From being an FOB (First Off the Boat), not once but twice
The importance of adapting. As I mention in my book, I realized early in my career I had to become an American first before I became a businessman to be successful. If I wasn’t culturally savvy and I had not understood the importance of this, I wouldn’t be where I am today.
From your association with Excel Communications
To quote Tom Brokaw “It’s easy to make a buck. It’s a lot tougher to make a difference.”
From your association with Sean Wycliffe
We all make mistakes. But the only way you can grow from them is by acknowledging them first. I think that’s been the biggest difference between those who continue to grow and develop their career versus those who stagnate.
From the Great Recession in 2008
Money can come and go in the blink of an eye. There’s no need to get too high or too low in anything you do. Just like a great trader, the best entrepreneurs are great risk-takers as well as great risk-mitigaters
From E*Trade Financial
Everyone hates their boss. If you are one of the few that can get along with your boss(es), this is a huge opportunity for you. There’s a reason they have the responsibilities they have and there is no reason to not take advantage to learn a thing or two. If they are really horrible at being a boss, then learn what not to do.
From your association with Dealflicks and especially the two-year residence in the “Man Van”
People buy into vision. With the right vision and attitude, people will follow you to the end of the world.
From your association with Cinema Intelligence and its parent company, Vista
Being part of a corporation versus owning your business is not as drastically different as people think. Most people don’t understand that if you own your own business, your clients or investors are your boss. Great business professionals understand that success is derived from serving others. So there’s really no need to dread the 9 to 5 to pursue a 9 to 9. The stakeholders may be different but someone is always cutting you a check
In your opinion, what are the most important dos and don’ts to keep in mind when attempting to achieve success in sales, whatever the given product or service may be?
Just be honest. When your product or service is underwhelming, it is so tempting to oversell. Don’t fall for this. You can always offer a great deal and offer the client to help you build out the product and service. You’d be surprised at how many clients are willing to become your “guinea pig” if you are brutally candid with them.
Dozens of your observations caught my eye. For those who have not as yet read The Outlier Approach, please comment on each of these three. First, “I’ve always found it significantly easier to orchestrate the work after finding the right people rather than do the work myself.” (Page 71)
I’ve always felt that I had an eye for talent and the ability to understand people’s needs as well as their career goals. Running a business is all about helping people find what they want. I would spend up to 4 rounds interviewing people and sometimes the last round would last up to 9 hours. I would also fire very quickly or sometimes place people on a trial period before giving them a full-time offer. Once you have the right people at the right position, business runs significantly more smoothly.
Next, “everyone “buys into your beliefs with a different agenda.” (78)
Everyone is walking a different route to success. For example, money means something different for everyone. Ask a mother, her 9 to 5 job merely might mean a source of money to help with her kid’s future college tuition. Ask an ambitious corporate climber, money is the fuel to keep up with the Jones’. Your company will have a vision but within that overarching vision, everyone has their own unique pursuit. You need to be aware of that and tie that into something that makes sense for everyone.
Finally, “In order to become a successful business professional, you need to identify not just the market but the spread.” (122)
When I was younger, I would go nightclubbing in Las Vegas every now and then. However, I didn’t want to pay for table service which could cost me an arm and a leg. One day, I devised a simple hack. It’s all explained in the book.
Please explain your reference to the “Paul Revere Approach.”
In The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell elaborates the importance of a connector to spread ideas. He highlights this notion with a contrast between two individuals who set out to alert the suburban areas of Boston when the British attacks occurred in 1775. The two men were Paul Revere and William Dawes. However, Dawes didn’t make it. Gladwell emphasizes that Revere was successful because he was the best connected man in Boston. Gladwell also describes Paul Revere as an extremely social individual – a card-player, theater lover, frequenter of pubs, as well as a successful businessman.
However, for someone such as myself who is an introvert and who care more about the return on investment for each social interaction, to become a “Paul Revere” is a daunting task.
In The Outlier Approach, I ask the reader the following questions:
“Can someone build your network for you?”
“Can you borrow someone else’s network as needed?”
“Do you have to be the “popular guy or gal” in your network?”
Simply put, must you, like Paul Revere, hunt, fish, play cards, be a regular theater-goer, hang out in pubs, to be successful?
Instead of focusing on becoming the next “Paul Revere,” I challenge the reader to focus on making friends with 5-10 “Paul Reveres,” giving you more time to develop skills and focus on performance-driven tasks.
Here’s another passage that caught my eye. “Getting fired [from Dealflicks] was the easy part. The tough part was the two-year struggle I went through trying to salvage a broken business marriage without hurting professional and personal relationships.” Please explain.
Similar to a breakup about to happen whether it be marriage or long-term dating, you see it from a mile away. No matter what you do, you can’t avoid it. That’s how I saw my relationship with Sean. I wasn’t sure what the outcome would be, but I knew our time was coming to an end. The day I got fire, I felt that I could finally relax and in many ways, I was just happy it was over.
Which Korean cultural values have been essential to what you have achieved thus far? How so?
Work-ethic. I am the last of my kind. I went to school in the 90s in Korea where we used to get spanked by our teachers for getting Bs on our tests, went to school on 6 days a week, and had afterschool activities until 9PM. I was competing against all these other Koreans who obsessed over education. This type of work ethic is deeply instilled in me. Working incessantly has always been a part of me.
In your opinion, is the so-called “American Dream” still alive and well? Please explain.
Yes. It is alive and well. However, it has changed in recent decades. For starters, the business game has become much more global and in many ways the American Dream has arguably expanded to include more players in the game.
Let’s take a look at Silicon Valley for example. So many entrepreneurs are either foreign-born or include cofounders and key employees that have never even set foot on American soil. We live in an era when the definition of the American Dream has become much more expansive as well as inclusive. The current President apparently does not agree.
What do you wish you had known at age 14 that you know now? Please explain.
That it’s OK that you’re so different. It’s what will make you special and — despite the fact that so many of your friends, family, teachers, and professors might not recognize your strengths — just keep pushing.
Various surveys indicate that Israel is among the most innovative countries and the main reason is the requirement of two years of compulsory military service for females as well as males after graduation from high school. What’s your take on that?
I agree that compulsory military service can h elp to accelerate personal growth and professional development. Korea requires their males to do two years as well and I always wondered why this was never required for women. I think women should do at least six months. Many people don’t know this about me but I am a huge fan of serving one’s country and learning teamwork. One of the reasons I loved living in the van for Dealflicks was because of the camaraderie I had felt while accomplishing something most saw as unachievable. From what I understand about military service, you can learn similar values in a similar atmosphere when overcoming adversity.
Here’s a follow-up question: In your opinion, which of the material you provide in The Outlier Approach will be most valuable to seniors in high school or recent high school graduates who cannot attend college? Please explain.
I think when I explain how and why to kick down your own doors. I did a great interview about it at Cal State Fullerton recently. Too often at school we are taught that success must be achieved a certain way. When you enter the real-world however, this is far from the truth. You have to re-wire the brain to think differently, especially if you want to achieve “outlier success.”
To those who feel trapped in a dead-end full-time job? Please explain.
Similar to the advice I would give to recent high school or college graduates, I would say kicking down doors would be apt. When you get in the routine of being part of a dead-end job, you start to see things from a very myopic standpoint. If you can find creative measure to find your own opportunities, you can start seeing your career progress from a different angle.
To C-level executives? Please explain.
Don’t sell products, sell vision. People need to understand why they are doing what they are doing. If you can trigger a cause that your whole team aligns with, there will be no limits to what you can achieve.
To the owner/CEOs of small-to-midsize companies? Please explain.
Just like C-Level executives at a corporation, I would emphasize the same idea – don’t sell products, sell vision. People need to understand why they are doing what they are doing. If you can trigger a cause that your whole team aligns with, there will be no limits to what you can achieve.
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Kevin cordially invites you to check out the resources at these websites:
His Amazon link
His Inc. link
Link to a YouTube video of his program about branding at University of Chicago
Cinema Intelligence link