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Real Humans of Circle: Kidae Hong, NYU Stern MBA ’21, CEO and Co-Founder

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Kidae Hong, NYU Stern MBA ’21, returns to talk about his entrepreneurial venture, Circle, and how Stern empowered his vision in this edition of Real Humans: Alumni. Read on for his insights into entrepreneurship, making the most of business school and more.

Kidae Hong, NYU Stern MBA’21, CEO and Co-Founder at Circle

Age: 36
Employer & Title: Circle CEO and Co-Founder
Hometown: Seoul, South Korea
Undergraduate Institution and Major: Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, Industrial Engineering
Graduate Business School, Graduation Year and Concentration (if applicable): NYU Stern School of Business, MBA Class of 2021
Pre-MBA Work Experience (years, industry): Four startups, 7 years
Post-MBA Work Experience (years, industry): Circle, 6 months

Why did you choose to attend business school?
After four startups in Korea, I wanted to move on to a global stage and business school seemed like the perfect way to transition. They say that an MBA allows you to make one of three major changes: career industry, role, and location. For me, the prime change was the location.

Why NYU Stern? What factors figured most prominently into your decision of where to attend?
Location, location, location. NYU Stern’s location in the heart of the business capital of the world, New York, was the biggest reason I decided to attend NYU Stern. While many other institutions could provide a great network of people and education, I thought that Stern would allow me to truly immerse myself in the dynamic and always-moving business scene of a global city. I was also very impressed with Stern’s emphasis on leading change, which resonated with my entrepreneurial passion.

What about your MBA experience prepared you for your current career?
Many courses prepared me for starting a new tech business in the U.S. Professor Thanos Papadimitriou’s course on high-tech entrepreneurship gave a great layout of the steps to starting a business, while Professor Xiao Liu’s “Data Driven Decision Making” gave me a solid foundation to utilize data for gaining key insight into difficult problems. The most helpful course was “Managing a High-Tech Company” taught by Professor Jihoon Rim, who was previously the CEO of Kakao Corporation, Korea’s leading messaging app. Professor Rim’s course gave a unique perspective on problem-solving as a CEO.

I also directly benefited from the Stern Venture Fellows program, established by Stern alumnus David Ko (BS ’93), newly announced Co-CEO of Calm and Co-Founder and CEO at Ripple Health Group. I received a grant as well as mentoring and support to develop my startup.

What was your internship during business school?  How did that inform your post-MBA career choice?
I interned as a senior product manager at Amazon for my summer internship. I developed a family scheduling management feature for the Amazon Echo Show 15 by collaborating with UX research and design teams, engineering leads, and product managers to produce a 20-page report detailing the proposed feature.

Since my previous experience was in startups, the Amazon internship gave me a unique perspective on the inner workings of a global-scale tech company. I learned a lot regarding the extent of meticulous research and strict prioritization that goes into their product-building process. I came out of the internship feeling a sense of excitement to apply the new processes I had experienced into the startup context.

Why did you choose your current company? What factors figured most prominently into your decision of where to work?
My decision to start Circle came about due to the pandemic. In early 2020, everything went online, including all the networking events, and I realized that the virtual experience was very lacking compared to the in-person experience. The biggest factor for this seemed to be the platform we were using for these events — Zoom, since Zoom wasn’t built as a networking event tool, but for video calls. Since my last startup was also in the live-streaming video space, I was familiar with the technology, so I decided to build a better networking-event-specific tool with my co-founder and wife, Claire (also Stern MBA Class of 2021).

As for my decision to continue pursuing this opportunity post-graduation, the key factor was the belief that video communication and virtual events are here to stay beyond the pandemic. Timing is a very important factor for business opportunities, and I felt confident that getting into the virtual event space when the market is experiencing hyper-growth was a great opportunity.

How has COVID impacted your industry/career plans?
COVID has directly impacted my career plan because Circle was born out of the pandemic. While COVID posed many difficulties, it also provided this opportunity for me, so I like to think of it as an example of turning my problems into opportunities.

Advice to current MBA students:
–One thing you would absolutely do again as part of the job search?
The one thing I would absolutely do again would be to intern in an industry that I have previously not worked in or am curious about. Working at a global tech company was always a space that I was curious about because it is the opposite of a startup. The scale of the organization requires efficient ways of working together and ensuring that the human resources are optimized. Being able to experience this environment while in the MBA program allowed me to get a better understanding of verifying my fit with this industry while having the flexibility to pivot to new industries afterward if I don’t see a fit.

–What piece of advice do you wish you had been given during your MBA?
This is more of a piece of advice that I gave myself that I’m very happy I followed: For the entrepreneurial souls out there, make sure you utilize the MBA period to put your idea into action. If you can’t put it into action during the MBA, you won’t be able to put it into action post-MBA when you have a full-time job. There are no excuses for not being able to pursue your dream during your MBA!

Alexandra Markovich
Alexandra (Alex) Markovich was born and raised in Miami, Florida. She attended Florida State University (FSU), where she obtained a Bachelor’s Degree in English. After her time at FSU, she has continued to pursue learning more about the writing industry by enrolling herself in editing certificate programs provided by Poynter Institute and the University of Chicago. In her spare time, you can find Alex working out her local gym, perusing local book stores, taking her dogs to the local dog park, and soaking up the Miami sun!