The Phonevite Blog is currently maintained by John Nahm, the CEO and Co-Founder of Phonevite
I’m a serial entrepreneur. Phonevite is currently my main business but I have other business ideas that are either on hold or in the backburner. My first business, I launched when I was in elementary school, growing up in the Canary Islands of Spain. At that time, Ginseng Gum had become popular in Korea (oh, my ethnic background is Korean), and the idea was to sell Ginseng Gum to my fellow-students and teachers, leveraging the marketing message of the the amazing health benefits of Ginseng. In spite of the horrible taste, some teachers and students bought the gum packs. However, I soon realized that even though the margins were high (75%), I would have to sell a whole lot of gum in order to make a killing, so the business was eventually dropped, but it was a good experience.
I grew up and moved to the US for college. Struggling to pay for my tuition and living expenses (my parents’ business at the time was not doing well), I was forced to bring out my entrepreneurial skills out to the fore once again. I put an ad on the Korean (NY) Times letting people know that I was available to translate between Korean-English-Spanish. Soon, my pager (yes, no cell phones back then… well, only the rich and the corporates had them) started ringing and I went to courts, law offices, doctors’ offices and hospitals, helping first-generation Korean-Americans navigate through the US legal and medical system. This thriving business also stopped when I got a job, at the UN, at age 20, which I couldn’t refuse.
Wanting to succeed and fulfill my destiny, through a series of transfers, and help from above and others (especially the woman who became my wife), I made it to Columbia University and graduated with a B.A. in Economics and Master of International Affairs.
That was the year 2000 and it was the crossroads of my life. Pursue a diplomatic career (e.g. UN, World Bank) or go entrepreneurial? The choice wasn’t that difficult since Silicon Valley was calling with the dotcom boom and my wife wanted to move back to her home state of CA (we just had our first kid). So I joined a start-up called Dialpad, which was one of the earlier internet telephony companies, the Skype of the Dial-up era (it’s sad that it’s not known the other way around… i.e. Skype is the Dialpad of the Broadband era – although Dialpad eventually, 5 years later, got acquired by Yahoo!). Those were exciting times. I remember spotting the company in January ’00 when they had reached 1 million users within 1 month of launch. I applied for the job by writing directly to the CEO (firstname.lastname@example.org – email no longer working) in March when they had about 4 million users, and joined the company in June when they had about 6-7 million users. Like many start-ups back then, we had free food and drinks every day, and played ping-pong and foosball (I was one of the champions with my doubles-partner James Chung) during breaks (which we took quite often in our long work days). I learned a lot during my time at Dialpad: what to do and what NOT to do when running an internet start-up. Then 9/11 hit, the dotcom economy had its final blowup and I moved to LA in search of stability and a steady paycheck.
I ended up in corporate banking. Given my “technical background” I started providing Product & Technical Support to corporate clients, but migrated toward sales eventually. In large corporations, sales is as entrepreneurial as it gets, and I loved innovating new sales channels and closing the deals.
But the venture bug kept ticking, which got me started in several moonlight ventures while I was working as a banker during the day. Some failed and some were successful.
Some of the failures were:
- bportal.com – business portal. Never went beyond the idea and a few brainstorming sessions. Great domain name though, and I was able to fetch some $$ out of it.
- altergia.com – alternative energy company. Great concept & domain name. No execution.
- eramyun.com – selling ramyun over the web – never went beyond the concept, but bought, lost, rebought and lost the domain name a couple of times – don’t know who has it now.
- Canaan International – an earlier attempt at becoming a trading company, closed it down due to inactivity and because California was charging an excessive $800 corporate minimum tax (Governator, pls. do something about this tax which kills innovation and entrepreneurship).
- Oceans Mobile – a Systems Integration company selling and installing mobile tech solutions sourced from the mobile frontier of S. Korea (considered the most advanced country when it comes to mobile). We actually managed to sign distribution partnerships with the la-creme-de-la-creme of the mobile tech companies in Korea, but by the time we got selling, the market for mobile solutions became saturated in the US & Latin America (the markets we were targetting). Nevertheless, Oceans Mobile served as the launching platform for Oceans International.
On the shortlist of successes:
- Oceans International (in progress)- thanks to the connections we (I say we, because some close friends got involved as partners and investors) had built through Oceans Mobile, Oceans Int’l became a boutique investment broker/strategic advisory firm that helped several US start-ups and established tech companies enter into strategic partnerships and investment relationships with the tech giants of S. Korea (Samsung, LG, SK Telecom). We were also able to close some deals in the opposite direction, e.g. like helping S. Korean start-up Musicshake obtain funding from a US VC and make it as a finalist at the first TechCrunch40. The US success of Musicshake led my partner-in-crime for Oceans, Kihong Bae, to drop out of the Wharton MBA program, put Oceans initiatives on hold, and become the US General Manager of Musicshake. I also had to put Oceans in the back-burner, as Phonevite activity was taking off.
- Phonevite (in progress)- which brings us to the story of Phonevite. Kalvin was a Co-founding engineer at Dialpad and regarded as a “CORE” engineer (i.e. Dialpad would collapse without him and the other CORE engineers LOL). In 2006, I was actually trying to recruit Kalvin as an engineering lead for the aforementioned Oceans Mobile. He was not interested. Instead, he had a business idea of his own which he had been toying with for the past 1-2 years. He told me about it and I was skeptical, but we kept in touch. And as I slept on it more and more, and continued my conversations with Kalvin, I thought to myself: “How many chances in life will I have the opportunity to work with a true geek like Kalvin (and I mean “Geek” with the highest respect and regard for the term, since I believe that Kalvin could today build the whole Skype system from the ground up, on his own, if he was determined to do so)? So in January 2007, we incorporated the company under the name of Ifonoclast, Inc. (a variation of the term Iconoclast with a phonetic variation on the “c” – to “f” for fono/phone). At first, I was still involved with my bank job and Oceans Int’l, but some of the deals I closed earlier for Oceans gave me the financial cushion to quit my bank job, and the increasing activity at Phonevite led me to a decision to put Oceans Int’l in storage as well. And now Phonevite is chugging along and the story continues to be written.