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Korean entrepreneurs

Serial entrepreneur builds gateway for cloud services

Jan 27, 2021 (Gmt+09:00)

Bespin Global CEO Lee Han-joo speaks at IPO Expo 2020.
Bespin Global CEO Lee Han-joo speaks at IPO Expo 2020.


“You see all of these buildings? All of the companies in these buildings will become our clients."

These were the words of Lee Han-joo, chief executive of Bespin Global Inc., said to an employee as they walked down the streets of the skyscraper-packed business district in Gwanghwamun, Seoul.

His statement may come off as bold and even forward, considering that the company is not exactly a household name. But over the past few years, the wave of digital transition has propelled the growth of cloud managed service provider (MSP) Bespin Global, positioning it as the gateway for cloud services in South Korea.


But Lee isn't satisfied. He aspires to cultivate Bespin Global to become a company with an enterprise value of 20 trillion won ($18.1 billion) in 10 years.

His confidence stems from years of experience and aspiration. So far, Lee has established four companies, earning the label of 'serial entrepreneur,' and all of his startups have achieved considerable success.

Lee firmly believes that cloud services, which currently have a 10 percent adoption rate, will eventually be used by all companies, government, and public institutions. And Lee is confident that Bespin Global will be the linchpin that aids the country's adoption of cloud services.

FORLORN MULTIMILLIONAIRE EYES NEXT OPPORTUNITY

In 1983, Lee went to the US following the relocation of his father, a former Samsung Electronics executive. He spent his teenage years in the US, and went on to major in biology at the University of Chicago.

He began his journey as an entrepreneur when he launched web hosting company Hostway in 1998. He came up with the idea while brainstorming with his college friends at his Chicago-based apartment.

Web hosting, considered to be the original cloud service,
allocates internet servers to clients and helps them manage their websites.

Hostway flourished amid the internet industry boom, and in 2014, Lee made a successful exit after selling it to a US-based private equity fund for around $500 million. Lee earned a sweet fortune from the deal as he was the largest shareholder.

Despite becoming a multimillionaire, Lee recalls the exit as a bittersweet experience as he feels he missed an opportunity to become a leading cloud infrastructure firm, such as Amazon Web Services, despite having laid the groundwork with the web hosting business. 

But moving on, he returned to Korea to take on another challenge in the IT industry by launching Bespin Global in 2015.

“The global cloud market is growing to be worth hundreds of billions of dollars. I realized if we could spearhead one of the segments, then we'd be able to create a company that can feed the entire Korean IT industry," said Lee.

Serial entrepreneur builds gateway for cloud services



BESPIN GLOBAL SOLIDIFIES LEADING POSITION IN KOREAN MARKET

“My criteria when deciding which industry to launch a business in is always: first foremost speed; second, speed; and third, speed," said Lee, explaining that a fast-growing industry is a blue ocean even if the market size is modest.

Bespin Global connects cloud infrastructure companies with clients. The company provides end-to-end cloud services, offering a diagnosis to explain why cloud migration is necessary and aiding in the deployment process. The company also provides security and maintenance services, such as detecting anomalies.

When the Korean entrepreneur first launched the company, the domestic cloud market was just getting started. Only a few game companies and corporates were  adopting it, and then on a trial basis, mostly to save costs that went into setting up servers.

But things have taken a turn, as more and more companies regard cloud migration as necessary rather than optional, owing to the emergence of cloud-backed solutions such as artificial intelligence and data analysis. Lee’s projection that the Korean cloud industry would take off was confirmed.

Over the past six years, Bespin Global has experienced high growth, especially due to the rising number of companies that opted for cloud migration amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

In 2018, Bespin Global’s revenue stood at around 30 billion won ($27.1 million), but it has more than quadrupled as of 2020. The company, which had only three employees in the beginning, now houses 850 employees. This year, it expects to top 200 billion won in revenue.

The company is likely to reach unicorn status when it gets its next fresh funding, industry watchers say.

LOVER OF CLASSICAL MUSIC BECOMES CLOUD EVANGELIST FOR CEOS

Lee is noted for being a classical music enthusiast, as he dreamed of becoming a conductor. When he first went abroad, he couldn't communicate well due to the  language barrier, but music served as a channel for him to make friends. Recently he has become an aficionado of Korean musicals, as he mentions Park Kang-hyun as his favorite musical star.

He is also very interested in Korean culture and history, perhaps because he left Korea when he was young and began his career abroad. Among the books that he carries around in his bag, one will always be on the topic of Korean history or culture, as he aims to better understand the country that is home ground for Bespin Global. 

Recently, many CEOs have been reaching out to Lee, the cloud evangelist, to learn about cloud services as digital transition becomes a hot topic among executives.

Bespin Global’s client portfolio includes major companies such as Kia Motors, Hanwha Techwin, Amorepacific, Hyundai Department Store and Neowiz. The company is also strengthening its collaboration with SK Group as it received 90 billion won (81.5 million) in funding from SK Telecom last year.

Illustration by Sun-woo Kim
Illustration by Sun-woo Kim

B2B SaaS SEEN AS THE FUTURE FOR KOREA'S SOFTWARE INDUSTRY

Lee says business to business software as a service (B2B SaaS) will be the future for Korea's software industry. Unlike on-premise services that require installing programs on internal servers, SaaS can be used without offline installation as it runs on cloud.

Enterprise messaging platform Slack and customer relationship management platform Salesforce are examples of companies using B2B SaaS .

Bespin Global is also boosting its SaaS business through sales of itscloud management platform OpsNow, whereby all the different cloud solutions adopted by a company can be managed on a single platform. The company aims to distribute OpsNow to 100,000 clients globally by 2025.

“Many people say it’s impossible, but my track record is all about turning imagination into reality,” said Lee, adding “I’m determined to prove that this is the right direction.”

The serial entrepreneur is also the co-chief executive of Spark Labs, a startup accelerator and a venture capital firm established in 2012. Lee participates in the startup fostering program held twice a year to share his business expertise with new companies. So far, he has invested in around 170 startups both at home and abroad.

Last year, Lee also joined the advisory team at Toss Lab, which offers Jandi, a group-oriented messaging tool, to help Toss Lab's foray into Asian markets. He is always eager to mentor and to arrange meetings between startup companies and foreign buyers at various IT exhibitions, such as the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), where he was a speaker in 2020. 

Write to Han-jong Choi at onebell@hankyung.com

Danbee Lee edited this article.

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