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[Alumni Interview] ‘Everytime’, Everywhere
[Alumni Interview] ‘Everytime’, Everywhere

Han Yi Kim, CEO of VINU Labs, Dreaming a Better College Life (Computer Science Class of ‘09)

There are probably very few college students in Korea who do not use ‘Everytime’. Everytime has become an essential app for college students across the country, allowing them to obtain useful information for campus life, such as courses, employment, and extracurricular activities, communicate with friends from all universities across the country, and enjoy various benefits. Alumnus Han Yi Kim, who first introduced Everytime to the world as a student, has grown it into a college life platform that goes beyond a simple online community through continuous upgrades. Through Everytime, he strives to provide meaningful and useful services along with new values throughout college life, from admission to graduation, 24 hours a day.


Course Scheduler That Saves the Day

When Kim was in his first and second year of college, smartphones emerged, opening a new paradigm in the IT field. It was also a time when services began to gradually shift from websites to mobile applications. Though enrolled in the mechanical engineering department, these transitions fascinated him, leading him to begin his journey in the IT field in earnest as he changed his major to computer science in his third year. Although it was not a time when smartphone users were virtually everywhere like now, it was already possible to proactively learn curriculum such as app development in major courses. The knowledge acquired here eventually led to the development of Everytime. Surprisingly, Everytime was the first application he developed, and it started out of his own needs.

“When we first developed it, it did not provide as many services as it does now. It started as a website with a course scheduler function that I developed as a freshman. It only evolved into a mobile application in my third year of college. The reason for the development was actually to relieve the inconveniences of my college life. In the first year of college, the proportion of liberal arts courses was relatively high, and there was bound to be time floating between these courses. In order not to miss the liberal arts courses that fit my pre-planned schedule, I had to go to the internet cafe to register them. There was a concern regarding an efficient way to create different combinations of courses. So, I decided to create a program that could conveniently schedule courses, which led to the development of a course scheduler program with automation functions.”

Though everyone might have felt the need for such a solution during the course registration period, Kim was the one who took action. It was a function that he needed as a student, and it was an idea that started from the understanding of the practical needs of college students. The course scheduler program became increasingly popular through word of mouth, to the extent that students from other schools also requested the development of the program. Meanwhile, the number of users continued to expand beyond our university by linking with about 20 other universities.

An Essential App for All College Students, Turning Crisis Into Opportunity

2015, a few semesters before graduation, Kim was faced with a life-changing choice. He had to decide on the career he wished to pursue. Kim felt that if he were to be employed somewhere, he would not be able to run Everytime, loved by countless college students. After much thought, he decided to start a business with three friends, including alumni from our university.

“To be honest, my parents and acquaintances around me were very concerned, and at the time, it was not common for college students to start their businesses, so it was a hard decision. However, I had a strong wish that Everytime users could use the service more consistently. Also, after running the service for a long time, I developed a deep attachment to it. I chose to start a business because I wanted to develop this service ‘sustainably’.”

Kim’s decision to start a business came with a clear goal in mind- to expand the service to universities nationwide. It was also a time when service requests continuously came in, not only from the 20 schools in the metropolitan area but also from universities in other regions. The number of users, which was about 1 million at the time of startup, increased rapidly to about 4 million in 2019. It may have felt pressurizing for Kim, but he was instead full of happy thoughts about how to grow the company further.

Thoroughly enjoying the first-mover effect of not having any competitors, Kim has been successful in every service he launched, with no major setbacks since the start of his business. Additionally, he was always prepared to seize growth opportunities. The opportunity for VINU Labs to take another leap was the COVID-19 pandemic. Students flocked to Everytime because offline college life came to a pause, including student orientation, school events, club activities, and graduation ceremonies.

“Advertising used to account for a lot of revenue, but due to the pandemic, companies significantly reduced their marketing budgets. It could have been a moment of crisis for us as well, but since users were unable to be physically on campus, they visited Everytime more often to get information and interact. Information once attained from seniors at offline meetings became available at Everytime, and there was a lot of information that could only be obtained by accessing Everytime. In short, it served as an ‘online campus’. Until then, Everytime had a strong utility nature, focusing on course schedulers and course evaluation services, but with the pandemic, it expanded its identity as a community app.”
Currently, the cumulative number of Everytime subscribers is 7 million, and the number of current student subscribers is approximately 2.7 million. It can be said that virtually all college students use the service. The average annual growth rate reaches 85%.

A ‘Living’ Platform That Encompasses All Aspects of University Life

Everytime is widely known to the general public as a simple college student community app. However, on closer inspection, it is a ‘university life platform’ full of useful services that are essential for university life. Not only is there a bulletin board for each university and department, but users can freely create new bulletin boards as well. These community functions include various information focusing on students' external activities, such as contests, clubs, and studies, and the 'Campus Pick' service, which allows users to exchange ideas. In addition, through an e-commerce service called 'Student Welfare Store', supplies such as IT devices, fashion, and groceries are sold to students at a discount in partnership with companies. It forms the 'ecosystem of university life' itself with more practical services, including active communication, practical information, and tangible help in everyday life.

It would be a mistake to think that Everytime is only used by college students. It is a service that includes not only college students across the country but also high school students and alumni who have graduated. The 'University Encyclopedia' service, through which high school students ask questions about the university they wish to enroll in, which are voluntarily answered by college students of that university based on their actual experiences and information, is also popular. Graduates who are employed share their experiences and tips for job hunting, as well as information about the companies they work for. By sharing the information that users need most, information is communicated and synergy is created between users. This is why one can never use Everytime once.

The various services installed in Everytime have been improved and enhanced, and Kim keeps in mind that the basis of the service is always the 'user perspective'. Rather than simply asking users questions, he wishes to go one step ahead and provide a service that exceeds expectations by taking into account things that users may not have thought about. This is the quality that VINU Labs focuses on most when selecting its new members. In addition, Kim keeps in mind the evolution and development of services suited to that generation as users change.

“The various services and functions we have created so far began with our efforts to create things that are practically necessary for college life. It started from my own needs and also reflected the needs of other students around me. Because I went to school until 2020, I was able to experience the needs of students up close until recently. Luckily, users find it useful, so it is rewarding beyond just the growth of the company. Actually, back then students were more familiar with websites, but I think college students these days are definitely of the mobile generation. This generation is more accustomed to viewing timetables on the small screen of a smartphone. The fact that we launched the application and provided services through it is probably what made this business successful to this day.”

Success Comes From ‘Surviving’ Through Valuable Services

Kim has always been in the spotlight as an icon of a successful young entrepreneur. What does he think is the driving force behind his success? And what will future success depend on?

“I really like the word ‘focus’. It is also something that the company considers very important. In some ways, I think one has to give up a lot to focus. You need to think about what not to do and what is bad so that you can focus on what you really need. The process of creating Everytime is the same, and the same is true in my personal life. From a company's perspective, I believe that the criterion for success is survival. A company that survives is acknowledged to be successful. Our company may be successful now, but we don't know what will happen in a few years. So my goal is to continue to survive in the years to come.”

To keep going, to do well, and to survive, Kim’s goal is clear: providing value to users’ college life.

“What I pursue, and the direction the company is taking, is to provide value to college students 24 hours a day and to help them enjoy a better college life by providing our services throughout the entire process from admission to graduation.”

Kim has also become a role model among students aspiring to start a business. He advises his juniors to strive to find ‘value’ rather than a specific methodology.

“I don’t want students to see starting a business as a goal in itself. I hope they start more ‘valuable businesses’. There are many cases where people start a business simply to make a lot of money or with the approach that it is better to do one's own work than to work for someone else. Rather than that, I think there should be a meaningful goal. It would be better to have a start-up that challenges difficult things that are difficult to do. I think I took on the challenge of doing something that was troublesome and cumbersome. In order to expand the course schedule scheduler service, I searched each and every one of the 400 campuses nationwide to obtain academic information. It was something everyone needed but no one was doing. It was a troublesome job, but inversely it became an opportunity for growth.”

One More Step Towards the Global Stage

Kim is once again preparing to walk an unchartered path. He is currently working hard to expand his business beyond the domestic market, with the first being Vietnam. Vietnam has many similarities to Korea, such as the academic system and passion for education, and the college entrance rate is steadily increasing. Kim finds Vietnam, which is similar to us in many ways, to have potential as a new market. Soon, Everytime will be available at Vietnamese universities, focusing on Hanoi.

“We are working hard to launch the service in the second half of the year. Among the students who come to Korea to study, Vietnamese students account for the second largest number after China. There is a lot of interest in Korea, and there are similarities in the academic system. Therefore, I think that Vietnamese college students also have some of the same concerns and problems they were trying to solve in Korea. I think we can compete in the new market with VINU Labs’ know-how and skills. We have already conducted focus interviews with about 100 local college students, and are creating a service based on these.”
The name 'VINU Labs' is a reversed spelling of 'UNIV.', the English word for university. It contains Kim's will to lead a paradigm shift that turns college life 180 degrees so that college students can dream of better times and a better future. In fact, Everytime has changed many aspects of the campus life of Korean college students. Alumnus Han Yi Kim does not settle for the present but plans to continuously create more changes and look into the lives of college students to find meaningful answers for sustainable services. We look forward to seeing what changes he will make for a better college life in years to come.

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