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The Key to a Successful Startup: Enduring without Compromise
The Key to a Successful Startup: Enduring without Compromise

Jinu Kim (entering class of ’11, Computer Science), Founder & CEO of ‘LINER,’ the world’s best digital highlighter

‘Startup’ entails an element of ‘challenge.’ Yonsei University in Seoul, Korea possesses a challenging spirit without the fear of it, but in general, ‘youth startup’ is still considered as a unique case. According to the Startup Statistics for 2019, a report co-written by the South Korean Ministry of SMEs and Startups and the Korea Institute of Startup and Entrepreneurship Development (KISED), only 3.4% of all startups were created by people in their twenties. A survey on the actual social and economic conditions of the youth for 2019 by the National Youth Policy Institute (NYPI) of Korea showed similar results as only 12.2% of young respondents said they have actually started a business. Furthermore, 25.3% claimed that they ‘thought about starting a business, but haven’t actually started one,’ and 62.5% said they ‘never thought about starting a business.’ When only a handful of young people try to start a business, successful cases are inevitably more noticeable and special.

CEO Jinu Kim (entering class of ’11, Computer Science) shared his story and secret tips about establishing and operating the world’s best digital highlighter called ‘LINER,’ which is currently used by more than 2.6 million people around the world.

Hoping to Provide Meaningful Support Amid the ‘Flood of Information’

LINER, co-founded by Jinu Kim and others in July 2015, is a highlighter pen for web pages and digital documents. It is a tool for people to select, save, and share the parts they need from various information. It is actively used by graduate students, developers, lawyers, doctors, among many, who need comprehensive and sophisticated information.

“I don’t consider LINER as a simple tool. If people collect and analyze data that they think is important by highlighting them using a highlighter, it will provide each of them with more useful information than they are now. We’re planning to make it easier for people to access valuable information that have been ‘hyper-personalized’ by accurately grasping the purpose and context of searching for information. It will help solve the ‘excessive information’ issue.”

Jinu was full of aspirations to solve social problems through a startup that he dreamt about from his childhood. He hoped, more than anyone, that the service he created would serve a meaningful purpose to people and become a tool that can develop further.

Life Fully Dedicated to Startup

Jinu first heard about venture startups at the age of 9. It was the time when he lived in the United States with his family for his father’s business for about 2 years, and when the rise of tech giants like Microsoft, Apple, Google, and Amazon was in full swing. It all started when Jinu’s father told him that ventures are as exciting as an adventure and advised him to build a startup when he grows up. He was more interested in creating a startup as he met his parents’ friends who have already done so. He became firmly committed to fulfilling two dreams, becoming a computer programmer and creating a startup.

Since entering the Department of Computer Science at Yonsei University, Jinu prepared for a startup in earnest. He never thought about other options like entering a company. He needed an incubator that could actually help him build a startup while searching for startup clubs and competitions. That is how ‘Insiders,’ a joint startup club between Yonsei University and Korea University, was created by Jinu and his friends. In this process, he met Chanmin Woo, the co-founder and COO of LINER, whom he has been working with until now.

During the second semester in his sophomore year, Jinu suddenly became the CEO after establishing the ‘Aurum Planet’ Co., Ltd. He jumped into the art field of his interest after many thoughts. He then launched an online exhibition hall service for artists to make changes to the conservative and insufficient art market. The results were not extremely bad, but it was deemed impossible to reach the original purpose of ‘change.’ Jinu and his two colleagues left for Silicon Valley in the United Sates with 43 million won that had been earned so far, hoping to see the end of this journey during the last winter vacation in his final year. He had no connections there, but just wanted to find something that could work out in the global market by facing the reality on the ground.

Challenge, Earnestness, Endurance

“I didn’t want to fail anymore. When I faced reality that nobody was using the product that me and my colleagues have made with incalculable time and efforts, I began to feel so sorry for those who have worked with me. I desperately felt that I shouldn’t waste their efforts any longer and focused on the ideas that attracted people’s attention by testing each one every week in Silicon Valley. That’s how LINER was born.”

LINER originated from Jinu’s idea to ‘create a service that I would search for myself and use.’ He hoped that the habit of underlining and taking notes in books could also be realized in the digital domain. Even during lectures, it was becoming more necessary as textbooks were turning into PDF files or uploaded on websites. Jinu was not fully satisfied with such a simple tool at first, but began to focus solely on LINER with the vision that it could solve confusing and excessive information problem.

“I think one of the major reasons why LINER has become the world’s No. 1 is its ‘enduring power.’ When the service was first launched, we heard a lot both internally and externally that the vision is important, but what matters the most is doing a business that can immediately make profits. That’s what seemed to allow us to attract investment. But when I thought about the vision that I had in mind, my heart started to race, and that’s what made me keep going despite all the difficulties. In fact, it took me 4 years to be convinced.”

Growing to Build a Country

Jinu wanted to create something of his own through his startup and hoped that it would become a meaningful and helpful tool for others and the society. If not, he had no reason to dream of such thing. However, it was not easy to keep up with such belief. That is why he constantly meets with people and created a living community called ‘Crazyones’ to live with those who are crazy about startup.

“Living with people who I can share the feeling of having survived in a difficult startup setting gives me enormous strength. It comforts me by making me feel that I’m not the only one who is having difficulty and stimulating me to take a step further. Every startup CEO continues to study and puts efforts into work as they all know if they don’t improve themselves, their startup will fail. Given this, I naturally feel motivated to work hard. I’m also trying to learn more by meeting with not only members of Crazyones, but also people who are 6 months or 1 year ahead of me on a regular basis.”

It is Jinu’s dream to ‘build a country’ where people, who are respectful of each other, come together and live happily. He seems to have realized his dream to some extent through LINER and Crazyones, but he doesn’t think that it is anywhere close to achieving it. There is still a long way to go until he can make meaningful contributions to the society, such as developing the Internet in ways that Google cannot through LINER, and providing valuable information to people who want to be smart so they can become smarter more rapidly. Like a habit of saying ‘let’s think more crazy thoughts,’ it will be ever more exciting to see how Jinu Kim will build a future that he dreams of without compromise.

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