17-year-old Korean CEO on making $1 million in gross sales

At the age of just 17, Sukone Hong realized his entrepreneurial dream by building two companies at the same time.

The first, a South Korean fashion brand of which he is the CEO, made over $ 1 million in sales this year and gained Harvard University recognition. The second, a Braille smartwatch for the visually impaired, has thousands of pre-orders.

It’s one way of getting the tyrants back.

“It was hard for me to get engaged to school. I was kind of bullied. I had to find something that could change my life,” said Hong CNBC does it.

Build a brand

Teen Hong started his entrepreneurial journey four years ago when he was in eighth grade.

Struggling to find his way around his school in Seoul with his classmates, he sought distraction by reselling branded clothing on a South Korean search engine Naver.

But with only $ 150 in his pocket, which quickly “flew away”, he realized that he had to change his tactics.

There were around 15 orders on Monday morning. Fifty at lunch. Eighty in the evening. I sold 300 shirts this week.

Sukone Hong

Founder and CEO, Olaga Studios

Hong needed a unique selling proposition. With a $ 5,000 loan from his grandparents and support from a printing company, he set out to create his own apparel website offering unisex casual wear with simple, playful designs.

In order to, Olaga Studios – Korean for “to rise” – was born.

“Nothing happened for a week,” said Hong. “Then on Monday morning it was about 15 orders. Fifty at lunch. Eighty in the evening. I sold 300 shirts that week.”

Learning to give back

The three-year-old brand has since grown to be a regional success, generating annual sales of $ 1.2 million in six Asian markets and ranking # 1 in Style shares T-shirt category.

This has enabled Hong to hire a team of 12 to help run the website. But it also enabled him to repay his parents’ tuition at the American International School in Seoul, to which he has moved.

It was there that he found inspiration for his newest company, which he believes is his true calling.

I thought business was all about making a lot of money. But after changing school I had a good education.

Sukone Hong

Founder and CEO, Olaga Studios

“I used to think that business is all about making a lot of money,” said Hong. “But after I changed school I had a good education.”

“My teacher said my experience could be used to start a business to help others,” he added.

With Paradox Computers, the company behind his Braille smartwatch, he wants to achieve just that.

Find support for investors

Braille smartwatches – which enable the visually impaired to receive real-time information such as texts and messages from their phone – have been in the market for several years.

But the exorbitant cost of such products – usually more than $ 300 – can make them inaccessible to many disabled people.

After working on a school project on disability, Hong realized the inequality and decided that there had to be another, more affordable option.

The Braille Smartwatches from Paradox Computers show the time and date by vibrating haptics for the visually impaired.

Paradoxical computers

“I thought it was so unfair,” he said. “And at the same time, it’s a good opportunity for business.”

So he set out to understand the market, talking to visually impaired people to learn about their needs, and engineers to come up with solutions.

Hong then raised a book of contacts from his existing fashion business to support his vision with a $ 300,000 investment for a 30% stake.

I learned that I could hire all of these people even though I don’t have a background in technology.

Sukone Hong

Founder and CEO, Olaga Studios

“My background as CEO has helped me,” he said. “I’ve learned that I can hire all of these people even though I don’t have a technical background.”

Six months later, Paradox Computers’ $ 80 Braille smartwatch has sold in the hundreds, with a pre-order of 3,000 from China currently in the works. But despite his success, Hong said he was still determined to keep up with his studies.

“When the business was growing fast, I thought about dropping out of school. But I met a lot of CEOs and they all told me to go to college,” he said.

And who knows, being a guest speaker and mentor at Harvard and Stanford can be worth the effort.

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