04/02/15 – Assistant Secretary Charles H. Rivkin Remarks at Startup Alliance Town Hall Event

Assistant Secretary of State for Economic and Business Affairs Charles Rivkin
Assistant Secretary of State for Economic and Business Affairs Charles Rivkin

Charles H. Rivkin
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs
Department of State
Seoul, Republic of Korea
April 2, 2015

Thank you, Jung-Wook [Startup Alliance Director Lim Jung-wook] for the very kind and generous introduction.  I appreciate it.  

So, I’m very excited to be here in Gangnam. And they say this is the Korean version of Silicon Valley, and I can see why.  I’m told it has the kind of innovative spirit and productivity that I thrived on when I was a businessman in the United States. 

As Jung-Wook said, before I was Assistant Secretary of State, I spent 20 years working in the entertainment industry in California, and we operated on much the same energy and creativity that I am seeing here today. 

As was said, I had the chance to serve as the President and the CEO of award-winning entertainment companies like The Jim Henson Company, which created the “Muppets.” 

And, I also worked at a company called WildBrain which created an innovative educational television show called “Yo Gabba Gabba!” 

Obviously I don’t have the typical background of a career diplomat. But I can say that working in these environments, I saw that success was all about hard work, innovation and a refusal to accept defeat.

Like many of you, I learned never to take “no” for an answer. And I have a story about that I want to share with you about the creation of this show I mentioned called “Yo Gabba Gabba!” 

The idea for the show came from young, creative entrepreneurs living in Southern California. And the problem with their idea, the problem with their television show, was that there was nothing like it on television. 

And as a result, all of the American television networks were scared. They didn’t want to put something on television that they had never seen before.  So they all said “no.” But these entrepreneurs wouldn’t give up.

What they did was they mortgaged their homes in Orange County, California. And they spent their own money building their own pilot; their own episode of this show so they could really show the world what they were trying to describe.

And a funny thing happened. They posted their video online and their server had to be shut down, because the video went viral because they had so many hits and they couldn’t maintain their server.

All of a sudden, people started calling. The same networks that had said “no,” and they said “Have you seen this show “Yo Gabba Gabba!” that I just saw on the internet? You need to pick up that show.”

I then managed a bidding war between the same networks that had turned down the show and secured the best possible deal for these young, creative entrepreneurs. 

By the way, this show was different, because it used, I don’t know how many of you know the term, indie rock bands, but it used some very innovative, cutting edge music that was not normally seen in a television show. Now this phrase isn’t going to translate into Korean, but I always like to say that the show put the “cool” in “preschool.”

It’s still on television today by the way. 

It taught me a great lesson about being resourceful watching these young entrepreneurs work. And I believe that lesson applies to any entrepreneur who has faced setbacks or defeat.

I’ve always believed that if you create your own success others will follow. It’s simple, but true. Today’s world is about being resourceful, building your own framework for success.  

In America, that’s part of our culture. What’s exciting to me is that we are seeing more and more of that in Korea, as well. 

Startups and investors like you are starting to see a culture that says “yes” instead of “no.” 

A culture of “yes,” that is starting to open doors for entrepreneurs and for investors.

You are starting to see a culture that supports the efforts of businesses to evolve from a simple idea to a real company – and then to grow big enough to become publicly traded, or to sell their company to bigger corporations.

We sometimes focus on China’s meteoric rise, but we cannot forget that it was Korea who was the original – and most successful – of the Asian miracles. 

Korea’s businesses transitioned from struggling companies to stronger more viable contenders, able to compete on a global stage, and to set industry-standards around the world. 

But as you know an unusually large percentage of Korea’s economy is now dependent on Korea’s mega-companies like Samsung and Hyundai. And they offer security and, you know, understandably, Korean parents want their children to grow up and work for these types of successful companies.  

But in the United States we know that the heart of innovation lies with entrepreneurs and small- and medium-sized enterprises.  

And to achieve that transition, it’s important to have a government that recognizes how important it is to support startups and small-to-medium-sized businesses, which are the backbone of virtually every economy in the world

President Park has recognized that reality as well and her government’s “Creative Economy” program is designed to help and support entrepreneurs and investors like you – so that once again, the best and the brightest talents in Korea can compete on the global stage.

In addition, our two governments have created something that greatly benefits business people and investors in both our countries: The U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement or KORUS, which is now in its third year.

KOR-U.S. is designed to remove cumbersome regulations that prevent investors from moving into new markets; to expand opportunities in both directions; to improve transparency; to strengthen intellectual property protection; and level the playing field so that we can compete openly and fairly.  

This two way flow of trade and investment between our countries brings benefits to everyone.

Now, I’m sure you know that Google is scheduled to open a new Google Campus here later this month to foster innovation and work with exciting new startups.  It has only opened- Google has only opened- two other Campuses outside of the United States, London and Tel Aviv. 

It’s clear that Google believes in Korea.  Google sees opportunities here. 

And by lowering barriers to trade through KOR-U.S., everyone in this room, entrepreneur or investor, has an increased opportunity to build and to grow a thriving company – in Korea and in the United States.  

We take great pride in being the world’s easiest place to do business.  And so we are working hard to make it easier for Koreans and others to come to the United States for extended periods of time and do business.

In fact, my Bureau not only works to support entrepreneurs, it encourages foreign investment.  And, in late March, just a couple of weeks ago, well, we hosted the SelectUSA conference in Washington, D.C. which brought together many investors from around the world to do just that.

Now, while governments work to create good environments for startups and investors, it’s important that the private sector step forward to do the more hands-on work.

Companies like IDG Ventures, Korea Investment Partners, and Softbank are doing just that. They recognize great ideas and provide resources to develop them, whether it’s for seed money, or to help companies grow until they are sold to bigger companies or are publicly traded. 

Nurturing is also essential and that’s why investors like Korea’s D.Camp, and Maru 180 and beSUCCESS are either creating incubators or other networking opportunities to help startups find mentors, build contacts, and share ideas. 

In our opinion, it’s so important that you have people like Jung-wook, whose Startup Alliance is hosting this event – and working with the government to help startups and investors like you with networking opportunities and conferences. 

So I want to finish by reminding you about the “Yo Gabba Gabba!” story I shared earlier. 

In that, failure should never be a cause for shame.  It should always mark a new beginning.  A culture of “yes” should reflect that.

Too often, business people whose projects were not successful find it much harder to get loans or support.  They should be encouraged to start again. This is part of the American DNA and we are seeing more and more of that becoming true here in Korea. 

More and more people appreciate that anyone with the courage to fail and try again is someone who is determined to succeed. And they may need our help now but in a few years, they will be the ones helping all of us – carrying entire economies on their shoulders. 

Now, I came here tonight to hear from you, so I’ll conclude my comments.  But before I do, I wanted to share a quote with you from Thomas Edison. 

Of course, he was one of America’s most famous entrepreneurs, who invented so many things, from movie cameras to lightbulbs. 

Thomas Edison once said: “I haven’t failed.  I just found 10,000 ways that don’t work.” 

So, as I look around this room tonight I see the kind of people who are working hard to find the one way that works for them; who are already saying to themselves: “Create my own success. Others will follow.” 

Thank you.