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Giving Birth to a Startup

Like many mid-level career professionals may have also experienced, I had attended a significant number of networking events throughout my career and struggled with the transactional nature in nearly every conversation. I felt like the new acquaintances right in front of me were constantly sizing me up and I got really tired of being asked what I did for a living, oftentimes before even sharing my name. So, during my time in Cornell SC Johnson’s Metro NY Executive MBA program I was determined to breaking these networking norms. As I began the third term of my academic journey, I conceived an idea that would bring to life a new form of “connect-working.”

For the first trimester, I worked with a lean team of fellow EMBA students at Cornell to experiment on ways we could create better atmospheres for our networking events and reduce the negative stigma around networking in general. You see, every leading university typically has multiple MBA & EMBA programs, grabbing the attention of different types of customers that would benefit from the same core curriculum. For Cornell’s presence in NYC, there is a full time MBA, and three Executive programs known as the Americas, Metro NY and dual MS/MBA with Weill Cornell Medicine. For any given year there are typically 2 cohorts running simultaneously. One graduating this year and the other graduating next year. If you sum up all the NYC based students today, there are 300+ students graduating between 2020 and 2021.

Whilst I loved seeing my colleagues in the Metro NY Class of ’20 cohort on a bi-weekly basis, I wanted to know my fellow Big Red brethren and meet the other 230+ students in NYC. Besides, that’s one of the primary reasons why we were all here, to be part of the larger Cornell family. And since I was having a hard time meeting them on my own, I worked with a team of students across programs to coordinate small group dinner parties and happy hours for connecting all of our cohorts. I’ll never forget these days, working with all stars like Cassie Dai and Daniel Joo, as we coordinated events called “Dinner Paloozas.”

Steps to creating a Dinner Palooza, a simple connect-working framework:

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Episode 0 – Our Prelude

Samuel Cho 0:00


Welcome to the very first episode of The Koinos Podcast. This is episode zero, our Prelude. First of all, I really want to thank Kate Martin for creating our amazing intro and outro to this podcast. If anyone is looking for a talented voiceover actor, please check out her profile on fiverr.com. You can find her by searching Kate Martin. All right. So with that said, Hello, my name is Sam, and I’m the host of The Koinos Podcast. Today, I’ll be talking to you about three things. First, I’ll be telling you about who I am. And then I’ll be sharing about the story about Koinos and the start of this podcast. And to wrap things up, I’ll make some suggestions for why you might want to listen to future episodes. Now, who is Sam Cho? I’ve actually gotten called out on this a couple times in my life. Back in the day, some very close friends of mine would say, Sam, I really can’t pinpoint who you are. You’re like an enigma. And to be honest, I sometimes felt a little insecure about that. I felt like I didn’t have a well understood identity. And people would always misunderstand my actions judging me as someone that had too much FOMO or a fear of missing out. And that all of my activities would just further emphasize that I’d become a jack of all trades, and Master of None. Now, let me explain. Growing up, I wasn’t a nerd or bookworm, even though I did things like the Academic Decathlon. I mean, come on, who studies 10 additional subjects in high school just for fun. And I wasn’t a typical jock either. Because even though I played sports, I also sang and played instruments.

And I’ll never forget the time when my football coach said, Sam, you got to choose one, football or the chorus. And of course, I chose singing, which actually led to a very fond memory of mine, which was achieving first place for bass one in the New Jersey Allstate chorus. But I digress. Now, I’m not trying to brag, so please don’t take it that way. I’m just trying to give you some context for answering the question. Who am I? Well, like many self told narratives go, I’ll keep going on with my family. I am the youngest child. I have two amazing sisters that really helped me shape my academic journey, and career choices. We were all born from the same parents who immigrated from South Korea to New Jersey in the mid 70s. My mother and father were entrepreneurs for many years, running their own chain of shoe stores in New York City. And at one point, my dad launched his own residential construction company. My paternal grandmother also lived in the same house as us. And she was actually a single mom of three ever since the Korean War. I absolutely adore my grandmother, because she was always there for me. prayerfully supporting me in everything that I did. Maybe I’ll read to you the letter I gave to her for her 90th birthday. She’s actually still alive today. And she claims to be 92 for like the past six years. She’s got quite a personality. And she’s absolutely amazing. My mom is equally incredible. Self taught English and serving our family as the primary breadwinner for a number of years. I really learned a lot from all the strong role models in my house. And sometimes I felt like I had four mothers. But I’ve realized in my adulthood, that it’s through the direct influence of my Korean American family, that I’ve become very passionate about small business owners, entrepreneurial endeavors, and the broader issues around diversity and inclusion. I can say I’ve been an entrepreneur since high school because my first business was a DJ company. I used to bring around my entire setup which consisted of strobe lights, a fog machine, and two six foot tall custom made speakers with an insane amount of bass powered by a crown ce 1000 amplifier. I would host sweet 16th school dances sometimes hiring myself pro bono because I was also the class secretary. I did house parties and did a couple bar and Bat Mitzvahs and it’s probably because of my audiophile days as a DJ, that I kind of feel comfortable right now doing this podcast. During my college years, I continued with my entrepreneurial endeavors. Every time I built a website to help someone launch an e-commerce business. I even pursued my own frozen yogurt shop. This was before places like red mango and Pinkberry were even around. But swirlberries, as I called it, never got off the ground because of the great recession. I’ve worked for consulting startups that grew from five to 70 people. And I even launched a not for profit organization in 2012. That still exists. It’s called Grace In Motion. And in my most recent years, I launched a couple tech startups and led new business initiatives for one of the world’s leading FinTech companies. I’m graduating from my executive MBA program at the Cornell University, SC Johnson School of Business in May of 2020. And so these days, I’m very active in the startup community around New York City. I’m a startup coach at the Queens Economic Development Corporation. I’m an advisor to several other tech founders, and I’m a venture partner at Next Gen. I love meeting with founders to help them grow their business ideas. So if you ever need a hand in strategy or operations, please feel free to email me.

Now for topic number two, why did I create Koinos and this podcast? Well, to give you some context, I was actually developing a business idea that connected executives from MBA programs throughout New York City, before the current covid 19 crisis got really bad. For about six months, I was curating dinner groups and happy hours for executive level networking across Cornell, Columbia and NYU. As I was coordinating these events and bringing people together, I realized that many of us were looking for a community beyond our schools. So I created Koinos to extend our MBA relationships beyond our immediate cohorts, and help build bridges across the top business schools here in New York City. The goal of course is to grow beyond these schools, and potentially beyond our home city. So as a way of connecting with people during this crisis, I thought of starting a podcast to highlight some of the personal adventures and stories, graduating from these schools. The stay at home self quarantines have forced all of us to put our life on hold, and all of our activities for connecting offline are just missing. And what I’ve learned so far is that nothing beats a face to face conversation. But there are so many new methods for building community online in a personal way. That seems to be really amazing. For instance, people have been trying Netflix party, jackbox TV, over zoom, and even attended live comedy shows, concerts and musicals streaming over YouTube. It’s so fascinating. And I’m hoping that through this podcast, our Koinos community will begin to grow and stay connected by hearing each other’s story as we navigate this ever changing world that we live in. As a listener, I invite you to be part of this community because our ultimate vision is a renewed world where all people live in a vibrant community, and your support and active participation can help us bring that vision to reality.

Lastly, why should you consider to continue to follow this podcast? Well, we will be sharing exclusive one on one interviews with some of the brightest executives and entrepreneurs from the top MBA programs of the world. You’ll get the inside scoop from real students and alumni about their experiences in grad school, oftentimes, while working full time, and developing their startups and raising a family. We’ll naturally start off with some of my friends at Cornell. But I would love your help to connect me with other people you might know who would be a good fit for this show. In each episode, we’ll learn about an interesting startup or business initiative led by our guest, listen to their journey and see how we can apply some basic principles from their story to an issue that we might be dealing with in our personal or professional lives. Similar to how iron sharpens iron, the knowledge sharing from our show will sharpen our minds and spirits as a community. Even though this podcast is not my full time job, nor a professional production, I’m going to try my best to deliver authentic, high quality and engaging content on a bi-weekly basis. So please subscribe to this show because the number of subscribers will help remind me how many people actually care and believe in Koinos. I truly hope this community flourishes into something that makes a positive impact to our lives and the communities we live in. In closing, thank you again for listening to episode zero, our Prelude, and I hope to see you again on May 1 for our very first interview with Shady Henian, CEO and founder of Physician Promise.

Outro 10:31
Thank you so much for listening to The Koinos Podcast. Koinos is all about bringing people together to strengthen communities. Our vision of a renewed world where everyone lives in a vibrant community can become a reality with your support. To learn more about our mission and how you can get involved, visit us @ www.koinos.co. Remember, The Koinos Podcast is your place to connect with executives and entrepreneurs.

Triangle for Stronger Soft Skills

Every executive and entrepreneur should know how to use their soft skills to build high performing teams. In this article, I wrote about connect-working and how my ASSET framework is all about using soft skills to build stronger personal and professional relationships. I mentioned that I would share with you another personal framework for developing stronger soft skills, or what some people like to call ‘power skills,’ and that’s the purpose of this article. Since I don’t have a better name for this, I guess we can call it, “Sam Cho’s Triangle” for now.

The triangle outline is actually comprised of 4 connected triangles and looks like this:

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What is Connect-working?

Have you ever heard of the term “connect-working” before? I promise you that it’s not just another cheesy phrase for the word, networking! According to my research, the first person to coin this word/phrase was author Anna McCoy in her book, “Woman, Act Now.” Back in 2008, McCoy wrote, “Networking is driven by the question, ‘What’s in it for me?’ Conversely, connect-working operates by the question, ‘What’s in it for others?’”

To bring clarity between the similarities and differences between connect-working and networking, I created a framework to better illustrate how each activity can be used as an “ASSET” for building personal and professional relationships. I’m not saying that one is better than the other, but for the purposes of this blog post, I’ll be placing more emphasis on connect-working because it might seem like a more novel idea.

In this framework, ASSET stands for:

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Product Zeitgeist Fit in 2020

6 months ago, D’Arcy Coolican spoke about “product zeitgeist fit” at the a16z Summit and shared the importance of a product resonating with the mood of the times. If you’re vocabulary is anything like mine then it’s likely that you’ve never heard the German rooted term before. Well, thanks to Google, I’m able to share with you Cambridge Dictionary’s definition of zeitgeist which is, “the general set of ideas, beliefs, feelings, etc. that is typical of a particular period in history,” as well as the literal translation of the word: time (zeit) + spirit (geist) = “spirit of the time.”

But if you snorkel into the shallow waters of the interwebs, you’ll find an HBR article written in 2016 by Cass R. Sunstein titled, “Product Success is NOT about the Zeitgeist.” Sunstein writes that what you really need is cultural resonance.

So who’s right?

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Should I Stay (in NYC) or Should I Go Now (to Korea)?

As COVID-19 started to take shape in February of 2020, I looked at the state of affairs of my home neighborhood in Astoria, Queens, and the Greater New York City area.  Life was looking very scary with the sound of ambulance sirens nearly every hour of the day, not knowing what exactly the future had in store for me, my wife, neighbors, friends and family.  There was no playbook to follow, rules were being made up on the fly, and people had to respond the best they could.  Some responded with running to towns inland, others decided to bunker down and stock up on supplies as if waiting for a hurricane to knock out the power, but I was already stuck at home, forced to lay prone because of extreme back problems.  I couldn’t even walk. 

At the time, I was experiencing a back pain that came from the pits of hell, which forced me to lay down as if seated in a chair but flat on my back (has this ever happened to you?), and my doctor thought I had pancreatitis.  After a couple days of literally, not moving, I found myself drinking only water and crawling to the bathroom.  Getting in and out of bed was a process that I had to break down into single micro-movements.  Weeks would go by and I would steadily regain mobility, but eventually working from home would take over and I ended up saving myself from having to commute on trains where a nasty disease was violently spreading undetected.  As I settled into my new work environment, the pandemic worsened rapidly. Friends and family got sick, someone I cherished died, and I knew I had to address the question presented by The Clash.  My darling home and city that I love so much could give me double the trouble if I stayed, but I needed to set clear priorities, because these would be my guiding principles for how I would respond to this pandemic.

So Should I Stay or Should I Go Now? Click on read more!

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