When her friend and former classmate Carla Jung ’10 (EMBA) asked Soo-jin Kim ’10 (EMBA) to help her find a conveniently located restaurant that could accommodate 100 of Martin’s sales staff, Kim spotted an opportunity.
“The search process was so inefficient,” says Kim, who had toyed with the idea of a restaurant-reservation auction website. “I realized that a business that could seamlessly connect companies with venues for group events would be an unbeatable concept.”
Determined to build her own prototype, Kim taught herself five web programming languages in eight months. “I wanted be my own CTO long enough to have a minimal viable product on the market,” says Kim, who was also working full-time at American Express, where she ran a sales and experiential marketing channel. “You have to be able to continuously adapt and pivot. If you rely on outsourcing for minor details like font color, you’re not going to survive your first 72 hours.”
Kim’s skills paid off: she fixed a glitch herself when she oversaw the soft launch of inclued.com in July (In∙clued is a play on “clued in”), and when she hired a designer to develop the public site, which launched on October 2, her technical fluency meant she didn’t have to rely on him; they could collaborate. “You can’t be the CEO of an e-commerce business and not understand basic coding — because your product is code,” says Kim.
In∙clued charges the venues, not the corporate user. The website currently lists high-end restaurants in New York City but Kim also helps corporations source venues like hotels and photo studios in other cities that will provide corporate guests with a seamless and stylish experience. “We want to bring sexy back to corporate,” says Kim. “Our specialty is helping corporations find venues and experiences they wouldn’t have normally considered.” Her clients include hedge funds, venture capitalists, and various Fortune 500 clients in the financial services, media and advertising, and pharmaceutical industries.
Unlike most start-ups, In∙clued boasted significant sales — events planned for more than 1,500 corporate guests — before its official launch, with no marketing besides word-of-mouth. “We feel unstoppable,” says Kim, who credits Professor Morten Sorensen for the most important business advice she received: “‘Test this idea,’” he told me, “‘without spending a dime.’”