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Meet the SNU Grads behind the Hedgehog Changing the Face of News Media

Aug 03, 2020

NEW NEEK
Co-founders of NEWNEEK, Daeun Bhin (Department of Ethics Education, Class of 2014) and Soyoun Kim (Department of Economics, Class of 2014)
Co-founders of NEWNEEK, Daeun Bhin (Department of Ethics Education, Class of 2014) and Soyoun Kim (Department of Economics, Class of 2014)

NEWNEEK is a media startup ‘by millennials for millennials,’ seeking to revolutionize the way the digital generation consumes the news. Its weekly email newsletter provides news about domestic and international current affairs in short and easily digestible bites. You can sign up for their newsletter at https://newneek.co/.

Congratulations on being selected as one of this year’s Forbes 30 under 30 Asia leaders. Did you have a party to celebrate?

Kim: We didn’t have a party, but we had a great time nevertheless because we were at a workshop with the whole team on the day the list was announced. It’s a great honor but it hasn’t quite hit me yet, perhaps because we’re just as busy working since the Forbes announcement as we were before.

You two met in a SNU business administration society. What kind of thoughts and values did you share that attracted you to each other at the time?

Kim: For starters, the society we met through aimed to make social contributions through business. Thanks to that, both of us were accustomed to the idea of doing business and solving problems with a common mission in mind. In particular, I thought Daeun was someone with excellent insight and persuasive power. She’s also a very generous friend, so I could always trust she would listen to what I had to say in any situation.

Bhin: Both of us enjoyed asking questions that challenged the status quo. We also spoke a lot about wanting to follow our hearts in the future, even if it meant forging a path that didn’t already exist.

What experiences and thoughts led you to found NEWNEEK? What were some topics of importance that you discussed while preparing for the startup together?

Kim: Something I still say often is, “let’s have some fun!” Starting a business is of course a big decision that has the power to change your life and the lives of people around you, but stressing out and putting pressure on yourself won’t necessarily make things work out better. I think everyone has a specific motivation and goal in mind when they start their own business. For me, the biggest pull was that I could do what I wanted to do, earn money, and add value to the world all at the same time. But I don't think the motivation is quite the same anymore. I now have a team of colleagues to think about, and I have discovered reasons to continue this work that are different from what I originally had in mind. I think accepting the natural change in motivations is a more sustainable way of continuing your work.

What was the biggest difficulty you faced in starting a business? There must have been moments where you wanted to give up.

Bhin: Well, it’s hard to pick just one. On any given day I go back and forth between thinking it’s going to work out and thinking we’re in trouble. It’s definitely a path where you worry a lot, and also often get hurt by other people. But the joy of seeing a product that adds value to people’s lives come together, and of seeing the faces of our team who have placed their trust in our vision is overwhelming.

NEWNEEK was launched in December 2018 and has since become a second-year company. What are some of the biggest achievements you want to show off?

Bhin: The main thing would be our number of subscribers. I’m proud to say that we’ve gathered almost 170,000 people without advertising, mostly millennials who tune into our email newsletters for a fun and easy breakdown of high-level current affairs issues that can be difficult and boring.

The way NEWNEEK communicates the newsletter is unique. Is there a reason why you chose a friendly and humorous hedgehog character to deliver the news?

Kim: We wanted to break the widely held perception that the news is difficult and complicated. Having decided on the medium of email, we thought we should make the voice of our newsletter something more approachable and friendly. This is how we came up with the hedgehog character, with its spines resembling the sharp corners of a traditional newspaper. Even now, subscribers often refer to our company not by our name but by our personified hedgehog character, and it makes me happy that what we intended came true.

What are some of the things NEWNEEK values as a newsletter ‘by millennials for millennials’? What characteristics of millennials are you paying particular attention to?

Kim: This may be obvious, but while the ‘millennial’ category is often thrown around as a blanket term, there are all types of different millennials. Being mindful of such diversity, if I had to pick a common keyword, it would be ‘honesty’. The biggest driving force behind the development and success of NEWNEEK has been the honest feedback from our millennial subscribers. Both the honesty to tell us what kind of product they wanted in the first place, and the honesty to respond to what we create has been immensely helpful. But I don't think we’re a generation that starts a frank conversation with just anyone. I think our generation is quite strategic in determining who we reach through conversation. Using the hedgehog persona to build trust between us and our audience seems to have been a smart move in this regard.

NEWNEEK is loved beyond its target audience of those in their twenties and thirties. Some say that NEWNEEK is close to the intergenerational consensus that only Song Ga-in seems to achieve. What do you think is the secret?

Kim: I think the easy and concise writing style that NEWNEEK aims for is the kind of writing that everyone needs. And again, I’m grateful to the hedgehog because there is no age limit on loving cute things.

NEWNEEK seems to invite feedback in every newsletter and seek active communication with your readers. What was the most memorable piece of feedback or reaction you’ve gotten so far?

Kim: We appreciate every single comment and piece of feedback that our readers give us. There have been a lot of memorable responses, but the ones that I’m always happy to receive are people saying they’ve gained confidence through our newsletter. There are lots of people who feel bad about not knowing the news, but at the same time find it difficult to approach. I’m very happy that NEWNEEK is able to give our readers the confidence to chime in during a lunchtime conversation about current affairs.

What kind of organizational culture do you want to create at NEWNEEK? I’d like to know why you’ve decided to have your team members use nicknames and how you think this kind of communication affects your work.

Bhin: An honest but considerate culture. In Korea, we don’t talk enough about healthy honesty. I’m sure that having our colleagues refer to each other by nicknames rather than a title based on rank or age has helped us to have more honest conversations.

You’ve previously worked on a project with Greenpeace. What do you look for in a brand for future collaborations?

Bhin: NEWNEEK is hip and witty, but without losing our sensitivity. When choosing a brand to collaborate with in the future, it’s important to us to see how well they blend in with these characteristics. For example, I think a brand that has its own unique personality, yet has an awareness of human rights or the environment would be a good fit.

Do you have a target number of subscribers?

Kim: We’re aiming for 500,000 subscribers by the end of the year! NEWNEEK’s mission is to ‘link millennials to the world’. It’s a great pleasure that more people of our generation are using our service to get the information and knowledge they need, so surpassing our goal would of course be amazing.

What kind of news platform will NEWNEEK become in the future? I’m curious about your vision.

Kim: NEWNEEK aims to grow into a platform where millennials are able to share knowledge easily while having fun. Our platform started from the awareness that there was no news media fit for millennials, but we’ve since expanded to think about the lack of knowledge and information content in general geared towards millennials. Although we started our company with a service that publishes and delivers news content, we hope in the future to provide a space where users can choose content from various fields and can themselves contribute to the platform as content producers.

Do you often feel pride about being part of the SNU community? What was the biggest value you took away from your time at school and what is it that you would like to contribute to society as an SNU alumni?

Kim: First of all, I am grateful to SNU because it’s where I met my business partner. Paradoxically, the most important principle that I learned in school was that there are no absolute answers. During my time at SNU, I saw students dive head deep into their academic majors, build memories and relationships through devoting themselves to a club, or take on new challenges outside of school like myself. The abundance of diversity made me realize that there is no single correct path, but rather the most important thing is to lead a life that feels good to you. In terms of what I’d like to contribute, I want to be an example for being happy and successful while pursuing a different way of life. I will continue to work hard to live a life worthy of being a role model.

Written by Minju Kim, SNU English Editor, minjukimm@snu.ac.kr
Reviewed by Professor Travis Smith, Department of Asian Languages and Civilizations, tlsmith@snu.ac.kr