“It was destiny,” YoonJin Chang said of her love affair with technology startup companies.
Chang, the 2010 Miss Korea Sun and co-founder of Silicon Valley tech company LifeSite, presented last Saturday at the 2016 WonderWomen Technology Conference in Long Beach, California.
From July 16 to 17, entrepreneurs from around the world gathered at the Long Beach Convention Center to celebrate diversity in industry and educate women in technology where Chang joined two other panelists in the breakout session “Panoramic View: The Global Impact on Diversity Inclusion in Tech.”
Growing up in a military family, Chang received early exposure to the world of technology.
“My father studied computer science, so I grew up touching computers all the time,” Chang said.
After growing her interest in science and biology, Chang eventually began working with large industries where she realized how much of a difference that technology makes on the lives of others.
“Software is so flexible, it can impact so many people in the world in very simple ways. That mesmerized me,” Chang recalled. “The process of building a dream, turning that dream into a product and then getting that product out to people was so fascinating to me.”
One day, Chang got a phone call from Silicon Valley. Her good friend Chris Wong, who believed that she would be a great woman leader, was on the other line to see if she was interested in spearheading a start up in San Francisco. Desiring to join a movement that benefits others and enacts change as she witnessed technology do so many times, Chang eagerly said yes.
And like fate, Chang, the crowned Miss Korea Sun, was well on her way to make her mark in the technology world. Yet even destiny did not ensure smooth sailing.
“It was very difficult in the beginning. A lot of people would ask me ‘You’re Miss Korea, why are you working here?’ Being Miss Korea was more of an obstacle for me to overcome because I had to convince people that I was a serious business person,” Chang said.
In difficult moments, Chang credits her Christian faith as a source that energizes her.
“God is everything to me. Without Him I don’t have anything. It has been difficult for me to move to a different country and start a business, every step is so challenging that I sometimes doubt myself. But God is always the one who allows me to find value in myself and hold on to it,” Chang said.
Nothing could deter Chang from her destiny of working in technology startups. One day after having difficulty sharing legal documents with her parents living in Korea, Chang had an idea to extend her insurance startup to include the function of sharing information.
LifeSite would digitally organize important life documents and allow people to share them securely with close family members, shielding them from the stress and potential harm that cluttered documents bring. Armed with enthusiasm, determination and funding, LifeSite was birthed in 2015.
From the company’s conception to today, Chang recognizes the importance of teamwork contributing to the success of LifeSite, a recent winner of the 2016 Red Herring Top 100 North America.
“Everyone on my team is extremely talented. We started to realize that there is nothing without teamwork. Because we are all skilled in different ways, we needed to collaborate together,” Chang said.
The opportunity to spend time with diverse people is something that Chang takes away from her beauty pageant days as Miss Korea Sun.
“I got to meet so many people from different industries like fashion, technology and media. I now have great friends who are smart and beautiful,” Chang, who previously worked as a Korea Times journalist, said.
In fact, Miss Korea is a title that Chang does not take lightly.
“Even now, because I’m Miss Korea, I feel more responsibility for what I say and do. I strive to not abuse the title that people have given me and be qualified to hold it,” Chang said.
Though Chang ran the beauty queen circuit for a portion of her life, she also prescribes herself as a geek who loves reading comic books and meeting with industry engineers. Chang values the ability to poke fun at herself and enjoy her job at a top technology company.
“Business doesn’t always have to be serious. You definitely have to be responsible for other people’s time and money, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it. People who enjoy it actually have better businesses since they’re contagious energy spills over to happy clients and more productivity,” Chang admitted.
Chang enjoys surrounding herself with the frequent company of her mother and father.
“They support me a lot and understand what I go through, but they’re also objective and give me their straight opinions of my decisions because I’m human too. Talking with my family makes me a stronger and wiser person,” Chang said.
Chang also spends her time conversing with friends, usually female entrepreneurs who she connects with about work life and the risky adventure of starting one’s own company, viewing her conversations as a form of remedy for her.
In her free time, Chang enjoys going to the movies and hiking, even completing a Half Dome hike over the course of 2 days with 40 pounds on her back months ago.
“I thought I was dying but it was so fulfilling,” Chang said.
As for the immediate future, Chang wishes to continually pursue LifeSite’s vision as the company’s Director of Business Development and help people to manage their lives well. Chang also desires to appreciate little moments in her life, whether that may be drinking coffee in the morning or getting to sleep in 10 minutes more.
Ultimately, Chang wishes to be a person who is able to sympathize with and guide others toward actualizing their dreams. And as the co-founder of a successful Silicon Valley tech company, Chang desires to mentor young Korean entrepreneurs in the future.
“It’s so difficult to be able to start a successful company in America. I understand the cultural differences, and I have so many stories and tips that I can pass on to Korean entrepreneurs that I’d love to do after this,” Chang said.
That and “I will probably get a bike soon,” Chang said with a smile.
By Hankyul Sharon Lee