Maintain impassivity against external noise. The startup journey is volatile. What’s important is to realize that the highs are never as high as they seem, and the lows are never as low as they seem. If you get caught up seeking external validations, you’re going to have a lot of mood swings. I certainly faced lots of lows (criticism, low team morale, dip in sales, etc.), as well as the highs (PR, increase in sales, funding, etc.). When I got caught up in them, I would have giant mood swings. It wasn’t healthy for me and it impacted my ability to build the business. I believe it’s important to maintain impassivity in the face of criticism as well as praise to keep focusing on what matters, which is to build the company.
As part of my series about the leadership lessons of accomplished business leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sisun Lee, Founder and CEO of More Labs. He was born and raised in South Korea, where he would later find inspiration to create More Labs’ flagship product, Morning Recovery. Prior to founding More Labs, Lee worked as a Product Manager at Facebook, Uber, and Tesla. At Facebook, he worked on the Internet.org project, which brought free internet access to 35 developing countries. When it comes to productivity, Lee swears by the 80/20 rule and the company’s focus-boosting shot, Liquid Focus.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
It was quite serendipitous. In 2016, I traveled to South Korea, where I was born and raised. On one of my nights out drinking in Seoul, my friends and I stumbled into a convenience store to grab late-night snacks. Instead, we found an entire section dedicated to hangover drinks; all different shapes and sizes — an age-old remedy that Koreans have been using for centuries to avoid hangovers. In hindsight, this wasn’t surprising as Koreans are the embodiment of work hard, play hard; an average Korean person consumes 14 shots of liquor per week. There had to be a way for the entire population to cope with heavy drinking.
We grabbed these drinks and drank them. I woke up the next morning feeling amazing and had to understand what had just happened in my body — and bring it to the rest of the world.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
Being a Canadian citizen, I needed a visa to work in the States. When I was starting More Labs, I was leaning on a visa created by the Obama administration known as the International Entrepreneur Rule, which allowed foreigners to start businesses in the US. This visa was put on indefinite hold with the change of administration. All of a sudden, as I was launching More Labs, I could no longer live and work in the US. I had to move back to Canada to launch a US business remotely. I eventually made my way back to the States through the E2 visa a few months later, but the process was morally defeating. It added a new layer of challenge when I first started my journey.
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
The journey was and continues to be challenging, but also full of adventures and growth opportunities at the same time. It’s what I signed up for.
So, how are things going today? How did grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
COVID decimated nightlife. With our hero product being Morning Recovery, a product designed to help you bounce back after a night of drinking, navigating this new world has become our latest challenge. But this is one of the many challenges we’ve faced over the years. We’ve learned to just try, fail, learn, and iterate in pursuit of our mission. This mindset got us this far.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When we were just starting out, we planned to sponsor a third-party event in LA with Morning Recovery. We learned a few days before the event that the shipment from our factory in Korea would be delayed and Morning Recovery wouldn’t get to the event on time. Instead, we found a friend of a friend traveling from Korea to LA on the day of the event and coordinated with her to pick up and check about 500 bottles of Morning Recovery with her. We picked her up at the airport in LA and drove straight to the event on time. What’s worse? Our factory had no time to put on the labels, so we printed them ourselves and hand-labeled each bottle on the way. The lesson learned is obviously better time management, but it was a good reminder that you can always find a creative way to solve problems.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
In our field of dietary supplements, there is little to no substantiation made on science. We pride ourselves on our R&D investments. We’ve run randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled human studies to back our claims. We’ve also partnered with USC School of Pharmacy to form a research fund used to accelerate studies in the core ingredients being used in our products.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Entrepreneurship is a marathon, not a sprint. Manage energy for the long run.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
There have been tons of friends who helped out along the journey. Our first site was built by a friend, a designer at Uber. Our first set of Facebook ads were created by a friend, a marketer at Facebook. Our first article was written by Business Insider because a highly networked friend introduced me to an editor there, etc. What I am so grateful for is that everyone helped out without asking for something in return. People simply paid it forward by utilizing their strengths, and we hope to do the same for our growing community.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Paying it forward by helping other founders or aspiring founders get started has been a blessing. But there is still a lot of work to do!
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my company” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
(1) Become a better storyteller
Storytelling is an underrated skill for founders. In my early days of starting a business, there wasn’t enough traction to convince people to care about what I was working on. Instead, I had to learn how to tell great stories. My story needed to convince people smarter than me to join me on the adventure. My story had to persuade investors to believe in my vision. My story had to excite customers to care about what we were building. In a way, it is my ability to tell good stories that limits what I can accomplish. A quote close to my heart is: “The limits of my language become the limits of my world” (Ludwig Wittgenstein). Of course, storytelling alone isn’t sufficient to build a business, but I believe it’s an underrated amplifier.
(2) Nobody actually knows the solution
The most important lesson to learn is perhaps that nobody actually knows what they’re doing. People who claim otherwise are either faking it, delusional, or not pushing themselves hard enough into the realm of the unknown. Great things aren’t built by people who know exactly how to do it all along, but by those who have the grit and resilience to try, fail, learn, and iterate in pursuit of a mission. As a founder, we’re trying to solve a problem that hasn’t been solved before. I certainly struggle with imposter syndrome, but realize that this is inevitable. No one knows the solution to the problem we’re solving. I have to accept it, and be willing to try, fail, learn, and iterate.
(3) Make contrarian bets
You want to identify information asymmetries because they allow you to buy into the future at a discount. What is inevitable to you that most people disagree with? When no one agrees with you, you can buy into that knowledge and leverage it at a heavy discount. This is counter-intuitive when you seek expert advice or consensus. In a way, you almost always want to take on bets that most people find kind-of stupid. Otherwise, there is no upside, and startup is a game of upsides. A contrarian bet that we took early on was believing there to be a market for Morning Recovery. “A hangover drink? Pass.” We heard that a lot.
(4) Maintain impassivity against external noise
The startup journey is volatile. What’s important is to realize that the highs are never as high as they seem, and the lows are never as low as they seem. If you get caught up seeking external validations, you’re going to have a lot of mood swings. I certainly faced lots of lows (criticism, low team morale, dip in sales, etc.), as well as highs (PR, increase in sales, funding, etc.). When I got caught up in them, I would have giant mood swings. It wasn’t healthy for me and it impacted my ability to build the business. I believe it’s important to maintain impassivity in the face of criticism as well as praise to keep focusing on what matters, which is to build the company.
(5) Focus on your strength and trust the team
I definitely tried to do it all in the beginning. Trying to do everything yourself feels productive because it forces you to work harder, but nobody can be an expert at everything. You have to surround yourself early with people smarter than you at their respective fields and trust the team. This is actually harder than it sounds because a startup is like your baby. You have to be willing to share the ownership.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
It’s absolutely unfair that factors like the place you are born and the parents you are born to put a cap on your potential to impact the world. More resources should be put into solving this problem. How do we create a movement to maximize human potential for all, not just the few who got lucky in their DNA lottery?
How can our readers follow you on social media?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!