Success comes in many forms for leaders in their respective fields, and not every everyone ends up exactly where they started off. Take Jason Kim for example, the Head of Product (he prefers not to be called VP) of California-based software company Taloflow, which specializes in cloud services. The 26-year-old Vancouver native started off in a sciences background but eventually realized that entrepreneurship was his goal. Though he doesn’t consider himself a success, despite how well his company is doing, that perspective only drives him to improve. The Edge had a chance to catch up with Kim (who’s residing in Vancouver due to COVID-19, as he thought it would be better) to discuss business, leadership, and setbacks.
Where did you go to school and what did you study?
I went to UBC [University of British Columbia]. I studied sciences and originally, I was on a path to go to medical school and do a more traditional kind of healthcare or science-focused path. But my passion was always in entrepreneurship, business and tech. I was entrepreneurial through college and high school and decided to jump headfirst into start-ups.
In layman’s terms, what exactly is Taloflow?
We’re a software company and we help other software developers, engineers, product teams, and finance teams as well, really identify the best upgrade cloud services for whatever workload or task they’re trying to accomplish. These days, everything has transitioned to the cloud and clouds are very much mature in market now. And basically, developers and individual contributors can really decide what tools, what infrastructure, that serves their needs. There aren’t too many tools out there that help you understand what exactly you need, by how much, and what exactly is the best tool for your workload.
How did you get started and did you ever think you would end up VP of your own company?
The company officially started in 2017. Initially we were on a different path, so we weren’t really working on this particular problem [cloud services]. We were working on helping other software companies integrate into different systems, so that was the initial idea for the company. But we converged around this problem when many of our customers for that earlier product cited that managing their cloud resources and optimizing their cloud costs were actually the biggest challenges for their engineering and product teams. And so, we started off by doing these one-off projects for some of our existing customers and helping them really identify how they should optimize their resources.
And then we tested some tooling out there and we realized a lot of these tools are really inadequate for what the modern-day developing teams need. Beforehand, 10-plus years ago, cloud procurement ran through finance/ IT teams and it wasn’t really developed for focus. We realized there was a gap in the market that we were very much primed to solve because of our prior experience working on developer tools.
I’m one of the co-founders but I don’t think titles, like VP, matter all that much [laughs] in a start-up context—everyone wears many different hats. In terms of being a co-founder, I always knew I wanted to start my own company and that was always the goal. We’re still an early stage start-up and what that means is, everyone needs to do whatever it takes to help get the company from zero to one.
What’s your day-to-day like and is there anything that stands out in your routine?
Day-to-day, everything is a blur now because of COVID [laughs], but everyday is different in terms of what I do on the job. One thing we try to do is identify one small thing at least that could either help a customer or to improve a product. In terms of what we believe at Taloflow and as part of the founding team, it’s really important to identify things that can compound other tasks and can be a bigger advantage in the long run. Everyday looks different, in terms of what we’re doing and what we’re working on, but we start everyday with a question: what can we do to improve the company?
Describe your leadership style and your approach, being in a position of power at work. What do you think makes a good leader?
My leadership style is leading by example. And in terms of leading by example, what I mean is, showing everybody that you’re willing to do the things that people generally don’t like doing. And I think that’s so important because sometimes I think people get enamored—engineers for example, get enamored about ‘oh, I only want to solve the hard problems’ or ‘I only want to solve something that challenges me.’ So, I like to lead by example—I guess people like to call it ‘eating the frog’, which is like doing the thing that you don’t want to do [laughs]. And doing so and just showing ‘hey, even the stuff that I don’t want to do, I still do it because that’s what it takes to build a successful company and culture.’
What makes a good leader? That’s a really good question. I think in a modern day, empathy is very important. I know it’s a soft skill but empathy is important both because good leaders [must] fundamentally understand people from a helping-your-team and get-the-best-out-of-themselves perspective and number two, just understanding customers.
Have you experienced any professional setbacks?
I think the nature of an entrepreneur is just—I feel like I have a setback every single day. I feel like it’s really just a game of endurance. It’s just waking up everyday and figuring out what the setbacks are, whether it’s an investment falling apart, a customer project being delayed, or a critical bug being found in your code, and just powering through.
How has COVID impacted your business?
It’s been an interesting journey navigating through COVID. For one, we were travelling a lot, meeting a lot of customers and investors in person and of course all of that has changed into just purely virtual. It’s been challenging, because a lot of some of the projects we were working on in earlier parts of the year were either delayed or didn’t even start. We were about to start some projects, but they got cancelled basically because of organizational changes. It was an interesting part to navigate but I think we’ve definitely adjusted to the new normal. And one advantage that Taloflow had was that we’re head quartered in Santa Monica but we’re already a remote-first company, so the actual working transition wasn’t too difficult. Pre-COVID we would [on the road] either be in the Bay Area [California] for customer meetings or we would go wherever the customer wants to chat but now it’s just hopping on to different Zoom links.
How would you deal with a work crisis?
I think we solve it by being all hands on deck. Really identifying what the problem is and solving that first. If it’s a customer issue, we like to digest what’s going on as soon as possible and communicate that to whatever customer is expected. I think crises are inevitable when building a business, but I think practicing clear communication is important, especially keeping stakeholders in check—a lot can get lost in a crisis when things are more hectic. I think clear communication, identifying the problem and bringing the team together is really important when dealing with a work crisis.
Dontei Wynter | Staff Writer