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Stern Somebody Presents: Claire Park & Kidae Hong

The Oppy staff is proud to continue a new feature for the paper called “Stern Somebody,” telling the stories of remarkable classmates and how they became the exceptional people they are today.

In our final issue of The Oppy for this academic year, we bring you not one but TWO “Stern Somebodies.” Claire Park and Kidae Hong are graduating MBA2 students.

Kidae Hong and Claire Park are originally from South Korea, where they have co-founded three companies together. Prior to Stern, they founded a crowdfunding platform for non-profit organizations, then a women’s apparel company and a live streaming social media app. While they first met in 2012 as business partners, their relationship has grown throughout the years and they recently got married in Korea last month. 

The dynamic duo started a company called Circle (www.letscircle.co) during the pandemic. Circle is a platform specifically designed for online networking events. 

At the heart of Circle is the understanding that networking events require people to freely move around to mix and mingle organically and speak in small-sized groups where natural back-and-forth communication can take place. In Circle, users can see each other’s profiles, mingle by hopping around networking circles, and take memos of people for a smooth follow-up. 

Since launching in February, over 250 events have been hosted on Circle and the platform has been growing over 50 percent every week. Moreover, 45 percent of event hosts come back to host events again through Circle.

Hi you two! Thank you so much for talking with me today. It is our honor to feature you both as “Stern Somebody.” 

Thank you very much for having us on Stern Oppy! It is a pleasure to be introduced to our classmates and incoming students and we are happy to share our story with you.

First off, let’s start by talking about how you two met and what brought you both to Stern?

In 2012, Claire had just co-founded a crowdfunding service called Wegeneration with a few other co-founders but then the CEO of the company, who was a high school friend of Kidae, had to leave the company for personal reasons. Kidae came on as a new CEO of the company, we became co-founders and we’ve been a dynamic duo since. We began working together as business partners, and it was not until three years later that we also started dating. 

In 2018, Claire decided it was time to pursue an MBA to broaden her horizon and convinced Kidae to join her. So we prepared for the MBA together and were lucky enough to both be accepted to NYU Stern. 

Have you both taken all the same classes, and do you keep the same circle of friends? See what I did there?!

Hahaha. Good one. In the first semester, we actually tried to take different classes so that we could form our own group of friends. However, we soon realized that the few classes that we did take together were much more interesting for us because we could discuss the topics that we learned and work together. So, we naturally ended up taking mostly the same classes, starting from the second semester, which we have been very happy to have done. We have also made pretty much the same circle of friends. Although some friends started out being friends with one of the two, we have all become friends through many nights with good wine.  

What clubs have you been a part of at Stern?

While we are members of countless clubs, including STA and ESA, Claire was the AVP of the Asian Business Society (ABS) and the VP of events at InSITE. Kidae was the AVP of the Latin American Business Society (LABA), as he was born in Colombia and grew up living in Latin America throughout his youth. Also, Kidae was the VP of education at Cellars because of his passion for wine (Kidae and Claire also run a Youtube Channel on wine called winecrazedman with over 22,000 subscribers in Korea).

What have been your favorite aspects of pursuing your MBAs and what have been some of the downfalls?

Our favorite aspect of pursuing an MBA has been the opportunity to step into a new environment, make new friends with people who we would have never been able to meet otherwise, and deepen our knowledge on various aspects of business. 

The biggest difficulty throughout the program was dealing with the Covid pandemic, with quarantine and online classes being the new norm. However, we have made the most of this pandemic by building a solution to fix this problem for everyone.

Tell us a random fact about each of you!

Kidae is an identical twin, whose twin is living in South Korea right now. They grew up living together in all the countries, went to the same college, and were roommates in college. They recently got married in the same month, just one week apart. 

Claire made the first Facebook viral post in Korea, which got over 24 million likes overnight. She used the strategy for charity crowdfunding and raised over $50K for donations. 

You two are officially the coolest people I have ever met. Ok, let’s talk about the pandemic. Tell us about your experiences last March and how that led to the creation of Circle.

In December of 2019, Kidae held his birthday party in our small studio apartment in Hell’s Kitchen. We invited over ten of our close friends and had a great night. Then, in March of 2020, Covid happened. By the time Claire’s birthday came around in June 2020, she invited the same friends to her birthday party, but this time over Zoom. Surprisingly, the same group of friends that had spent a great time in person found it difficult to mingle over Zoom. 

We soon realized that Zoom was not able to provide the natural experience of in-person social gatherings for large groups and felt the need for a solution that could replicate social experiences online.

Later on, as we started our virtual internships, we came across the same problem during networking events. Everyone was either all placed into one big room and forced to have one single conversation or people were randomly broken up into static rooms and awkwardly stuck there. That’s when we decided there was a clear need for an online networking platform with fluid interactions and that’s how Circle was born.

What have been some of the biggest difficulties starting Circle?

Frankly, as this is already our fourth company we are co-founding together, we knew quite clearly how we needed to approach building Circle. The biggest difficulty was trying to balance Circle with the rest of the school work and other duties we had. Furthermore, the wedding preparation added another layer of challenge in the last month. However, the benefit of the support that we received from school far outweighs difficulties of balancing out our schedule. 

Was administration at Stern helpful during the process?

The support of the administration at Stern was critical in the beginning of Circle. We first met with OCD to hear their thoughts and need for a platform such as Circle. When we finally made a prototype, they were the first to test it out and give us feedback on how it could be improved. As we rolled out the beta, the support of the school’s various offices and Vice Dean J.P. Eggers were critical in Circle getting established at Stern. We have also met various professors from our school, such as Jihoon Rim, who has shared with us valuable insights. Lastly, the school’s Entrepreneurial Institute and Berkeley Center for Innovation have also provided helpful resources to us such as free consultations and recently selected us as a Stern Venture Fellow. 

How many members do you have now?

We are still in a very early stage. We are a fully-remote team with 5 members including us, two developers (one in Ohio and one in India) and an amazing MBA1 intern, Daniel Prichard, who has worked with us for partnership with other schools and companies during the semester. 

What are you hoping to do with the startup going forward?

Moving forward, we’re looking to expand the use case of Circle beyond business schools, as the need for a large group of people to freely move around and mingle organically in small-sized groups exists in every sector and industry. As a long-term vision, Circle will expand from being a video conferencing tool to a social media platform, hosting public social events, and connecting people on a larger scale.

How can students sign up?

You can go to the website (http://letscircle.co) and sign up with your email or Linkedin in less than a minute. It’s free for everyone, so try hosting your virtual event for your organization or friends anytime. You can reach out to us (team@letscircle.co) for further questions and check out a short intro video of Circle (youtu.be/ulRo3h53OUs). 

Thank you so much for meeting with me today! I am so excited to see where Circle goes.

Thank you for having us be a part of the Stern Somebody series. It is an honor to be included as the last Stern Somebody before our graduation. We’d like to congratulate all of our classmates who made it through the MBA program amidst this pandemic and came out the other end stronger and more ready to go out and change the world!

There you have it, folks. Double the “Stern Somebodies,” double the MBAs, double the power, and double the success. 

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