Jay Kim on Managing a Diverse Professional Network
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In our fifth episode, Jay Kim, founder and CEO of DataLocker, joins host Alana Muller to share how he establishes and nurtures global connections. Kim manages his diverse professional network by investing time and effort. “It’s not easy maintaining relationships and what we call “networks” without putting a lot of work into it. I actively participate in a number of organizations, some domestic, some international, and I make sure I take part in those events, whether it be virtual, whether it be in person.”
Alana Muller: Welcome to Enterprise.ing, a podcast from Enterprise Bank & Trust, that's empowering business leaders, one conversation at a time. We'll hear from different business leaders about how they've found success in cultivating their professional networks and keeping them healthy and strong. I'm your host, Alana Muller, an entrepreneurial executive leader whose primary focus is to connect, inspire, and empower community. We at Enterprise Bank & Trust thank you for tuning in to another episode. Well, hello, Enterprise.ing listeners. It's great to have you today. I'm delighted to welcome my guest today. I'm going to welcome today Jay Kim, somebody who I've had the privilege to interact a little bit with on the Enterprise Bank Kansas City advisory board. It's always fun to have a local person to interview for Enterprise.ing. So, Jay, welcome.
Jay Kim: Hey, thanks for having me.
Alana Muller: So delighted you're here. I want to let our listeners know that you are the founder and CEO of DataLocker, a leading provider of data security solutions. And since founding the company, actually, in 2007, you've led DataLocker to be among the fastest growing companies in Kansas City, with clientele in more than 40 countries. That is amazing. Can you tell our listeners a little bit more about DataLocker and what led you to create the company?
Jay Kim: Sure. Simply put, we make solutions that deliver the security that CISOs need and want, but with the simplicity that the users can handle. So, really, DataLocker was founded with the premise of making things simply secure. We knew security is a very complex, all-encompassing effort, and we wanted to make some solutions that were just intuitive and easy to use.
Alana Muller: Makes sense. I know when people talk about data security, it sounds a little daunting, kind of scary. And the fact that you're able to sort of afford your clientele kind of the peace of mind that they need, that their data, that all their systems are secure, is so wonderful, because I think so many of us worry about that with our companies.
Jay Kim: Yeah, and we always say that we're actually in the insurance business, not so much the storage or the technology business. Really, the crazy environment we live in today, security's at the top-of-mind for so many people, [inaudible 00:02:26].
Alana Muller: Makes perfect sense. One of the things that strikes me is that you're doing business on a global scale, with people in a variety of industries, and you have governmental clients, military clients, corporate clients. And in fact, is this true, you have clientele that comprises more than 70% of Fortune 100 companies?
Jay Kim: Yes.
Alana Muller: That's amazing. One of the things that it made me think about is you have such a vast and diverse network. What do you do to actively manage your relationships, and what are some ways that you're able to establish and nurture those connections?
Jay Kim: First of all, you need to invest the time and effort. It's not easy maintaining relationships and what we call networks without putting a lot of work into it. I actively participate in a number of organizations, some domestic, some international, and I make sure I take part in those events, whether it be virtual, whether it be in person. Things have gotten real crazy the last couple years, so it's made it more difficult. It's also created some opportunities. One of the things that I've always felt was important was spending time outside of "official events," just getting together for a meal or a drink. It really fosters more than just a "network" or how ... I think a lot of people define your network by the number of contacts you have on LinkedIn, but we know firsthand it's way more than that.
Alana Muller: Oh, gosh, you're so right. I mean, one of the things that you're talking about is, don't you think that when you have the opportunity to break bread with somebody it just kind of changes the game? It puts people at ease. You have a meal together.
Jay Kim: I mean, the best analogy is you look at people dating. I mean, the first thing you do when you meet somebody is you usually go out and have a meal.
Alana Muller: Yeah.
Jay Kim: You learn a lot about people that way, what they like, what they don't like.
Alana Muller: Well, and I think what you're talking about is that it's sort of you're relating to them as a human being. So even if it's a military client, a government client, it's less about their company in that moment and more about them as a human.
Jay Kim: Definitely.
Alana Muller: That's so great. And I know for you, you've had such an interesting career, and I think about, I know that you have some very interesting degrees, including your MBA. You also have Bachelor of Science degrees in biology and pharmacy. So what I want to know is how did you go from studying topics like biology and pharmacy to pursuing technology and data security, and what role have your connections played in helping you to pursue, ultimately, your professional pursuits?
Jay Kim: Frankly speaking, I'm basically on my third career. I started off working in pharmacy in a variety of capacities and a variety of different settings. Then I went to work for a family business, so, which was stainless steel fabrication. I guess you could say my family network is what got me into that business. And then finally, my jump into technology was a result of a relationship I developed overseas through the family business. And it's just your classic elevator encounter. I can share a little bit more about it later. But it really, truly was the fruit of a relationship with a good friend of mine.
Alana Muller: Well, and it sounds like you've been able to leverage the relationship, so when an opportunity presented itself, you were like, "You know what? I can do something with this."
Jay Kim: Well, I think that's how most things work in life. I don't see ... Without those outside inputs from other people, it's really difficult to really expand the way you think and what, just the opportunities that you see.
Alana Muller: So, for the family business, the steel fabrication business, was that your own family?
Jay Kim: Yes.
Alana Muller: And so what did your family members say when you said you were leaving the family business to start this new concept?
Jay Kim: They were excited, but, and business was very well established. Frankly, it's my father's company, called QMD International, been in business for 30 years. We were a Tier 1 supplier for the appliance industry. So it pretty much is very well established, very smoothly run. I still helped out here and there as needed. But taking that leap, going full-time with DataLocker, I really couldn't have done it without my family's support.
Alana Muller: Yeah. I think you're right. I mean, to have your family's support, I mean, it almost, not only is it, does it give you permission, so to speak, right, you may not need that permission, but it gives you sort of, I don't know, the feeling that you've got somebody backing you up, but it's almost like their enthusiasm and excitement helps to propel you forward.
Jay Kim: Oh, yeah. Ironic thing is my parents had no idea what I was doing. I still don't [crosstalk 00:07:00]-
Alana Muller: I know, I was going to say, do they know now?
Jay Kim: I still don't think they fully understand exactly what we did, but ...
Alana Muller: Yeah, I mean, too frequently, you have, we all have friends and contacts, and we know what their, maybe their company name is and the title, but we have no idea what they do. So I think that makes sense. Well, and kind of along those lines, I took note when you said that you have to put in the work. You have to make the effort to build relationships, to build meaningful relationships. Can you talk a little bit about the ways in which you make connections mutually beneficial and how you give back, how you show mutual appreciation?
Jay Kim: Well, one of our core values at DataLocker is "relationships, not just transactions." And it's something that we really focus in as a company, but also personally. You don't want to be that one guy who always pings you and you know the minute you see their number it's, they're asking for a favor.
Alana Muller: Yeah.
Jay Kim: You just don't want to be that guy. And really, the relationships are two-way street. You have to be able give as much as you ask from it. And culturally speaking, I'm Asian. I do a lot of business in Asia. And they have a very unique culture around hospitality and gift-giving, which I think are really important aspects of not only just business but maintaining any type of relationship.
Alana Muller: Yeah, that makes sense. Can you talk a little bit about what is that approach to hospitality and gift-giving, and have you employed that specifically at DataLocker?
Jay Kim: Oh, definitely. I mean, when we entertain for business, we always want go all out, give them the VIP treatment, regardless who the partner is. We take a lot of time and consideration when we plan gifts for Christmas or the holidays for our business partners, and we try, rather than just sending chocolate and popcorn or those things, we try to put some thought into it, and always try to give it a personal touch as well.
Alana Muller: That's nice. I mean, so do you customize those gifts, or what are some of the best gifts that you think you've given, or the ones that have been the most well-received? Because I think gift-giving, there's actually something really special about it. In fact, there's a guy, actually, out of the Midwest, a guy named John Ruhlin, he wrote a book and he's got a podcast called Giftology. And he talks about exactly what you just described, really putting a personal touch on the notion of gift-giving, not just sending sort of a company-branded anything, any kind of promotional item, but actually sending something that's meaningful to the recipient. Can you talk about a couple of examples?
Jay Kim: Sure, at DataLocker one of the things we try to do is we always try to focus on a product made here in Kansas City, something from Kansas City.
Alana Muller: Neat.
Jay Kim: Barbecue sauce, a gift, a box of barbecue sauce, that's always been a popular gift. Last year, during COVID, we did a real interesting one. We did J. Rieger, Rieger distillery, Old Fashioned kits, comes with a bottle of alcohol and all the ingredients to make Old Fashioned's. That was extremely popular.
Alana Muller: Well, that's fun. I need to get on your gift-giving list. That sounds great. Very fun.
Jay Kim: I mean, every year we spend a lot of time trying to find something that's something different. We just don't ... There's a lot of easy ways out on that, but I think when you put some time and effort into choosing something, it shows that you really care. It's not just, we're not just sending coffee mugs and, with DataLocker logos all over, or things like [inaudible 00:10:21].
Alana Muller: I love that, and I do think that people notice that. They notice when you've put a kind of a personal touch on something, and it makes them feel good. I mean, one of the things that, I think, that you're alluding to, perhaps without saying it directly, is you're trying to make people feel special. So when you, especially when you talk about this notion of VIP treatment when you organize company dinners, irrespective of what the title or the position or the person or the size of the client is, that you want them to feel like you really care about them. So I think that's very cool. I'd love to know maybe a little bit about an interaction, pick anybody, that resulted in a personal breakthrough for you, either personally or professionally. Have you had a relationship that has just been so meaningful that it stood out for you?
Jay Kim: Yeah, actually, I kind of alluded to, DataLocker was literally founded because of an introduction I had with a, that was made in an elevator, in Korea. I was with a good friend of mine. He had a buddy of his who was looking for a business partner investor who had some great technology. Again, I was, my background was pharmacy and stainless steel fabrication. I was actually on business for the family business. Met this guy, went up to a room and had a talk, and just explained his idea and his concept and, literally, we just took it from there. And he's still business partner with me today. That was, what, 14 years ago.
Alana Muller: What was the thing that helped you establish trust with somebody that you just met?
Jay Kim: Well, the common friend, the mutual acquaintance, I mean, it does a lot of things. Number one, it, you could call it some prequalification. Friend of a friend is usually somebody you're going to get along with.
Alana Muller: Yeah, he already had some street cred.
Jay Kim: Yeah, exactly.
Alana Muller: That's great. Well, we've talked a little bit about some of the connections that you've made. We talked a little bit about the career transitions that you yourself have made. What advice would you share with somebody who wants to grow or cultivate their own professional network?
Jay Kim: I actually don't like the term "networks." It's got so many negative connotations these days, I think, because of social media. And really, people try to measure their, they equate the size of their network with the quality of it. And really, I think you just got to put the time and effort, and it has to be sincere, to develop relationships, not just exchanging LinkedIn links or business cards. You really have to take the time and effort to build that personal relationship. Also, I've mentioned I've participated in a lot of entrepreneurial organizations. I was in Pipeline and EO. And I find those groups really useful and actually really rewarding in the fact that you have a chance to bond with people who are maybe in this, not in necessarily the same industry, but same position, whether it be startup founder, or whether it be a growth company, or whatever it may be. I would encourage people to seek out those type of, not just, I don't want to call them networks, but they're actually working organizations, things that require investment in terms of time, also money and effort.
Alana Muller: Speaking of EO and some of the organizations that you've been part of, I know that DataLocker was a finalist for the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award. And so, have you been able to leverage some of those organizations, some of the awards, some of the ways that you and your company have been recognized, have you been able to leverage those as organizations or as groups of people, cohorts, to sort of build your own connections, your own relationship base?
Jay Kim: One kind of rule of thumb, especially like, even like EO, we try not to solicit business or solicit business relationships through those. A lot of those groups, I think, are there as more of a support mechanism. And frankly, I don't like going to events and having somebody handing me a card and say, "Hey, let's get together for coffee," and then end up trying to quote me on something, try to sell something. I really, really dislike that. So I tend not to try to solicit business or talk business at those events. I like to get to know people and hear their stories. And that's a really, really interesting part of [inaudible 00:14:32] those groups, is everybody's got a great story. I mean, every startup owner I've ever met has some crazy story.
Alana Muller: Yeah. You're exactly right. I mean, even the way you talk about meeting your business partner in an elevator, obviously through a mutual acquaintance, but what a cool way to begin the relationship, begin the interaction, and it's obviously paid dividends for you. It's been a great experience. So, that's wonderful. I want to ask you a little bit about some of your outside interests. I know that you have many interests outside of your professional life, including, my understanding is that you are an avid golfer and fisherman. Can you talk a little bit about ways that you have sort of utilized those interests to expand your own relationship base, your own relationships with other people?
Jay Kim: Well, for me, fishing is the time to be alone. So I don't really think about much business or think about networking through fishing. But golf is the ultimate, call it relationship-building, networking tool, because, number one, you have a common interest. You [inaudible 00:15:37] get to spend four hours with somebody outside, right, sharing a cart. And especially in countries like Asia, it's like more, playing around with golf with somebody over there, it's an all-day event. Literally, you travel out to the golf course, spend a day at the golf course. You play around. You go sit in a hot tub with each other. And then you go have dinner. And it really fosters really close relationships.
Alana Muller: Yeah. That's great. And I may have shared with you before, what I find is, with golf, especially during these strange times, this related to COVID and the isolation, golf has been one way that people have been able to stay connected, because it's an outdoor experience. There's less concern about disease transmission. And it's been a wonderful way for people to actually maintain connection during a time when isolation was sort of the norm. So I think it's cool that you've been able to leverage that for your career. So, that's great. One of the things, and you, again, have kind of pointed in this direction, but is your approach more organic or unintentional networking, so to speak, or deliberate? So I know that you said that you don't like to utilize your association in various organizations strictly for business development, but more for relationship building. Talk a little bit about how you have thought about organic relationship building versus deliberate or intentional networking.
Jay Kim: I don't think they're mutually exclusive. You have to give yourself the opportunities to meet people, which takes some thought and effort, which is a deliberate act. But then how you grow those relationships, I mean, again, I don't like kind of forced relation ... I think there has to be this unintentional aspect to build that relationship, for example, spending time to get, have a meal together. Well, it takes intent to get together with somebody. So I think that's a little bit of a tougher question.
One of the things I noticed, experienced during COVID is it is a great way to catch up, a great time to catch up with people you haven't talked to. As a habit, I try to call almost everybody in my contact list at least once a year just to chit-chat, say, "How you doing?", especially during the holidays. And it's not an email, it's, or a ping on social media. It's real, just picking up the phone, don't schedule it, it doesn't, [inaudible 00:18:05], and just saying, "Hey, how you doing? How are you doing with this COVID? How's business?" and things like that, and I really think that's really helpful.
Alana Muller: Well, and I bet your contacts really appreciated hearing from you during that time, and the fact that you picked up the phone and called, just that plain old telephone, that old technology that we still have access to but we don't utilize as much, I think that's really cool that you continue to do that. That's great. Just a fun question that I love to ask all of my guests, if you could meet one person, living, dead, fictional, nonfictional, who would it be, and why? Who'd you want to meet with?
Jay Kim: Oh, definitely Elon Musk.
Alana Muller: Oh, great.
Jay Kim: He just, I mean ... I think he lives in his own world, and I'd just like to have a glimpse of what makes that guy tick. And I think we're, 50 years from now, a hundred years from now, they're going to be reading about him in history books and textbooks, about some of the changes he's made, not only in business, but to the world itself, and ...
Alana Muller: I think that's probably right. I think that's probably right. That's a good business choice, from an innovation and technology perspective, for sure. So, great choice. Jay, I've loved talking with you, learning about your philosophy, your approach to networking, so thanks for spending some time with me. Tell our listeners, if they want to learn more about DataLocker and about you, where can they go to do that?
Jay Kim: They can visit our website, datalocker.com, or they can follow us on LinkedIn. Again, we try to keep those two sources up-to-date with what's going on here at the company.
Alana Muller: Terrific. Well, I've sure enjoyed the conversation. Thanks so much for joining us on Enterprise.ing.
Jay Kim: Well, thank you. Thanks for having me.
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