Calming Confusion from Current Calamities : 고마워, 스타트업!

A self starter soothed himself with Start-Up, today

J.S. Chan
9 min readJan 13, 2021


The world has accumulated confusion from crises ranging from health, elections, insurrection, police brutality, job security amongst a laundry list of problems could be longer than an Encyclopedia. As we glaze over normalized news headlines and leadership mandates, a soothing solace is wished upon to avoid stir-crazy states. In some respects to the entertainment industry, there are still reminders in the shows that we live in a world of dealing with unprecedented events. For those numbed by the frequency of reminders you get, I think there may be some solace by watching a certain Korean Drama.

Scrabble tiles of Start Up that are not the series’ promotional material. Provided by Goodstock Photos

Note: To prevent Medium for paying for any additional copyrights, I will be using images that can hopefully illustrate my thoughts

Start-Up was a Korean Drama that South Korea’s tvN and Netflix broadcasted, domestically and internationally respectively, in Fall 2020. Previously working in start up environments, I was intrigued by the concept of this show especially after one of my mentees recommended it to me. Especially when the show aired, the show intrigued me in three-dimensions:

  1. Korean Dramas are bat s#!t crazy: Unlike successful U.S. primetime dramas and comedies, Korean Dramas (K-Dramas) are only one season; there are instances there is a part 2 or even 3, but those seasons may have a completely different cast. Given the perceived higher production value and A-List celebrity casts, these shows are always going to be pushed to break benchmarks. A dynamism exists in the drama’s DNAs that rivals the complex plots of daytime soap operas in the Western hemisphere.
  2. Start-Ups are bat s#!t crazy: Although we may have varied definitions of the phrase bat s#!t crazy, the rapid pace and inconceivable executions within a start up quality to have this descriptor. Given the perceived lack of structure in early-stage start-ups, as not everyone is a business person when ideas are conceived, the start-up culture can actually exacerbate the mortality disorders that modern-day humans, especially business professionals, encounter throughout their lives. Start-ups are still a modern fabric to our livelihood. Compared to other Korean dramas I’ve watched, this did not overtly exaggerate lifestyles or plots — it was more grounded in reality than in fantasy, the latter seen more commonly.
  3. The pandemic environment is bat s#!t crazy: This is the only dimension that could speak truth figuratively and literally; the latter because it is suspected that a bat delicacy started all of this. Other than that, my personal Netflix consumption in 2020 significantly higher than other year. Watching Start-Up in the pandemic bubble actually shifted the levels of personal attention of video programming. The effect of this shift allowed inspired the ingredients I’m stirring in this bibimbap-like blog experience.

Combining the triple-threat of factors in selection criteria, I enjoyed watching this drama and watched each episode on the day it was released. While it has been a while since finale aired, it seems to me that there were some themes that could resonate with us as we navigate the times. Three of them below:

Blurry Traffic Through Chain Fence provided by Goodstock Photos

Another note: Readers should note that spoiling of the actual programs I review here are going to be keep at a minimum. Therefore it should never be expected that I say what actually happens at the end. So, please watch Start-Up if you‘re invested into this article!

Uh! Divisions Happen — Choose Wisely

Start Up follows a main female lead, Seo Dal-mi (played by Bae Suzy), a high-school educated aspirational trying to realize her dreams. She has a unique history with Won In-Jae (played by Kang Han na) who comes from a more privileged background. The story arc for them, though not the most prominent one, may have the most dynamic shift throughout the series. This observation stands out because romantic story arcs tend to capture the hearts of viewers. Though I won’t define their relationship here, low and behold, it has the most complexity and is indeed one of the longest lasting ones in the series.

Between both characters, division recurs throughout the course of the series. One could almost say their opposite nurturing experiences naturally divides how they choose to associate with each other across many spheres. There are indeed unimaginable factors that do divide the two characters. Similarly to the world that we live in today, there are just unfortunate events that continually challenge societies to find a way to be united. Yet, one thing was clear in within Start-Up: these two characters made their choices on how they wanted to approach each divisive obstacle.

Going back to the real world, there are ways that a specific object can crumble a start-up business trying to grow expediently. Actually, its not necessarily the most-intelligent or efficient ideas that will propel the business; behind-the-scenes, a business is boosted by professionals who choose how to rationally embed to solidify success. While it can be argued that maybe a company fails because of an ineffective product, one has to also keep in mind the people who were behind the decisions. Sometimes, decisions are made without having the enough quality information as well as having unfortunately mindless individuals calling the shots. This could be reason why there are many moments of worldly worries. However, if there are individuals who can mindfully make a decision to address a problem and continually makes subsequent choices to support and scale a solution, the wisdom collected in between mitigate the migraines of missed opportunities.

Fancy Clock in Windows photo provided by Goodstock Photos

Time is a Special Supplementary Soother

Choosing wisely is definitely one thing individuals need to do resolve for divisive actions. As much as wise choices are important to solving any problem, our relationship with time has to be considered — regardless if it is in a start-up business or a societal faux pas

Start-Up does not only chronicle the story of Seo Dal-Mi and Won In-Jae. Also it closes in on the journey of Nam Do-San (played by Nam Joo-Hyuk) who is on-and-off at odds with a certain influence of his life. His character has a unique quality — one could call him a “slacker hacker.” Specifically, there have been moments of amazing feats that Do-San has achieved which polarizes the cast. As a result, the angered influence projects his dismay of how the male lead chooses to present himself in society.

Anecdotally, second generation Asian Americans in the United States tend to express that they have not lived up to standards of an important figure. Regardless if the standards have been explicit or implicit, the lack of effective communication has led to drastic choices including separation. This leads people to ask, if there are choices that do not solve unity, what else could help? Across the drama, start-up businesses, and society, many figures believe in time efficiency as it is a highly valuable resource. As proactive some are in making choices and resolving problems, there are instances where the level of proactivity cannot be processed in the mere minutes.

Although delays are typically measured in minutes or even months, one has to consider that time can help heal the frustrating friction even if there are sunk costs. As it took Apple years to hire back Steve Jobs as well as an extended period of time for the fictional Do-San and realistic second-generation Asian-American to find harmony, it proves that time does supplement soothing the soul. While we are conflicted of why we haven’t solved the solutions of today, time can help diminish the wounds.

Boats in Lake by Mountains photo provided by Goodstock Photos

You are Equal to the Main Figures

As we envision a world where we can go outside freely and not be harmed, it can be a lonely experience being not on-trend, in-the-center, or aligned, within the rest of society. Especially in K-Dramas, attractive youthful looks can superficially secure the success that a drama has.

A refreshing part about Start-Up was that the cast of secondary and tertiary characters stood out. Normally, K-Dramas could be hyper-focused on the story arcs on the lead characters. In this case, it would be Seo Dal-Mi and Nam Do-San. However apparent second-leads and even supporting cast members (calling the latter tertiary characters for Start-Up), actually made some great breakthroughs in the typical K-Drama. The volume of momentum from this cast is probably spread one of the most equitably amongst recent Korean Dramas. Aside from the main characters, here are three examples:

  1. Choi Won-Deok, a grandmother figure (played by Kim Hae-Sook): In a world that being youthful is idolized, the grit, wit, and care expressed in halmeoni (할머니, Korean for grandmother) to all of the characters in each exchange were magical moments. The brand of halmeoni halo she brought forth as a tertiary character allowed younger cast members to be vulnerably relatable. While saccharine soundtracks surrounded her scenes, her pacing was spot on regardless the ages of the other actors she had to interact with. Furthermore, she had the worked with the widest range of age ranges further defining the delicacy she delivered.
  2. Lee Chul-San, a friend of Kim Do-San (played by Yu Su-bin): Another tertiary character, this is not the first time where I felt this particular actor had stood out. If anyone asked if I had to hedge my bets on who could thrive in three years time, I would say it is Yu Su-bin. Normally, Korean actors need to display a type of physical attractiveness but Su-bin does need to conform to that standard. Going back to the drama, his character Chul-San brought a bright, boisterous blockhead energy to an aspirational tech leader. Although this type of energy would be unfavorable in situations in start-ups, it was enamoring enough to the extent which I remembered his scenes equally to those of the main male lead. His story arcs with each character saw a different dimension of camaraderie with his cast and suited him well.
  3. Han Ji-pyeong, a venture capitalist (played by Kim Seon-ho): If there was a character I aspired to be in this show, he was the one. The second-male lead was so endearing that much of the drama’s fanbase preferred him over the main lead — probably the best case of second-lead syndrome. I think this was overwhelming as most female audiences who watched Crazy Rich Asian, would’ve wanted to be Astrid. While I don’t want to go overboard with spoilers, the slightly sharp-tongued businessman showcased sincerity and a willingness to go beyond his usual reserved and robotic self. He brought a responsibly clean and earnest image to the cast. If I did not mention him, I would be in endless debates with fans of why I left him off. #TeamJiPyeong

While we live in a world where leaders and public figures are expected to elevate the world, this expectation or desire actually could be found in many individuals regardless of perceived importance. Especially in start-up businesses, there are expectations that an autocrat makes the decision. Yet some of the top start-ups of this millennium, so far, became who they are because of more open cultures valuing equal voices. Is it easy to pull off? No. However, as one who has worked in that type of environment and watching Start-Up, the equity of memorability amongst this particular cast was a huge factor of why this drama was enjoyable.

Closing Out…

From what Start-Up has showcased, combining wise choices, time, and equity, can potentially lead to ultimately well-deserved success.

Understandably, this is not the best self-help article, nor was it intended to be one. Yet, I did enjoy this attempt to showcase that we can learn from different influences and creatively envision what can be applied to our lives. Regardless of your current obstacles in starting up a habit or a business at any phase, it is also reminder that there many sources to help solve through problems. Even more so there a plural and hybrid models that can be crafted to impact your and our world.



J.S. Chan

Native San Franciscan with Super Overseas Chinese roots. Unleashing an authentic presence through channels such as Medium is my 2021 New Year’s Resolution.