Working in a Korea startup as a foreigner 

[Startup Summit] Working in a Korea startup as a foreigner 


There are many startups want to go globally. However, most of startups are only composed of Korean employees.

In the headquarter of Buzzvil, there are five foreign employees and 14 overseas employees in others branches. 19 out of 70 people are foreign employees in Buzzvil. Mobiinside visited Buzzvil, the startup with a high ratio of foreign employment, to meet the american developer ‘Teddy Cross‘, and the french designer ‘Maxence Mauduit‘ listen to their opinion about Korea startup.

Teddy and Max

#Please introduce yourself

Teddy: “I’m a full stack software engineer from the U.S., working at Buzzvil’s Seoul headquarters.”

Max: “I am French & Designer, living in Seoul for over 3 years now. I have been working as a Product Designer for about 7 years through eclectic experiences.”

#What are you in charge of at Buzzvil?

Teddy: “I’m the lead developer of several core projects:

  • Arcade: A recent addition to HoneyScreen, containing mini games users can play with points.
  • Content curation: Crawls tens of thousands of articles per day for curation by our operation team.
  • Creative rendering: Real-time high-volume ad and content creatives with a variety of designs.
  • Product dashboards: Used by every team inside Buzzvil, all our partners, and our customers.
  • Development workflow and tools, such as code reviews and continuous integration.
  • Data safety and security across the company.

In addition, I play a part in architecting and reviewing our databases and infrastructure, and take an advisory role in many other aspects of each of our products.”

Max: “I make sure that Design can supports our Company’s goals. I lead our Design by ensuring that the process is appropriate and meaningful so the team can work efficiently in a friendly environment, securing creativity as fuel for greater outcomes. It sounds awesome but in reality it’s quite messy and obscure, but I believe messiness as an important part of a creative process as long as we can control it. We are a small team of 4 designers, all from different countries with our own process and skill set. We work for a company with great dreams, so my mission mainly consists in balancing heavy automation through a Design system on one side and creative thinking on the other. Optimization work mostly. Always trying to get the best of our team’s strength: our multiculturalism & background diversity!”

#What did you do before joining Buzzvil? What made you decide to come here?

Teddy: “I began my career six years ago as an intern at Game Closure, a mobile social game platform startup based in Silicon Valley, where I built games played by hundreds of thousands of users. I then joined my friend’s fledgling startup Stanza as first employee, where we worked on a variety of B2B and B2C calendar and productivity tools.

Fast forward a few pivots later, I was looking for something more stable. After falling in love with Seoul during a holiday vacation, I set out to find an opportunity here, quickly connecting with Buzzvil and moving over. Life has been so perfect for the three and a half years since that I could not imagine leaving!”

Max: “I studied a bit, got 2 Masters in Interaction Design Engineering and Virtual Innovation Research. Then I challenged myself over different professional experiences. But there are two key factors that made me decide to come to Korea and work for Buzzvil. First one is my exchange semester in Hongdae back in 2009.

Did I have fun? Definitely, but that’s not it. I felt much more comfortable than in my homeland, I knew that I had to come back no matter what, and I knew that this feeling was not only related to the crazy nights spent in Hongdae but deeply connected to my personality’s match with the Korean culture.

The second key factor is my last year’s internship at a Parisian startup. It was short and the startup failed a few month after I left but I’ve learned a lot from this experience. I’ve got to learn how things work in a startup, the responsibilities, the passion and the fun that comes with it. Right after this experience I have been hired by a big consulting company to work in a research and development lab for over 4 years. The work was actually very interesting but I kind of missed the challenging everyday from my startup days.

That is why I decided to quit after completing a few publication and conference about my work in the lab. Leaving my parisian life, friends and family to get back to Seoul. After a few months of freelancing with friends and a workshop at KAIST, I joined Buzzvil hoping to fully experience living in Korea and being part of an exciting project.”


#Do you feel any differences now compared when you were student here before?

Max: “Yes. I was stupid, I thought Hongdae was Korea, but it’s not, I deeply regret my decision to come and live here, I cry every night. I am kidding but of course it’s different.

I’ve learnt more about Korea, I got closer to people and as you can imagine, an exchange semester wasn’t the most stressful time of my life, but now I work here it’s a different context.

Korea is a really friendly country to foreign students but when it comes to work here, it’s another thing. I know I got very lucky but I’ve discussed and heard enough time people telling me stories to know that working here can be pretty challenging. I love living here, much more than living in Paris, the sparkling side of my student life vanished but I found myself discovering other exciting sides of my Korean life!”

#If you grade working in Korea, what’s your score out of 10?

Teddy: “8/10, with the possibility to be 10/10 if government policies improve with the new administration. Seoul is ranked Asia’s most livable and the world’s most connected city, and for good reason. I’m able to experience the culture and thrill of true 24 hour life, the convenience of the largest and cleanest transportation network ever, and the comfort of an incredibly low cost of living.

The downside is rampant inequality and discrimination, and outdated regulations that make basic tasks such as online purchases difficult and often impossible for foreigners.”

Max: “I am enjoying my working life in Korea and have no plan to move so far. But I know how lucky I am to be working at Buzzvil. I have been living here long enough to know that Buzzvil isn’t the norm, that hierarchy can be a pain and that working condition could be much tougher. It’s a bit sad to say but I feel like most of the company that are ready to hire foreigners are gonna also provide a much comfortable working environment and culture.”

#What do you think foreigners need to prepare before coming to Korea?

Max: “I came here without any Korean skills and I don’t recommend it. You can find jobs with a bit of luck, you can live in Seoul pretty easily, but once you do, you are gonna wish you had learnt before, because after starting working, there isn’t much time and energy left to go to an institute to learn Korean. And yes, speaking Korean opens a lot of doors for your professional but also personal life.”

#What’s your favorite Korea startup service?

Max: I would pick With Innovation and their App 여기어때, a pretty easy to use application to book things in Korea aside AirBnB. The App is clean and easy to use and I could read a while ago about their will to integrate an AI for better recommendations and that they had an interest in IoT and that makes me particularly curious.

#If you recommend someone to work in Korea, what would be the reason?


Teddy: “First, because living here is amazing. 

Second, the market opportunity of 50 million citizens with 99% internet penetration, half of whom live in the Seoul metropolitan area alone, is unparalleled. Any Korean startup which makes it past the local cultural, governmental, and funding minefields has a fantastic opportunity in front of them: a hyperconnected, relatively free-spending, ultra trendy population that, despite its modernity, is still starved of innovative solutions to their daily problems.”

#What do you think Korea needs to do to attract more global IT professionals?

Teddy: “Deregulate. Despite lacking strong regulations in standard sectors such as safety and equality, the Korean government is extremely heavy-handed when it comes to business and finance. Regulations here ostensibly for ‘worker protection’ are directly hindering the success of both startups and their employees.

Specifically, the regulations regarding employment termination and equity incentives in Korea run directly counter to those in California that resulted in the success of Silicon Valley. The Korean government must realize and act on this before they can even begin to imagine capturing a similar opportunity in the future.”

Max: “Don’t be shy. There are a lot of great Korean startups hidden behind the giants like Samsung that recruit foreigners with the least elegant possible way by ‘just’ offering insane wage. There is a mix of lacks of communication and apprehension in hiring foreigners. On the other hand I don’t see a lot of foreigner friendly Korean startup that are now regretting taking that risk. A better communication from the companies and ideally from the government (France is doing that recently and it seems to be fruitful), showcasing how cool life is in Korea will bring more global talent I am certain.”