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‘Start-Up’: Samsan Tech, Sherpas, society, sustainability

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While the quality of the show has dipped in the past few episodes, I’m still addicted to watching the tvN K-drama “Start-Up” on Netflix with my wife and daughter. As I said in my review of “Start-Up” Episode 1, this K-drama had one of the most beautiful, charming, and heartbreaking first episodes I have ever seen. Maybe, like the 15-year-old letters Seo Dal Mi received from “Nam Do San”, the awesome writing in the earlier episodes still makes me hopeful that this show will redeem itself as we head to the finale on Dec. 6.

Dal Mi’s choice, whether it will be Do San or Han Jip Yeong, doesn’t really interest me as much as the other fascinating issues tackled by this K-drama, which depicts the world of tech startups where I once belonged. Sure, I’m #TeamJipyeong in the sense that I like him more than Do San and think he deserves to be loved more. But I honestly think he deserves someone a lot better than Dal Mi, and that Do San and Dal Mi are more suited to each other. Jip Yeong will forever be the Good Boy who helps others despite his insistence that he’s not a good person, and who has become the Sherpa to both Dal Mi and Do San in their personal and professional lives — despite not even knowing what a Sherpa was at the start of the show.

Preparing for a new world

"Start-Up" is still an addictive K-drama. Image credit: tvN
Image credit: tvN

“I didn’t quit my job because my boss hit me. I quit my job to prepare for a new world.”

Those words by Dal Mi’s father in “Start-Up” Episode 1 have haunted me throughout this series. And Dal Mi brings them up again in a conversation with her estranged sister, Won In Jae.

It’s a sentiment I can relate to, as someone who already embraced digital way back in the 90s, creating my first website on GeoCities in 1998. I’m not a techie like Do San, but I taught myself HTML by reading The Bare Bones Guide to HTML. Then I created the site using Notepad and the Advanced Editor of GeoCities.

I’m also a techno-optimist, and have spent most of my life talking about how the internet has changed the way we work and play, and teaching people how to use technology for good.

So, yes, I admit I’m impatient with those who are unwilling or unable to embrace digital. I also have no time for people who are living in denial. The world has changed. Deal with it.

‘Surviving the Zeroes’

"Start-Up" is still an addictive K-drama. Image credit: tvN
Image credit: tvN

Maybe it comes from dealing with a lot of skeptics and status quo defenders for over two decades now. Those of us who pioneered online journalism in the Philippines and spun off (then known as from the Philippine Daily Inquirer print newspaper were Young Turks bent on revolutionizing the industry. And, yes, for the most part I had a take-no-prisoners attitude because I believed in our vision and was filled with passion.

Fatherhood mellowed me somewhat, and taught me that some things can’t be rushed, as I recounted in my essay “Surviving the Zeroes,” which won third prize for Essay (English Division) in the 2004 Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature. The Palanca Awards is the most prestigious literary competition in the Philippines.

What made this victory even sweeter was that not only did I join the list of Palanca winners, but also “Surviving the Zeroes” was about me working from home to take care of our daughter, and what it is like to be a dad in the digital age.

About how technology has made this all possible. And how our daughter and her generation of digital natives will build a brave new world.

Innovation and sustainability

Image credit: tvN
Image credit: tvN

This was the future that Dal Mi’s dad was preparing for. Which is why I was even more heartbroken by what happened to him.

Because of the fascinating debate in “Start-Up” about the need to balance innovation with sustainability, and my lively discussions with my wife and daughter, I’ve been thinking even more about the impact of technology on society, and the role I’ve been playing for decades in championing innovation and digital transformation.

I would like to think that as someone who believes in using technology for good, I’m more like Samsan Tech and filled with the desire to use artificial intelligence and other innovations to help people live better lives.

But I also know that as a techno-optimist, I could easily act like Injae Company and push innovation without taking into account the people who would be left behind by progress.

Become a Sherpa

Image credit: tvN
Image credit: tvN

So, yes, I agree we should strike the right balance between innovation and sustainability. Even though I still have no patience with human dinosaurs. At least some of the real dinosaurs evolved into birds. Human dinosaurs keep finding excuses not to embrace change.

And at some point, if we have to wait for everyone to be ready and make sure no one is getting left behind, then we wouldn’t get anywhere.

Sometimes innovation means dragging people screaming and kicking into the future. Just like how the COVID-19 pandemic has finally forced companies to undergo digital transformation and individuals to embrace the digital lifestyle.

To me, it’s this food for thought, and the role “Start-Up” is playing in making the startup world mainstream and educating viewers on concepts like hackathons, incubators, Series A, and burn rate, that keeps me watching this K-drama.

Apart, of course, from the fact that despite the lazy writing and ridiculous moments in recent episodes, I’ve become emotionally attached to all the characters, and understand their hopes and fears. Yes, even the annoying ones.

I guess it doesn’t really matter how “Start-Up” will end. After all, it’s not the destination. It’s the journey.

May you find your own Sherpa in life. And become a Sherpa to others.

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