Still Team Do-san for 2021 – and Some Lessons Learned from ‘Start-Up’


Maybe it’s wrong to watch ‘Start-Up’ after ‘The Queen’s Gambit’. Now, I find it more difficult to separate Nam Do-san from Beth Harmon. Both geniuses in their fields, both lost in life.

In one particular episode, Beth asked a striking question that left me pondering up until now: “If you’re world champion at 16, what will you do with the rest of your life?” It was left unanswered. Then Nam Do-san came into the picture.

Like Beth Harmon, Nam Do-san was also a genius. But just as how outstanding he was with math and programming; he sucked the same way at entrepreneurship and life. His lack of appeal is probably one of the reasons why most viewers stan for the second lead, Han Ji-pyeong, who was charismatic, ‘good boy’ and successful on his own – not to mention whose character has been developed really well.

Why I Still Stan with Do-San

Surprisingly, I did not develop the ‘second lead syndrome’ with Han Ji-pyeong the way I got so invested with Jung Hwan in Reply 1988, Wu Bosong in A Love So Beautiful, and Soo Ah in Itaewon Class. I stan with Do-san because I find it easier to resonate with him: uncertain of what to do in life.

Accomplishing everything at an early age comes with a price. I am no genius but I accelerated and graduated college at eighteen. Of course, like most, the next step was to get a stable job. Luckily, I did. Unluckily, it became a dead-end.

Allow me to revive the question in the second paragraph: If you’ve accomplished everything at 18, what will you do with the rest of your life? I am no hardcore dreamer. I don’t have grand ambitions. That’s why I envy those who have a clear set of goals. They know their purpose.

Some Lessons Learned from Do-san and Start-Up

But Nam Do-san made me realize that I’m not a hopeless case. That not everyone can practically manage raising themselves like Ji-pyeong. That it’s okay to not know where you’re going. That it’s fine to have insecurities – and compare yourself to others. That you just have to continue because along the way you will meet people or experience events that will help you answer this existential question. You just have to trust the process.

While there are numerous business lessons to learn from Start-Up, I’d like to focus on what Han Ji-pyeong emphasized to Samsan Tech: that not everyone is meant to become entrepreneurs. Except for the first episode, we see Do-san and his friends in the whole series trying to get investors for their startup – and the many times they failed.

If what excites you is writing programs and seeing them run, work as developers at a company that pays you well. If you’re excited about establishing and leading a company, run your own company. The only thing that keeps you going is the confidence that you’re doing what you love.

Here we see a different definition of success. That while others are skilled with running a business and doing transactions with other people, there are also those who are incapable of doing such, but still find joy in ordinary labor – writing, creating, performing, fixing, and so on – as long as they get paid well.

Important Lesson from Start-Up

Whether you are a #TeamDoSan or #TeamJiPyeong, I think we can all agree that the most important lesson we can learn from Start-Up is love – for family, friends, and oneself. Start-Up is technically not a love story but it is a story of love: between Han Ji-Pyeong and Grandma Choi (halmeoni), between Nam Do-san, Lee Chul-san, and Kim Yong-san, between Seo Dalmi and her father.

Han Ji-Pyeong and Grandma Choi (halmeoni)
Samsan Tech: Nam Do-san, Lee Chul-san, and Kim Yong-san

I hope that this 2021, we get to have a clearer picture of what we can get to do with the rest of our lives and stand by our decisions. As Dal-mi says it: You don’t regret your choice the moment you make it. It all happens after. I’ve never regretted any of my choices. I did my best so I wouldn’t.