the ceo magazine, entrepreneurship
James Sun, CEO, Pirq

“The joy is in the journey and not the destination.” When I hear this quote, I think about the roller coaster ride of entrepreneurship, where you have to enjoy the journey. I am currently the CEO and founder of Pirq, a digital loyalty and customer relationship management system for brick-and-mortar businesses. Pirq helps local businesses capture customer data and grow loyalty, increase spend amount per visit and expand the frequency of visits all through a digital punch card on the smartphone.

The inspiration for Pirq came through the journey of growing up as a first generation immigrant. I was born in South Korea in 1977 and came to the United States in 1981 with my parents with $35.00 to our name.  We had no idea what our life was going to be like, but I’m grateful for my father’s vision to risk everything for the American dream. I started my first company at the age of 11, marketing window cleaning services. My pitch was simple:  “Are you tired of homeowners slamming their doors on you?  Let me go door-to-door for you, they won’t slam the door on a cute little kid.”  I hired all the neighborhood kids, and we had a fully functioning sales organization of 60 kids. 

After this venture, I started helping my parents with their retail and restaurant businesses.  We had a local convenience store, pizza take-out business and even a hair salon. I quickly learned the challenging common denominator for all of these businesses.  We needed loyal customers who would frequent often and maximize spend amount per visit. Since English isn’t my parents’ first language, I remember how difficult it had been for them. I did my best to help since I was better speaking the language. This journey as a child led me to start my current company Pirq.  Over the years of raising venture capital, launching a commercially viable product and growing a business from scratch, I’ve learned a few key elements of successful entrepreneurs: 

  • Inner passion or fire
  • Active opportunists
  • Communicate and differentiate a brand or product

The most important is the need for an inner fire, a passion that consumes and sustains an individual in pursuit of his or her dreams.  Without that eagerness and enthusiasm the luster can easily fade during the journey. Too often, people start out with big dreams but lose them along the way as they encounter the trials and tribulations of managing a business. Entrepreneurs should never forget their dreams, even in the face of adversity. 

Being an “active opportunist” is the second characteristic of successful entrepreneurs. These are the people who refuse to accept the status quo and constantly look for opportunities to improve something.  A great example of this is the first person who broke the four-minute mile in 1954.  Physicians at the time believed that a human body would physically combust if pushed to run a mile under four minutes. Right after Roger Bannister broke that psychological barrier, four other people followed suit. Success is a mindset.

Finally, thriving people do a great job of communicating their brand. Individuals convey a brand by being memorable, and companies impart their brand by investing in the consumer experience.  From an individual standpoint, I can give you an example of my casting call for NBC’s The Apprentice with Donald Trump.  Sitting in a room with 20 other people, we were given a topic to debate with the other applicants. Rather than jumping into the foray, I started posing questions to each person. Within minutes, the room was all mine. We all know that the person asking the questions is in control. My attempt at being different and memorable paid off because I was one of the 18 people who made the show out of 800,000 applicants that season. It’s crucial for your brand and product to be distinctive so it creates viral “word of mouth” conversations.  A brand that’s positive and caring, a brand that communicates who you are and how you’re different. These are what will make the company memorable and successful. 

In the end, you will travel through mountains and tough terrain.  But the fire and dream is what will keep you persevering. Remember to ask yourself what the dream was that got you to where you are.  Without that, nothing else happens. 


About the Author

James Sun is the CEO of Pirq where he sets and leads the overall business strategy, communication and execution. James is a serial entrepreneur with a proven history of launching companies in its formative first 1-3 years. He’s a startup executive who has successfully raised angel and VC capital, built go-to-market products and executed business models to commercialize trending technologies. James is the first Seattle native and Asian-American to become a finalist on Donald Trump's hit reality show "The Apprentice” and later on became the host of a television show called "War on Business." He holds Fortune 500 experience where he served as a database programmer at Intel and management consultant at Deloitte Consulting. James is also the Co-Founder of the first anonymous mobile social network Anomo, where people reveal themselves over time. 


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