Crafting IYUNO's success story

The company is readying itself to ride the next wave of growth as more video streaming services and content creators enter the digital media market, driving demand for professional language translation.

IYUNO Media Group, which provides subtitling and dubbing services, now employs some 700 people globally and counts Softbank Ventures Asia among its biggest backers.

But all these might have seemed like a pipe dream when David Lee started IYUNO in 2002, as a civil engineering undergraduate in Seoul.

"Our company didn't experience a true boom-expansion period until almost 10 years after it launched," said Mr Lee, now 44.

"We had to shift focus and re-evaluate (our business) many times before being able to achieve the success we are currently experiencing."

For the first eight years, IYUNO was solely focused on providing English to Korean subtitling - a low profit and "low success-margin" business, according to Mr Lee, as there were many competitors vying for the same pie.

The turning point only came in 2010 when, along with a rise in global video streaming services, IYUNO decided to widen its offerings by providing multi-language services. At the same time, the company set up its first overseas office in Singapore, which later served as a gateway into South-east Asia.

Armed with state-of-the-art studio facilities in 15 countries and a talent network that covers over 47 languages, IYUNO now provides high-quality end-to-end localisation, media processing and creative post-production services. The company has been based in Singapore but will be shifting its headquarters (more on that later).

Mr Lee believes a positive attitude and resilience have been key to IYUNO's success.

"Rather than worrying about failure, we always come up with a new plan," he said. "As is often said, people often fail nine times out of 10 - which makes it all the more important to try the 10th time."

Being adaptable and focused on acquiring new knowledge continually also helps, Mr Lee added. From its own employees to other similarly run businesses, IYUNO learns from them so as to streamline its business and operate more effectively.

"This has allowed us to skip over many of the trial-and-error, growing pains that most companies experience when they're trying to optimise and grow," he said.

Today, IYUNO - which currently serves clients including regional broadcasters and Hollywood studios - is readying itself to ride the next wave of growth as more video streaming services and content creators enter the digital media market, driving demand for professional language translation.

In September, IYUNO merged with London-based BTI Studios to create what it says is the largest media localisation company globally. The two companies will merge under the IYUNO Media Group brand and will be headquartered in London.

"In the current industry, it's really about who has capacity and global language coverage," said Mr Lee, who is executive chairman at the new company.

"Our clients don't want to deal with patches of multiple vendors that they need to manage separately. They want an efficient, global and scalable solution, resulting in a need for consolidation rather than organic growth."

IYUNO has been focused on consolidation for "quite some time", Mr Lee said, and will continue to acquire and expand.

In addition, the enlarged IYUNO is investing in artificial intelligence-driven translation engines to provide more quality and cost-effective solutions for clients.

It's also looking at venturing into markets like gaming and e-learning, where demand for media localisation is growing rapidly.

On advice to those hoping to break into the industry today, Mr Lee said: "Find ways to differentiate yourself from the competition - specifically as it relates to scale and consolidation to enable data-driven technology plays.

"There will always be a high amount of competition and organic success might be hard to achieve in the current marketplace - unless you pick a less competitive or niche market."

As the overall winner of EY Entrepreneur Of The Year 2019 Singapore, Mr Lee will represent the Republic at the annual EY World Entrepreneur Of The Year award in Monte Carlo in 2020, where he will compete with contenders from over 50 countries.

David (Hyonmoo) Lee, CEO, IYUNO Media Group

On receiving the category award:

"When I first founded IYUNO 17 years ago, I did not begin with a grand vision of creating jobs, disrupting the industry or delivering positive social impact. But, in our journey to become one of the world's largest global media service providers, I have come to understand that these larger values are the true definition of success as an entrepreneur. Thank you, EY, for inspiring us all to be better leaders."

On learnings as an entrepreneur:

"The biggest learning for me is how true leadership is made. As we all know, great leadership breaks through so many challenges in business. I have made many mistakes in my career as an entrepreneur and learned two important factors in building successful leadership:

"Visions must go beyond my expectations and I have to believe in the impossible. Small visions do not motivate people. Positivity and insight into what I do fuels my vision.

"I have had to lose first, to eventually win. The stakeholders in my business - whether it is employees, clients or investors - trust and devote themselves when they feel assured that I will protect their interest no matter what. Our friendship is formed in our willingness to sacrifice and give what we can to what we need from each other."


David Lee is chief executive officer of IYUNO Media Group. He started IYUNO in Seoul in 2002 in the last year of his university studies in civil engineering.

The 44-year-old developed his own proprietary technology, MediaTrans, after seeing the limitations of free subtitling software, and it quickly became the subtitling software of choice, owning 90 per cent of the output for the Korean market at that time.

He further innovated to overcome talent and technology challenges by developing the cloudbased platform, iMEDIATRANS, which is celebrated for enabling convenient management of massive multi-language projects through a centralised cloud, while optimising internal and external resources from around the world.

David has led IYUNO to achieve record-breaking revenue generation while maintaining high quality operation standards. In 2018, IYUNO was named one of the "10 hottest media & entertainment tech solution service providers" and "a front runner in the multi-language subtitling space" by APAC CIO Magazine.