Suyeon Khim, All Tuition changing college loans, Woman Entrepreneur

Images The stories of first generation Americans are always interesting.  How they got here, what were their parents thinking, why did they come, etc.  Sue's business, Alltuition came out of her own personal frustration in finding inexpensive students loans for her and her brother.  It wasn't they weren't out here but finding them proved to be really difficult.  Her technical expertise allowed her to build something that would crawl the web to find those loans….and a business was born.

Sue spent some of her earlier years in Chicago because her father was getting his Phd at University of Chicago.  He then got a job managing all the Asian investments for Hyundai and they found themselves moving to New Jersey and eventually back to Korea.  When her father returned to Korea her mother stayed in the US with the kids because of the education.  That ended up being a six year separation which was hard on everyone.  They would see each other in the summer and holidays but that was it and it was hard on everyone and so after six years of this the whole famiily moved back to Korea. 

Sue's first language is Korean, second English which she didn't even begin to learn until pre-school.  Her parents only spoke Korean in the house, had Korean playdates and went to a Korean church. Her brother was born in the US but Sue was not.  For her brother, he could go to an American school but for Sue she had to go to a Korean speaking school  It was a rote memorization type school.  After leaving basically an all-black school in Chicago and then going to a Korean speaking traditional school wasn't easy.  Her parents realized that she should go to boarding school back in the US.  They chose an all girls school; Madeira in VA.  When it was time for her brother to go to school they had already learned which school made the most sense.  Alas, the oldest is always the guinea pig.

After graduating Madeira Sue decided to go to Africa for a year to teach English to understand different cultures and continents.  The tsunami hit and her parents said said no way are you going to Africa so instead she returned to Korea.  She got a job doing secretarial work at an electronic trading company and after a few months moved quickly into programming. 

She took school very seriously but her carpal tunnel syndrome was impeding her life.  Sue was going to take off some time in high school because of her carpel tunnel syndrome as over time it was getting worse.  At this point she had been to a variety of doctors and had tried a variety of things.  Her parents had a connection to a famous accunpunturist in Korea.  This guy was so good that he would continually move after he retired because he would get up in the morning and there would be 30 people sitting at his door.  Sue went to see him and after two treatments she was fixed.  Her had retired and because Sue was planning on being a doctor she begged him to let her learn from him but he said no.  She called him Grandfather. 

Sue left Korea and began at University of Chicago as a pre-med student.  Two quarters in and the acupuncturist, Grandfather, finds out he is very sick and tells Sue if she wants she can come back to Korea and learn his ways. She put school on hold and spent the next 8 months learning acunpunture. She also programmed study guides for her to review his techniques. She worked doing electronic programming of what he was doing.  Unfortunately he died and she returned ot the University of Chicago to continue her medical studies.  During school she also worked in a hospital and a bio-chemistry lab.  She was working the entire time she was in college because her parents both became unemployed and she was supporting them as well as putting herself through college.

She had one year left and her brother was going to be in college that year too and financially things began to spiral.  How could they find the money to get them both through college including just the day to day expensives and leave with as little debt as possible.  If it was a mortgage you would look everywhere you could to find the best price but for some reason she found it frustrating that only a few options were put in front of you.  It was then that Sue thought about building an application to troll the web for the best loans possible.   

She knew she had a business there and went to the Kaufman Foundation and other non-profits to ask for funding.  She knew she could build something big and needed a partner.  Originally started by building a website focused on helping consumers compare student loans.  They pivoted by essentially expanding to help consumers manage the entire financial aid process.  They were unable to raise capital as a non-profit and changed the business model to a for-profit business and begun to raise money from angel and venture investors.

How did she go about finding her partners?  Sue started using her social network, Craigs List and Linkedin.  She was still coming up dry.  On Valentines Day she put her name on OKCupid thinking maybe through that she would find a business partner.  That was how she found Sam.  They had been talking and finally got together to finally meet face to face about three hours before meeting with the CEO of OKCupid who happened to be involved with the Excelerate program.  Her and Sam had never really prepped for this.   She was talking about the concept for about 25 minutes and the CEO of OKCupid turns to Sam, who has the title of CTO, and asks what would it take for you to come on full time.  Sam responds that in order to quit his day job they would need cash.  The CEO of OKCupid asked Sam, "if I write you a check for $15k right now on the behalf of Excelerate, would you give two weeks notice?"  Sam had literally just met Sue three hours ago.  He paused and said, "yes".  They were both immediately excpted to Excelerate.

They have a great group of investors from SF, Chicago and NYC.  They have created a variety of products including one that helps people manage their monthly payments based on what they borrowed and that part is a paid model.  Suppose you get into 5 schools and you want a place to consolidate all of your financial aid in one place and be able to connect with the financial aid officers of each school.  Alltuition makes that happen.  Loans should be a last resort and Alltuition makes it easy from soup to nuts so people can concentrate on what really matters….focusing on their education. 

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Comments (Archived):

  1. Rohan

    Very nice. Much needed. 

    1. Gotham Gal

      very impressive woman.

      1. Rohan

        Hey Joanne, I’d posted a reply to a comment many weeks ago requesting for a 15-20 minute or so interview with you over Skype (or even phone – I’d be happy to call!) as a part of a feature called ‘Learning from ‘Real Leaders”.. I’m doing for a not-for-profit I’m very passionate about called RealAcad that’s working on reinventing ‘leadership education’. Just wondering if you have had any time to think about that now that you are back from your travels? 🙂 (PS: Apologies in advance for my persistence. I tend to keep trying till you tell me to stop. A tad too thick skinned that way. haha)

        1. Gotham Gal

          didn’t see that. so strange. email me directly. happy to do it.

          1. Rohan

            Great! I go with joanne at solomonwilson dot com then. Email coming through by end of day!  Thanks Joanne! Look forward!!

          2. Rohan

            Thanks Joanne. Just did. Hope it reached you fine! 🙂

  2. davemc500hats

    Suyeon rocks 🙂

    1. Gotham Gal

      yes she does

  3. laurelfreyja

    Wow – OKCupid! What an unconventional way to find a business partner. Congrats on thinking outside the box! Looking forward to hearing great things from Alltuition.  College education is so expensive in the US; our generation needs all the help they can get!

    1. Gotham Gal

      Agree I thought OKCupid was a brilliant move too

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  6. pointsnfigures

    Just seeing this now. I was a seed investor in AllTuition. I met Sue and Silas at the University Club before they met Sam. We funded her coming out of Excelerate, and when she pivoted to, instead of pulling my money out and taking a 2X return like a lot of investors, I doubled down.Sue likes Vegas. She knows when to double down-and I don’t think anyone will go broke being long Sue.