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Profile: Outdoor Media Summit's Yoon Kim

Published November 23, 2023


A version of this article ran in the November issue of BRAIN. 

BENTONVILLE, Ark. (BRAIN) — Yoon Kim is many things.

He's a first-generation South Korean who can trace his family's lineage to when the Japanese controlled the Korean Peninsula.

The first Asian-American student to complete elementary and high school in Harrison, Arkansas, and, Kim admits, there was some "trauma" that came with that distinction.

He's a serial entrepreneur who's launched and killed several ventures over the years and says he's unafraid to take calculated risks on new projects.

Kim did a two-year stint in finance at JP Morgan after graduating from Wheaton College. JP Morgan later fired him. He soon went to work for a magazine publisher as a project manager for new digital blog called College News.

Digital blogs in the mid 2000s were fast developing and Kim got in early. From there he stumbled into the outdoor market where he met Stephen Regenold at Outdoor Retailer. Regenold later founded Gear Junkie. And it was at OR that Kim connected with editors at magazines like Climbing, Outside, National Geographic and others.

While Kim, 39 years old, is well known in the outdoor industry, he's also making a mark in the bicycle industry. He currently sits on PeopleForBikes' marketing committee where, he says with a chuckle, "I can at times be annoying." Kim is also on the board of Trailblazers, an infrastructure and advocacy group in Arkansas.

Kim recently wrapped up his seventh Outdoor Media Summit (OMS) — a conference with wide appeal to digital marketers whether creators for TikTok, social media influencers or digital leaders. Companies like Patagonia, Shimano, Vista Outdoor, Burley, Native Eyewear, Woom and several dozen others send their top-shelf digital experts — no CEOs or CFOs in sight.

OMS — which brought 203 participants to this year's venue, Boise, Idaho — also attracts a wide range of editors both print and digital.

And it's not a conference for the lazy. There were 18 available seminars with topics like gaming YouTube algorithms, the future of print, affiliate marketing strategies, influencer and ambassador marketing, and how to reach a plus-size market to mention just a few. Each was videotaped and should be available in December.

Kim, for the most part, runs it as an "invite-only" operation, controlling who attends and capping it at about 200. As he told me, it helps maintain the quality of attendance, which directly impacts its value for attendees.

But Kim also acknowledges that this year's conference should breakeven — if he's lucky. The conference, however, helps build the reputation and reach of his company, Outdoor Ecom, founded in 2011. His current list of 19 clients include PacSafe, Leatherman, Native Eyewear, Costa Del Mar, Mountainsmith and others.

The company helps brands reach their potential in e-commerce. As such, it was the first digital agency in the outdoor market. And when he launched it, in his words, "digital marketing wasn't a thing."

It also was the first minority-owned digital agency in the outdoor space; the first outdoor digital agency to partner with Google Ads in 2012; and first to join with Shopify as its outdoor partner in 2013. It was this early foray into digital marketing that led him to launch his first OMS conference in 2015 in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Only 39 people showed up.

The Backstory

As the son of immigrants, Kim offers a glimpse into another world. Korea, effectively partitioned as the Korean War wound down in 1953, was at the time one of the world's most impoverished nations, its infrastructure destroyed by three years of warfare. Estimates vary but more than three million people died including more than 36,000 Americans.

Kim's father, Young-Gurl Kim, now 67, taught himself English by listening to America's Armed Forces radio in a basement where his family lived in poverty. "My dad wanted out of Korea so he learned English," Kim said, although to this day he speaks with a strong accent.

Young-Gurl was also an exceptional student selected to attend an elite South Korean high school. But opportunities in South Korea in the 1970s and 1980s were few so he applied to the University of Wyoming's engineering school based on his academic achievements. He was accepted on scholarship and immigrated to Laramie with his newly-wed wife, Jung Min, in 1983. Yoon was born a year later.
In Wyoming, Young-Gurl did groundbreaking research in civil engineering, earning a Master's degree. He was then offered a full scholarship to the Princeton University School of Engineering and Applied Science, where he earned his doctorate.

But Young-Gurl turned down offers at major U.S. corporations and chose to teach engineering at John Brown University, a private, interdenominational, Christian university in Siloam Springs, Arkansas. He taught there for 20 years before retiring. He now runs an operation on his 100-acre farm teaching international development workers, mostly from West Africa, how to develop appropriate technology to improve village life like building solar stoves.

Kim's mother, Jung Min, unlike his father, was born into a wealthy Korean family. It was her grandmother who gave her parents enough money to buy old sewing machines and other equipment once used in a Japanese clothing factory. They launched their factory in 1959 and later developed a method to turn cotton into a soft fleece, an innovation that placed the family among the wealthiest in South Korea.

"In Korea, there's a stigma when the rich marry someone who is poor — it's almost a caste system. But my mom was a different breed," Kim explained. Meanwhile, Kim's father had met her at a meeting of fellow Christians. Jung Min's parents opposed the relationship at first. But later Jung-Gurl proposed; she agreed and within a few months the newly-wed couple moved to Wyoming.


Yoon Kim.

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