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Gunhee Park, Co-Founder of Populum, Shares his Favorite Books

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Gunhee Park is the co-founder of Populum, a premium hemp oil brand based in US. Just a few weeks ago, I was clueless about the benefits of hemp extract supplements, nor was I even aware that it’s not the same thing as marijuana (one common misconception, apparently).

I contacted Gunhee and his partner, Ola Olusoga, after reading their interview on Indie Hackers. Besides talking about the particularities of their startup and the obstacles they have to face because of the confusion around hemp, they also mentioned books. This was the quote that particularly caught my attention:

“You name a book and we’ve either read it or placed it on our to-read list. We strongly believe in digging deep into books to learn via other people’s experiences, and then applying those learnings to what we’re doing. This way we know the terrain and aren’t caught off guard.”

So, today’s interview is with Gunhee. He has a background in operations and worked at a tech company in Texas before co-founding Populum. After a couple years working in a big corporation, he couldn’t stand the bureaucratic obstacles and knew he wasn’t going to be happy climbing up the ladder. Eventually, he took the leap into entrepreneurship world, teamed up with Ola and bootstrapped Populum.

Keep on reading to find out more about what books had the biggest impact on him and what he learned from them.

What’s your favorite book and why? Business and non-business, if possible.

I can’t narrow down one favorite book, but there are a few that have had a strong impact on me over the past few years. Life and Death in Shanghai and Man’s Search for Meaning are great non-business books that have helped me gain a deeper perspective on life. Both books also helps you gain a stronger appreciation of the times we live in today.

Sam Walton: Made In America is a great autobiography for any aspirational entrepreneur. The Sixth Extinction helps you understand the scope of the impact mankind has had on this planet and makes you think more critically about climate change.

For spirituality, I’ve really enjoyed reading Who Ordered This Truckload of Dung?. The title of the book sounds a bit odd, but it is a book full of short stories and lessons by a renowned monk named Ajahn Brahm.

Was there a moment, specifically, when something you read in a book helped you? Can you tell me about it?

A close friend of mine gifted me a book called Mastery by Robert Greene a couple years ago, and I started reading that book a few months into starting my own business. I had just quit my well-paying job and nothing was working out as I had expected. This book was highly impactful in helping me persevere and build a stronger character. I personally think this book is a must read in our new culture where we’ve come to expect instant gratification.

Here are some quotes from the book that were memorable for me:

  • “Hurrying to the end or warming up old ideas will ensure a mediocre result”
  • “The greatest impediment to creativity is your impatience, the almost inevitable desire to hurry up the process, express something, and make a splash”
  • “Creeping conservatism will narrow your searches, tether you to comfortable ideas, and create a downward spiral – as the creative spark leaves you, you will find yourself clutching even more forcefully to dead ideas, past successes, and the need to maintain your status. Make creativity rather than comfort your goal and you will ensure far more success in the future.”
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    What books had the biggest impact on you? (perhaps changed the way you see things, dramatically changed your career path)

    The books that have had the most influence for me are business biographies/autobiographies. My favorites have been Losing My Virginity by Richard Branson, How to Get Rich by Felix Dennis (the book isn’t as shallow as the title makes it seems), and Made in America by Sam Walton. Reading the stories of these business pioneers has had a big motivation on me to step out of my comfort zone and strive to make an impact.

    While I don’t necessary agree with the theme of actually working “4 hours per week”, The Four Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss is another book that’s encouraged me to quit my job and pursue something on my own. I like the author’s message of finding ways to take your life back, without putting in 50-60 hour workweeks for your corporate job.

    What books would you recommend to youngsters interested in your professional path? Why? (no number limit here)

    In addition to the business biographies and everything else I mentioned above, I’d recommend these books:

  • Traction: A Startup Guide to Getting Customers: This book lays out a framework to help any startup brainstorm ways to gain more customer traction.
  • Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose: Ever since I wanted to create my own company, I wanted to create one that offers an amazing customer experience. This book was a big inspiration.
  • The Road to Character: The author, David Brooks, examines the lives and habits of historical figures to observe how they tamed their egos, built character, and strived to perfect their vocation.

  • Some other books I’ve really enjoyed (random):

  • Creativity, Inc
  • Sapiens
  • Predictably Irrational
  • Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator
  • The Simple Path to Wealth: Your road map to financial independence and a rich, free life
  • Long Walk to Freedom
  • Benjamin Franklin: An American Life

  • I’m interested in finding out more about your reading habits. How often do you read? In what format?

    I try to squeeze in at least 20-30 minutes per day during the week, and then read several hours on weekends. I read both paperback and with my kindle. I like reading on my Kindle while I’m in bed with the lights off.

    I’ve recently started listening to audiobooks too through Audible. I’ve switched over from listening to podcasts to audiobooks.

    How do you make time for reading?

    I’ve found that the easiest way to add time for reading is to read when you get in bed. I’ve made it a habit where now I need to read in order to fall asleep, no matter how late it is. I have a hard time falling asleep otherwise.

    I’ve also been able add more time by listening to audiobooks while driving, when I take my dogs on walks, or while doing other chores.

    Another way that’s really helped push me to read more is by setting goals. I know books are more about “how many books you read”, but setting number goal definitely makes it more motivating to get through a book, especially if you’re reading a book you might not find as engaging or easy to get through. I use the GoodReads app to set goals and to track how many books I’ve read each year.

    Do you take notes or have any other technique for conquering the torrent of information?

    Depends on the book. Some books I just read leisurely where I don’t want to save the information. But others, business books or biographies, I underline and make notes as I go. Kindle is great for highlighting quotes as it’s much easier to look it up. For books I really loved reading, I take 30 minutes after finishing the book to debrief – I skim through the book again and write down all my highlights so I can easily reference it again in the future.

    How do you choose what books to read next?

    It’s random. I get a lot of books as gifts, and I try to make sure to get through all those books since the person who gave it to me obviously had a good reason for why they wanted me to read them.

    I also add more books to my “want to read” list when I become curious about a topic or person. I typically do that when reading biographies. For example, a few months back, I read a book called A Higher Call: An Incredible True Story of Combat and Chivalry in the War-Torn Skies of World War II that led me to want to learn more about Nazi Germany and Hitler, so I then picked up The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, which led me to wanting to learn more about Winston Churchill. So now I’m finishing up Churchill: A Life.

    I also try to diversify my reading among books related to business, biographies (autobiographies), or novels.

    Do you prioritize those recommended by certain people? Is there anyone that you consider a book-recommendations guru?

    Yes and no. I try to read books that are highly recommended in the business community, but I also try to find other books and topics that interest me personally.

    For me, a great way to find more books have been through GoodReads. I use the app to manage what I’ve read, what I want to read, and to just discover more options.

    In terms of guru, I’ve found a lot of books through Ryan Holiday’s recommendations. I subscribe to his newsletters and he sends a list of book suggestions every month, and it’s always interesting to go through the diverse genre of books he points out.

    Last question: what book are you currently reading and what are you expecting to gain from it?

    I just finished up Stranger in a Strange Land, and am also reading Churchill, A Life and The Perennial Seller. I can’t really pinpoint what I expect to gain from any books I read, but am hoping to gain perspective and some valuable lesson that I can take away from each book. What that is exactly is different for every book.

    Links where you can follow Gunhee Park and find out more about his projects:

  • Populum
  • Gunhee’s Twitter account
  • Populum’s story on Indie Hackers

  • Al the books mentioned by Gunhee in our interview:

  • Life and Death in Shanghai – Nien Cheng
  • Man’s Search for Meaning – Viktor E. Frankl
  • Made In America – Sam Walton
  • The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History – Elizabeth Kolbert
  • Who Ordered This Truckload of Dung? – Ajahn Brahm
  • Mastery – Robert Greene
  • Losing My Virginity – Richard Branson
  • How to Get Rich: One of the World’s Greatest Entrepreneurs Shares His Secrets – Felix Dennis
  • The 4-Hour Workweek – Tim Ferriss
  • Traction: A Startup Guide to Getting Customers – Gabriel Weinberg, Justin Mares
  • Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose – Tony Hsieh
  • The Road to Character – David Brooks
  • Creativity, Inc. – Ed Catmull, Amy Wallace
  • Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind – Yuval Noah Harari
  • Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions – Dan Ariely
  • Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator – Ryan Holiday
  • The Simple Path to Wealth: Your road map to financial independence and a rich, free life – J L Collins
  • Long Walk to Freedom – Nelson Mandela
  • Benjamin Franklin: An American Life – Walter Isaacson
  • A Higher Call: An Incredible True Story of Combat and Chivalry in the War-Torn Skies of World War II – Adam Makos, Larry Alexander
  • The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich – William L. Shirer
  • Churchill: A Life – Martin Gilbert
  • Stranger in a Strange Land – Robert A. Heinlein
  • Perennial Seller – Ryan Holiday

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