Network: The Digerati - `Talk about human potential'

Chan Suh founded the Internet consultancy Agency.com in 1995. Last year it made more than pounds 80m

When Chan Suh arrived in New York, he had no intention of becoming a computer guru. Silicon Alley was no more than a hum of excitement in the heads of some college kids. Suh, then 18, was there for one reason alone - he wanted to learn how to be a fiction writer.

Taking stock nearly 20 years later, he recollects his early fascination with the nature of things; an urge to take apart clocks to see how they worked, to assemble mechanisms and to achieve a sense of freedom through his own creativity.

He thought that liberation would come through writing fiction, but the dream never delivered. Instead, his liberal arts degree led him into the Time corporation, where he worked in publishing for 10 years. In 1994 he became the marketing director for Vibe, a Time Warner magazine aimed at hip-hop loving urban youth.

For Suh, who was born in Seoul and lived in France before coming to the US in 1976, computers were always a curiosity. "It was like learning a new language, French or English; I tinkered with them."

He became addicted to the bulletin boards which preceded today's Web. "Someone posted something about Echo, a community which wasn't based on technical things. What people knew as the Web didn't exist then - it was just text."

Echo was where Suh met his Agency.com business partner, Kyle Shannon, an "anarchist actor" who needed help to build a website. Suh had taught himself HTML in the summer of 1994, using his knowledge to increase Vibe's readership with an unauthorised website.

"Mosaic came out and that really was an eye-opener for me," he recalls. "I saw it as a communication medium in a fuller sense. As they say, a picture speaks a thousand words. I'm fairly average in terms of what I like, and I reasoned that there would be a lot of other people who liked this."

He anticipated that the Internet would spawn a host of tribes of its own, transcending class, race and money. "I saw that it would be a transforming technology, rather than an add-on technology. It wouldn't be like black- and-white television giving way to colour television. It was going to be a fundamental transformation of everything - culture, economy,everything."

Few others saw it that way. "I tried to make a place where I could work like that within Time Inc," says Suh, "but they didn't agree." In fact, he and Shannon were later asked to help plan Time Warner's online strategy, named Pathfinder. But they were already way ahead of the game, and soon left to pursue their own inclinations.

They originally wanted to provide content for the Web - a literary site - "but within 10 minutes we realised we wouldn't make a living out of that". Once they had relinquished that passion, they glimpsed the real crock of Internet gold; expert advice for companies that wanted to make a credible virtual impact.

And so Agency.com was born. "Everyone in New York wants to start their own company," says Suh. "I hadn't really considered it seriously, but I saw the advent of the Internet and I thought, the time is now or never. We gambled on the fact that there would be lots of clients who wanted Internet-related work."

The gamble paid off. The consultancy, which made a $500,000 profit in its first year, now brings in $80m and employs 700 people worldwide.

Personal enthusiasm became the engine driving Suh's intuition that American societal mores were on the move. He believes this paradigm shift was as integral to the growth of the Internet as the technology itself. "It wasn't until American culture moved that the Internet became an important part of our lives. Now it's America's largest cultural export," he says.

"People are demonstrating certain characteristics from their interactions: a desire for ubiquity, transparency, more information, constant availability. It's like the story of the phone - people thought it would only be used for emergencies and the stock market, and were surprised when it was used for talking about nothing.

"But I think we underestimated the speed with which it would catch on. When we first went to banks to get a loan to start our company, they shook their heads and said: `We have no idea what the Internet is and we don't want to talk to you.' We thought we would be toiling in obscure darkness for a while."

Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple Computer, inspired Suh with his sheer perseverance. "He's had such a life. He got fired from the company he created and now he's back on the board and better than ever. And I like Einstein; I love the fact that he was a patent clerk. Talk about human potential!"

That eye for potential has shaped Suh's approach to Agency.com. "Training helps, but I think that desire is even more powerful. I have capitalised on the passion people have, and it's worked out well so far. I try and look at things from an unexpected angle, and innovation is one of the hallmarks of the company. I love the fact that we are here to change the world and we've seen bigger footsteps."

Arts and Entertainment
Jude Law in Black Sea

film

In Black Seahe is as audiences have never seen him before

Arts and Entertainment
Johnny Depp no longer cares if people criticise his movie flops

film

Arts and Entertainment
Full circle: Wu-Tang’s Method Man Getty

Music review

Arts and Entertainment
When he was king: Muhammad Ali training in 'I Am Ali'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film Ridley Scott reveals truth behind casting decisions of Exodus
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Scare tactics: Michael Palin and Jodie Comer in ‘Remember Me’

TVReview: Remember Me, BBC1
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Image has been released by the BBC
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Will there ever be a Friends reunion?
TV
News
Harry Hill plays the Professor in the show and hopes it will help boost interest in science among young people
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
A Van Gogh sold at Sotheby’s earlier this month
art
Arts and Entertainment

MusicThe band accidentally called Londoners the C-word

Arts and Entertainment
It would 'mean a great deal' to Angelina Jolie if she won the best director Oscar for Unbroken

Film 'I've never been comfortable on-screen', she says

Arts and Entertainment
Winnie the Pooh has been branded 'inappropriate' in Poland
books
Arts and Entertainment
Lee Evans is quitting comedy to spend more time with his wife and daughter

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
American singer, acclaimed actor of stage and screen, political activist and civil rights campaigner Paul Robeson (1898 - 1976), rehearses in relaxed mood at the piano.
filmSinger, actor, activist, athlete: Paul Robeson was a cultural giant. But prejudice and intolerance drove him to a miserable death. Now his story is to be told in film...
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is dominating album and singles charts worldwide

music
Arts and Entertainment
Kieron Richardson plays gay character Ste Hay in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Midge Ure and Sir Bob Geldof outside the Notting Hill recording studios for Band Aid 30

music
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

    Christmas Appeal

    Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
    Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

    Is it always right to try to prolong life?

    Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

    What does it take for women to get to the top?

    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
    Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

    Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

    Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
    French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

    French chefs campaign against bullying

    A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

    Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
    Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

    Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

    Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
    Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

    Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

    Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
    Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

    Paul Scholes column

    I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
    Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game