Han Park is the CEO of Payment Labs, a streamlined payment platform that empowers companies to issue quick and compliant payments to anyone, anywhere. The growing company has processed over $20 million in prize payments, is trusted by Ubisoft, Sega, Krafton, and many others, and has been featured in The Gamer, Venture Beat, and more. An experienced founder and problem-solver, Han is a “realistic visionary” who has been at the forefront of innovation and business development for over 20 years, with expertise in project management, venture capital, new business development, and start-up operations experience. Prior to Payment Labs, he was President of Turtle Entertainment America, a subsidiary of ESL Gaming – the largest esports company in the world having sold for over $1 billion in 2022.
How did you get started in this business?
I was an executive at an esports organization that organized or produced esports tournaments and competitions, and one of our biggest challenges was dealing with prize payouts after competitions – something the esports industry has been grappling with since its roots. As the industry grew, the prize payout complications continued to scale, and as a user, I couldn’t find an existing payment solution for our payout problems. I decided to build a solution. This is where my first product, Prize Payments, originated.
How do you make money?
We make money in two ways: 1. For large, discrete batches of payments, Payment Labs charges the payor a service fee to cover the costs of using our turn-key solution to handle the payouts, and 2. For more frequent batch runs, we charge the payor a fixed monthly fee with tiered discounts based on the expected annual volume of payments. We also have relationships with financial partners based on aggregated volume, where we make money from the transactions we help process.
How long did it take for you to become profitable?
Payment Labs is still in startup mode and is not yet profitable, but we are seeing annual revenue growth of almost 100% and expect to be profitable within the next 12 months.
When you were starting out, was there ever a time you doubted it would work? If so, how did you handle that?
In November 2018, we went live with our first product for gaming and esports – Prize Payments – and started our sales efforts. It took about six months to sign our first $1 million customer, and we had good growth and momentum. Then in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic completely shut down live gaming events and esports competitions. This halted our momentum as the majority of the prize money we processed was tied to major live events.
At the time, I considered closing the business and even sat the team down to discuss if we wanted to continue with the startup, given the lockdown and uncertainty around when live events would come back. We decided to hunker down and focus on upgrading the platform to the next version. It ended up being one of the best decisions we made because we were able to build off Prize Payments, to service both live and online event payouts. The shift from live to online events is one that the esports industry made easily. And the ability to support online events opened the doors to other industries – with similar payout challenges – in the more global digital economy, where the need for compliant and efficient business payments to individuals – such as content creators and influencers – is continuing to increase in the post-pandemic world. So instead of closing shop, we doubled down and went bigger – launching Payment Labs. We also expanded our platform to accommodate other adjacent verticals with the addition of our broader product Mallo, which focuses on compliant and efficient business payments to individuals.
How did you get your first customer?
I have been in the esports industry for more than 20 years, so I had existing relationships with key individuals – at the game publisher and tournament organizer levels – dealing with the same payout challenges I was experiencing. I approached a select few that I knew were searching for an immediate solution to deal with a backlog of prize payment payouts from past events.
As a new platform – not yet proven in the market – it was challenging to get our first major game publisher to sign on to Payment Labs. Our initial sales cycle was a lot longer than we had expected, but we fortunately had an initial team member who took a position with a target customer and internally championed using Payment Labs.
What is one marketing strategy (other than referrals) that you’re using that works really well to generate new business?
As a startup, Payment Labs has been frugal with marketing spend while developing a go-to-market strategy for each vertical we target. As we research these target verticals, we have been working with beta customers to get feedback on our platform and services to see if there is a market fit.
We also use LinkedIn to share content with our network and schedule meetings with key decision-makers at target companies. As we grow, Payment Labs plans to increase our marketing spend and finalize our go-to-market strategy.
What is the toughest decision you’ve had to make in the last few months?
I have had to make some tough decisions throughout the journey of Payment Labs – from inception to today.
In the past few months, the most difficult decision I have had to make was how to utilize funds from a recent raise to continue growing the business and expand it to adjacent verticals – such as paying freelance workers, content creators, and NIL athletes – even with the limited number of resources we have access to as a startup. The current economic conditions make it challenging to decide where to cut costs, where to spend to accelerate growth, and how to manage the budget to extend the runway in uncertain times.
What do you think it is that makes you successful?
My success is due to a combination of factors – hard work, compassion, teamwork, timing, networking, and luck. Of these factors, the common thread among the successful companies I have contributed to is teamwork. It is incredibly important to be surrounded by colleagues and team members who share the same values, goals, and vision. I believe a lot of my success can be attributed to the team of smart, passionate, and hardworking individuals I have worked with throughout my career.
What has been your most satisfying moment in business?
The most satisfying moment was when Payment Labs signed our first customer and processed six months of backlogged prize payments in less than two weeks.
When I ran esports competitions and events, delays in prize payouts often became a negative component of an otherwise positive event. Winners often waited weeks, months, or even up to a year to receive their winnings due to slow onboarding and payout processes. With Payment Labs, I set out to alleviate this pain point.
We have been able to streamline the onboarding process and expedite the payout process, resulting in competitors seeing their winnings reflected in their bank accounts by the time they return home from their select event, or shortly after. This is almost unheard of in any competitive sports industry, and I’m very proud that we have made this lofty goal a reality.
What does the future hold for your business? What are you most excited about?
We originally launched this venture to solve an esports payout problem, but it has expanded into much more. Since launching the platform and upgrading our solution to the current 2.5 version, we have broadened the use of the system beyond esports.
As we continue to grow, I am confident that we can service other related industries with similar payout challenges – the need for compliant and efficient global payments for businesses paying individuals.
As new industries, platforms, and companies have cropped up in the post-pandemic global digital economy, we are excited to offer our platform and services to adjacent verticals that see similar challenges in making compliant business payouts to individuals. The opportunity to expand Payment Labs to adjacent verticals increases our addressable market opportunity to more than $5 Billion.
What business books have inspired you?
The last business book I read from cover to cover was Winning by Jack Welch, former Chairman and CEO of General Electric. This was about 20 years ago, but it was a fascinating read about Welch’s 40 years of experience at GE, and it essentially became a guide for how to build and run a business.
Once I started the book, I couldn’t put it down. As I read, I highlighted and took notes on almost every page. Winning taught me that I needed to learn the fundamentals of business values, strategy, and mission – ranging from how to empower and develop your team members to be leaders, to how to put management practices in action to resolve crises.
These days, I don’t read many books from cover to cover, but I am an avid reader of industry trades and articles and enjoy keeping up with the latest innovations and technologies.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
The two pieces of advice I would give to my younger self are, 1. empower the people around you, so all of your work is a team effort to achieve a common goal. This helps all team members feel valued and as though they are contributing to the overall mission. And 2. delegate responsibilities and assignments to the rest of your team instead of becoming the bottleneck.
As a young professional and entrepreneur, I had the mindset that I had to be in charge and do it all. All that did was create a perpetually exhausted and anxious individual who made rash decisions that negatively impacted the businesses. It also often generated strained relationships with colleagues and employees that made achieving the overall goals and mission of the business harder to achieve.
Over time, I learned that making mistakes – providing they aren’t catastrophic – is okay as long as you learn and don’t repeat them in the future.
Are you willing to be a mentor? If so, how should someone contact you?
I am always willing to mentor budding entrepreneurs, those interested in the esports industry, and people who work with me. Individuals can reach out to me via email email@example.com or through LinkedIn.