In search for purposeful work by Charmaine Wu

So-Hyeon (Bony), South Korea

Entrepreneur.

Story by Koh Eng Beng | Photos by Charmaine Wu

Would you give up working in Google, Apple, or Facebook to start your own business? They are among the top 10 dream companies of Singaporeans according to a 2016 study by JobsCentral.

I would find it difficult. Good salary and benefits, fantastic opportunities for career and personal growth, as well as the prestige of working for world famous companies. Who would give up such perks?

So I was intrigued when I met So-Hyeon (Bony), a Korean millennial who gave up her cushy marketing job with LG Corporation to start a small business. The 27-year-old now runs a wedding shower (bachelorate party) planning and Air BnB business.

Working for the likes of Samsung, LG and Hyundai is the aspiration of most, if not all, young people in Korea. They offer good salary and benefits, a job for life, and status. Competition is intense. According to a Reuters report in 2013, more than 100,000 applicants competed for 5,500 jobs in Samsung.

“But I realised I was just one of many ‘accessories’ for them,” So-Hyeon said during an hour-long interview at her guest house in Seoul.

Before LG, she was working for a marketing subsidiary of Samsung. So she was clear that she wouldn’t be happy working in another office job, going through the routine of meetings and sending emails. In order to live life on her own terms, So-Hyeon took the leap of faith to leave LG.

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With just US$10,000 of savings, she set up a guest house in Seoul. The interior was a beautiful array of white and pastels, equipped with a kitchen studio. Just a five-minute walk from the Gyeongbokgung Palace, a major tourist spot in Seoul, the location was prime.

She’s all set to make some serious money.

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But life is filled with highs and lows that will test your resilience. For several months after starting her business, So-Hyeon had no customers. “I cried alone at night for many days,” she said. “Had I make a mistake? Should I have stayed on in my job?”

She was staying alone in the guesthouse, with no one to confide in or discuss ways to turn the situation around.  Self-doubts began to creep into her head. 

Her parents had wanted her to stay in LG for a stable pay check. “It was difficult to persuade my parents (back then), but I promised them no matter how hard it gets, I will never ask them for money,” she said.

 
 

But tough times never last, tough people do. One day, she received a phone call from Gmarket, Korea’s No.1 online shopping site: “We are interested in your work. Could you do food styling for our products?”

Being commissioned by a major company was a big break for her. Till today, she had no idea how Gmarket found her. They must had seen her food photos on her website, which were menu items for her wedding shower package. Food styling became an unexpected source of revenue.

Today, her business is highly diversified. Besides organising wedding shower, she also conducts cooking classes. Her guest house offers four beds for tourists, and is open for walk in customers who want to have a coffee. And she will soon launch her own organic food brand, Lab of Bony. 

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To learn about marketing, accounting and other aspects of business, So-Hyeon attended business courses which were sponsored by the government, As for food styling, she self-learnt by watching online videos and got ideas from pinterest.

She is now earning about USD$7,000 monthly, about three times her last drawn salary. “I hope to inspire young people to chase their dreams, don’t settle for a routine life,” she said. “But never go into business just because of money. You need passion because a business is a ‘long, long’ project, and it can be unbearable.”