Alex Talks about hurdles today, both working with them and sometimes just sidestepping them. Firstly we talk with Gwen Yoon, Senior Catering Sales Manager at the Four Seasons Seoul about ways to have your events right now, and also what we can look forward to when we get back to the new normal. Then he talks with Sarah Soo-Kyung Henriet and French Korean entrepreneur on her startup journey.
This episode is brought to you by The Four Seasons Seoul, Stylish elegance in the very heart of Seoul
Alex talks event planning with Gwen Yoon from Four Seasons Seoul, and a startups struggle with regulations with Sarah, Soo-Kyung Henriet
Alex Jensen: You’re listening to listening to Koreabizcast with the KBLA and it’s already another Friday, October 22nd. On today’s episode, we’re going to talk about hurdles, both working with them and sometimes just sidestepping them. We’ll be talking about how to plan events as the government edges us towards something like social normality, as well as addressing one of the nation’s rising favorite beverages, as South Korea’s wine imports nearly doubled in the first eight months of this year. Yet, our guest on the topic of wine saw her startup rise and fall. Today’s episode is brought to you by the Four Seasons Hotel Seoul, stylish elegance in the very heart of the city.
Alex Jensen: So, one of the big topics I think, for many of us during the course of this pandemic has been when and how can we hold events, which have been critical in recent years for things like networking, and a lot of the celebrations we’ve taken for granted. Here to offer some hope. Perhaps for the near horizon, we have Gwen Yoon, Senior Catering Sales Manager at the Four Seasons Hotel Seoul. Thank you for joining us.
Gwen Yoon: Thank you for having us, Alex.
Alex Jensen: So, Gwen, let’s talk about what’s actually possible right now, both in terms of numbers and among people who might attend what sort of vaccine certificates they might or might not need.
Gwen Yoon: So, the government actually released an extension of the level 4 guidelines last week, and it is day one from today, for another two weeks that we will be officially approved of international conferences and academic conferences that are up to 49 guests. And on the site, we actually have a safety manager, Four Season’s safety manager who are able to consult and help us at all times that Catering Sales team for any challenges that the guests may have. And as for the vaccine certificates. The social gatherings has exceed, has been extended to eight person as long as you’re vaccinated. And we are following all the details of the government restrictions and regulations upon every official government announcement.
Alex Jensen: But on the issue of vaccine certificates, if people have been vaccinated overseas, for example, what do they do? Are they not allowed?
Gwen Yoon: No, actually, that has changed and updated. So, whoever got the vaccination from overseas and the ones they landed in Korea, they should be carrying their own vaccination certificate and then once they are in Korea, they should they need to visit the Local Health District Office for another local certificate or application. So, in that case, they will get the same benefit as the local vaccinated people who are stationed in Korea, and more details you can find at the official government websites. And the hotel safety manager, as I mentioned, will be able to concern for any happening at the hotel.
Alex Jensen: It was great to have all these announcements recently of the positive signs ahead, but our professional events already returning. I know from speaking to your General Manager in the past on this podcast that mainly weddings and things like that had been taking place during the pandemic.
Gwen Yoon: That is true. The professional events are still placed on the government guidelines and restrictions. And we are already receiving just normal back to normal events starting from November onwards. Regarding weddings, it’s more than ever requested to do like intimate small weddings at the moment. But we also have a very many different event spaces for weddings such as the outdoor garden terrace venues, Nuri ballroom to like a smaller wedding venue, which is the meeting suites for COVID-19 government regulations of small weddings, it might seem like there are limitations of small weddings or couples who want to do larger size weddings. But our team is able to help and make weddings become larger than life. We have a special winter wedding package. It’s called a Winter’s Tale being offered for small weddings up to 49 people customizable menu and case and a Zoom or YouTube streaming services for the guests who cannot attend in person is available, streaming weddings as it’s very often requested by the couples right now. Because we don’t have that many people who can actually attend the weddings in person due to the COVID-19. So, it’s a great service that we can offer, and we are preparing it to offer for the guests who would like to host their weddings and events at the Four Seasons Hotel Seoul.
Alex Jensen: It’s good to hear that thing are getting better. But as we edge towards 70%, double vaccination rate in this country and then maybe march towards 80%. Plus, do we expect you think things to open up even more, even more freedoms in other words?
Gwen Yoon: Definitely, the government actually promised to go proceed with a ‘With Corona’ after a once the double vaccination has reached a 70% ratio. But which we already have, and we are starting to do the booster shots very soon. And starting from, it will be a small step. But starting from November 1st, the government will be releasing more detailed with current regulations that will ease these very hard situation or strict guidelines.
Alex Jensen: What exactly does a hybrid meeting entail? I’ve heard people talking about that, it seems to, at its basic level, involve some people online, some people in person, but can you elaborate for us?
Gwen Yoon: Sure, the hybrid meeting simply opens up a whole new possibility, it actually enables to overstep the boundaries of spaces and time. And it also accompanies the technical challenges, when often requires third parties, or vendors, involvements, and so forth. With the advance of technology, and long duration of an untapped being a routine during pandemic can expect the consistent demands. Hybrid meeting showcases the advantage of technology and being able to connect with everyone and also gain more attendees, with our hotel, fast 5G internet speed and up to date technology for hybrid meeting settings. Everything is equipped for your meetings or needs.
Alex Jensen: What kind of technology are people requesting though, for professional events, I guess that’s become a lot more interesting since the last few months?
Gwen Yoon: That’s true. Nowadays, most of the professional events or hybrid or virtual meetings that requires equipment with skilled technicians, for ceases is providing a customized event packages that covers from basic events to high tech events.
Alex Jensen: And when we do return to our new normal, whatever that may be, what kinds of changes, invents to you then expect, because once we get used to some of this technology, I guess who want to hold on to it.
Gwen Yoon: Actually, regardless of the advances in technology, basic human nature of connection or social networks cannot be replaced at all at once. And part of being look, live in flesh will also be considered luxury as a portrait opportunity to travel will be replaced by offline broadcasted events. Necessity and travel itself will be highlighted by other factors that before.
Alex Jensen: So basically, right now, I can’t just hold a networking event, it’s got to be an international conference, or it’s got to be an academic gathering of some kind. And if it did meet those criteria, it could be up to 49 people, right?
Gwen Yoon: That is correct, yes.
Alex Jensen: And so, what kind of food and beverage options that I have, if I did meet those criteria?
Gwen Yoon: The government is restricting any coffee break snacks at the moment but allowing for the guests to be served with coffee, as long as they’re seated and has a thought, has been seated as a social distancing. Sitting about a luncheon is possible at the moment, breakfast and lunch and events are possible. But dinner events are mostly considered a social gathering.
Alex Jensen: Right? But what would be your advice to someone planning a business event in say the next three months given all the rapid changes that we are expecting
Gwen Yoon: For the next three months, it would be best to follow the current guidelines and prepare it under the current good guidelines. And if they have any concerns or questions, and they’re not sure, we normally ask them to offer them to consult with the local government district just to make sure that they are heading the right way.
Alex Jensen: Of course, as our sponsor for this episode, I might add that it might be a good idea to stay at the hotel and combine a bit of business with pleasure.
Gwen Yoon: Business should be an absolute essential requirements and combination of business and leisure will be more beneficial to lower in the demands. And the highest quality of meetings and events is what Four Seasons Hotel Seoul does best. And those who might attend a business event would want to enjoy leisure at the same time by staying at the hotel. We offer a word vacation benefits for long term stay, guests and a program called work at leisure after a business event. When you stay at the hotel, we have services to provide all the sessions essential for you to work efficiently while enjoying the conference of the hotel. Ergonomic chairs, laptop trays lamps, even express food menu options with healthy items or fun cocktails, you are able to attend your business needs during your stay.
Alex Jensen: Well, hope for your sake and for all of our say that those goalposts move in an even more positive direction in the very near future for now, though, wise to be cautious. Gwen Yoon, Senior Catering Sales Manager at the Four Seasons Hotel Seoul, thank you very much.
Gwen Yoon: Thank you very much, Alex,
Alex Jensen: Thanks very much to Gwen of the Four Seasons Hotel Seoul and from events to wine tech next, and a startup story that’s not so happy. Let me also invite you to email firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to join our community or share any ideas for future episodes.
Alex Jensen: Just to remind you of that stat from earlier, South Korea’s wine imports were up 96.5% from last year between January and August. So as According to the Korea customer service, and industry sources recently cited by Yonhap News Agency. Our next guest, Sarah Soo-Kyung Henriet had seemed like a great business idea that would harness this growing interest in wine, but later decided to close-down her startup. So here we have a chance to kind of hear the other side the businesses that don’t take off and flourish. Thanks for offering your story, Sarah.
Sarah Soo-Kyung Henriet: Hi. Great to be here.
Alex Jensen: Hello. Yeah. Well, great to have you with us for people who are not familiar with you and what you did, can you tell us more?
Sarah Soo-Kyung Henriet: Sure. So, as you said, I’m Sarah, Sarah Soo-Kyung. Sarah is my French name. Soo-Kyung is my Korean name. I started my company three years ago. And I saw, as you mentioned in your intro, that there was a consumption for wine was rising rapidly in South Korea. And I was hoping to get into that industry and do something innovative. So that’s how I started ‘SoodeVie’, a wine tech startup. No longer doing that any more recently, shut it down. And so, I’m glad to be here to kind of tell that story.
Alex Jensen: Yeah, well, I want to start with the fusion of tech and wine, perhaps Can you tell us how that worked? Exactly. So, people get a better idea of your whole startup idea?
Sarah Soo-Kyung Henriet: Sure. I think a lot of people do get a little bit confused with the term wine tech, right? you don’t think wine is somehow associated with technology. However, when I say wine tech is, you know, wine, obviously, you consume it, you enjoy it, right? It’s this beautiful liquid in a in a glass that you enjoy. But behind it, there’s a whole business of how do you recommend the right wines to people? And I think that’s been a question across people across countries really not just in South Korea is you have dinner, you have to, you know, give a gift to a friend, a special occasion or just a daily kind of night to rate at your home, but you want to have a good glass of wine, you want to pick the right wine for you and your friends and your family. So how do you do that? And I think people have always been relying on recommendations from others, from peers, from friends, or even just from store managers right when you go to a boutique or store. And so, I wanted to data find that how do we come up with patterns and algorithms that the guy that can actually match wine better to your tastes, but also to your lifestyle pattern? So, has the data driven subscription program that I initially wanted to do in Korea.
Alex Jensen: See does sound like a great idea now, too, if someone said, I’m going to start a business like this, I’d be like, ‘yap, sign me up’. It is also a great time to be in the wine business in Korea for the reason that I gave before but also based on what you’ve just been saying, can we just go a little further, it is a Friday after all, and people might be looking forward to enjoying some wine later. There are options all around us with some of the stores that have opened up offering wine and better descriptions and more wine apps than ever before, where you can manually at least search or take photos and get tasting notes and ratings and that sort of thing. And it really has grown here in Korea.
Sarah Soo-Kyung Henriet: Right. And it’s true. I mean, you see wine shops and especially with natural wine, right you see shops and boutiques everywhere right now in Seoul and elsewhere, even outside of Seoul. So, you can definitely see the consumption is growing. A lot of people want to try different wines. And so that’s all that is a very positive direction. And I’m really happy to see that. I think from the business side, though there are many regulations behind alcohol in Korea. And the biggest one being the fact that while you cannot sell imported alcohol online, so there is no e-commerce platform for imported alcohol, which poses a huge barrier, especially nowadays, right? I mean, we everything gets delivered, especially in Korea is fast sufficient. But when you’re not able to, you know, sell things online, then obviously it’s it really is a big barrier in terms of your revenue model, and just the business model that’s scalable and sustainable. So that was my biggest challenge.
Alex Jensen: Yeah, they have these ways of like getting alcohol delivered to convenience stores, at least heard about that, in recent months, I’ve not used that service myself. If I’m going to the convenience store to buy some beer, it’s usually what’s on their shelf already. And it’s nice to be kind of spontaneous about these things, and to just go online and make your order and expect it to come to your doorstep. So that’s a big problem, as you’ve described, how did that affect your particular business idea, though?
Sarah Soo-Kyung Henriet: Well, the data aspect, it just takes time, right? You got to gather information. But when you think about it is right now because everything has to be done on site, you can’t just buy it online, right? You have to go to that store, convenience store boutique, even if you I mean, you can reserve it online, if you want to, or even buy it online. But the next step is you got to go yourself and pick it up. And so, there’s this online aspect. And there’s this sort of say offline, right on-site aspect. So, then what happens is that your data is very difficult to track your data. You cannot just place all your data in one platform and track it and be able to make conclusions and patterns. And so, because of that break, it’s impossible to come up with a cycle, a revenue model revenue cycle from A to Z, right, that’s trackable. And so that, I mean, that poses several issues for a small startup or so first startup in general is number one. Well, revenue is difficult to write, you have to have a storefront, basically. But that’s not what I wanted to do. I want to digitize the experience, right? And number two, I mean, startup seed funding. But whenever I would pitch this idea and this business, then every time I would it would always be the same question, how are you going to scale it? Are you going to how many stores can you have really to scale this business? And so, it just, you know, I did this for a few years. But I ended up just doing other things because I couldn’t sustain it. It just it wasn’t possible in Korea.
Alex Jensen: With any other particular problems that you faced with the startup environment or any other issues that you would raise is having not been particularly helpful.
Sarah Soo-Kyung Henriet: I think it’s just a, you know, every country has regulations. But what was the hardest for me is that it’s normal that they’re regulations. But most importantly, it’s how the government and how people perceive regulations. What I mean to say is, for me, it’s pretty normal that a startup would go against regulations. If the market wants it, you’re supposed to deliver it, that’s what a startup is. That’s how startups you know, get founded and set up. But here, when you break a rule, or you break a regulation, you all of a sudden become some sort of criminal, right? You’ve it’s a big crime that you just committed, and you’re not necessarily, your kind of looked down upon. And so, for me, the social aspect that comes, you know, with these regulations, I think that was the hardest for me. Enough break breaking those regulations a few times. And I was doing pretty well then. But again, that wasn’t sustainable.
Alex Jensen: And then you get this situation where you’re looking at the regulations, and it’s perhaps at least helpful to understand. The reason for them is the main justification in terms of not having alcohol available through e-commerce that is protecting younger people from accessing it, even though in theory, you’re supposed to be an adult to be able to order in the first place online.
Sarah Soo-Kyung Henriet: Right. And so that’s the reason that I was given. However, when you look at traditional Korean alcohol, first of all ABV, the alcohol content, right, the percentage is actually much higher than regular wine. But traditional Korean alcohol can be sold online. it’s legal to sell online and can be delivered and shipped. And so, when I saw that, then obviously I see a discrimination between local and international foreign alcohol, which I could understand, you know me, I thought ‘Okay’, I guess the intention behind this is to protect locally made traditional Korean alcohol. But even with that said, there are regulations even for, you know, towards Korean alcohol, traditional current alcohol, so they can’t, it’s not like if you’re really trying to protect that, then, you know, you’re hoping that that industry is really going to grow. But that’s not even the case. And so, at this point, I think, and, you know, I can openly say now, but I know there’s a lot of lobbying for soju, right, from big companies, but also beer. And I think the rise of wine consumption is a bit scary, too, for the for the industry in general.
Alex Jensen: Well, I think the Korean craft beer scene is perhaps the best example of how to respond to that we’re even seeing the Korean whiskey scene start to emerge, as we recently spoke about on the podcast, maybe wine is a little tougher, because there’s strong geographical reasons why Korea is maybe not going to start producing something of the quality that you would have been tracking in terms of import data. But it also reminds me of the other regulation, for example, that I face on a regular basis living in Korea, which is this Sunday closure of particular stores and Monday closure of particular stores. And it’s apparently with a goal of protecting traditional markets. But in reality, you know, would I ever go to a traditional market, instead of e-mart? Probably not just like, I wouldn’t necessarily buy Makgeolli instead of wine. So, is it frustrating when you try to make your case and apparently common sense is not heard?
Sarah Soo-Kyung Henriet: Oh, definitely. And the small startup raid, it becomes even more difficult. And I think, you know, alcohol is the, it’s kind of interesting. People love drinking here. However, when it comes to business, right? And alcohol business, somehow there’s still this negative stereotype. There’s this kind of, ‘Oh, like, what kind of innovative things can you do with alcohol anyway?’ Why don’t you just drink it to be drunk to get drunk. So that’s kind of still be overwhelming thing feeling that people but also the government has. And but that’s not true. You can actually have a very tech driven, innovative startup that has to deal with alcohol. But so, I’m thinking maybe I was too early to in the market in Korea, not just the regulations, but also the mindset. And the perspective, right that we have towards startups, because Sure, there are a lot of startups in Korea. But I feel like the startups that do succeed here are very specific, right? either very much retail and e-commerce. The other category can be content, but that they also turn into e-commerce, or just deep tech, right. And AI is one of, I think, a good example. And so those specific industries are successful or are on the road to be successful. But startups beyond that, or besides that, I think, don’t have a lot of references yet, or success patterns. But mostly also because of regulations.
Alex Jensen: Well, aside from the industry, specific issues you face and as regulations. We’ve spoken a lot already in the early weeks of this podcast about the positive startup environment and ecosystem with an environment that allows startups to grow without a lot of the restrictions that they would otherwise face. And we’ve actually had several examples of that. Was that also your experience, though, did you feel there was that that opportunity to be incubated?
Sarah Soo-Kyung Henriet: Um, they’re actually not much support for founders. Especially foreign founders, right? I mean, I’m part Korean, but nationality wise, I am French. And I think there was me there was some governmental support, of course, but especially during the pandemic, but that was a different kind of support. And just the labor laws in Korea make it very difficult for small companies to thrive. There’s just so many rules they have to follow. But those rules may not be accurate or just relevant for small startups to begin with. They may make more, you know, they may make sense for bigger companies. But to apply those same rules to small companies just made no sense. So that was a pretty big barrier as well. So, labor laws, I’m trying to think of other I mean, they were just I mean, even financially, right, the banking system that makes it just I think it’s a system that’s not, it’s still it’s changing. And that’s a good, that’s great to see. But it’s still not a favorable environment for small companies and startups.
Alex Jensen: Together, hopefully, they can get a loud enough voice that allows some of the issues that we’ve raised today to be heard. And that’s part of our goal, I think, as well. To finish on maybe a more hopeful note, what’s your next step, I know that you’ve just taken a new job, I don’t know how much you want to talk about that. But you may also still have goals to start a business in the future of your own, depending on whether you’ve been put off by the experience of your wine tech company.
Sarah Soo-Kyung Henriet: Right. I mean, I’m definitely pretty burnt out, I was burned down by my former company, but mostly because of the external factors that I have to deal with. Yes, so as you mentioned, I just started a new position very recently, and it’s a position that was offered by someone that had known already. So, he saw me built my company, and he saw that process, so I feel very comfortable joining him in his venture. And it’s a position actually that would encompass roles that are had to actually roles that I held during SoodeVie. And so, I see it more as an extension. It’s a startup, it’s also an e-commerce, startup, but dealing with high-end luxury brands. But I’m excited to it’s still bridges culture, bridges sales, and bridges branding, things that I really love doing already SoodeVie, and I think I would have a platform to kind of, you know, further expand that. And hey, I’ll be able to sell online. So, I’m excited for that.
Alex Jensen: Yeah, we’ll be cheering for you. And sorry to hear about things not quite working out. But hopefully, it’s also very important for people to hear that as a cautionary tale here, and we’ll look to get more stories of this nature to learn from.
Sarah Soo-Kyung Henriet: Right. No, I think entrepreneurship, is that right? The journey never really stops when one company, you know fails, quote in quote, ‘fails’, I think it was a really great opportunity. For me, I learned so much. I think I’ve really seen the strengths and weaknesses in me. I think I’ve become a better leader. So, I think that will, you know, it would be one of, I guess, a part of my heritage. But hopefully I’ll be able to, you know, build further upon that. So, I think all entrepreneurs should fail at least once, right?
Alex Jensen: At least once. Yes.
Sarah Soo-Kyung Henriet: So, I’m not too sad about it.
Alex Jensen: Sarah Soo-Kyung Henriet, thank you very much for joining us today.
Sarah Soo-Kyung Henriet: Thank you.
Alex Jensen: Thanks to Sarah and Gwen Yoon before that from the Four Seasons Hotel Seoul in contact them at fourseasons.com/seoul. Also, if you’ve got a story that you think we could benefit from, or you’ve got anything else to ask us, just find us on LinkedIn search, KBLA and get in touch. Have a great weekend and see you Monday from 7am. Korea time.