THE GLOBAL PURSUIT OF BEAUTY
South Korea is the “world capital of plastic surgery” dominating 25% of the global market at USD $10 billion. In case you think this trend is unique to Koreans, the reality is that one third of the patients are actually international tourists.
The center of gravity in South Korea should come as no surprise: K-Beauty has attracted phenomenal global attention (alongside the magnetism of K-Fashion and K-Pop), but it can be scary to go under the knife in a foreign country, especially when you cannot speak the local language. Think about it: we can always return the wrong pair of shoes that we bought online, but it is admittedly much harder to return a botched nose job.
ABOUT THE BUSINESS CALLED EUNOGO
To ease the pursuit of beauty across borders, Joy Woonhyung Kang launched a service in 2015 called Eunogo that helps customers to select quality doctors, translate what they need, and even arrange their travel plans. With over 2,000 clinics in South Korea offering plastic surgery, it can be intimidating for anyone—what more a foreigner—to pick out a reliable and affordable clinic, and to not get ripped off. Joy and her team screen top-tier doctors using the government’s open medical data, and then go beyond this database to individually conduct their own background checks.
Joy and her team pride themselves on looking out personally for each individual, as you might expect from a local streetsmart friend who knows what’s what. Today, 70% of their customers come from referrals—and referrals are arguably the strongest indicator of customer happiness.
FIRST STEPS INTO THE BUSINESS
How did Joy foray into this speciality? Her interest was piqued at INSEAD where her friends would ask her to recommend Korean clinics and aestheticians. It dawned on her that there was no reliable channel for people to select clinics and procedures with prices all in one place.
Inspired by her entrepreneurial classmates and alumni, Joy decided to act on her entrepreneurial ambition. However, she had to start from ground zero: “I didn’t have any experience starting a company, working with technology, or fundraising— and didn’t even know where to start. So I joined a corporate venture that had a highly talented team of engineers and designers. We developed an app for Koreans to search for plastic surgery clinics and make appointments.”
While building this business, Joy was actively growing her network with major clinics, and heard a lot of their frustrations. “Marketing managers said they needed more channels to expand their brand internationally. They have strong clinical expertise, but do not know how to market themselves to patients outside Korea.”
One of marketing managers, Sophia Hwang, suggested building a platform that would link the clinics in Korea to the international market. Joy reflects on her move: “I knew it was the time to act on this dream, so I left my previous corporate venture, and we started Eunogo together.” (Eunogo comes from the Greek word “Eunoia” which means “beautiful thinking and well-minded”.)
INVESTORS OR CUSTOMERS: WHICH COMES FIRST?
In the beginning, Joy devoted time to fundraising, but her focus quickly shifted to getting more customers. “Fundraising was very difficult, especially as a first-time entrepreneur without any history. The hardest part is getting the first investor.”
Unwilling to give up her dream, she decided to bootstrap. “Fundraising takes so much time! You have to prepare pitch decks, go to meetings, follow-up—at the same time, we have to build the business! So I said: let’s stop fundraising and, instead, focus on building the product. Rather than meet 50 investors, let’s meet 50 customers!”
“Rather than meet 50 investors, let’s meet 50 customers!”
While bootstrapping, Joy and her team invited 50 of the most trusted clinics into their network—all board-certified. They also recruited over 60,000 memberships and got paying customers from overseas who endorsed their high quality service, and started to see organic customer leads. As part of their service, they also produced useful medical content to give people a better understanding of the surgical procedures.
By doing all this, Eunogo got endorsed by the Korean government for their efforts to promote more transparency in the medical tourism industry. “We were invited as the keynote speaker for Korean Government 3.0 and awarded a commendation from the Minister.” This award gave their start-up unprecedented exposure.
Once this solid groundwork was in place, they joined a three-month accelerator in Singapore, and finally closed their seed funding in late 2016. The most valuable part about investors is not the cash, says Joy, but the “power of their network and expertise to grow the business.” This investment gave them access to hundreds of sales channels in Southeast Asia and China, and Joy recommends working with ‘smart capital’ that can open doors in this manner.
HOW TO FIND GOOD PARTNERS
Strong teams are the rock foundation of any successful business. How did Joy and co-founder Sophia cement their partnership at Eunogo?
Joy explains their process: “My partner and I decided to spend three months working together before deciding equity splits and responsibilities. Partnership is critical especially in the early stage where founders make up the entire business. We needed to understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses. You learn quite a lot about the synergy between two people when you are placed in an intense work environment under a lot of stress.”
“You learn quite a lot about the synergy between two people when you are placed in an intense work environment under a lot of stress.”
HOW TO HIRE
Startups are constantly (and rapidly) evolving. This means that the first few hires will rarely be boxed into a defined job role. Sometimes, they have to focus on online marketing; other times, they might interact personally with customers.
How does Joy recruit people for her company? “It is important to hire people who believe strongly in the product— this makes it easier to adapt and be flexible. It is more about their attitude than their skills. Are they willing to learn fast and work together toward the goal?”
ADVICE TO ENTREPRENEURS
Joy holds herself to the same high expectations: to persist and adapt. “There are very steep ups and downs— and when is low, it is very low. There were times when I thought I should stop, but another opportunity would emerge, and we would grab it. So it was step-by-step.”
“There are very steep ups and downs— and when is low, it is very low.”
Her advice to other entrepreneurs: “Building a business as a founder is a very arduous, lonely journey and having a good support system around you is very helpful. It could be family members, friends, other startup founders, or investors. I was amazed how these helped going through some tough situations and challenges.”
B-SCHOOL: WAS IT USEFUL?
Joy notes that her friends and faculty at INSEAD were very supportive by linking her to their contacts in the healthcare industry. The international INSEAD brand also gave her company more legitimacy when striking partnerships with stakeholders.
Universities play a big role in spurring entrepreneurship. Joy advises: “I would leverage on the community. We have so many entrepreneurs from our alumni doing such diverse projects. If we all had a better idea of what everyone else was doing— and centralize all this information—we will be able to get the best talent talking to one another, and make unexpected great things happen!”
Joy is continuously on the lookout for good partners while the business grows: “We plan to expand in Southeast Asia and the USA, and looking for partners to penetrate those markets.”
The team is actively expanding their online store where patients can access products after their surgery. They are also featuring clinics that provide non-incisive procedures (such as eyebrow tattoos) that tourists can pick up while they are travelling in the city.
Ultimately, the most vital asset they have nurtured is priceless: trust. With this trust, the team is able to offer customers many other experiences, since there is confidence in the reliability of their service and the brand. At the heart of every successful business, after all, is their reputation. And, in this case, their beauty as well!
(Curious to explore Eunogo? Hit up their website and connect on Facebook.)
Author: Nazish Zafar is a PhD Sociologist who did her dissertation research on the small business economy. She writes about cool and interesting entrepreneurs from the INSEAD community for the dedicated global venture booster INSEADERS.vc. Interested in getting interviewed for a feature? Drop us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.