Starting a Wedding Startup in Seoul Korea

6/17/2015 Wedit 0 Comments

Wedding Startup in Seoul Korea

Quitting the Job

Bye Bye monthly paycheck, Bye Bye stable middle class life-style

I've just quit my job working in Hyundai Heavy Industries.
My job was to sell and ship Forklifts to Turkey and Israel.

3 years of working in a Big company such as HHI, I've learned a lot and did earn more than average salary compared to other Koreans my age.

When I talked to the manager about me quitting the job, his reaction was to ask if I am changing to another company. After I told him I'm trying to start a startup, he advised me and said "Working as a employee in Korea can fell like you're in a battle field, but out there will make you feel like you're in Hell".

After a few months of long talks and persuasion, I've finally left the company this week.

Bye Bye monthly salary

Why start a wedding startup?

Changing the Korean wedding culture 

My plan is to build a startup that can change the whole Korean wedding culture from bottom-up. Now that the korean economy is doing poorly and high unemployment rates for the young generation has been holding out for years, young Koreans are not willing to get married.

And one of the reason is because weddings are to expensive for them and since most of them are unemployed or non-regular employees they cannot afford (or dream) a wedding and having a family. Nowadays it is called "3-Po Generations"

Po is a abbreviation for Po-gi(포기) which means 'to give up'. Three things they give up in their life is Love (no money for dating), Marriage (no money for house and weddings), Children (crazy expensive to raise a child).

For the marriage part, you might wonder if both person are working they can pay the rent and you can plan the wedding in a very plain version, than what is the problem? Before I go more into that, there are somethings a person outside Korean culture should know about somewhat unreasonable or weird things about the Korean wedding culture in spite of cultural differences.

Family pride, Parent dependent and Money Money Money...

In Korea the marriage is not just between individuals, but between families. In the process of marriage (and wedding) normally one family does not want to feel small in front of the other family. Especially the parents want to feel that they are worthy of respect and earned the price for bringing up their proud son or daughter. A traditional custom which can symbolize this mentality is Ye-dan (예단). The wife's family shows respect to the groom's family by sending them gifts and the groom's family takes somewhat of the gift and returns them in good manners. In current times the gift is changes to money for convenience and how much money the bride's parents send to the groom's parents is a social signal for how much the 'groom costs'. And the amount of money returned to the bride's family shows how much the groom's family respect the bride and the bride's family.

Another culture that can rattle you is 'the groom takes care of the house and the bride takes care of what's in it (혼수)'. As I said before, young Korean males in their late 20's or early 30's hasn't save enough money to buy a house or get a Jeon-sae(전세 : renting the house for 1~2 year with about 60~70 % of the house price, another korean culture hard for you to understand). The average price for an apartment in Seoul is about 450,000 USD, so they cannot get a house with out their parent's help. On the bride's side, taking care of furnishing the house costs about 30,000 USD. The problem with this asymmetric is that the groom's parents has the notion in their mind that the newly wed's house is partially mine and I have the right to interfere in the marriage. In conclusion, not being independent from the parents wealth brings up continuous fights and conflicts during the marriage.  And this is one of the reasons that Korea's divorce rate is so high.

Lastly, Koreans (especially the elders) likes to 'show off' their social position, wealth, wide connections to others.And one way to show this off is have a huge wedding at a wedding hall with 4~500, sometimes 1,000 guests. How big the wedding equals how SWAG the parent. Vanity is attached along this mentality and the bride and groom also join in by spending a lot of money in studio photography, expensive bling-blings, designer dress rented for one day and etc. The funny thing is the notion of 'showing off' is not to show my superiority but to be shown average and not to feel small in front of friends and to the social eye. We, Koreans, are spending tonnes of money just to be average. And it all comes to in the end.

(Yeah~ all about da money)

How am I going to change it?

Change the market, change the culture

Something like, 'Save the cheerleader, Save the world'. Changing a culture is difficult. But if you can change the market, I believe the cultural change can follow the in the course of change.

Because the wedding is a mixture of showing off with vanity, Korean wedding market is a lemon market. As a customer you don't know the exact price or cost of each items but just purchase it from a 'wedding planner (quite different role from the ones in the US)'. They sell it in a wedding package and only show the total price, not the individual price for each vendor. They profit in sharing the total price with the vendor's they hire by giving the vendors less and pricing the bride & groom more. The huge corporate wedding planning companies holds all the information of venues, vendors so they hold the power. It makes it difficult and hard for the bride & groom to do a wedding by their own without the help of the big corporate Planners.

For the individual vendors (photographers, catering, make-up etc), they have no choice in the completely competitive market where hundreds of new vendors enter and disappear in the same month to join the corporate Planners and get the work by giving them a special price (30% lower than their normal cost) just to make living.

So, only the middle-man in the wedding markets earns true profit, while the parties in the both end have a hard time to pay for the wedding and earn money from doing their work. Little absurd, Ay?

(Change the Market, Change the Culture!!)

"Self-Wedding", Fixed price and Building a market you can trust

For about 2~3 years, Koreans have mad a large discourse about this problem in the wedding market and culture and currently the long discussion is trying to pay off with the start of "Self-wedding" movement. Brides and grooms wants to do their wedding by themselves without the help of Planners and towards a more independent, low cost and meaningful wedding. In some way, trying to make the weddings more westernized. However, this is still a small market but also a fast growing market. I'm planning to launch a website that can penetrate this niche market with two strategies.

One is to present 'fixed price'. In Korea, no bride or groom know the exact price of the service they are using and if they do, it differs from customer to customer. This uncertainty makes the market much more untrustworthy and the customer tries to buy the cheapest vendor (this sometimes results in poor quality and bad customer service) and the vendors has the temptation to raise up the price for the uninformed newly weds. Showing exactly how much this or that costs can be the most effective way to clear the uncertainty and giving the right and believable signal for both buyer and seller. The asymmetric information that causes all this mess can go away.

The second is to provide a trustworthy system that can satisfy both bride & groom and individual vendors. In the website, I am planning to rate the vendors which the bride & groom actually used. This can show the other customers that this site and the vendor is trustworthy (should watch out for black consumers though). Also if a problem occurs with payment and service, we can provide a platform which can solve it easily without the long waiting for the decision of a public institution, but by legal advisement of a law firm which we are partnered with. Lastly, we are planning to certify the vendors of by meeting them in person and interviewing them to show who they are and what kind of service they provide and what is their strength and their attitude to customers. This can also allow the bride and groom to see and understand the vendors and feel more humanly close with them.

How is it working out?

Hard work and an effort to be relentlessly resourceful

It's been only a week I quit my job and working full time with my startup, as a CEO with only one co-founder, my brother in-law. It still need hard work and currently we are focusing on meeting a lot of wedding vendors to understand their needs and trying to interview them. We've been currently interviewing about 8 vendors and we are trying to speed up this process. However, when we interview them what I feel is their desire to do the work they love and be acknowledge to be seen as a artist. They want to do what they like and do best and also earn enough money to continue on their works. That they do is not just a job for living. I am sometimes impress watching their work and in the same time feel sorry for them because of the hardship they have to go through as an small independent business owner.

Relentlessly Resourceful. An expression used in Y-Combinator to show how a founder or a co-founder should be. We are trying our best to be in that category and hopefully this works out. We'll have to stick to our belief on the phrase "Change the Market, Change the Culture."

Thanks for reading.

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