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Starting A Business In Korea

Korea Business Informational By Ahn Sehoon

Ahn Sehoon is the manager at Seoul Global Center in Korea.   The Seoul Business Agency was established to promote and develop industries in Korea.  In addition, it provides comprehensive and systematic support to SMEs(Small and Medium-sized Enterprises) located in Seoul.”   The Seoul Global Center business team is operated by the SBA, on behalf of the Seoul City Government.

Recently, Mr. Ahn spoke at one of their business meetups about starting a business in Korea.  He spoke very candidly to the audience about what it takes to successfully open a business in Korea.

I asked if he would be willing to share the insights he provided on that day for foreign startups who couldn’t attend.  The following is what he shared with the audience.

Seoul Global Center Meetup Discussion

I’m going to tell you some of the things that you know so well, but you’re overlooking. It may not be lovely to hear, but I hope you’ll think it over.

In recent years, many foreigners look for opportunities in Korea.  But the reality is it’s not as easy as you may think. There’re many regulatory requirements and cultural differences.  In addition, there are language barriers which you will face and must overcome. These things will remain the same in any country you go, correct?

Focusing on these obstacles will change nothing.  Can I share with you something that may comfort you?  Do Koreans feel comfortable in every situation when they run or start a business?  I guarantee you, almost every Korean, just like you, doesn’t know where to start, what to do, where to go and asks for help in the beginning.

Are you relieved now?  My goal is to be with you and support you with all my heart for your business in Korea.

I meet with a lot of foreigners, and the impression that I get during their business consultation is that they don’t know what they want to do, but they ask me how to start a business and want to know about the procedures.

They may think if they learn the proper procedures, this is the key to business.  Do you think your business will be successful right after you set up your business?  Can you succeed in business with only learning the procedures? I don’t think so.

People in Korea are often said to be very diligent and smart.  If you look back in history at the Korean people, you’ll see some of them were diligent and smart, and some of them weren’t.

It’s a well-known fact that the Korean economy has grown dramatically.  Since the Korean War in 1953, Korea’s GDP (Gross Domestic Product) existed at the bottom of the market.

However, in just 65 years, Korea’s GDP has risen to 12-13th in the world.  I’m a Korean citizen, and I can’t believe this country has grown so fast. When I was young, I wished for Korea to be as advanced and prosperous like the U.S. and other European countries.  Now, I think Korea has achieved this goal to some degree.

You have chosen Korea as the land of opportunity, so grab the opportunity and work diligently and smart.

Seoul Global Center Startup Business School Class
Ceremony of the 2nd Start-up Business School in 2018.

Here are three tips to assist foreign startups in Korea.

First, learn the language!

If you become fluent in Korean, I think it’s equivalent to earning at least tens of millions of won a year in a potential income perspective.  The better you communicate in Korean, the more chances you will have. If you are good at speaking, you can find information on the Internet quickly, correct?

There will be fewer worries to be defrauded and fewer mistakes or miscommunication. But more than that, it’s easier to find Korean partners in business relationships and build trust. You will understand the culture and people better by learning Korean.

As you may have noticed, there is a concept called ‘we, 우리’ in Korea. It’s hard to get into an organization or a group, but once accepted into the group, you’ll gain unlimited trust and support.  I hope you learn Korean and respect Korean culture. To be honest, I know there are some people who can speak Korean better than me. I have to learn Korean harder.

Oh, and I admit there will be others who ignore you, or who are rude or want to use you while staying in Korea.  Try to avoid these types of people who I believe are originally bad people. I hope you don’t think that some of these people represent Korea, but look for opportunities to interact with good people.

Second, do your research!

It doesn’t matter if a big company wants to expand its business in Korea.  Because they hire a Korean employee for the research. But it does matter to a small business startup like yourself.

Your main interest can’t only be about business procedures such as ‘How to start a company, how to open a restaurant, how to import and export.’  I’m sure some of you are thinking about doing business just as I mentioned. But have you decided which items to sell? And did you do the market research?

Eight out of ten people come to us without thinking their business idea through, and people with this kind of inquiry never do business.  Even if a business is able to open, it becomes dishonest and closes. This is the worst case. You make money by reducing unnecessary expenses, yet you’re not in compliance with Korea’s business requirements.

This is not to discourage you.

Everyone seems to have an illusion that they will be successful when he or she starts a business.  Even Korean people are forced to close their business! So, you should prepare to face difficulties in your business rather than the possibility of success.

Survey your products/services, do market research and thorough analysis are mandatory for building a successful business.  It won’t be too late to check the procedure later. Some of you may not be familiar with chopsticks, 젓가락. But would you go hungry because you don’t know how to use chopsticks?  Or would you learn how to use them to eat the delicious food in front of you? The same goes for business.

Also, many of you want to meet foreigners who are successful in Korea.  You might be doubtful if they exist in Korea. But there are foreigners in Korea who are successful.  Of course, there is. But the rich don’t reveal that they are rich. They don’t want to let you know their strategy.  That’s their weapon! That’s why you can hardly find any information about them.

Third, investment, funding, etc.

Many foreigners ask us questions like: How can I get financial help or support from the Korean government?

Yes, you can get support if you have a very special and unique business which will produce lots of employment or contribute greatly to Korea.  But to be honest, it’s not easy even in this situation.

10 out of 10 people ask if there is support from the government level.  They don’t ask about loans, but for funding. I’d like to ask people why do you think this way?  Why should the Korean government support you financially? Because you are a foreigner? I’m telling you, it’s not going to happen, and you should never expect it.  The Korean government is not a treasure chest.

Another question I get asked: then, does the Korean government give special benefits to Koreans?  Of course, there are benefits Korea provides to Koreans. Is it because they are Korean? Nope.

The reason is that Koreans are doing business in Korea and paying taxes to the Korean government.  The government expects Korean small businessmen to make more money and pay taxes in the future. Also, because Koreans build credit by bank transactions in Korea and provide collateral property for the loan.  Can a Korean who has a low credit rating and no collateral borrow money from the bank? No.

If you were a bank, are you going to invest in a business which products are not very good?  It’s not because you’re a foreigner, but because you don’t have credit or collateral. Investors look for high return investment opportunities.  It’s like good food if your food smells good people will come. If your ideas and products are good, people will invest in your idea.

I hope this information has been meaningful and useful.

Good luck in your business endeavors and daily living.

About the Author:

Ahn, Sehoon is the Manager at Seoul Global Center, Seoul Business Agency in South Korea.  He majored in Business Management and has worked for SBA since 2002.  With ten years of experience in Marketing in the Fashion Industry and Game/Character in the Animation Industry, etc.  He has over five years of experience in supporting and providing consulting on the Business Environment in Korea, Start-up business School, and Idea Audition for the Start-up Visa.

Visit the Seoul Business Agency website for more information on their organization and programs.

Seoul Global Center
Website | Facebook | Email

Written by: Ahn Sehoon

Edited by: Erica Dozier

Looking for related topics check out:

  1. Path To Obtaining A Startup Visa In South Korea
  2. Startup Assistance in Seoul
  3. Platform for Entrepreneurs: Seoul Startups
  4. Startup Visa Intellectual Property Rights Presentations
  5. Small Business Interview: Brandon Walcutt, Kohsi Design Centre
  6. How I Chose A Technical Bootcamp

Need a reference for later?  Why not Pin it!

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Twelve Tips For E-commerce Startups

E-commerce Business Startup Tips 

Recently, I attended a “How To Start A Successful E-commerce Business.”  The event was held at the Valley Economic Development Center.  

Richard Stern has over 20 years consulting small businesses and entrepreneurs in the apparel and fashion industry.  As the instructor for the evening, he provided the necessary steps to launch an online business.

Here are the main points on how to successfully launch an online business:

Website Tips

  1. Terms Of Return must be on the website.  Should be easy to access for consumers.
  2. The website should have search engine optimization (SEO) with page speed, image, video, and mobile-friendly visibility.
  3. Every product(s) needs its own page.  Each page should include (what the item is, cost, information about the item, and sizes.

Shipping Tips

  1. If you receive a lot of orders from a specific country call consulate of the country and ask for local shipping companies to cut costs.
  2. Make an agreement with the shipping company (FedEx, UPS, Amazon, Drop Shipping).  A sales agent from the shipping company should explain how much it will costs to ship by region/country.  
  3. Factor in costs: Find out how much money it costs to ship to a country and then add the total to your product (s) pricing.  

Advertising Tips

  1. Use Adwords to check and find out how hard it’s to find your business website.  Setup and manage an Adwords campaign using targeted keywords and budget.
  2. Run one advertising campaign at a time to see what works and what needs to be revamped.
  3. Sell business to business (B2B) and to business to consumers (B2C) to maximize sales.  *Create separate landing pages for each B2B and B2C with a focus on consumers specific needs.    

Business Tips

Go the additional step: 10 days after purchase survey your customer.  Check-in with the consumer on product(s) likeability, the reason for purchase, and the likelihood of purchasing again in the future.

Purchase product liability or service liability insurance.  Make sure that you inform the insurance company that you want basic protection and get a bid quote.

Request information from manufacturers and ask what can go wrong with the product(s).  Then create a list for consumers and add to the website to protect yourself from legal hassles.

Final Thoughts

The tips that are provided does not include the additional components of creating a successful online business: forming an S-Corporation, Trademarks, and Domain basics.  If you would like more information on these topics visit the Small Business Administration website.

If you want to read similar blog posts check out: 

  1. Digital Marketing: Small Business Strategy  
  2. Minority Business Opportunity Day Conference Overview
  3. Pinterest Usage For Startups And Bloggers
  4. Starting A Business In Korea
  5. Small Business Grant Writing Basics 
  6. Korean Convenience Store Lessons
  7. How To Find The Right International Franchise

Sharing Is Caring!

* The business advice and tips posted on this post contain external links or pointers to information created and maintained by other public and private organizations.  These links and pointers are provided for the user’s convenience.  Korean Convenience does not control or guarantee the accuracy, relevance, timeliness or completeness of this outside information.  

Korean Convenience does not endorse individual vendors, products or services.  Therefore, any reference herein to any vendor, product or services by trade name, trademark, or manufacturer or otherwise does not constitute or imply the endorsement, recommendation or approval.*


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Startup Assistance in Seoul

Startup Assistance In Seoul

Startup Competitions and Meetup Groups in South Korea

Obtaining positive reviews from consumers is crucial to any business future success.  The term “Word-Of-Mouth” is one of the words that perfectly describe South Korea’s business culture.  If you’re interested in the startup scene in South Korea check out these resources to assist foreigners with business development.

K-Startup Grand Challenge

The “K-Startup Grand Challenge” is administered by the Korean Government and the competition slogan states “Accelerate Your Startup In Korea.”  Their mission is to help 50 entrepreneurs with setting up their business in South Korea.  They offer access to meet and possibly collaborate with major Korean companies such as Samsung, LG, and Hyundai Motors.  The competition is held once a year and the application period begins in early March.

Competition highlights include:

  • 4 Month Accelerating Program held in South Korea
  • Free Office Space with One on One Mentoring
  • Coaching on Asian Business Culture
  • Business necessities – Tax Laws, Patents and Accounting Regulations
  • Financial incentives – Audition Prize, Demo Day, Living Expenses and Grants

Google Campus Seoul

The program aims to offer “Resources, Classes and Connections” where you can learn from the best that Google has to offer.  The program offers a cafe on sight to enjoy coffee and free wi-fi, event space to host an event and a free six-month workspace residency at Google headquarters.

Program highlights include:

  • Campus Meetup – Connect with Like-Minded People
  • Campus Mentoring  – Access to Experienced Entrepreneurs
  • Campus Presents – Extinguished Presenters Presents Relevant Business Topics
  • Campus Startup School – Hands-on Training in UX design, Venture Capital Meetings, and Product Management
  • Campus Connections – Meet with Investors and Large Corporations
  • Campus Exchange – Network with Entrepreneurs from Google Campuses in London, Madrid, Sao Paulo, Tel Aviv, and Warsaw

Oasis 3 – Idea Right Competition Support

The program is organized by the Korea Invention Promotion Association and the Seoul Global Center.  The program is targeted towards foreigners who are interested in forming a startup within South Korea.  The competition is a part of the larger Oasis Assistance for Startup Immigration courses.  To find out more information about the Oasis courses and dates available check out OASIS Startup Visa.

Startup Meetup Groups

Startup Weekend Seoul

This three-day meetup offers designers, developers, and entrepreneurs the chance to connect with one another.  Once an alliance is formed teams will be able to build a successful business portfolio with the help of mentors, coaches, and fellow entrepreneurs.  Find more information on their Facebook Group or email their meetup group at

Startup Alliance

This meetup is presented by the Navar Corporation.  The Startup Alliance offers meetup, seminars, and conferences to connect entrepreneurs in launching their business through Global Expansion.  Additionally, they offer pro-bono legal advice and accounting counseling to facilitate a better startup ecosystem.

Recent startups occurring throughout Asia include E-wallets, ridesharing, and staff-less store chains.  After participating in the Oasis program run by the Seoul Global Center I am left with this quote from David Karp, Tumbler founder, “Entrepreneur is someone who has a vision for something and wants to create.”

If you’re looking for more resources about starting a business in South Korea check out my posts on:

  1. Free Korean Language Classes Online
  2. Starting A Business In Korea
  3. A Platform For Entrepreneurs: Seoul Startups
  4. Non-Teaching Jobs: South Korea
  5. Entrepreneur Korea Interview
  6. Digital Marketing: Small Business Strategy​
  7. Small Business Interview: Brandon Walcutt, Kohsi Design Centre