Expert Insights: Juliana Lee on South Korean Organizational and Business Culture

We are back again with the third part in our Expert Insights series. In this series of articles, we will be covering some of the insights and learnings from the program by sitting down with the different speakers to hear their thoughts on the topics they specialise in.

An important element of the Rainmaking Expand: South Korea program is making sure that we are setting the startups up with solid insight into the South Korean business culture and helping them navigate it. For this, we invited Juliana Lee from Juliana Lee & Partners Co. Ltd. to talk about how the South Korean business culture works, and to give guidance on how startups can navigate it.

Her workshop give quite an in-depth guide, and in today’s article we talk to her a bit further on what startups can do when entering the South Korean market.

To start us off, a big thank you to Juliana for taking the time to share her insights during her workshop in the Rainmaking Expand: South Korea program. We really enjoyed the knowledge and advice that you shared around doing business in South Korea and some of the advice you gave us for navigating cultural elements. Since the readers here probably haven’t had the chance to get to know you through the workshop, would you mind sharing a self-introduction with us first?

Juliana: Hello all. I am Juliana Lee, CEO and founder of a startup consulting agency, Juliana Lee & Partners Co., Ltd. (JL&P). JL&P has three major service fields: startup support, corporate training and presentation services. I started my career as a policy and communication researcher/consultant for the government and private enterprises back in 2004. Then I founded my first corporate training company on business communications. With a growing demand for startup venture and accelerator programs, I revamped my business focusing more on startup and SME support services. Our services now include marketing strategy, pitching for sales and investment, as well as overseas expansion support. As a business owner myself, I know how challenging it can be to run a business. As I support startups, I get also inspired by many founders, their business ideas and resilience. I enjoy what I am doing as a startup mentor and communication consultant because my job requires constant learning and communication strategy that I also believe are very important components of success in any business.

Thank you so much. You have such a great spectrum of knowledge for people in the venture and startup space to tap into. We are seeing a rise in interest in the South Korean market, and I was wondering if you could share what the biggest mistake you have seen startups make when entering the market, and do you have some advice on how they could avoid it?

Juliana: Some startups are eager to enter big markets expecting smooth market entry and expansion. Being a “foreign” business can have advantages, but your success back home doesn’t guarantee that the same product and service would work in any market. Before venturing into the South Korean market, I suggest you to spend a considerable amount of time researching the market and then conduct a product-market-fit (PMF) analysis as though you are launching a new product. This process will guide you to have a glimpse of this new market to see what works and what doesn’t. PMF will help you localize your product and service in any new market entry. In doing so, you may also find some legal and administrative barriers in South Korea and understand how to move on or modify your plans to adapt.

That’s some great insights there, and I completely agree. The product-market-fit analysis is an incredibly important part of entering a new market. In order for startups to navigate and achieve effective communication with companies in South Korea, what advice would you offer?

Juliana: I would say networking, good translation/interpretation, and double-checking what has been said. First, like in many Asian countries, connections and third-party introductions are important in business. So try to get to know business people in your industry in South Korea first. Second, many Koreans are still not comfortable with English in the business context, so it is sometimes necessary to have a good interpreter ready for an important meeting. The best is that one of your employees speaks the language and takes the lead in the meeting. Koreans don’t like to admit that they don’t speak English, so they will still pretend to understand what is being said. In an important meeting, I would suggest that you attend with a good interpreter who knows about your business. My last point is related to the linguistic difference. Koreans in business settings speak rather indirectly, so it’s important to double-check on their intentions. Always attend a meeting with a clear agenda of what needs to be discussed, and after the meeting, exchange emails to confirm the details discussed in the meeting to avoid misunderstanding. I hope these points help you communicate better and more comfortably with your Korean counterparts. Enjoy your new venture in South Korea!

Thank you so much Juliana for joining us in the Rainmaking Expand: South Korea program and for sharing your insights through this discussion.

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Written by
Meghan Bridges
June 21, 2022
Marketing Director, Rainmaking Expand