What Is Soko Glam
Charlotte and David Cho are New York-based entrepreneurs and students who are taking their passion for Korean culture of skincare and beauty to the West. After launching their ecommerce store Soko Glam in 2012 showcasing a curated selection of the best Korean products, the up and coming startup has been featured in The New York Times, Allure, Marie Claire, and other notable online blogs and publications. We had the chance to sit down with the dynamic duo who shared about the journey of running a business as a couple, the key to getting great press, and their life in New York City.
Beauty Startup To Watch
Let’s start from the beginning. Where did each of you grow up?
David Cho: I was born in South Korea, but I came over to the U.S. at a really young age and grew up in California. I lived in Orange County pretty much all my life until I moved to New York for school at West Point. After school, I served eight years in the U.S. Army.
Charlotte Cho: I was born and raised in California, and I ended up going to Korea in 2008 to join Samsung in their marketing and communications department. I’ve never lived outside of the U.S., so it was a really exciting time for me. In 2013, we ended up coming to New York together.
How did the two of you meet?
CC: Blind date. [laughs] We got introduced through a friend. It was easy to connect because we were both from California and our families are Korean.
DC: It’s funny because we met in Korea on a blind date, but our hometowns are actually 10 minutes away from each other. We probably crossed paths at some point since we had a lot of mutual friends.
And how did the opportunity to start Soko Glam come about?
CC: Every time I came home for the holidays, all my friends would ask me, “Can you bring me this beauty product?” People were excited to get these products because it’s hard to get their hands on them in America. They really didn’t know what brands were popular. I became their resource.
After a couple years of bringing Korean products back to the States, we decided to put them online. The turning point was when Daily Candy published a short article about Soko Glam. It’s interesting because a lot of our buyers are non-Asian, but there was a huge cult following for Korean products. I’m passionate about Korean skincare and makeup, so this was an opportunity to create a business out of it. It also goes beyond just selling Korean beauty products. Women have become so interested in the 10-step Korean skincare routine, it has evolved into helping people be more educated and serious about skincare. I get emails daily from customers whose skin has transformed and that has been very fulfilling.
You mentioned that the blurb in Daily Candy helped your business. What do you think is the key to getting good press?
CC: Honestly, a lot of the press has been genuinely excited about our products from what I’ve seen. There’s no secret. The writers and editors themselves are curious about Korean products because of the affordable price points and great quality; whereas in America, there are usually expensive products or cheap, drugstore products, nothing in between. We don’t have a PR agency, so we’re doing everything in-house.
DC: We launched in December  and we had an article written up about us in January . We couldn’t have asked for anything better because Daily Candy reached out to us first. I know a lot of other companies and startups struggle with PR – to get the right placement, so we feel very fortunate. It came with a lot of hard work, but there was some luck involved, too.
Did you know anything about e-commerce before you started?
DC: I was in the Army so we didn’t have access to e-commerce learning. That’s where our passion came in. It was cool because Soko Glam wasn’t just about being an e-commerce company. What’s great for entrepreneurs right now is that technology has caught up to the point where you don’t have to be a web developer to start a website.
I’m attending Columbia Business School right now pursuing an MBA, and something that is important to me is to talk to young entrepreneurs and help them with their startup endeavors, reassuring them to follow their passion and not be so concern with having all the relevant experience before launching.
Did you always see yourselves as entrepreneurs?
CC: Both of our parents are entrepreneurs so they are our role models. We always wanted to start something even when we were both living in Korea. We thought, “What can we bring to the U.S.?”
And what does being an entrepreneur mean to you?
DC: I think that passion has to definitely be there. I mean look at me, I’m an ex-military guy who knows way too much about cosmetics, but I’m passionate about this business to help people with skincare and the recovery process. It’s really important because we see how much it impacts people. We do get people who reach out and say that the recommended products on Soko Glam changed their skin for the better. That’s more satisfying than getting a paycheck.
CC: Another thing I realized through this entrepreneurial journey is about pushing your limits. There are things that we’ve had to do because we’re wearing so many different hats. I never thought I’d be doing accounting or taking product photos. I’m also a little camera shy, but this business involves getting my face out there. So every week it feels like I’m doing something I never did before, which frankly, is an uncomfortable position to be in but that’s when you grow the most. I actually think the process of testing yourself constantly has been the most exhilarating part about being an entrepreneur. I’ve worked in a corporate environment, and now I’m at a startup. I feel like I can never go back to the corporate world, and now I understand why some people take a pay cut to start their own business because of the passion. It’s amazing to look back and see the progress from the start to now.
You said that you wear many hats at Soko Glam. Can you tell me what each of you is responsible for?
DC: The easiest way to put it is, my role deals with anything related to Excel, PowerPoint, or partner facing.
CC: I’m the creative director but I also have my hands in everything – from marketing to inventory management.
How has living in New York impacted your creativity, since you are away from the South Korea beauty hub?
CC: I go there often and have a team in Korea, so that’s not a problem. New York also has a similar energy to South Korea, so if I walk outside, I’ll usually get inspired. It was actually the best decision to be in New York because the people we’re influencing are here. We want to know what the people living here want and desire.
Who would you say is your target audience?
DC: When we first started, we didn’t know what to expect. We were passionate about the idea, and we knew had a viable business. I think what’s great is that we’re Korean, but we’re also American, so we’re able to intimately understand the Korean products, culture, and business, but also fully connect and resonate with the customers here in the U.S.
We have about two years worth of data and in our first year, the majority of our customers were non-Asian. We were like, “What’s going on here?” We thought the bulk of our customers were going to be people who knew about the products already. It was quite the opposite.
CC: I love it because there are so many non-Asians using the site, so I’m able to share my favorite Korean dramas, influencers, and products with them. It’s so much more than just cosmetics, and I find that to be fulfilling. I love Korea and Seoul, and I love channeling that energy through Soko Glam.
It sounds like you both didn’t know a lot when you first started, so what has been your biggest mistake so far and how did you guys recover?
DC: Now we have mentors and advisors who help us make fewer mistakes. The beauty of being an entrepreneur is that you have to make mistakes, but here’s one I’ll share. When we were bootstrapping and running everything from our apartment, we were doing so many orders that our apartment was no longer an apartment. We had to sell our TV and furniture, just so we could make room. Our small New York City apartment was being overwhelmed with products. We were staying up late, packing products. I’m a professional packer now and put on tape without wrinkles. [laughs] We got really good at it, but the mistake we made was not moving to fulfillment sooner. Back then, we were trying to save on costs because we knew that fulfillment could be expensive. We realized now that time is money. We could have used that time we were packing to growing our business.
Any future plans for Soko Glam?
DC: It’s hard for us to think about a 5-year or 10-year plan because we’re so focused on what’s happening today, tomorrow, and this holiday season, so it’s keeping us from thinking that far ahead. We would love to be in a place where we aspire to be the Sephora of Korean cosmetics. I’m not sure if that’s what we want to be exactly. All we know is that we want to continue to make a positive impact through Soko Glam.
CC: I’ve actually been going to night school to become an esthetician and learn the science behind skincare. Helping others achieve clearer, more youthful skin has been very fulfilling to me.
And finally, do you have any fond memory when you realized that you fell in love with beauty?
CC: Before I lived in Korea, I thought I knew a lot about skincare. But when I came to Korea, I found out that was not the case. My coworkers schooled me on a true Korean skincare regimen. They would point out that I was missing essence and toner. I investigated further, and I realized there’s so much that the beauty market has to offer.
DC: I have used the products, and I have worn some of the mascara. [Laughs] It’s weird because guys usually don’t care about their skin, and I didn’t pay attention to my skin early on. After we started, I began to learn the science behind the products, and I tried a little bit of this and a little bit of that. Now at school, guys will corner me and ask me what I use. I’m like, “Are you seriously asking me this right now?”
CC: Even when we go on weekend trips, I don’t pack any skincare because he uses all the ones I use — eye cream, lotion, two types of face washes. He has it all!
DC: [Laughs] I’m a believer.
Photographs by Lauren Kallen