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.

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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 [2012] and we had an article written up about us in January [2013]. 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.

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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.

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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

After completing his last treatment for stage-four throat cancer in 2009, Michael Hayes, a serial entrepreneur with a software-engineering background, spent years thinking, How can I use software to solve problems in the real world?

The problems he was most interested in solving were the big ones—cancer prevention, detection, and cure. But it wasn’t until around 2012, when breakthroughs in machine-learning made it possible for computers to read massive amounts of medical-records data, that Hayes began to see the role software could play in cancer care. In 2018, Hayes founded the nonprofit research organization CancerAI, a member at WeWork 625 Massachusetts Ave in Boston that aims to break down the walls between organizations and across sectors to bring the results seen in experimental research to the real world.

Removing the barriers in communication, says Hayes, is key to developing the artificial intelligence needed to improve cancer prevention, detection, and treatment. “In some ways, everyone who develops cancer has a unique case,” he says. “That makes fighting cancer extremely daunting, which is why collaboration amongst different cancer-fighting groups is so important.”

Hayes and CancerAI had a seat at the table this past fall, when WeWork and the Biden Cancer Initiative (BCI), a nonprofit founded by former Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, launched their “collaboration hubs” in cities across the country. The aim: to make sure that every person, no matter where they are in their cancer journey, has a voice in the fight against the disease.

CancerAI is a founding member of the collaboration hub in Boston, and in the organization’s first session, members of the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research and the Broad Institute were present.

“It was small, it was the first step, but there was a lot of interest in the collaboration in the Boston area,” says Hayes.

These hubs—which have expanded to New York City and San Francisco—broaden what is normally a one-sided conversation to include stakeholders or members of the community who would not normally be involved in decision-making.

“It’s incredibly important to get perspectives beyond CEOs of top pharmaceutical companies,” says Catharine Young, BCI senior director of science policy. “Whether it’s a nurse or a caretaker, they all bring with them a wealth of knowledge.”

Earlier this year, Dr. Rahul Remanan, who has hosted sessions associated with BCI for years, led a collaboration hub at WeWork 750 Lexington Ave on New York’s Upper East Side. At the gathering of about 70 professionalsmostly technologists and health-care practitioners—Remanan, who is trained as a doctor and founder of the full-stack AI firm Moad Computer, focused on the idea of open data systems used in early cancer detection.

“I want to reach out to as many people as possible around [the technology] because I know I can’t do it on my own,” says Remanan, who shared his collected data before discussing the lessons and range of challenges of using artificial intelligence in cancer detection.

The push for shared data in medical research is a departure from tradition with a huge potential payoff: The hope is that if these technologies become successful on a wide scale, the highest-quality cancer care can become available to everyone. The software systems Remanan and Hayes hope to build can help doctors by flagging high- and low-priority images, greatly increasing the likelihood of getting a diagnosis for the people who need it most, no matter where they live or their socioeconomic levels.

“[We would] have an efficiency that’s accessible to anyone from across the world,” he explained. “You don’t have to pay more and more money to get quality care.”

“The future is here—it’s just unevenly distributed,” says Koios Medical CEO Chad McClennan, an AI medical-image-analysis platform approved by the FDA that analyzes the data in images and notifies physicians when something in an image, often naked to the human eye, looks suspicious.

This virtual second opinion can level the playing field for patients everywhere. Accuracy goes up, fewer people are sent home mistakenly, and fewer people are subject to treatment that turns out to be unnecessary. Koios, a member at New York’s WeWork 500 7th Ave, has half a million images linked to pathology results and is currently deployed with about 50 physicians in the New York area. “You have an expert’s second opinion at your disposal instantly and ubiquitously,” says McClennan, who is currently planning a hackathon at a collaboration hub.  

The future that McClennan speaks of can be available to everyone—regardless of geographic location or income—only if the fight against cancer extends across silos and disciplines.

“It’s hard and it takes time, but I’m optimistic that it will happen,” Hayes says. “Within a couple of years, some of these [software] tools will be quite prevalent in making a big difference in the fight against cancer.”

Photo courtesy of iStock

I’ve always had this theory that money can “feel” different, depending on where it comes from. That the money you get for grinding out paid work for a company has a different energy than the money you get for your true-blue creative-soul work (if you’re able to get paid for that work at all).

But there are many artists and creatives who make a strong case to the contrary. A group of them came together recently to discuss the intersection between art and commerce at a panel co-hosted by WeWork x BRIC at WeWork 81 Prospect St in Brooklyn, New York. They shared what it means to be a working artist in today’s world, how corporate work can inspire a richer artistic practice, and the trick to maintaining your ethical center when a company is footing the bill.

Every bit of making feeds the beast.

“I’m lucky I get to make art every day,” says Mike Perry, a multidisciplinary artist and illustrator. To Perry, there is no line between “art for them” and “art for me”—rather, all the work he does feeds his daily practice. “I love an assignment because I’m free to explore, learn something, experiment with new materials and ideas,” he says. “I can be influenced by something I’m paid for.” Perry says he can sit down at 7 a.m. and work on a project for T-Mobile for five hours, then turn to his tackle box of oil paints in the afternoon to create something entirely for himself.

This conversation goes way back.

The Baltimore-based street artist-cum-muralist Gaia is quick to point out that art has been dependent on commerce for centuries. Drawing a strict boundary between what is “real” art and what is paid for by someone else doesn’t add much to the conversation, he says—and if taking commissions allows the artist to focus on their work and put food on the table while remaining in touch with the real world and engaging with audiences, why shouldn’t they?

Panelists (from left) Mike Perry, Devin Vermeulen, Gaia, and Chelsea Campbell with moderator and WeWork’s vice president of content and campaigns Laura Brounstein (center).

Boundaries spark creativity.

As a creative director at Pandora, Chelsea Campbell works within some of the strictest borders of all: 30-second audio ads. “Constraints make for better creation and better creativity,” she says, noting that the ad can play to the listener’s “theater of the mind”.

Money affords bigger, better projects.

If someone will pay you to go bigger—and let you learn how to do it in the process—could you turn it down? “Scale is hard, and money makes scale happen,” says Perry. Money also allows projects to expand and grow. At Pandora, the algorithm is so good at predicting what music listeners will enjoy because musicologists work behind the scenes categorizing each song by up to 400 traits. This form of creativity is born from technology funded by a corporation … but it trickles down to a pleasurable user experience. When Pandora uncovers your new favorite song, you’re not thinking “What a smart technology company,” but instead, “Wow, they know me so well.”

Ethics drive compatibility.

Finding a brand or company whose mission aligns with yours as an artist is critical to a successful collaboration. When Devin Vermeulen, a senior creative director at WeWork, asks an artist to create a mural for a WeWork location, the project isn’t just in service of the brand. He’s going to them “because we like what they do and want the project to align with their mission,” he says. “We want to see success as a byproduct of having an impact on the world.”

Every project needs to please stakeholders.

Any creative project comes with different voices telling the artist what to do—and that doesn’t change whether it’s a corporate gig or a mural on a street corner. Gaia says it’s important to build consensus among competing agendas and what each person expects to see. “My job is to synthesize and find a balance” between everyone, he says, whether that’s a hotel manager with specific needs for an installation, or a grandmother living on the corner in Baltimore who has expectations for the art that should be on her street.

“Selling out” is different for everyone.

Perry noted a recent uptick in the use of the phrase “selling out,” which he says peaked in the early 2000s and now seems to be coming back around. Perhaps that’s a function of a robust economy—more companies have the ability to commission artistsas more people are ditching the 9-to-5 and identifying as artists and creatives.

But when a brand and an artist want to work together and their missions align, there’s no harm done, says Vermeulen. Campbell put a fine point on it: “Sellout has turned into collaboration.” It’s the artist’s prerogative to decide what “selling out” means for them—if it means anything at all. Getting paid by a corporation may allow them to live their dream in another capacity.

The blur can be good.

Perry recounted creating a giant 80-by-30-foot mural for Jameson whiskey. People on Instagram loved it, and he was confused—It’s an ad, he thought, They all love an ad?! Finally, someone told him, “Mike, we’re just really happy you got a job!”

The public is often less concerned with the distinction between art and commerce than one would think, especially if the merger gives rise to something better. As Vermeulen said: “If I’m going to be bombarded by an ad, I’m glad it’s done by an artist.”

For all the blurring of art and commerce, Perry said something that rang in my ears after the night was over. “Maybe,” he says, “we should think about ourselves as humans and people and not brands at all.”

Photos by Lori Gutman

As the space between work and not-work becomes ever more blurred, questions about how to do this thing we plug away at for 30 or 40 or 70 hours a week become all the more expansive. In this column, Work Flow, we’ll delve into the novel dilemmas created by the new ways we work, as well as timeless questions about ethics, gender assumptions, and toxic work situations (and how to escape them). How we work is an important component of how we live—and we’re here to help you do better at both.

Something messing with your flow? Unload your work problems here, and you’ll not only feel heard, but you’ll also get unbiased, real-world advice. (That’s something your work sibling/spouse just can’t offer.) Tell us everything: creator@wework.com

Our office has recently moved into a new building with an open-office format, and while I love the collaborative vibe, I’m having trouble with the fact that people assume I’m always available. I’ve tried using headphones, but this does not deter folks from interrupting me—even when I am clearly busy. Any suggestions on how I can better manage this transition?

Headphones are a start. (Are yours noise-canceling? Here are a few options for you, if not.) The trick is, you must sometimes remove your headphones completely—when you’re not in “uninterruptible” time—otherwise they become just another part of the scenery and something people will ignore. Set the expectation that when they are on, you’re working on something urgent and should not be bothered. If someone comes up to ask you a question during that time, tell them politely, “I’m so sorry, I’m on an immediate deadline. Come back at X time and we can talk?” Then get back to work. People should begin to get the point.

You could also ask your boss to send a reminder that headphone-wearing folks should not be interrupted unless the matter is truly urgent, like the copier is on fire. Alternatively, is there a conference room or empty office where people needing extra quiet might work on occasion? Some of the frustration may be from feeling helpless in this situation, and acting in a forward-thinking way can combat that.  

How can I exit a job gracefully? People become close (professionally) with their bosses, now more than ever. You follow each other on social media; maybe you even hang out casually outside the office. Can I tell my boss—whom I trust—that I’m looking? Are there new rules?

Every so often, the old rules are the best rules. The long-held standard of two weeks’ notice is there to help you out, as are the general best practices for resigning: Tell your boss in person if possible, write a nice resignation note (even an informal email thanking them for the opportunity and what you learned), don’t steal a bunch of staplers when you leave.

I would not tell even a boss you’re close with that you’re looking for another job before you actually have another job and are officially ready to give notice. When we’re very close with the people we work with, there may be an urge to say, Oh, I’ll stay longer, I’ll help find my replacement, I’ll do whatever it takes to make this transition easier for you, my friend—but don’t do that, either. Quitting a job is like a breakup; setting boundaries, and adhering to them, is important.

And here’s the thing: Your boss is not your friend, really and truly, even if before they were your boss they were your friend and after they are your boss they can again be your friend. Your boss is your boss, just like your company is not just some lovely spot with good coffee where you happen to sit and do work on your laptop now and again. The boss and the company should be treated with respect during your relationship and also as you’re ending it. Think about what you would prefer if you were in their shoes—but don’t undermine your own interests and well-being to achieve that.

Treat the severing knowing that you might want a recommendation from this person down the road. (You don’t have to keep following each other on social media. Kondo that stuff if it doesn’t bring you joy!) The important thing to remember is that this person might be your boss again at some point, but even if they’re not, they can help you figure out other opportunities, connect you to new professional acquaintances or gigs, and even be mentors. Or even better, good friends.

How can you tell someone you love that having their email signature in Comic Sans looks really bad?

Be brave enough to send them this link. In the case that the Comic Sans user is someone you don’t love, let them dig their own grave.

Illustration by Jiaqi Wang

Your local coffee shop may have recently banned the straw, but takeout practices will need to evolve way more radically if humanity intends to keep roughly 8 million metric tons of plastic pollution from entering the environment each year. According to anti-plastic advocacy group 5 Gyres, millions of tons of that junk are byproducts of quick meals we eat on the go: candy wrappers, bottle caps, soda bottles, and clear plastic bags.

The We Company is one of a growing number of companies around the world that are doing their part by eliminating single-use plastics from their daily operations. But making this transition takes time, planning, and a culture shift away from our ingrained, single-use ways.

To outline some best practices, we talked to Lindsay Baker, The We Company’s head of sustainability and wellbeing, who oversaw the company’s six-month transition to single-use-plastic-free workspaces, and Rachel Labbé-Bellas, science programs manager for 5 Gyres, a member at WeWork 5792 W Jefferson Blvd in Los Angeles.

Tackle low-hanging fruit first. Consider your workspace kitchen—and your colleagues’ and your own habits. Is coffee made with single-use plastic pods or in a communal pot? Is water served in a glass or a plastic bottle? Is there a compost receptacle? A recycling container? Do people use them?If your answers err on the plasticky side, start by tackling those problems first by eliminating coffee pod systems or improving recycling options (and coworker compliance). “If you’re in an office where you do nothing else to be thoughtful about waste and your impact on the world, [eliminating single-use plastic] probably would be tough [to start with],” advises Baker.

Demonstrating to co-workers how much waste is saved by replacing plastic water bottles with a water cooler and reusable glasses could help plant the seeds for a bigger commitment to office sustainability.

Don’t swap one problem for another one. When The We Company tackled the plastics in its kitchens, “we really tried to prioritize not replacing single-use plastics with single-use other crap,” says Baker. Ceramic mugs and metal cups replaced disposable cups in the company kitchen, metal cutlery took the place of plastic silverware, and glass jars of honey landed on pantry shelves. “We’ve always had the choice of paper cups for water and beer, but ultimately, reusability was the bigger message here,” says Baker.

That’s because “recyclable” plastic alternatives might not necessarily make it to the proper processing facility once they’re discarded. “Many cities around the world don’t process compostable waste outside the landfill,” says Baker. Your “eco-friendly” paper cup might end up at the garbage dump, and trash in landfills does not break down—it just sits there forever.

Products made of biodegradable plastics won’t break down in the landfill or ocean, either. “They biodegrade in industrial facilities at 4,000 degrees,” says 5 Gyres’ Labbé-Bellas. “It takes that much heat to actually break down that item.”

Finally, 25 percent of properly recycled goods in the U.S. will be exported to another country, increasingly in Southeast Asia, where there’s a lucrative market for waste plastic. Once abroad, it could be reused—or it might be incinerated or end up in a landfill.

Baker recommends using alternative disposable materials only if there’s no reuseable option. The We Company is transitioning away from the use of wood stirrers, for example, with messaging that encourages coffee stirring with metal spoons.

Break it down to dollars and cents. Financial incentives can encourage buy-in from employers. “For us at The We Company, a reusable cup typically pays for itself after about 30 uses,” estimates Baker, which is why it could be in your company’s best interest to buy reusable cups for everybody in the office. And if your office pays for its waste disposal by volume, there could be an additional savings when all those single-use plastics are no longer filling up the trash cans.

Struggling to get the whole staff on board? Labbé-Bellas says that turning green initiatives into a competition—like who can waste the least or recycle the most—with prizes like gift cards or cash bonuses for the winner, can go a long way in changing people’s habits.

Get the messaging right. This involves more than just putting signs up around the trash area. 5 Gyres recommends officewide screenings (or just share the link) of The Story of Stuff’s 5-to-10 minute animated videos that show what happens to everyday items like disposable water bottles once you get rid of them. They may convince even the office skeptic.

When you do start making those signs, suggests Baker, “picking accurate terms like ‘zero single-use plastic’ as opposed to ‘zero-plastic’ will make sure people aren’t confused when they still see plastic around the office.” And one more tip: Labbé-Bellas says that newly-reformed coworkers may end up with stacks of plates and cups in their offices at first, and might need a reminder to return them to the kitchen.  

Work with green-friendly vendors. Your office may have rid itself of single-use plastics, but what about your caterers and food-delivery services? For most restaurants, it’s the default move to load up a bag of to-go food with single-use plastic forks and paper napkins. Offices that depend on catered meals should figure out which restaurants are most amenable to reducing waste in their packaging and encourage employees to order their food from those places. Restaurants might cut back on plastic wrap, use bigger trays to decrease the number of cartons, and eliminate plastic to-go boxes. “There are lots of things caterers can do just to reduce [plastic waste] if you ask them to,” says Baker.

Eager to reduce single-use plastic ASAP? Make sure your next coffee or lunch break is free of plastic straws, utensils, containers, and bags. It’s one small way to do your part—and it will only grow from there.

Photo by Katelyn Perry