How to survive a 200,000 mile a year career.
Alicia Yoon feels at home in two very distinct places. And that’s a good thing, because she often has just two days to tend to her life (and her fiancé) in New York, pay her bills and then dash out to pick up where she left off in Seoul, South Korea.
“Sometimes, I just take my computer bag and get on the plane,” said Yoon, founder of Peach & Lily, a website that sells inventive beauty products from Korea and Japan (face cream made from snail extract is a current bestseller, for instance).
Sometimes, I just take my computer bag and get on the plane.
Yoon, 34, founded the beauty website four years ago, and that has led to an unpredictable commute between her birthplace in Korea and her New York apartment. While in Seoul, she meets with potential beauty brands and their research and development teams or scouts out new products. In New York, she’s focused on logistics and inventory, while running the company’s site.
Yoon, a Harvard Business School MBA graduate, clocks 200,000 miles per year for business and personal travel. Every month or so, she travels between her work-and-life cities, staying in Korea for as long as three weeks at a time, while her 10-member staff handles business in New York. When she’s not in either city, chances are she’s in San Francisco, meeting investors and vendors.
“As an entrepreneur, travel requires a totally different mindset,” said Yoon, who used to find travel a hassle when she was a management consultant.
Navigating two cultures is easier for Yoon because she moved to the US as a young child, attended high school back in Korea and then lived in the US again since college. The adjustment from one business climate to the next means she’s constantly thinking about boundaries as she switches between cultures.
In Korea, she conducts business via text or while dining out in-person. In the US, she’s often working with associates via email with few meetings or calls. “My business partners in Korea send me emojis — that’s just the way it’s done,” said Yoon.
It would be difficult if I weren't bilingual and bicultural.
The intense travel schedule is what has allowed Peach & Lily — which targets primarily American consumers but ships globally — to get off the ground, a piece of wisdom she’s quick to highlight to other global entrepreneurs. Being able to move between both business cultures has been the key to success, says Yoon. “It would be difficult if I weren't bilingual and bicultural and felt very much at home in both places,” she said.
On the road, the goal is to cram in as much as possible in each day because she’s the ambassador for her start-up. She books early morning breakfasts, midday lunch meetings and visits brands during the day. In the evening, she meets with Korean bloggers, local media editors or has more informal catch-up sessions up with partners.
“Every meal is always a working meal,” said Yoon, adding that she often heads to dinner meetings as soon as she steps off the plane at Incheon Airport. She hires a driver to shuttle between appointments and uses the car as a place for napping and relaxing without worrying about how to get to her next destination.
She hires a driver to shuttle between appointments and uses the car as a place for napping
The 13-hour time difference between Seoul and New York can make it tempting to work around the clock. At night, it’s impossible for Yoon to log off the internet when her New York-based team logs on around 09:00 their time, or 22:00 in Seoul, to give updates on the day.
“The Korea trips are usually intense and crazy,” she said, noting that she takes a few days to unwind and catch up on sleep when back in New York. Yoon sleeps three to four hours per night when in Seoul.
But perhaps her favourite parts of her trips are the afternoons she sets aside to interview consumers “with no agenda” about their beauty routines, in Seoul’s trendy Garosu-gil neighbourhood. “You can’t beat that kind of on-the-ground research,” she said.
Navigating between both countries allows Yoon to stay informed of what’s new in the Korean beauty industry and choose which products will resonate with her American customers across the globe. Feeling culturally at home helps her understand what her American customer is looking for and how to translate these trends into products that sell on her website.
The 14-and-a-half hour flight between New York and Seoul now feels routine. Yoon grabs a healthy snack or a salad at a JFK airport shop and then prepares her skin for the flight by applying moisturizer. Her usual Asiana flight is now so familiar that she treats it as an extension of her bathroom at home (where she says she is constantly trying new Korean beauty products). Recently she’s started offering her seatmates her favourite charcoal sheet mask that she claims leaves you looking more awake after the long flight.
She doesn’t introduce herself or pitch her company. “I do it so they stop staring at me”, when she does her in-flight beauty routine, Yoon said.
Once in Seoul, Yoon usually stays at a combination of the city’s glitzy Grand Hyatt (“It used to be my school-bus stop,” she recalled) or the Lotte Hotel, and her parents’ home outside the centre of town in Pyeongchang-dong, a residential neighbourhood that’s a favourite with celebrities.
She makes time for family meals throughout her trips.
To save time, Yoon often takes meetings in the hotel lobby. “I like staying at the bigger hotels when I’m working around the clock,” she said, as they offer room service, cars on standby and a concierge. Still, she makes time for family meals throughout her trips.
Once back in New York, the differences between her life in Seoul and in the States sets in. Yoon unwinds in the pool, hot tub and sauna of her apartment building. But even on the road, she fits in time to decompress.
Meanwhile, in Seoul, she eats rice porridge, a comfort food that’s more difficult to find in the US. And she almost never misses a visit to the “no frills” public bathhouse for a body scrub in the first few days of her arrival.
“It’s invigorating,” she said.