Why this South Korean entrepreneur is eyeing beauty in India
He is on a mission to make the world a beautiful place, especially its men and women. South Korean entrepreneur Dale Deugcheon Han is in India to disrupt the beauty, cosmetic, and grooming market that is expected to reach $20 billion by 2025.
In 2010, when Dale first came to ISB in Hyderabad as an exchange scholar, he may not have dreamt that he’d be doing business in India. It would indeed have been a wild dream.
A data scientist before he donned the cap of an entrepreneur, 31-year-old Dale took the proverbial leap of faith and risked his all to set up his business in an alien country. Armed with nothing more than the English language he communicates in and dollops of chutzpah, Dale is on a mission to establish his startup, Limese, in India.
Limese is a B2B startup that aims to deliver competitive Korean cosmetics and products to salons, spas, health and wellness stores, both offline and online, and clinics in India.
What is a data scientist doing with cosmetics?
The Korea cosmetic industry is renowned globally and is on par with some of the best international brands. This Asian country, Dale informs me, is obsessed with skincare and beauty products so much so that a lot of effort and money is spent on research to come up with innovative products for both men and women. For example, riding on the high demand for herbal and natural ingredients in skincare products, South Korean manufacturers use snail slime and seaweed to add an exotic touch to their products.
Quoting Korea Customs Service, a report in the BBC said,
“Last year, South Korea exported more than $2.64 billion of cosmetics goods. This compares with $1 billion in 2012, and $1.91 billion in 2014.”
The United States remains the biggest market for Korean cosmetic products, which are better known as “K beauty” there. “The cosmetics industry in South Korea is crowded, where a number of small firms compete with each other. China, Southeast Asia, and the US are our large markets. And since a couple of years, India has presented us with a big opportunity,” says Dale, on his visit to Bengaluru.
Citing India’s young demography and the rise in purchasing power of the middle class, Dale says it is the right time for him to enter the country. “My startup is targeting both the well-heeled and the working, middle-class women who take extra care to look good,” he adds.
How did it start?
Dale, who has absolutely no experience in the cosmetics industry, jumped into it when he realised the huge potential the India market presents. “I did not want to be another software engineer. I wanted to start my own business, and this looked good,” he says. He would curate face masks and other skincare and beauty products from small South Korean firms and initially used his wife and her friends as guinea pigs. He laughs, as he confesses, “Yes, I would request them to try out the products, and only after they would approve, I would add it to my list.”
This year in February, he received an undisclosed funding from four angel investors (startup owners themselves) in South Korea and decided to start his India journey from ISB in Hyderabad, where he came to study six years ago.
“Not just products, Limese can bring innovative idea and concept to beauty services not offered before. Private labels cosmetics can be created through abundant OEM networks of Limese in Korea,” he says. Limese products include face masks, anti-ageing products, and other salon products used for exfoliation during facials.
Knock on doors – a good strategy
“Back then, I loved being in India. And now, having lived here for four months already, I am learning to find my way around and love all the encouragement and support I have received from people."
Dale met a lot of e-commerce companies initially and showed them his products. He then started knocking on doors of salons, spas, and wellness and cosmetic clinics. “I just dropped by the office of YLG and Rahul Bhalchandra, the CEO, met me without any appointment. He gave me a lot of advice about the Indian cosmetics market and even connected me with the Health & Glow people.”
Dale says he had no other option but to do cold-calling as he did not have enough time to wait for an email reply. “I want to make the most of the time that I am here in India,” he adds. His “amazing” India experience has extended to the Airbnb hosts he stays with while in Delhi, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, Bengaluru, and Chennai and to the autorickshaw drivers who have miraculously reached him to his destination.
Dale’s India strategy includes hiring an India partner to drive sales and revenue. “I may also look at a joint venture,” he says.
Taking competition head-on
Dale realises that he is up against stiff competition in the Indian market itself from both homegrown and international cosmetic brands. “I am in talks with a large Indian brand to manufacture their face masks,” he says. Besides that, Dale will also have to reckon with the juggernaut of the mega local brand, Patanjali.
“Yes, I am well aware of Patanjali. But I think that the Indian market is so huge that there is a place for everyone.”
Dale, who went on to do his Masters in Business Engineering at KAIST, before coming to ISB, says though his earlier career and his present one are poles apart, he has put his learnings from his life as a data analyst to good use. “I am organised and a logical thinker and this has helped me tremendously,” he says.
However, because he loves what he is doing, Dale says he has picked a few tips on being a good salesman. “Though I may not use all the products I am well-versed with each of them,” he says, adding that he is used to making hour-long presentations to clients.
Like in India, in South Korea too, parents expect their children to take up secure jobs. “But I am lucky as I have the support of my wife. My son is small now, and I thought this is the right time for me to take the plunge.”