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(Yonhap Interview) B2LiNK wants to create global link for K-beauty startups

All Headlines 17:52 April 08, 2019

By Kim Han-joo

SEOUL, April 8 (Yonhap) -- There are so many lesser known Korean beauty brands that are as good as the industry's big names, and providing them with the right retail platform and marketing strategy for the global market is B2LiNK's business model, according to the Korean beauty startup's chief.

Lee So-hyung, CEO of K-beauty IT platform B2LiNK, said his company aims to play a bridging role for local skincare and makeup brands to make inroads abroad with its advanced technology and customized consulting services.

"When I was working in Johannesburg, I met many friends and colleagues who have never been to South Korea but were interested in Koreans for their flawless complexion and beauty. It was when I knew that K-beauty will become a global thing," Lee said in a recent interview with Yonhap News Agency at the company's headquarters in Seoul.

B2LiNK not only provides the sales platform and but also consults for their overseas marketing strategy, according to Lee. The CEO said the firm's big data-driven IT platform allows its customers to easily manage commodity prices, follow order statuses and monitor competitors' performance.

"Our job is not just to provide the retail platform but to provide industrywide consulting to help firms market their products abroad," Lee said.

Lee So-hyung, CEO of Seoul-based beauty startup B2LiNK, speaks during an interview with Yonhap News Agency at the company office on April 4, 2019. (Yonhap)

Lee, who formerly worked at global consulting firm McKinsey & Company and co-founded beauty e-commerce platform Memebox, started his own business in 2014, betting on the high growth potential for Korean cosmetic and skincare products on the global stage on the back of the "K-beauty boom."

The business was especially successful in China in the early stage as more local companies shifted their eyes to the world's largest beauty market.

"Most of our local companies have faced some hurdles in accessing the distribution channels in China," Lee said. "Our job is to help partners restore the (retail) flow that is often missed in the middle."

Its partners have inked supply contracts with the e-commerce platform, as well as major retailers like Watsons China. Now, more than 60 percent of its businesses are based in the world's biggest cosmetics market.

While a growing number of Western women are paying attention to K-beauty products that promise a flawless, natural look, B2LiNK is also working with local brands to tackle challenges, such as a lack of brand power and access to the local distribution channels.

"Imbalance of information between Western and Asian markets has often served as a hurdle for manufacturers," Lee said.

B2LiNK currently has partnerships with over 150 Korean cosmetics brands ranging from mid-sized firm It'S Hanbul Co. to indie brand IWokeUpLikeThis. The company has marketed and distributed their products through over 40 different retailers in the United States, China, Southeast Asia and Europe.

Lee said he is particularly interested in partnering with smaller Korean cosmetics brands that want to target the broader market but don't have the knowhow or the global network.

To better target different markets, B2LiNK has employees from different countries and backgrounds. It recently hired a former executive at U.S.-based beauty website Glossy as the head of its American branch.

Based on its success in China, Lee wants to expand B2LiNK's business territory to other parts of the world, including South America, Southeast Asia and Europe.

"As our business is heavily dependent on the Chinese market, it is important to diversify the portfolio," Lee said.

Lee says his company is exploring ways to create business opportunities for lesser-known Asian beauty products in emerging markets by targeting those who want to make their skin glow with innovative cosmetic products.

"We believe South America is the next destination," he said, underlining the growth potential of the seventh-largest beauty market, valued at around US$60 billion.

To enter the new market, B2LiNK in December attracted 17 billion won (US$14.9 million) from Angel Capital Ventures, one of South America's largest venture capital firms.

The company is also expanding the scope of its partners beyond K-beauty manufacturers to other Asian indie beauty brands, including Japan's COMEITTO, which landed in South Korean market earlier this year.

"These brands have interesting and unique brand stories that could appeal to niche consumers," Lee said. "My ultimate goal is to create a global commerce platform where information can be shared transparently."

khj@yna.co.kr
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