Soko Glam's Head of Marketing on How Joining a Startup Helped Boost Her Career
Startups are often seen as career launching pads, but for beauty industry veteran Inhwa Lee, making the switch from a corporate environment to an entrepreneurial-spirited company turned out to be a welcomed challenge — and all during pregnancy with her first child, no less. " I was worried about what lifestyle and benefits could look like for me as a mom, but I've been able to make it work," she explains. Five years after transitioning to a startup, the Fashion Mamas New York member says she "cannot imagine going back" to a traditional workplace culture.
Lee recently joined Korean beauty e-tailer Soko Glam as director of marketing, a move that's allowing her to build an inspiring workplace culture from the ground up. Here, she shares how her career journey boomeranged back to beauty in an unexpected way, the pros and cons of working at a startup, how motherhood influences her decisions at the office, her career advice for future marketing pros, and of course, what her skincare routine looks like — read all about it below.
What's the name and age of your kid?
Zoë, 3 years old.
Tell us about your career journey: What led you to where you are today? Did you always work in the beauty industry?
I started my career in the beauty industry as a marketing coordinator a week after college graduation. It has been quite a journey since then!
Earlier in my career, I started off in corporate beauty companies. I learned a ton in very structured environments and had a chance to dip my toes in various aspects of marketing from global product development to digital marketing. But about five years ago, I happened to learn about an opportunity at Havaianas. While I wasn't looking to make a career move at the time (especially into footwear), brand marketing at Havaianas, a fun summer-filled Brazilian company, seemed attractive after eight years in traditional corporate beauty. I took a chance and took the position. Havaianas is a well-known global brand but the U.S. office was extremely entrepreneurial. The company I left last year is very different from the company I had joined back in 2013. And after getting a taste of this entrepreneurial spirit at Havaianas, I cannot imagine going back to a very corporate culture.
Fast forward four-plus years and last year, I again happened to learn about an opportunity at Soko Glam. A startup in beauty seemed like the perfect way for me to transition myself back into beauty and I made the jump in September of 2017. Over six months have already flown by and it has been an incredible experience already!
What were some of the struggles and pros of transitioning from a corporate to entrepreneurial work environment? What surprised you about the transition?
After years of structure and processes in corporate, joining an entrepreneurial work environment can certainly be challenging and it definitely was for me. Working in corporate, I had always thought I was used to adjusting to "fast-paced environments". But this was fast-paced at another level. And without processes already in place, it was initially a big mind shift for me to adjust to the new climate. But I've also learned to realize that the lack of processes and fast-paced culture is also the beauty of entrepreneurial environments! Lack of processes means there are plenty of processes that you can actually build from scratch. And fast-paced means being able to be nimble to adjust to business needs and again make impact.
Anything is possible because there are "no rules" as long as there is logic and sound reasoning behind your business recommendations and I really feel this is an amazing way to challenge yourself and grow.
How has motherhood influenced your decisions in creating a workplace culture? What do you love about your job?
Becoming a mother has taught me that I really need to love what I do. Otherwise, it may just not be worth it for me and I also need to believe in the company's mission. I love the fact that I'm excited to get up every morning to get to work to not only make impact on the daily but to make sure that I'm helping all people believe there are "only good (skin) days ahead". But being a mother has also taught me that while work is important, family is irreplaceable. Time spent or not spent with my daughter will never be given back to me and with this in mind, I always want my team to know that while hard work is great, it can be meaningless without family and other loved ones. I want to build a culture where people work hard but also know when to stop.
How do you define work/life balance?
To me, I don't think the perfect work/life balance exists (or maybe I simply have not found it yet!). They both seem to blend into one giant perfect chaos but I love it. I know I can't be perfect 100% of the time but what I can do is to make sure I can plan ahead to make time for my daughter and family as much as possible. And always be as efficient as possible with my time so I can make impact both at work and at home.
"I want to build a culture where people work hard but also know when to stop."
We have to ask: What does your skincare ritual look like; what are your current product faves?
I've obviously worked in beauty for a long time before Soko Glam and taking care of my skin has always been important. But I have to say that starting at Soko Glam last year has renewed my passion for skincare and for my personal routine as well. The number of steps I take ranges from 5 to 10 steps depending on the day and how much time I might have that very moment! But what I cannot live without daily morning and night is my double cleansing steps with Enature Moringa Cleansing Balm and Missha Near Skin pH Balancing Cleansing Foam. And I am absolutely obsessed with the Neogen Real Ferment Micro Essence! It acts as a very much needed bottle of water for my extremely parched skin twice a day, morning and night!
What's your top career advice to someone who wants a successful career in marketing?
Be open to exploring and learning; never say no. When I first started in marketing in beauty, the only decision you needed to make for a marketing role was whether you wanted to be in global or regional marketing. Now there are so many different options: digital, email, social, CRM, global, product development and the list goes on. The advice I would give to someone who wants a career in marketing is to not close yourself up and be open to all options and learn. I truly believe one step always leads to the next better step and even if you start in a marketing area that you're not as passionate in, becoming a more well-rounded marketer will only make you stronger.