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Business Lessons Learned from 'Itaewon Class 이태원클라쓰' Drama

This lockdown thing has made me think harder and harder to find ways out to occupy myself and be more productive at home. I work from home in the day, cook for lunch or dinner sometimes, tidy up the room, other than that... I have a lot of free time. The easiest thing to burn time is: Netflix. To be more specific: Korean drama LOL. As i get older, I don't really enjoy "cheesy" drama anymore and I can be picky about what drama or movie to watch. So..... my friends, colleagues, and social media have been talking about this drama called "Itaewon Class". At first when I saw the trailer, I thought it would be another high-school cheesy drama, until I read more reviews on the internet, and I decided to watch it a few weeks ago.

I admit this drama is different from the others. As compelling as the revenge story goes, it’s not what really sold me on the series. Instead, it’s Park Saeroyi’s (portrayed by Park Seo Jun) persona as a businessman and the tidbits of business advice littered throughout the episodes that piqued my interest. This drama tackles a wide range of reality and it leave us a lot of lesson that we can actually apply in real life. So, let me share all the business lessons we can learn from the drama.

a. You Need A Vivid Vision to Start a Business

"A vision is a vivid mental image of what you want your business to be at some point in the future, based on your goals and aspirations. Having a vision will give your business a clear focus, and can stop you heading in the wrong direction."

Park Saeroyi had been dreaming to start a restaurant business as he was influenced by his dad's previous business. Yes, he has a vision to run a business in Food&Beverage industry. Even though he started the business by opening a small pub (포차 "Po Cha" in Korean), but from the very beginning, he has a clear vision to make his business more than just a small pub, not limited to franchising his pub and building his own company.

b. Start from the Scratch and Back-up Plans

"A vision should answer the fundamental question, 'Where are we going?' The practical aspect of 'How will we get there?' is usually dealt with in a mission statement or a business plan."

Park Saeroyi opened his first pub called Dan Bam from zero. He chose Itaewon because his target is young people who enjoy hanging out until late. From renting a place, asking his acquaintances to be his partners, hiring new employees, cooking the dishes, to decorating the pub. He has planned everything vividly before running the pub.

At one point, Saeroyi is forced to relocate his business, and seeking to avoid landlords altogether, buys a building to house his pub. Unfortunately, the building he is able to afford is situated in an alleyway with hardly any crowd. While his manager launches social media campaigns to promote the new location, it doesn’t lead to the long lines they had enjoyed in their previous spot.

A friend and restauranteur advises him that regulars are important in such an alley with sparse traffic. Then, seemingly prompted by such advice, the scenes that follow show Saeroyi helping out the other restaurants and bars along the street. His manager questions the practicality of such an approach when his own business isn’t doing well, and Saeroyi responds saying that he’s been spending time with the other shops for survival — the street needs to be revitalized if their business is to survive.

c. People are the Key to the Success of Your Business

Park Saeroyi mentioned that business is not just about money but also about its people. Successful business comes when your people are productive. What makes them productive? It’s when you treat them like a family and value them not just a mere employees. He successfully untapped each of his people's skills. He trust Jo Yiseo to be the manager despite of her young age. He knows that with her business knowledge and social media marketing skill, Yiseo can promote the pub to young people who are active in social media. He helps Ma Hyun yi to improve his cooking skills. At first, customers hated her dishes, eventually she managed to win a cooking competition.

d. Startup Capital: Personal Savings, Stocks, and Investments

To run a business, you need money. Saeroyi worked as a part-timer in a restaurant for seven years before he eventually opened his pub. Besides, he invested his dad's insurance into his competitor Jangga Co. when their stock price dropped. But he knows, people will still invest in Jangga Co. because of their food quality. With the help from his friend who is a fund manager, he trusts the friend to manage the financial performance of his pub. His friend also offers him some financial strategies to grow his pub, which ultimately brings many shareholders to invest in his Dan Bam.

e. Identify Market Trends

"Want your brand to stand apart? Create a blue ocean."

Restaurant business is not a new business. The question is, how can a new restaurant survive in a red ocean? Among the members of Dan Bam, Yi Seo is the youngest and apparently she is a social media influencer. She knows the current trends. If she knows how she can gain people's attention on her, why not Dan Bam? She has been promoting Dan Bam through her personal account. Also, to make a long-term business, as most of the visitors in Itaewon are youngsters, young people can't stay away from social media. Hence, a restaurant has to be "instagrammable" if they want to survive in this era.

f. Dream Bigger, Do Bigger

"원하는 대로 다 가질 거야 그게 바로 내 꿈일 테니까" 시작 - 가호

(I'll have everything I want, because that's my dream)

The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams. In Saeroyi’s case, why stop at owning one pub when you can put up a chain to make your adversary shake in his boots? It may take double the time to get there, but the rewards will be twice as sweet. He goes through ups and downs along the way, but his dream pushes him to work even harder. Lessons learned.

*Bonus: Itaewon Class Ost on Spotify

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