Have you heard about ’IDEA HOW MUCH!’? This TV program is about investors and prospective firms who are doing an auction to buy inventors’ brilliant technology. When I think of these inventors’ ideas on this program, I am surprised and amazed at how they think of these items. Recently, it has been hard to get a job, so many people think about starting their own business. But they need to think of fresh ideas inventors do on this program, or jump into a franchise business. Contrary to this general belief, however, here is someone who is successful in business through making products which can give children precious memories. It is the Cojaja CEO, Lee Hae-ok who makes art products with children’s paintings. A great career woman, a mother of two children, and now a shopping mall CEO, let's hear her story.
1. I'm curious about the working environment when you worked as an employee.
When I worked in a company, they didn’t say anything to married women. But it was not easy for women to have children and take maternity leave. Certainly, it is difficult to catch up with the work when returning to it after taking long rests because many things have changed. So a lot of women who take maternity leave and come back are pressured by other coworkers and their boss, and eventually resign from the company. Before marriage I was on a roll, but when I returned to the company after marriage and giving birth to a child, it was difficult to return to work. However, I thought I would be a model for other women workers, like a Joan of Arc. So I worked hard after my maternity leave and was recognized. But sometimes people around me used to say, "What if manager Lee hadn’t gotten married?"
2. You are a great worker, but why did you stop working?
Of course, I worked hard for a company and got recognition from surrounding people; I am a faithful person. I kept on rolling so I became a leader of the organization. I wanted to do well in both work and childcare, so I had an assistant who took care of my children. But there was a problem. One day I came home from work and as soon as my second child saw me, he started to gag and vomit. Just to be sure I checked the CCTV, which showed that the assistant had stuffed rice into my first child’s mouth without any side dish. She even fed a mass of spam to my second child who was only about the hundredth day. At this time, I cried a lot because I was sorry for my children. The same thing happened when each of my children were 6 and 4 years old. I also came home from work and the director of a beauty parlor that was located under my home said that my mother came in the daytime. It turned out that the babysitter got her hair done while my children were taking a nap. Having experienced these things, I now think I should take good care of my children. Of course, I have another reason. When I became a leader, I was under a lot of stress because of the responsibility that I should lead my team members. Also, people around me said it was wasteful for me to remain in this company, so I challenged myself to become a woman CEO, something that I had dreamed of from long ago.
3. What does your company name mean, ‘Cojaja’?
The company name, ‘Cojaja’ was my nickname when I used to run a blog while I was working in the company. After I came home from work, I always said, ‘co~jaja’. One day before falling asleep, I suddenly thought that it sounded good. It felt like a mother’s warmth and it was easy to memorize. So I searched quickly to see if it was already being used, and no one was using that name. Since then, I started to use the name, ‘Cojaja’.
4. I'm curious about the specific process of coming up with an idea to start a foundation.
What I felt while running this foundation for three years, is that even if we have a small idea, we can find a way. However, there are several points. First, when starting a foundation, it is important to have a good idea and you have to survey many things for a good idea. When you have an idea, you’d better make things that have a maniac group or that most people like, rather than a very unique one or the one that I only like. You need to keep on verifying that idea by testing customers’ reactions. When I worked for a company, I exhibited my daughter’s paintings on her birthday. In this exhibition, I showed not only my daughter’s paintings but also art products such as mobiles and mug cups, and I uploaded these pictures on my blog. Seeing this exhibition and blog, many mothers were interested in those products. So I decided on doing this kind of foundation. Next, you’d better use minimum capital and do what you can already do well. I started my foundation with capital that wouldn’t be harmful if I lost it. My favorite subjects were art and home economics so I made use of them in my business. I think what I’ve always done has led me to start a business naturally.
5. Recently there are many companies similar to Cojaja. Do you have any special things against your competitors?
First, off-line events are our main business, and is unlike our competitors. So every weekend we plan a lot of off-line content such as the Seoul Grand Park Experience Event, Seoul Animation Center, daily classes at the Hyundai department store in Pangyo, Talented Images, etc. I think I could enter into alliances with other enterprises, most of which I have known since I worked for a company. Next, I am sure the products of my company have the best quality. Other companies just produce printing products, but we make three-dimensional products. If we make this kind of solid doll, we need to use good technology and devotion, which differentiates our company from the others.
6. Please compare working in a company with starting a business.
First, when you work in a company, there is less responsibility and pressure. No matter how hard it is, you can enjoy your weekends while working in a company. However, I should work according to the situation and it is hard to take care of children too. On the other hand, a foundation provides flexible working hours, like for taking care of children in the daytime and working at night. It is fun because I do what I want to do. It requires more responsibility than company work so I barely have any free time because I am very busy all the time. Running my own business has more advantages because it gives me as many rewards for the work I do.
7. Please tell me about Cojaja’s future goals.
First, I want to become a leading company and export abroad and help women who dream of starting a foundation like mine. Also, I want to become a long lasting company. So I want to produce not just with children’s paintings but content or products that parents and children can enjoy together, and I also want to work with many people. One day, my daughter who is eight years old now, said to me, “Mom, can I run Cojaja when you get older?” When I heard this, I felt motivated to develop Cojaja as an honorable company.
From young people who fail to find jobs and people who work in companies that are not suitable for them, to parents who have a retirement ahead; Many people think about starting up a business at least once in their life. Actually, with many people being interested in foundation these days, many organizations not only offer foundation-related exhibitions and sites, but also books related to foundation, and even support money for university students who wish to start a business. But heavy burdens such as money and dependents cause many people to hesitate to start a business. Won’t each small thing that we have experienced help us to create a foundation item?
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