Students are the main consumers in the business district in front of the school. At the same time, they also can be the owners of shops in that business district. Like this, students and the business district have a link that impacts each other positively. Therefore, the connection between students and the business district is important. SSAK is creating a platform to allow for easier connections between the two parties. SMT met SSAK, a group that acts as an intermediary between students and business districts.
Before beginning, would you please tell our readers a bit about SSAK?
SSAK conveys the business district’s news to Sookmyungians, and is currently working on the creation of a platform that will make flexible connections between Cheongpa-dong business district and Sookmyungians. SSAK is a group that is founded from the ambition of three students from the Department of French Language & Culture and one student from the Department of Computer Science, all of whom are Sookmyung Women’s University students.
What does the name of SSAK mean?
We pursue eco-friendly business practices. SSAK comes from the Korean word ‘saessak’, meaning ‘sprout’ in English. We believe it reminds people to be eco-friendly. SSAK also comes from another Korean word ‘ssak’, which means ‘entirely’ in English. We feel it promotes the complete collection of information on delicious food. There is another aspect to SSAK. It also comes from the Korean word ‘ssagae’, which means ‘cheap’ in English. We think it promotes the idea that reasonably priced food is accessible. This is how the name ‘SSAK’ was born.
What inspired you to establish SSAK?
I first had the idea when I participated in a program called ‘Dream Challenge Overseas Project’ conducted by the Korea Scholarship Foundation. I went overseas to study in Germany and England for about a month. At that time, I wanted to explore other nations’ food up-cycling businesses. After meeting with CEOs in businesses connected to food up-cycling, I knew I wanted to start a business in the industry in Korea. Then, I went to France as an exchange student during my third year at university. It was in France that I had the chance to visit many eco-friendly businesses such as a food platform for closeout, a bio-product section of a large supermarket, and a food waste bin company that allows owners to compost at home. Immediately upon my arrival back in Korea, I started a plan on establishing a platform related to restaurants. I recruited staff interested in my idea from among my closest friends during my undergraduate days and formed SSAK.
Can you tell me what SSAK members are mainly responsible for?
We create platforms that connect the Cheongpa-dong business district with Sookmyungians. We provide merchants with services that allow them to offer closed discounts, which prevent food waste. And we market their food in the area surrounding the school at affordable prices. The 'Noonsong Discount' is a discount offer solely for Sookmyungians. We also make Cheongpa-dong Meal Kits that link Sookmyungians who cannot go to school with merchants in the school area who are suffering hardships due to COVID-19. The kit is a type of food delivery service. Popular well-known restaurants near the school deliver a meal kit of ingredients and sauces to Sookmyungians.
You personally head up the Cheongpa-dong Meal Kit service. Please tell us more about it.
The 'Cheongpa-dong Meal kit' service connects merchants and students. Students order a meal, merchant prepares all the ingredients needed for that meal and the meal kit is delivered to students. Students open the kit and cook the food for themselves at home. If this is done, the chronic problem hampering the local commercial area near the school could be solved. Our pilot service with one tteokbokki store near the school was a success with 100 kits sold within an hour. The merchant earned 2.5 million won in sales for the day. We are working with other shops to expand the types of meal kits we are able to offer. Our goal is to develop our SSAK page, which is currently managed on Instagram, into an application that can be used to make reservations and payments. We will also work with businesses outside of the school area to expand beyond Sookmyung. We are capitalizing on these keywords 'region', 'discount', and 'food'. Therefore, we are brainstorming how to connect fields and increase diversity in business.
How do merchants and students react to your Meal Kit project?
The merchants were glad to have a new communication channel to reach Sookmyungians, especially these days when many traditional markets are in trouble because of COVID-19. As an instance, the meal kit project was first started with the tteokbokki restaurant near our school. COVID-19 cut their income by about one-fifth, but the meal kit project has allowed them to get enough income. And the Meal Kit project allows Sookmyungians who longed to eat the food served at eateries near the school a means of doing so. This is one of the main reasons students like our meal kit. Moreover, it helps merchants who are suffering as a result of COVID-19. In other words, students can eat, and merchants can survive.
What is the most difficult part of running SSAK?
Every moment is difficult. Especially, it is much more difficult to do management such as designing, communication, or crisis response rather than founding the business. As everything comes important to us, things, it has not been easy to balance every moment. For example, in February and March, when the number of COVID-19 patients increased significantly, start-up support projects were either postponed or canceled. There was no funding at all. Also, because we are doing business in a school business district, people had to come to the school to run the project. However, after the start of online classes, students were not frequenting the school area, and our drive to succeed weakened a lot. We continued to think about a future but with a new direction. It was a really hard time.
How do you overcome the difficulty?
I can’t say that I’ve overcome the difficulties. I’m just trying to work through them. It’s with a team effort that we have been able to endure. Our business team members have known each other for a long time because they were in the same major at university. I have a lot of trust in our members, the achievements we have accomplished up to now, and our future. We're an ambitious team. It’s our team's ability and trust that our future will be great that drives us to work through adversities.
What has been the most memorable moment working at SSAK?
After posting the meal kit project plan on the online school community, I was thrilled at the positive response. At first, we were highly concerned with consumer response. Because we think that regardless of how innovative an idea is, it is meaningless if consumers don't want it. Fortunately, the survey was complete within 20 to 30 minutes though we limited responses to 100 participants. We were so proud of such successful results. Team members were also impressed that the owner of the market who participated in the meal kit project could raise money for monthly rent thanks to the project. It has not been easy for merchants to engage in both traditional and online promotion and work. However, innovation is about creating an environment that allows one to focus on the main goal without paying overt attention to details. I’m glad merchants had faith in us, rather than solely centering on their profits. This is the proof that our idea is on the road to further success.
What is the most important value you hold in business operations?
I think it is a connection. When we connect people who need each other, there's synergy. Closeout also helps connect consumers who wish to eat cheap and owners of the market who do not want to waste food. The Cheongpa-dong meal kit service also connects restaurants with students who want to eat the food served at restaurants nearby the school. We believe in the value of connection. I will continue to make connections as the direction of our business.
If you were to add a modifier before SSAK, what would it be?
It’s going to be trustworthy. Faith is the hardest emotion to earn. Most people don't believe others only through affection, but after spending much time together, trust is earned. This is the same for a brand. We want others to believe they can trust 'SSAK' and what it does. This is the direction we are moving forward toward. We need to show our sincerity to be a trustworthy brand. If we continue to others that we provide consistently good service, we will surely be referred to say Trustworthy SSAK someday.
What personal goals do you hope to achieve through SSAK?
I hope to be remembered as being a successful female entrepreneur. We often recall successful businessmen, but I want to be known later as a businesswoman. Start-up competitions are often predominantly filled with males. I want to change this world and to be around when women’s names are among the list of successful businesspersons. As the slogan of our university is "gentle power to change the world," I am sure our work is really achieving this, and the slogan is a great driving force for the business. We might be overstretching our ability to believe that female entrepreneurs can change the world, but anything is possible. I believe each successful female entrepreneur can raise another great one. I hope more Sookmyungians travel down the start-up business path.
Finally, would you please leave a few words for Sookmyungians.
First of all, I would really like to thank you. Too often I hear these words: "We don't recommend university student-led start-ups. Give it up." I’m always hurt by them. However, I get energized again listening to words of support from my classmates, warm comments from fellow students, and instagram messages. For these comments of support, I’d like to say again thank you. Also, I’d like to say for any students interested in starting a business, don’t give up. I'm not saying that we should work like us, but I hope you always keep venture businesses possibilities while you ponder your future career. There are also many people willing to fund an innovative idea. Someday I hope I am given the chance to talk with students dreaming of opening their own business. SSAK has an online window and a homepage, so feel free to communicate with us any time. I hope you all come up with multitudes of good ideas.
-DEPARTMENT OF FRENCH LANGUAGE & CULTURE ‘15
-The CEO of SSAK
-Awarded at 2016 Seoul Public Works Project
-Awarded at 2017 CAU Youth Startup Sympathy Camp
-Awarded at 2019 WIC Hackathon Project
Choi Song Bojeong / Reporter
Na Cho Seongah / Reporter