As part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Chaho Song Co-Founder and CEO of Iluna by Modern Herbs.
Chaho oversees overall operations and strategies to scale the business as it expands its market presence domestically and internationally.
Prior to joining Modern Herbs, Chaho worked at Boston-based Cannabis tech start-up, CannaKorp, and as Director of Marketing at Orange Clover Holistic Center in California, where he led all sales and marketing activities and operations. Previously, Chaho worked at Proxy Networks, Inc., Synchronal, a software start-up, and Deloitte Korea. Chaho serves as senior advisor at Korea Cannabinoid Association, organization that is currently collaborating with Korean government for the legalization of use of medical cannabis for patients.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I have always been fascinated by the idea that a single product can impact so many people’s well-being and lifestyles. It has only been a decade since the smartphone was introduced and now, smartphones are ubiquitous and play so many important roles in our lives. Ever since, it has been my passion to build something that everyone can benefit from using. That is how my team conceptualized Iluna. Practicing traditional Eastern Medicine has been in my family and in our family businesses for generations, dating back to my great grandfather. I am the only member of the family that did not follow that path traditionally, but I was able to leverage my knowledge and background and launch Iluna. There are so many ways in which Eastern medicine can treat a plethora of symptoms, and Iluna has become our steppingstone.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
The measurement unit that we use for length is an inch, whereas Korea uses centimeter. When we first ordered our packaging, we miscalculated the dimensions and because of this, our first bulk order of packaging was completely unusable. It took us three weeks to reprint the packaging! We learned early on that the smallest mistake can cost a lot of time, which is crucial for any business not juts a start-up.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
I enjoyed reading “The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload” by Daniel J. Levitin. This book resonates with me because it forces me to think about the top priorities that I must achieve throughout the day. Without a calendar or a post-it with checklists beside me, getting distracted is almost inevitable. During this early stage of our start-up, our team must be focused on what we are doing and how we are spending every minute to make the business successful.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
In South Korea, “work hard, play hard” is part of our culture and our nightlife is one of the most popular reasons young people visit Korea. There were times when a bottle of Soju was cheaper than a bottle of water. Taking some sort of supplement before and/or after drinking or during a night out is quite common in Korea and this is where we noticed a void in functional and effective supplements for hangovers in the U.S. market. Our goal is to provide a 100% natural, safe, and effective herbal supplement to solve real issues, and encourage healthier habits.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
Believe in your product. I start every day knowing that there are going to be ups and downs but by truly believing in my product and standing behind everything Iluna is putting out there makes me work that much harder to find the success Iluna deserves.
Thank you for all that. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
My grandmother passed away the day I arrived in South Korea on February 20th, 2020. That was also the first day of the mass contamination outbreak of the Covid-19 in Daegu, Korea — the city I was in. It was in a complete lockdown; no cars or people on streets and every business was closed. I was forced to fly back to the U.S because there were rumors that the U.S would soon close its border and returned to California on March 3rd, 2020. I self-quarantined for two weeks to monitor any symptoms and thankfully remained health but dealing with a death in the family while a global pandemic is happening just months after launching a start-up can take its toll. The demands of our business certainly kept me busy, but I knew it was also important to take some “me” time to process everything and mentally recharge.
Can you share a few of the biggest work related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
The Covid-19 pandemic greatly affected our business. In early February 2020, we were negotiating a couple of very crucial licensing deals for both in the U.S and in South Korea — where the Covid-19 outbreak was at its peak. As I mentioned before, I was in South Korea during that time visiting our manufacturing facility. A week after, the manufacturing facility was forced to close. We were lucky to ship remaining inventory to California, but in the middle of March, Covid-19 began to impact the world, and the U.S. We had to be extremely careful about our messaging even when the product is not made or shipped from China. There were customers who began requesting refunds because they could not trust a product being manufactured in Korea. Trust and communication are important to keep our customers satisfied and our team continues to monitor the supply chain to make sure that the herbs we source are top quality, and our product is 100% safe.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
It is truly heartbreaking to see so many people who have lost loved ones due to Covid-19. I have a colleague who lost his business partner due to the virus. But it is very upsetting to see that the media is fueling the panic, and it exacerbates the situation. Yes, it does provide us important information, but one should not be too naïve to believe everything on the news or on the internet. This panic comes from uncertainty. I made time to do as much research as possible to educate family and friends of mine who felt uncertain about the situation. I always remind myself to stay positive and always search for light during dark times. Let’s be thankful for what we have and look forward to the world recovering from this together.
Obviously we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?
While people are navigating this new normal, we are seeing so many unique and fun ways that companies, brands and people are reinventing themselves: zoom happy hours with colleagues or friends, at-home date nights that include a living room wine tasting with a loved one, restaurants selling specialty cocktail mixes that are available for pick up and even sending virtual toasts to raise money for charity. Iluna may have just launched but it is a product that people can benefit from now more than ever! We are looking forward to the day when we can pour back into our favorite restaurants, attend our favorite concerts, cheer on our favorite sports team and surround ourselves with family and friends and when that does happen, we hope that Iluna will have become a new part of your old routines.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
As I had touched on briefly before, we are working through customers requesting refunds because our product is manufactured in Korea. We work tirelessly to ensure the safety of our product and the safety of our customers, but we know that pandemic has intesified the stigma surrounding overseas shipping and unfortunately, we see that being a problem.
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-Covid Economy?
We are confident in our product, but it takes time to persuade and convey the right message to the right people. Our team will continue to develop and improve our branding and messaging while we get our name out there in an appropriate manner. Our ultimate goal is to become a leader in this category, and we plan to do so by educating the consumer on our product and its benefits.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
I was so inspired by how many companies and brands adapted to this “new normal” so quickly! I have seen so many local businesses find unique partnerships to cross-promote their product in new inventive ways. My publicist in Boston shared with me how local restaurants are creating DIY dinner kits that include everything you need to make your favorite meal at home and even include specialty cocktail mixes — this is to continue to support their amazing staff. Our team is actively seeking for opportunities to engage with local businesses so that we can also find ways to support each other!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“To improve is to change. To perfect is to change often.”
Familiarity locks me in the safety zone, and it takes courage to change and adapt to new environment. We will continue to improve our branding and our product by implementing necessary changes to perfect our product.
How can our readers further follow your work?
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