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Story of a South Korean Startup that is Staying Strong and Looking Forward

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Hyunsoo Kim, Hugh

We talked to Hyunsoo Kim, founder of Hugh Inc., about eco-friendly espresso wares and this is what he said about it.

First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times? 

Hyunsoo Kim: My family and I have been very fortunate to be able to stay safe this past year considering everything that has happened and having to adapt and change our routines. While we’ve certainly had to make sacrifices, we’re also aware that many others in our community haven’t been so lucky, and we’re humbled every day we’re able to spend together safe and secure. We also remain optimistic that there are only good things left for all of us moving forward.

Tell us about you, your career, and how you founded Hugh Inc.

Hyunsoo Kim: While in college I learned how much of an impact our actions have on our environment and the world. The New York Times published a study in 2008 that estimated roughly 20 percent of the energy we use in residential and commercial buildings is unnecessarily wasted, adding to billions of tons of excess carbon emissions, and waste every year. Since then I have vowed to make a difference and have been aiming to develop innovative products that not only reduce our environmental impact but also add to our quality of life at the same time.

How does Hugh Inc. innovate? 

Hyunsoo Kim: As a lifestyle brand specializing in home coffee and beverage products, we’re always listening to the needs of our customers as well as the limits of the industry as a whole. We’re tirelessly working to not only improve our products but to expand our catalog with thoughtful and intentionally well-thought-out products that improve our customer’s lives as well as our promise to help reduce our environmental impact as a society. By staying focused on these two key factors, we’ve been able to make significant improvements on our original manual portable espresso machine the Leverpresso, and even successfully launched our first portable fresh brewing bottle the Pebble Bottle last year.

How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?

Hyunsoo Kim: Like many in our industry, before the pandemic hit, we attended a lot of conventions, exhibitions, and in-person events which we’ve since had to scale back. Since we’ve had to transition the bulk of our operation digitally, relying on digital marketing, SNS techniques, as well as virtual conferencing, and other ways of getting our branding and messaging out there. While the pandemic did hit us hard not only from a marketing and branding aspect, but it momentarily crippled our supply chain severely impacting our financial security. Fortunately, we were able to persevere and we’re seeing significant growth and stability at the beginning of 2021.

Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources and what are the lessons learned?

Hyunsoo Kim: Of course, we’ve had to make a few difficult choices since the pandemic hit last year, however, fortunately as a very lean startup we’ve not had to lay anyone off. Instead, we’ve had to learn how to prioritize our growth and focus our operations on key points like global partnerships and alternative sales channels. We hope to be able to invest more in growing the team this year as vaccines become more readily available, and we all learn to navigate how best to handle work and safety at the same time.

How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?

Hyunsoo Kim: We’re an extremely customer service-oriented organization and if the pandemic’s changed us in any way it’s just made us even more customer-first focused. Like any online business, we rely on email and various online CRM services. However, since the pandemic, we’ve learned how useful services like zoom can be when it comes to adding a more personal touch to communicating with, helping, and meeting with our customers and partners from all over the world.

Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?

Hyunsoo Kim: We have yet to receive any support from the government. While we’re always looking for grants and investments, we’re fortunate to be able to have survived thus far without it.

Your final thoughts?

Hyunsoo Kim: We know firsthand particularly how hard startups and small organizations are struggling because of what is going on but we remain optimistic going forward and believe in the good in people and believe things will get better soon.

Your website? 

 Changing the way Espresso is Made – HUGH Inc.

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