Prioritising study on exchange can sometimes be difficult and especially for those studying in Seoul. With the combination of affordable food, sol-maek and one-shot culture, Seoul can be a challenge even for the most well-intentioned of students. But despite the exciting nightlife and opportunity to travel, most international students pull through their exams and academic assessment without too much trouble.
Not all students though produce a five-year business plan on exchange but that’s exactly what University of Queensland student Desi Cochrane walked away with after a semester at Korea University. While certainly not immune to the local bar scene, Desi partnered with his KU classmates and focused a significant amount of time and effort to flesh out the blueprint for an ambitious new start up in Korea. After struggling himself to find accommodation in Seoul and noticing the parallel frustration of students and the international student office to overcome the barriers of entry to securing short-term housing, Desi identified a promising opportunity in the housing market.
The answer was a simple to use website to connect Korean landlords with students, and a strong focus on short-term accommodation including goshiwons. The website and business was fittingly named Goshipages.
Desi had already developed an interest in entrepreneurship before coming to Korea but the practical experience of developing an idea into a business plan and implementing the business model proved far more challenging than he’d initially anticipated.
“Before Goshipages I saw entrepreneurship more as the process of assembling a business– whereas now I know with start-ups there is no clean business model and it’s a matter of bootstrapping and just making it happen.”
After producing a five-year business plan, Desi contacted investors and website design companies to cooperate on his project.
Desi received no investor feedback but did receive a quote for AUD$75,000 from a website developer. Rather than quit, Desi decided to take on the role of investor and website designer himself.
“I thought this couldn’t be too hard and for the amount of money I was quoted I could build the website and go on a holiday as well! I think most people though would have stopped there but I made a decision to do it anyway. And this ultimately became a life-changing decision.”
Without any previous experience of developing a website, Goshipages began with a simple Google search on ‘how to build a website?’ Step-by-step Desi learnt enough code to develop individual icons, widget and page until he had a fully functioning website.
Back at the University of Queensland, Desi dived into every textbook he could find in the library on building websites and he emailed IT students to ask for access to their lecture slides. Looking back now, Desi would have done things differently though, as he discovered that here is a noticeable gap between academic and real-life website development.
From the website design to developing a logo, Desi taught himself how to code and design logos through Adobe Illustrator but ultimately it was sales which would eventually prove the biggest challenge.
“Getting the first customer was one of the hardest things to do in my life. It was the coldest winter in Korea for 50 years and I was knocking on doors talking to older generation Koreans in their 60’s – not progressive minded in their thinking– and trying to convince them to list their properties on my website. It really seemed almost impossible.”
Desi also asserts that it was even harder as a foreigner but through everything he learnt, including Korean language skills, he was able to successfully convince Korean property owners to list their properties with Goshipages.
“You really are delusional until proven resilient and it’s definitely the hardest thing I’ve had to do. Through this process, I also lost the naivety from the assembling mindset and I realise now that any startup is going to be much harder than that and you need to drive through those early roadblocks.”
In the future, Desi hopes to build Goshipages into a premier platform for helping foreigners finding accommodation in Korea and eventually adapt the Goshipages business model to operate in Taiwan and other countries in Asia.
Desi is also optimistic about the future of startups in Korea for foreigners and Koreans alike.
“Korea has huge potential and it gets easier every year as Korea wants to eventually become the Silicon Valley of Asia. There are therefore a lot of incubators, funding grants and seminars available and its a hotpot of opportunity. These include Seoul Space, D-Camp and the Seoul Global Centre.”
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