When Sunghoo Yang raised a glass in front of his fellow Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia 2017 winners from South Korea on his company’s patio this summer, he told them to enjoy the moment, but there was much work to be done. The recognition is nice, he said, but it is only a means to an end goal that is far greater.
Living by his words, he hasn’t stopped there. Yang wants his company The Booth, one of South Korea’s fastest growing breweries, to be the Heineken of craft beer, a strong brand globally and a benchmark for consistent quality. To help it get there, the company announced today a 5 billion won ($4.6 million) funding round from Yuanta Investment and Medici Investment to strengthen its internal operations and expand into San Francisco and Southeast Asia. The investment, which closed Nov. 29, brings total funding to 10 billion won.
Jina Park/The Booth
South Korea’s craft beer scene has seen a revolution in the past four years from a handful of bars to a 20 billion won market, according to KDB Industrial Bank, and is expected to reach 2 trillion won in 10 years. The Booth has arguably been at the head of it. Sticking to a simple menu of pizza and beer, it launched in 2013 as a bar in an alleyway and is now one of the most visible craft brewers in Seoul, with plans to nearly double the number of locations in Korea and abroad next year.
The wave of sophisticated beer gives relief to foodies in a country largely dominated by watery lagers. But for brewers, the competition has grown fierce. Yang, 30, says The Booth has survived and thrived thanks to great branding and quick adaptability.
“We were at the right place at the right time. From 2013 to now, I think we were very quick to adapt to the changing environment,” he says. Even early on when Seoul had only a handful of craft brewers, The Booth leaned heavily on well-designed marketing, led by his wife and cofounder Heeyoon Kim, when its competitors hoped good beer would sell itself, he says.
“As in most startups, you learn that just having a good product isn’t enough. You have to get the word out that you do have a good product,” he says. For beer, that translates into the label and the brand story. Aided by a friendly-looking blue cyclops named Booth Man and his animated crew of funky characters, The Booth’s brand is everywhere from Seoul to the far-flung Jeju Island.
In its first year, the company quickly expanded from selling its own brew to importing other beers like Mikkeller and distributing its own beer to competing bars, a local first. Facing heating competition and the rising costs of rents and wages, its growth was driven by seeking the lowest risks, Yang says. It was less risky to have both storefronts and a brewery, as it would not have to worry about its inventory going bad.
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