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What I learned in the Korean mindfulness and meditation industry

Updated: Sep 19, 2022

‘Weren’t you people meditating while coming out of the wombs??’

That was my lovely American friend’s joke about Korean and Asian people, the origin and root of mindfulness, meditation, and Zen culture while we were discussing “meditation”. In reality, I might have to disappoint many fellow Western people who had similar expectations about us, it is a clear illusion and unachievable image that history might have created. With the growing global meditation population, 275 to 500 million, western society might have raised far more attention than the Asian market in the past 10 years. One of the key statistics shows that the number of people meditating in the States had already tripled in 2012-2017 (NCHS) and the meditation apps market was valued at $ 1.1 billion in 2021 (Business Apps).

When I relocated to South Korea to focus on my start-up business, one of the leading mindfulness content platforms in Korea, the pandemic was at its peak and mental health issue was dramatically increasing at both local and international levels. In late 2019, our business was one of the pioneers in the industry and the Korean mindfulness community was less commercialized and developed as a business concept although the potential market we examined was unofficially big enough to enter with uncaptured numbers of the population of mindfulness and meditation practitioners.

(image from Mindful Series workshop 2021 Spring)
I remember in the early days, I had to have a minimum 2-hour-meeting whenever we introduce our service and meet potential users and clients just to explain and convince them why the platform is useful and how it works within the ecosystem, every time I met meditation & mindfulness teachers in Korea. Almost every single of them was very reluctant to use it as they were so much used to being the independent and individual brand by operating their sales & marketing funnels mainly via their websites or social media pages – thanks to other class & content platforms, with their dramatic growth and success, meditation & mindfulness professionals also started accepting the concept and formula of using and working with 3rd party platforms. Then it started being considered useful and casual sales funnels in the mental health wellness and wellbeing market too.

Our team witnessed a fast-growing mindfulness industry with interesting transitions in the last two years. Here are some of my brief insights about the Korean market of mindfulness and meditation that I earned from working with 100 plus independent teachers and influencers, and other significant players and corporate stakeholders.

(image from Mindful Week 2021 Summer)

1. Startups in self-care, mental health, and wellness and independent influencers’ brands are growing noticeably and becoming trends like any other country. In my experience, 7 out of 10 related industry brands and professionals (self-care, wellness, meditation, mindfulness, vegan beauty, social impact NGOs, etc.) welcome and truly enjoy collaborations and partnerships. I was able to successfully make in-kind partnerships and sponsorships with 20 different brands and corporates in year 1 including approximately US $ 30,000 in value brand product sponsorships. Collaboration and partnership opportunities with the right stakeholders are necessary that new businesses should never miss out on as they are the best ways to leverage brand awareness, value creation, and sales. - show more of your genuine characters ever.

2. The mindfulness industry is not as commercial and materialistic as other industries; rather, it literally is spiritual and mindful. Experts with work ethic and professionalism exist to help society and they truly care about what they deliver and what they may affect people’s lives. Industrial standards and systems are not in place which may appeal to you as the blue ocean, however, don't take advantage of them or apply a cut-to-the-chase communication style. It may damage the ecosystem and you will fail sooner by failing in building trust with key stakeholders and players.

3. Korean mindfulness ecosystem is well grounded, well connected, and small. Once you are connected to a good community, focus on serving the continued good values and maintaining healthy relationships. Approach with your genuine characters if you are trying to build relationships. Again, it is small where everyone knows everyone else through someone; your reputation can be revealed the next day.

4. A deeper understanding of societal and cultural behavior. Western society is so much about work-life balance and individualism. The system of 9 to 5 life and extended benefit options, flexible work hours, hybrid working from home policy, holidays, maternity leave, employees’ career development, and learning experiences are fairly well secured. However, these are yet not in place in Korea unless we are taking examples of global corporate branch offices in Korea. The majority of your target market consumers are extremely busy and stressed (24/7 busy lifestyle) which will determine your potential market size and estimated time to grow in the market. This is one of the factors that we were blind and ignorant of. A really good business alone cannot survive or step up without a cultural, historical, socio-economic, and environmental livelihood that organically supports and nurture the services and philosophies a business focuses on.

5. It is very niche. Often heard from customers that they didn’t understand why they were charged for meditation; meditation – being aware of the present – is not something a business has to charge for. Frequently heard from investors, the content seems difficult, and the market is too small. However, early this year 2022, a few mental health-related businesses that integrate or include mindfulness and meditation in their service offerings were able to fundraise. This was a green light and great news to me as it seemed the industry is moving forward after the stagnated time when we were pushing so hard.

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