Sitting on the rooftop of his Villa in Seoul, French entrepreneur Arthur Mademba-Sy sits down with BLT & Partners to delve into his life before becoming the driving force behind his company Ma Petite Corée (My Little Korea). As a foreign business leader navigating the bustling streets of South Korea, Arthur’s journey has been a rollercoaster ride of trials and transformative experiences.
Transported back to his university days, Arthur reminisces about his arrival in Korea as an exchange student, bidding farewell to his hometown, Paris, in 2011. Fate, as it seems, had other plans for him as he crossed paths with his wife shortly after. Pursuing a master’s degree abroad, Arthur once again found himself drawn back into the allure of South Korea, eventually settling down in Daegu. There, his journey consisted of odd jobs until he sought a visa to teach French to the Korean Army. This chapter of his life served as the groundwork for numerous business ideas, ultimately culminating in the birth of Ma Petite Corée in 2016 – an online platform showcasing K-beauty products.
Recognizing an untapped demand for Korean cosmetics in the French market, Arthur seized the opportunity to begin sourcing Korean beauty products and offering them to French customers at discounted prices. Opting for an online sales approach, his business methods soon gained him swift revenue and traction. The secret to his eventual success is a steadfast commitment to his business methodology: if an endeavor fails to recoup his investment within three months, he dismisses it.
As the CEO of Ma Petite Corée, Arthur initially juggled all aspects of business operations himself, including marketing, purchasing, and packing. But as the company flourished and grew, he began to delegate responsibilities to his employees, enabling him to focus on managing overall operations and issues. Within Arthur’s team is a group of multinational employees; from members of his French community to native Korean workers, he recruits various individuals to work.
During the interview, Arthur recalls his proudest milestone during his time in Korea, none more than securing his own coveted office space within the Seoul Global Startup Center. The space signified a pivotal moment of evolution and expansion for his business. Arthur’s unyielding dedication to his company and growth to the Seoul Global Startup Center meant enduring the grueling night train commute from Daegu to Seoul while working as a teacher. He wholeheartedly attests to the pivotal role Seoul played as a vibrant and supportive networking community, especially during the early stages of a startup.
Ma Petite’s Corée’s gaze extends primarily to the Western European markets, capturing the interest of customers in France, Germany, Portugal, and the U.K. Yet, Arthur’s insatiable thirst for growth leads him to set his sights on conquering Southeast Asian markets – a thrilling prospect that encompasses areas such as Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia. Nevertheless, he remains acutely aware of the challenges of price competition and the need to adapt to diverse customer behaviors inherent to these unique markets.
To facilitate the company’s expansion, Arthur reveals his marketing strategies, harnessing the influence of bloggers, influencers, and social media powerhouses like Instagram and Facebook to amplify Ma Petite Corée’s presence. However, Arthur’s approach opts not to pay influencers directly but rather cultivate relationships by offering them free products – developing a mutually beneficial alliance. The company also utilizes Facebook and Google Ads, prioritizes search engine optimization (SEO), and ensures efficient shipping logistics.
What further sets Ma Petite Corée from the pack is its superior distribution and logistics capabilities. While competitors clamor to conquer the vast U.S. market, Ma Petite Corée marches to a different beat, targeting Europe and forging partnerships with shipping companies. Arthur’s planning and delivery strategies allow them to serve customers at a lower cost than their competitors.
In the face of a competitive landscape, Arthur acknowledges the unwavering support and mentorship that has guided and illuminated his path. He fondly recalls a heartwarming moment in Daegu when a kind stranger gifted him an umbrella during an unexpected downpour.
“Most people really help you. As soon as you have a problem, you just call them and they’re ready to help,” Arthur said.
Having navigated the Korean business landscape for seven years, Arthur humbly admits that the language barrier remains one of his most formidable challenges. To optimize his time, he primarily conducts business in English without fully immersing himself in Korean culture. However, he recognizes that certain tasks require proficiency in the local language, such as banking and handling crucial business documents.
As the interview draws to a close, Arthur casts his gaze upward, contemplating his future plans – a potential expansion into China and a commitment to becoming a leader in the European market. He is determined yet acutely aware of the obstacles that lie ahead, especially the demand for adaptability to ever-changing customer preferences and behaviors.
To aspiring entrepreneurs contemplating their own Korean business, Arthur leaves invaluable advice. He encourages them to forge a well-structured and clear project brimming with secure ideas, all while remaining cognizant of the long-term challenges that await. Above all, he emphasizes the importance of perseverance, recounting his journey of rebuilding Ma Petite Corée from scratch a mere six months ago. With a contented smile, he recalls the countless 3 AM commutes from Seoul to Daegu – a testament to the unwavering dedication that propels him forward.
“You have to try. And yeah, it’s working and working and working. You push, push, push your work… but as soon as it’s good,” he looks around the city from his rooftop. “Now this day is very good. [The perseverance is] working,” he said.
Arthur’s journey as a foreign entrepreneur in Korea not only provides valuable insights but serves as hope for aspiring businesses around the globe. To explore Ma Petite Corée further and look at the world Arthur has created, visit their website here.
BLT & Partners has the most extensive business network in Korea and a team of top-notch professionals, including IP attorneys, lawyers, financial experts, marketers, and more. If you’re looking to enter the Korean market, we have everything you need to succeed. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you achieve your goals in Korea.