Yun Hui Hong / ebay Korea
Karen Deignan of Net-Works interviews Yun Hui Hong of eBay Korea to find out how she created CarePlus, a specialist store on its auction platform that gives users access to a world of useful and innovative products, including the first Braille watch CarePlus is a specialist store within eBay Korea’s Auction platform, selling products that meet the needs of disabled and elderly people.
In Korea, 2.5 million people are registered as disabled, with many more affected by disability through caring for a disabled family member. Yun Hui Hong is the senior manager of corporate communications, at eBay Korea.
How did the idea for CarePlus come about? The idea for CarePlus had been on my mind for a long time. I knew, from my experience of trying to shop for my daughter, who is disabled, that it was difficult to find the right products. Also, most of the products available in Korea are imported and are therefore expensive. On the plus side, the growth in online shopping has enabled people with disabilities to browse and buy goods without having to face the hurdles associated with physically entering a store. But even with this advancement, few online stores cater specifically for people with disabilities. It felt to me like there was a clear gap in the market. In 2015, eBay Korea held a Mobile Business Idea Contest, which I entered. I didn’t win but entering forced me to get my idea down on paper. From then on I gave my elevator pitch to anyone in eBay who I thought might be interested. Two years and seven rejections later I finally found someone willing to back me: Soon Suk Kim, one of the Auction’s category managers. He believed in the market potential of CarePlus and in my personal passion for the project. He put up the money to build the website, and it grew from there.
What does CarePlus offer? We currently offer 15 different product categories ranging from wheelchairs to ramps, to voice amplifiers. It was important to me to encourage Korean manufacturers to join this market, so we have actively sought out innovative products from Korean companies. The incentive for them is an online platform that reaches a vast number of people: eBay Korea’s Auction site has 20 million users, making it one of the largest e-commerce sites in the country. So far we have introduced two new inventions from Korean companies. One is TODO Drive, a power-assist kit that turns a manual wheelchair into a motorized one. The other is the Dot Watch, the world’s first Braille smartwatch. What motivated you personally about the project? My daughter Jimin was born with cancer. She survived 14 rounds of chemotherapy, which left her paralyzed from the waist down. She ended up in a wheelchair and that changed my life forever. Being a mother of a child with a disability brings many unknown challenges. One of the biggest for me was the fact that I didn’t know what products to buy to make her life easier. And I certainly didn’t know where to buy them. My “aha moment” came when I discovered I could buy a wheelchair ramp from our eBay Korea Auction site. I bought it for $30, installed it in our home, and it gave my daughter a huge amount of independence. I want everyone in my daughter’s situation to have access to the right kinds of products. That’s what being an inclusive business means to me – giving all people, particularly those who are marginalized, equal access to the benefit that a business offers.
Karen: What challenges did you face in getting CarePlus up and running? Yun Hui: I wasn’t a product or category manager, so I didn’t have the resources to make my idea happen by myself. I needed help from others within eBay. Everyone I spoke to liked the idea, but it wasn’t their priority. I faced a lot of rejection. I had to stay focused and not give up until I found the right person with the right resources, willing to take the leap with me. TODO Drive, a power assist kit that turns a manual wheelchair into a motorised one Karen: What impact has CarePlus had within eBay? Yun Hui: In May of this year I was invited to speak at a diversity and inclusion event, which was part of eBay’s annual Leaders Week. The session, called #DiversityMeansBusiness, was about how innovative leaders have made the inclusion of diverse customer segments a key aspect of an entrepreneurial business model. After the session, I received emails from lots of eBay colleagues telling me about their intention to build a similar type of store to CarePlus in their country. With regards to return on investment for eBay, it’s early days yet but we are definitely gaining ground. During the first quarter of this year, CarePlus’ categories had sales growth in the high teens. That’s higher than overall Korean e-commerce growth in the same period. Karen: What has been the high point of the journey for you so far? Yun Hui: In July this year eBay Korea donated ten TODO Drives to wheelchair-using children. Thanks to this donation, those 10 children can now explore the world more easily. It’s likely to spark another donation in the future and inspire TODO Works, the manufacturer, to build more and better products for wheelchair users. It was a great moment for me because it that’s what CarePlus’s mission is all about – making a positive impact on the lives of people with special needs and supporting manufacturers, particularly local ones, with our selling platform. Where is CarePlus going next? My ultimate vision is for CarePlus to be an information hub and online community as well as a store. I also want to expand the range of disabilities we cater for, beyond our current focus on spinal cord injury and visual or hearing impairments. This will mean collaborating with specialist organizations, like the Korea Spinal Cord Injury Association, who we worked with in the early days to gather user feedback when designing our website.
What advice would you give to other intrapreneurs wanting to create an inclusive business? The first thing I’d say is, start with a small step. We could have developed a huge product range before launching CarePlus but we didn’t because we wanted to start small yet quick. Once we’d done that and gathered feedback from a more diverse group of users, we gradually added more categories and more products to expand the range. My other piece of advice – and this is especially relevant when you’re targeting people who have been ignored by the mainstream – is to let your passion shine through. You’ll win the hearts of your target group and quite quickly word about your initiative will spread and offers of help will come your way.