WHEN MZ’ERS BECOME THEIR OWN BOSSES | Inbebo Skip to main content


Nam Joon-young (34) opened his first shop in a shabby villa in Yongsan-gu, Seoul two years ago. A local Vietnamese restaurant with yellow awnings and palm trees has opened in a neighborhood where there used to be only hardware stores and alum shops. What started out modestly with his wife and one employee has now become an ‘open run’ spot where customers line up 30 minutes before opening and then jump in when the door opens. He said, "It was not without the impact of the novel coronavirus infection (COVID-19), but the number of customers has steadily increased, and recently we have been able to open Chinese restaurants and izakayas (Japanese-style pubs)." 

It was found that the sales of ‘MZ generation bosses’ newly established in areas with low rents, such as old residential areas like Mr. Nam, actually increased despite the COVID-19. They actively used social networking services (SNS) to break the founding formula of ‘opening a store in a place with a lot of floating population’ and attracting customers to explore new places. Unlike many self-employed people who have been directly hit by COVID-19, MZ presidents are evaluated to be changing the landscape of self-employment in Korea, which has suffered from low productivity. 

As a result of analyzing the sales of small business owners in downtown Seoul before and after the spread of COVID-19 together with Korea Credit Data, the Dong-A Ilbo found that sales of new founders in 14 dongs increased by an average of 26% compared to before the outbreak of Corona 19. During the same period, the total sales of small business owners in downtown Seoul fell by an average of 30%. 

This is the result of comparing the sales of small business owners in Seoul with annual sales of less than 1 billion won in the third quarter of 2021 (July to September) with those of the third quarter of 2019, before the outbreak of Corona 19. Korea Credit Data manages business data such as sales and cash flow of 900,000 self-employed nationwide. 

By region, food service establishments founded in Jegi-dong, Dongdaemun-gu recorded the highest increase in sales at 56%. Following this, sales in Songpa-dong, Songpa-gu, where restaurant business establishments were active recently, and Mullae-dong, Yeongdeungpo-gu, where restaurants and cafes were located where old ironworks were, also rose by 47% and 43%, respectively. The highest sales growth rates were in Hangang-ro-dong, Yongsan-gu (39%), Hoegi-dong, Dongdaemun-gu (33%), Hongeun-dong, Seodaemun-gu (29%), Donggyo-dong, Mapo-gu (22%), Sinsa-dong, Gangnam-gu (18%), and Yeonnam-dong, Mapo-gu (12%). Mangwon-dong, Mapo-gu (5%), Seongsu-dong, Seongdong-gu (4%), and Sindang-dong, Jung-gu (-1%) also recovered their sales to pre-COVID-19 levels. 

In particular, there was a large difference in sales depending on the opening period in these regions. The total sales of food service establishments in Jegi-dong decreased by 10% compared to the pre-COVID-19 level, but the sales of newly established restaurants increased by 56%. Park Se-hyeon (27), who runs a wine bar right next to Jeongneungcheon Stream in Jegi-dong, said, “I opened the store because of the cheap rent, which is less than a quarter of the monthly rent on Gyeongnidan-gil, Yongsan-gu, Seoul, and it feels like a hideout.” Around his shop, old multi-family houses, driver's restaurants, and auto repair shops are lined up. Although there are no typical franchise restaurants or convenience stores, it is crowded with customers who visit SNS because of the charm of an 'unexpected place'. Kang Ye-won, head of data business at Korea Credit Data, explained, “The significant difference in sales depending on the opening period is a result of the new influx of self-employed people from the MZ generation into the old commercial district.” 

'Opening My Way', writing the official start-up formula backwards 

facade of korean cafe

The exterior of a cafe founded by remodeling the detached house where Minah Kim's grandmother actually lived. By Kim Dong-ju, staff reporter

As such, the area where the MZ presidents are located has a low barrier to entry due to low rents and a retro atmosphere such as long-established stores. 

Sindang-dong, Jung-gu, Seoul was once popular as a wholesale clothing market and then declined, but it is changing with the recent appearance of MZ presidents. Ye-seul Lee (29), who runs a small wine bar between a long-established store and an old villa, said, “I chose this neighborhood since I was a child, and the rent was low. said. 

Around the brunch shop in Hangangro-dong, which has emerged as a hip place, there are only multi-family houses where only one or two people can go, but in this area, cafes and wine bars often have customers waiting outside for an hour even in sub-zero weather. Lee Seon-haeng (31), who opened a 7-pyeong cafe here in 2019, said, “The monthly rent is two-thirds that of Garosu-gil. 

Lee Seung-il, a professor of urban engineering at the University of Seoul, said, “After Corona 19, more MZ presidents are opening their business in outdated alleys to relieve the burden of rent. He evaded the blow.” Park Dae-won, head of the Shopping Center Information Research Center, said, “Contrary to the conventional wisdom that businesses need to go to 'good-natured' commercial districts, the number of successful brands of young people has increased recently in regions with different locations. 

It is different from the self-employed who make a living by “doing what I like.” 

MZ presidents use their own stories and personalities to revive their expertise and develop their aptitudes into startup items. This is the point that differentiates them from the subsistence-type self-employed. 

Kim Gwang-seok (35), who started a salad shop in 2020, worked as a culinary member of KOICA in Africa after graduating from a culinary high school and a culinary-related university. He doesn't even speak Japanese, but he went to Japan and even got a part-time job grilling steak. Currently, his shop is popular for French recipes and dishes with Tunisian dressings. 

Social media is responsible for the promotion of the MZ presidents. Kim Min-ah, 31, opened a cafe in his remodeled Singil-dong house where her grandmother lived last year. He is known by word of mouth as a 'residential cafe' and his customers come to him on purpose. He said, "There is a demand for cafes in nearby neighborhoods without going to Seongsu-dong or Yeonnam-dong." 

Self-employment also fits the values of MZ presidents who pursue flexible work. In fact, as a result of the National Statistical Office survey on the reasons for starting a business last year among those who wish to start a business within one year, the results showed that 'there is an industry I want to do' (27.3%), 'because I can freely use my time' (27.0%), and 'according to age' 'I'm not bound' (17.2%), etc. “It was difficult to find a job” (13.7%) was the lowest. Kim Tae-gi, an emeritus professor of economics at Dankook University, analyzed, “For the MZ generation, the concept of ‘doing what you want to do’ or ‘making money by using your capabilities’ is strong.” 

According to the self-employment report recently published by KB Kookmin Bank, there are 6.57 million self-employed people in Korea (as of 2020), accounting for 24.4% of the domestic economically active population. Korea has the sixth highest proportion of self-employed among 38 member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Kim Jin-young, a professor of economics at Konkuk University, said, “As the rate of closure of ‘subsistence-type self-employment’ has increased due to COVID-19, self-employment has entered a generational shift led by MZ president. Seungyoon Lee, a professor of business administration at Konkuk University, said, “The self-employed market can only survive if it has its own content. 

“Bring the rising MZ president”, department stores compete to attract ‘Hotples’ 

“Trend cutting edge… A unique experience for customers” 

Park So-hee (33), who runs a homemade bakery in a residential area in Bangbae-dong, Seocho-gu, Seoul, became a businessman who also owns a store in the main branch of Hyundai Department Store Apgujeong. His shop, which started with a loan of 20 million won in 2019, became famous for its 'unique dessert' and received an offer to enter a department store last year. MZ generation bosses emerged as the number one courtship when large distribution companies such as department stores opened new stores. This is to attract customers who want a unique experience by attracting those who are on the cutting edge of trends. 

Lotte Department Store, which opened a new store in Dongtan New Town in Hwaseong-si, Gyeonggi-do for the first time in seven years last year, focused on attracting the MZ president's store. Most of them are run by the president of MZ, such as Parol & Lange, a dessert shop in Yeonnam-dong, Mapo-gu, Seoul, and Seongsu Art Museum, an art studio in Seongsu-dong, Seongdong-gu, Seoul. 

In department stores, 20 employees form a team and visit the so-called 'popular neighborhoods' every day to discover MZ bosses. Hyun-woo Kim, a buyer at Hyundai Department Store, said, “It has become more important to have local brands in alleyways. There are also many high-profile MZ presidents who refuse to enter department stores because they are popular. An official from the retail industry said, "The hip stores of MZ presidents are not common and they are often popular, so MZ presidents do not unconditionally welcome department stores."

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