SingCham Korea News

[Member Spotlight] The man behind the Chamber

SingCham Korea Chairman, Justin Yong, owner of escape room in Seoul | SingCham Korea

This month, we had a chat with the Chairperson of the Singapore Chamber of Commerce in Korea (SingCham Korea), to find out a little about why he founded the chamber, the challenges he faced setting it up, and his future aspirations for the chamber.


Let’s start off with an introduction - could you tell us a little bit about yourself and what brought you to Korea?

Hi, my name is Justin Yong and I currently oversee several businesses in Singapore and South Korea and I’m the founding Chairperson of the Singapore Chamber of Commerce in Korea (SingCham Korea). 

I came to Korea about seven years ago. Back then, I used to make several business trips to Korea for my Singapore business (CatchingClicks Pte Ltd). These meets would usually be followed by extended holidays here, during which I enjoyed looking for potential business opportunities and enjoying the culture. 

During one of these trips, I was exploring the idea of opening an escape room business in Singapore, thus naturally after a meeting here, I tried to search for an escape room locally but was very surprised to find out that this business concept had not reached the country yet. 

This presented itself as a wonderful opportunity for me, although very risky, and after much thought, I endeavoured to be a first mover and bring the “Escape Room” business concept to Korea. 

My thoughts then were that the escape room business concept was already taking off in countries around the region and that Koreans could not be too different. So I took a great leap of faith, made my plans and the first escape room in Korea, “Real Escape Challenge” was born.

Long story short, I had a very capable local manager for this business, without whom I would have never managed to get a lot of things moving and of course there were many hurdles to overcome but we managed to do so and this venture has since been my most successful business endeavour to date. 

Not only did the business trend once it started, it also led to the “Manager” I mentioned earlier eventually becoming my business partner and more importantly, now my life partner!


What was it like when you first moved to Korea?

It actually wasn’t that hard to get used to things, probably because my main focus was simply to get the business going. So daily activities were kept to simple meals and meetings. During that time, I didn’t even know there was already a small Singapore community here. 

I think in terms of getting used to life here, learning how to navigate the culture is especially important.There was a bit of a learning curve in terms of how the Koreans do business? I wouldn’t say it’s bad, but for example, hierarchy is something that you would need to get used to where the level you are in a company is very important as is your age. As with any new culture, putting in effort in being meticulous about how to manoeuvre the local scene was important andI think doing that really helped a lot. 

A lot of people would probably face such issues when they first arrive, and this can really be a big culture shock. But if you just make sure to be more detailed and watch over whatever needs to be done, you should still be able to control most areas.

Just knowing how things “work” and understanding the nuances can potentially expedite many things at the beginning.

On the flip side,if you ignore this ‘culture’ it could also mean having a very tough time here. As many aspects of the overall work style here might not be very systematic, this leaves much decision-making power to the whims of an individual, even if that individual may be simply someone in the lower ranks of a large hierarchy.

This means that, if they were not having a good personal day, they could simply provide you with a different final decision on what can or cannot be approved or done. So do watch out for this.   


So what led to your decision to set up the Singapore Chamber of Commerce in Korea?

The good thing about the business that I started was that it did very well upfront and we managed to stabilise very quickly. The escape room trend immediately hit the country so on the escape room business front, we were quite relaxed. For four to five years, the businesses moved towards being self-managed and could run itself. This gave me a little more personal time for other areas, such as joining business groups and meeting Singaporeans in Korea. 

Previously I was part of the Singapore-Korean business group but I wasn’t very involved then. I also realised that the same few people came every time and many others, including myself, felt that this group had potential, but because it was just a social group, there was a lot of hindrance to it becoming something more. For example, we couldn’t have access to government bodies and other chambers were not interested in collaborations ,and there were monetary and sponsorship issues.

So a few people had the idea to make this an official chamber and began talking to government officials. I was more than happy to help back in 2020 when talks about starting a chamber began but I had zero intention of heading it. However, the people who were pushing for the chamber ended up having to leave Korea for a bit and things weren’t moving forward and it really seemed like there was no real direction.

At that time, several of the members felt that a change was needed to move this endeavour and I was asked by several involved parties on whether I would consider chairing this. Unfortunately, at that time, I was busy with my personal matters because I was preparing to get married thus I had to decline. 

Several months later, and after settling my marriage registration in Singapore, I was approached again and this time, I thought, okay, SingCham could be a worthwhile endeavour.

I knew it would be tough and time-consuming because it would be totally like starting from scratch, but I personally always felt that the chamber would be able to really help many Singaporeans and businesses here, so I made the decision to take on this responsibility and to push for the official chamber. Plus, I’ve always been interested in business and investments so this was also an interesting new endeavour as it would be my first time starting a non-profit organisation instead of a typical business.

As expected, starting was not easy, and even now, the team and I are still feeling out the exact operations and fine-tuning many aspects of the chamber but the most important thing that I would like to mention here is how important the executive directors and volunteers have been in the achievement of our activities and objectives to date. I am always appreciative of their commitment and expertise in the areas they manage, and look forward to constantly working more closely with them as the chamber grows! 


It must not have been easy to set things up in the midst of a pandemic! What were some of the challenges you faced setting up SingCham Korea, and how did you resolve those issues?

It’s still hard, even now. But I believe that nothing worth doing is easy and that the process is always where we learn, improve and become better versions of ourselves.

Basically setting up the chamber was very much like setting up a new business. But since this was my first time setting up a non-profit, there were more unique areas to manage since it was no longer just revenue or value-driven but rather value/member/volunteer-driven. 

The understanding and belief in the cause at the start was important as we needed everyone to be aligned and it was not simply about hiring people to get tasks done. Everyone involved needed to understand why we were doing this and to believe in the cause to a certain level.

I feel that that was probably the hardest part at the start but thankfully, I met a lot of positive people who too had similar ideas and thoughts about the chamber, and we put together a great team!

Our next challenge was the worry about whether we would be able to attract members at all and whether the government would be on board. So we liaised very closely with the government bodies and thankfully the Singapore embassy and government agencies were all very positive about what we were doing and promised their support!

Setting up events during the pandemic was another exceptionally difficult challenge, mainly because we could not host networking sessions which is an important part of even having a chamber. There were many times where we wanted to do an event but there were sudden new covid restrictions so we had to constantly change or cancel our plans.

Another issue I guess is the fact that we definitely want to get more done but since everyone volunteering their time also has their own jobs or businesses, it is understandable that full time commitment is impossible. This is true even for myself, pushing several other businesses. Thus, the challenge is that we are always looking out for potential companies or people that are willing to help at this stage whether in terms of manpower or expertise.

And also because of this, an important objective we have would be to appoint a full time executive officer to help get all aspects of the chamber moving very regularly. 


Tell us a little about your aspirations for SingCham Korea!

It’s actually really simple - to be able to hold events on a regular basis which are productive and can help our members to achieve what they need by being a reliable resource to achieve their business and individual goals. It will be really rewarding to be able to visibly see our activities really help people.

Many people tend to see chambers as doing things which are just all for show or fluff, and that they don’t really achieve what they set out to do. So I want to be able to actually help members and at the end of the day for our members to say that SingCham really helped them to get to the next stage and helped them to achieve their goals.

I also want us to be known as a more modern chamber. We’re the new kid on the block so we want to be a younger, more vibrant, and more unique kind of chamber. There are a lot of chambers here that have been around for much longer. Since we are new, we have different thoughts and visions and we want to bring in a more modern kind of thinking in terms of exploring different types of future businesses.

For example we not only want to cover most of the typical existing business models but also explore areas like high tech, metaverse, crypto, and influencers as potential driving forces. We want to explore all these areas and how collaborations and productivity can be achieved.  It’s not going to be easy because many monetary contributions tend to come from more established and traditional businesses.

Of course we also want to make sure that the chamber is aligned with Singapore and Korea’s direction of focusing on technology and being at the forefront of technology. 

SingCham Korea will continuously showcase that we are representative of what Singapore is doing. So if you are at all interested in Singapore and Korea business related items, definitely reach out to us!


What are you looking forward to this year - either with SingCham Korea or personally?

Personally on my businesses, I’m currently in the midst of setting up a new outlet for my escape room business (Real Escape Challenge) and rebranding towards potentially becoming a franchise. As for my Web systems business in Singapore (Catching Click Pte Ltd), I am working with a Singaporean here in Korea and we have started some operations in Korea as an agency and will soon be exploring more activities to assist companies with inbound and outbound online marketing and also in setting up their online presence in multiple languages.

For SingCham Korea, of course other than ensuring that we are constantly supporting all our members, some specific items would be: to get a good rhythm of events going and to have committed members to support the cause; to finalise all administration items on registration of the chamber official as a non-profit and our ability to be a tax refundable entity; and finally to also to set up a proper full-time executive team for the chamber. 


Any tips for those looking to move to Korea?

Come and talk to SingCham Korea!

In all honesty, I always tell myself that if there was something like “SingCham Korea” when I first came here six to seven years ago, it would have expedited everything for me in terms of my business whether in terms of time or money. I faced so many hurdles setting things up and if I had the ability to first talk to someone who might have “been there and done that”, it would have really really expedited the process by a lot.

So if you’re looking to come in, seek out the people who have been here. And if you’re thinking of setting up a business here, definitely look for us. It’s not only about hearing about our experiences but also about gaining access to resources, government bodies and finding out how they can help, including potential grants or recommended reliable companies. That is something I personally missed out on, because in the past there wasn’t a lot of support. But now, a lot more relations are built and both countries are collaborating a lot more on many fronts and with SingCham Korea, we can help you to bridge that gap.

This is a good time and opportunity to explore things so we definitely welcome you!


Finally, share with us a little-known fact about yourself!

This is probably NOT a little known fact about me, but anyone that knows me will know that I’m always positive about business and investments and I feel that the faster someone pushes themselves into “working for themselves” the faster the person can feel the rewards.

I do understand that running a business and starting something is never simple and easy, but at the end of the day, I feel that there’s an end to the tunnel (if the plan is right) and that the rewards and learning are really worth the commitment!

Some things about me that are probably little less known - I’m very much an introvert, and would rather be the person listening quietly in the corner of the room.

I am a homely person that feels that a day relaxing at home with my loved ones is one of the best ways to relax.

I enjoy intellectual board games and also ball/team sports and am eagerly thinking about joining or starting some regular activities related to this soon. 

Stay connected with us

Share our news

Related News

2023 July 27

Seoul Bar & Spirit Show 2023

2022 September 19

SingCham Korea at the Seoul Bar & Spirit Show 2022

2022 May 27

[Member Spotlight] The female entrepreneur who exported her favorite mala snacks from Singapore to Korea

Looking to be a sponsor?

From breakfast meetings to gala dinners, reach out to a wider network by sponsoring one of our events. Find out how you can be a sponsor!

If you are not our member yet, please register here.

Sponsor With Us

SingCham Korea will work with you from the planning stage of the event to maximise the impact of your sponsorship. Please contact the chamber if you are interested in sponsoring any chamber events by using the contact information.

We use cookies to enhance your browsing experience and analyze site traffic. By continuing to use our website, you consent to the use of cookies.