About Park Eui Gyu: Park Eui Gyu (’01, Business School) is the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Open Gallery, an arts rental service which lends pictures drawn by popular Korean artists to customers at reasonable rates. Although he majored in Business at Korea University (KU) and started his promising career at Booz Allen Hamilton, a well-known foreign consulting firm, he later dedicated his resources to his dream project of founding a company that creates value. Five years after it was founded, Open Gallery boasts around 600 contracted artists, who offer about 13,000 pieces of art in total.
The term Sharing Economy refers to a society in which people strive to share, not own, products and services. Today’s society is arguably already a sharing economy, considering the fact that people often use Airbnb to share their vacant rooms and Socar to reserve others’ cars for a quick drive. Park Eui Gyu expanded the frontier of the sharing economy by founding Open Gallery, a platform through which ordinary consumers can rent works of art at affordable prices. While venturing into a new, unknown field can be challenging for those who plan on founding their own companies, Park’s story demonstrates that trailblazing is not all risk and no return.
You majored in Business. Did your major help invigorate your career? Did KU help your journey to Open Gallery in any other way?
It goes without saying that studying business helps when starting a company, since all business majors do is learn about companies. In particular, my knowledge of finance, accounting and human resources techniques contributed immensely to my efforts. However, other kinds of knowledge can also be useful depending on the project. Other than my major, KU’s value investing club, RISK, was another essential part of my journey. Although I lacked much in the way of core capital, friends I met in RISK like Shin Tae Yong (’00, Business School) invested in my project, and such investment became the foundation for my business.
What motivated you to quit a well-known consulting firm and experiment in an untapped field?
I originally planned to study for a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree with my company as my sponsor. Although I liked my work and decent income, I began to have second thoughts about the job when I happened to visit a friend’s exhibition, where I wondered why no one other than his friends was at the gallery although his work was stellar. Something was strange; while I both intuitively and statistically knew that an increasing number of people were visiting art galleries, the reality was a shrinking arts market . This dissonance brought out the entrepreneur in me, inviting me to think about the arts field and, by extension, Open Gallery.
Can you tell me what you mean by a company that creates value?
Even though I rarely contemplated the value of Open Gallery in earlier stages, I later began to think about why it existed. When it comes to businesses, I think the most important thing is value creation, and believe it is best when value creation and profit-making go hand in hand. In this respect, although Open Gallery faces hardships in terms of profit creation, I feel proud that my business helps foster a healthy arts ecosystem. Under the current system most artists were excluded from the arts market; likewise, only a few consumers were rich enough to visit galleries and actually purchase works of art , which came across as unreasonable. Open Gallery aims to ameliorate this structural issue by providing artists opportunities for their work to gain more traction and giving consumers a chance to enjoy high art.
What distinguishes your platform from other rental services? In what areas do you think it can improve?
One difference is that Open Gallery deals with sentimental goods as opposed to functional goods. Simply put, functional goods serve a specific function and sentimental goods, while not integral to daily life, enrich one’s life. For example, a water dispenser is functional because it performs a certain function. In contrast, arts are like luxury bags; even though you can live without them, having them is better. Since most rental services are tailored for functional goods, our platform is distinct in that we allow customers to rent sentimental goods. As for areas in which Open Gallery can improve, we try to help customers choose their favorite artworks more easily by expanding our services to more artists; currently, we have about 13,000 pieces from a variety of artists.
▲ Open Gallery Rental System
Have you ever encountered difficulties while managing Open Gallery? If so, what were they?
Hardships inevitably arise when running a business. From my experience, a company is similar to an organism. Just like toddlers are afflicted by diseases as they grow, so are companies beset by danger as they expand. One of the major challenges faced by Open Gallery is maintaining the company’s growth rate. Drastic growth means about a 10 percent increase in scale for major corporations, but to relatively new companies like ours, rapid growth means growing by 100 percent annually. Along with keeping up a steady growth rate, procuring investments for faster growth could be another roadblock that Open Gallery faces.
Do you plan on expanding your business? Or are you going to establish another similar firm?
To be honest, I have not given much thought to founding another firm due to severe time constraints. As of now, we are only thinking about expanding the range of our services and the variety of products we provide or establishing more branches to reach farther into remote regions. For example, we could rent out photos as well as paintings, or we might establish branches not only in Seoul but also in Busan. Such plans are still part of an ongoing process. To be honest, I am probably going to spend about two or three more years on this service alone.
Last but not least, do you have any advice for KU students regarding their journeys into the unknown?
For freshmen and sophomores, I would like to recommend undergoing as many experiences as possible. Reading about others’ experiences and actually experiencing them are two very different activities. It is comparable to the difference between going on a trip with meticulous travel plans and just reading a travel brochure. Another piece of advice I would offer to students is to develop their wild nature alongside intelligence. Being wild is the ability to solve novel problems in an original way. Social life is defined by interactions with other people and seemingly insurmountable obstacles, the solutions to which are not found in textbooks. They should be able to empathize with and lead people from different backgrounds. Lastly, I would advise students to forge their own path instead of pursuing a safe job that leads to a stable but nondescript life when choosing their careers. People my age who achieved anything significant are those who followed their heart’s desires.