Wal: Adorable Korean Startup Changing the Face of the Morning Commute

How was your morning commute? Were you dragging yourself to work, wondering when you’d get some time off? Or thinking about quitting your job and finding other ways to make ends meet without working full-time?

<Wal’s Breakfast Club (왈이의 아침식땅)> is a Korean podcast for morning commuters, and they’re on a mission to “change the face of the morning.” The concept of the podcast is a puppy named Wal who “virtually” makes a hot, yummy breakfast, as if made by mom, for everybody who goes to work in the morning, and while he’s cooking, he explains the day’s menu and also delivers “healing” messages to the listeners. The main target audience is working women between the ages of 24 and 32.

When I heard a day’s episode, Wal talked about meditation with a background sound of steaming rice and sizzling spam on the frying pan. Wal talked about breathing: “Inhale and exhale while saying aloud to yourself, ‘Here I Am. Now. Here I Am. Now.’”

Concept art of Wal’s Breakfast Club (courtesy of Wal)

In addition to the podcast, the creators of Wal organize a pop-up event where they actually prepare a breakfast menu and place them inside lockers at particular subway station for listeners to pick up on their way to work.

Without further ado, I met the co-founders of “Wal”: Noh Yeongeun, Kim Jieon, and Kwon Yesol.

Jiyoung (interviewer): Why do you think your listeners feel close to the character, Wal? What makes you different from other audio content?

Wal: When we plan our content we first pick topics that we would only talk about with our closest friends. I think choosing such trivial but revealing topics gives Wal an extremely intimate persona.

This helps our listeners to reach out to Wal when they want to talk about themselves, to tell us their authentic stories. It’s really fun getting to know about our listeners through the relationships we build with them.

You can listen and read Wal’s Breakfast Club on a Korean audio platform Naver Audio Clip (left) and a Korean messenger platform Kakao Plus Friend (right).

What do you have planned for your upcoming content?

We want to focus on ‘how to live’ rather than ‘why we live.’ We want to be a group that talks about ‘Today, Now, and How’ – and tell stories about how working women live, today and now.

At the same time, our goal is to create contents that are optimized for specific individuals and specific contexts. An example would be an episode for a person who’s at her new job, stuck in the office at 8 p.m., to listen to while hiding out in the washroom. To do this, we are currently exploring the possibility of using AI technology to provide customized content curation.

Some of the menus Wal has virtually ‘made’ (courtesy of Wal)

What is the business model of <Wal’s Breakfast Club>?

Once we get more listeners and subscribers, our plan is to incorporate native ads. Compared to radio broadcasts, which play short commercials that pass by very quickly before and after the program, the advantage of the contents we make is that we can really tie in the products we want to advertise.

In one of our episodes, we mentioned a chocolate brand, but our focus group interview with subscribers gave us feedback that it didn’t sound like an advertisement at all. We are working on creating more samples like that.

We also put a lot of focus into holding events to experiment on how we can connect our online contents with offline experiences. A lot of our subscribers tell us that they want to try the food Wal makes in the episodes. We think this can be developed into a potential business in collaboration with other companies.

A little breakfast box Wal presented in the locker of Hye Hwa metro station (courtesy of Jiyoung Kim)
Actual breakfast menu Wal has delivered (courtesy of Jiyoung Kim)

Now, let’s get personal and talk about you—your relationship status, thoughts about work. How do you three live, today and now?

Kwon Yesol: I was in my final semester as an undergrad when I joined the Wal. I started working for Wal as a student. Since my very first job is with the startup, when I talk with my friends about work, I find that my experience is completely different from theirs.

Our team constantly talks about ‘work as a way of life.’ I never really thought about what it means to have a job before I joined this team. For my friends, it’s a given fact that work is tiresome, and the weekends are their sole consolation. I’ve never once felt that way while working here.

Kim Jieon: We use Slack for team communication, and we have a channel called ‘We-write’ on Slack where we keep our to-do lists and also leave short messages about our thoughts and feelings of the day. These messages sometimes move us and make us reflect on ourselves. Talking about our feelings in person can be a bit embarrassing, so it’s easier to share them by putting in writing.

I woke up one morning, and the first thought that came to my mind was how happy I was to work with these people. So I called Yeongeun and told her that it’s an honor to work with her.

Noh Yeongeun: Hearing from Jieon that it’s an honor to work with me made the day for me. So, I sent her a message, “Thank you for waking up today.” It came to my mind that I should express how I feel more often. When I saw Yesol, I hugged her and read poetry and meditated with her. I wanted to show how much I cared so that I leave no regrets even if I die today.

Co-founders of Wal: Kwon Yesol, Noh Yeongeun, and Kim Jieon (from left)

Through the interview, I got energized by the pure passion and positive aura of the team Wal. I was reminded that all creative contents reflect the thoughts and feelings of their creators; thus for creators, taking care of themselves is the key to success. Happy content made by happy creators delivering happy energy, isn’t it that what we need as listeners on dreadful business day mornings?

Interested in the work and life of women in Korean startups? Visit the Facebook group, <Women in Startups (스여일삶 – 스타트업 여성들의 일과 삶)> here 

To listen to <Wal’s Breakfast Club (왈이의 아침식땅)> visit here

(Written by Jiyoung Kim, the founder and admin of <Women in Startups (스여일삶)>)

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