Humans of Haas: Jeena Chong
Jeena Chong is a new-admit at Haas (congratulations!) minoring in Theater from Seoul, Korea. She is part of several entrepreneurship-related organizations on campus including Venture Strategy Solutions, a consulting club for startups in the Bay Area. She is also the CEO and founder of a skincare startup called Cityface. Jeena is deeply interested in the intersection between the arts, business, and social impact. She loves all things creative including acting, singing, playing musical instruments, and filming/editing covers for her YouTube channel.
- What interests you about entrepreneurship?
My interest started in high school when I came across a book by the founder of Toms, Blake Mycoskie. That was the first time I realized that you could utilize business to generate some sort of social impact—it wasn’t just a profit-driven space. At that time, I also read #GIRLBOSS by Sophia Amoruso. I hadn’t seen a lot of female founders or female leaders, especially in Korea. After reading the book, it felt like I could do something like this too. It felt like everything aligned at that moment.
But in my high school, we didn’t really have any entrepreneurship-based programs, so I just spent time after school doing my own research into it. Eventually, I created a social fashion startup drawing from my experience from modeling and learned more about startups in that way.
- Why did you decide to start a skincare brand?
When I was 14, I went to an open call for a modeling agency on a whim. Somehow, I got in, so I continued working as a model throughout high school. During that time, I became interested in skincare, because skincare is really big in Korea, and a lot of the modeling work I was doing was with beauty companies. I was at an age where I was undergoing a lot of hormonal changes, so my skin was super sensitive. I was looking for clean beauty solutions that were made for teenage skin and were accessible for younger people, but I couldn’t really find anything. That’s when I knew that I wanted to start something in skincare and also create some kind of social impact, so I decided to start Cityface. Our products are great for teenage skin and for each each product sold, we donate $1. It’s a big motivator for me as we continue to grow.
- What has the process for building a company been like?
I’ve been following the launch of Glossier and what Emily Weiss is doing with her brand. She has an inspirational journey, so that really propelled me to take the next step to actually starting the brand. Since I came home in March because of the pandemic, I started to move forward with the brand. Over the months, I formed a small team with some of my old friends from high school and other Berkeley students, and we worked on product development with a lab in Korea. I worked with them to develop over 60 samples in the span of 3-4 months. We were able to launch in December last year. We have 3 products, representing 3 cities: Seoul, San Francisco, and New York. In each of the cities, we’ve partnered with an NGO that works with youth and Gen Z to donate a portion of our sales.
- Describe the moment when you got into Haas.
I couldn’t sleep the night before decisions were supposed to come out. I woke up 3 times in the middle of the night, and each time, the sun was not out yet. I was waiting for the sun, because in Korea, the decisions came out in the morning. Once they were finally out, my mom was there with me, and we saw my acceptance together. I celebrated with some ice cream cake and video chatted with my other friends who got in. We were super excited.
- How has being an international student at Haas been?
My dad went to school in San Francisco, so I visited SF a lot when I was a kid and was pretty familiar with the area. In some ways, it felt like a second home even before I got here. In general, I think people are just super open-minded in America. That acceptance is something that I missed in high school. People are so excited and willing to learn more about each other’s unique experiences, which is just really cool to me.
- How does your interest in theater complement your interest in business?
I’m drawn to both startups and acting in theatre, because of the empathy aspect. It’s so core to both of those disciplines. You have to completely empathize with the character to act well and tell the story, and you have to empathize with your customer when you’re developing a product or a new startup. That act of empathy—working with people, learning about their lives, and telling stories whether through product or acting—is really fulfilling to me.
By Vedika Dayal