The Korea Herald


[LLG] Young Seoulite's double life as startup consultant and indie actor

How Baek Yo-sun's journey of daring to pursue acting, hitting rock bottom and returning to startup field helped her find new meaning in both worlds

By Song Seung-hyun

Published : March 21, 2024 - 13:59

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Baek Yo-sun poses for a photo during an interview with The Korea Herald in January. (Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald) Baek Yo-sun poses for a photo during an interview with The Korea Herald in January. (Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald)

Even in Seoul, teeming with so many busy people, Baek Yo-sun stands out for striving to live in two seemingly contrasting worlds.

By day, she's a human resources and post-investment management consultant at a venture capital firm dedicated to nurturing local startups. When the sun sets or weekend begins, she shifts gears to transform into an actor, breathing life into diverse characters.

Striking a balance between her two lives has not been easy. She acknowledges that there may not be a perfect -- or sustainable -- balance.

"Some people say that if I become a more successful commercial actor, I will (eventually decide to pursue acting only). Maybe they’re right. But for now, I feel like I am getting something distinct and unique from the jobs I have."

Baek’s path to pursuing two careers -- and even three at one point, including writing -- began when she was 26, with the rekindling of a childhood dream that she had long kept to herself.

A scene from short film A scene from short film "Yoon" starring actor Baek Yo-sun (Kakacinema)

Passion ignited

Pursuing acting had been Baek’s long-cherished dream.

"When I was in high school, the prevailing belief was that only 'special' people could be actors – those who are exceptionally pretty or extraordinarily talented," she said, explaining why she didn't share her dream with anyone, or take any steps toward realizing it, at first.

It was only in 2017, when she was 26, that she finally found the courage to try out acting before it was “too late."

She signed up for an acting class, which led to her getting involved in small theater projects in Daehakro, Seoul’s theater district.

As she delved deeper into acting, her love for the craft only grew stronger.

Acting even became a kind of therapy for her, a sanctuary aiding her in coming to terms with some of the most painful moments in her life.

While acting, Baek would reenact moments from her past to understand her authentic emotions better.

"Vocalizing what I hadn't been able to express in real life in the past and acting it out gave me a sense of emotional freedom," she said.

A scene from short film A scene from short film "Yoon" starring actor Baek Yo-sun (Kakacinema)

Hitting rock bottom and bouncing back

In 2019, she quit her job as the chief operating officer of Bisecu, a startup producing smart locks for bikes founded by friends of hers from college. She also broke up with her boyfriend of over eight years.

Determined to pivot and dive seriously into acting, she looked for an agency to sign with. But the constant feedback she got from local entertainment agencies was to lose weight first in order to be considered, despite her being already at her lowest weight ever – 56 kilograms at the height of 170 centimeters.

“You should aim to weigh no more than 48 kilograms," one agency even advised.

Faced with this impasse, she was consumed by the thought that she had achieved nothing tangible, despite nearing 30 in Korean age.

Then, the COVID-19 pandemic struck, forcing everyone to stay home and distance themselves from others as much as possible. Baek even experienced symptoms of panic disorder.

"I hit rock bottom,” she confessed.

In August 2020, Baek found a way to bounce back, motivated by the tweets of Kim Yarn, an influencer with over 60,000 followers, who shared a similar journey of pursuing her passion for writing despite dealing with financial hardship.

"Kim began her career as a writer, while also continuing to work as a dental hygienist, earning 2 million won ($1,497) a month," Baek said. "It resonated with me so much."

Baek explained that the notion of finding a job that could sustain her financially while also allowing her to pursue acting on the side made much more sense after witnessing Kim juggle two careers.

So, she re-entered the startup industry. First, she secured a position in the e-commerce startup Wisely, and she now works for local venture capital firm The Ventures. Her job is mainly to do human resources consulting for startups her VC firm has invested in.

Kim's impact went beyond simply inspiring her to return to working in the startup field while pursuing acting on the side, motivating Baek to co-author a book titled "My X Unnie," which was released in 2022.

In the book, Baek openly shared her past struggles and her experience of eventually becoming roommates with Kim.

The feedback and reviews she received about her book made her feel like she was not alone, as there were others going through similar struggles.

This is why, even after the book's release, Baek continued to write about her life on her blog.

Tricky balancing act

To her surprise, returning to the venture capital world brought her much more than just a stable stream of income.

“I truly enjoy working with startup CEOs. They are truly unique souls with a passion," she said.

Baek noted that staying in touch with people from various industries and with different life experiences appears to enhance her acting abilities as well.

For the past two years, her acting career also flourished, with two of her films having been invited to prestigious local film festivals.

In 2022, her film "Carrier Woman," directed by Hwang Dong-uk, was invited to the 27th Busan International Film Festival, and the previous year, the 49th Seoul Independent Film Festival featured her film "The Initial Memories," co-directed by Ahn Sun-kyoung and Jang Kun-jae.

Baek stressed the significance of her film festival experiences, highlighting that independent films rarely get the chance to get screened in theaters.

Interacting directly with the public on a large scale and engaging with their questions and comments in person were two things that were particularly special, she said.

The film "The Initial Memories," which drew from the real-life experiences of the participating actors, helped her gain perspective on her difficult relationship with her mother.

Baek, during her teen years, had often faced emotionally charged conflicts with mother, which had sometimes even resulted in damaged belongings.

"When we would argue, my mom might (go as far as to) destroy a poster of the K-pop band TVXQ and my cell phone, while I would break her expensive dishes and flowers," Baek recalled.

"Now I understand her better. My mother faced challenges, raising two kids alone from the age of 32. I understand why she got overly emotional at times."

When questioned about the challenges of juggling two jobs towards the end of the interview, Baek acknowledged that there are indeed difficulties.

Leaving work to rush to a film set in a taxi, or waking up early on weekends when she should be taking time off to rest, are moments that have prompted her to self-reflect: "What am I doing?"

"My mom still tells me to settle down with one job and get married," she said.

"But I think I will keep my jobs."

A scene from “The Initial Memories” starring actor Baek Yo-sun(left) (Mocushura Inc.) A scene from “The Initial Memories” starring actor Baek Yo-sun(left) (Mocushura Inc.)

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