One of the biggest tech trends today is text messengers becoming platforms for other services. And one of the hottest text-based services is virtual concierge services.
In the US, there is Magic, which recently received a 12M investment from Sequoia. In Indonesia, there is the YesBoss service supported by 500Startups. And even Facebook and Google have poured resources into developing services in this area.
In Korea this new market segment is led by Secretary Kim, a KakaoTalk-based mobile secretary service backed by Lufthansa Innovation Hub (LIH), the business model incubator of World’s largest airline group.
Your Mobile Personal Assistant
Secretary Kim was created to enable users, ordinary people who don’t have their own personal assistants, to have their own text-based personal assistant,” explained KJ Yoo, Secretary Kim’s Co-CEO.
“The relationship between Secretary Kim and its users is like that of the relationship of a real secretary and his/her boss. We help the boss find the important service and information succinctly to save energy, time, and money.” said Yoo.
Saeahm Lee, Co-CEO of Secretary Kim, elaborated, “The service is developed for those who are too overwhelmed with search, who find using various, often changing smartphone apps to be a headache, or who don’t want to keep up with fast-changing digital trends. Users can converse with Secretary Kim via KakaoTalk message to order various O2O services such as flower delivery, on-demand carwash, laundry pickup, buy and order gifts, etc.”
Yoo added, “Our vision is ‘Yes is the Ultimate Interface.’ We want to provide a service where the users only need to answer either yes or no to get what they want and need.”
Lee added, “Part of what makes Secretary Kim work well is the fun factor. We call each user ‘president’ and we use special Secretary Kim emoticons and natural language to truly give a personal secretary service. If our service were too formal, I don’t think we would have received the overwhelmingly positive response that we have so far.”
A New Startup Investment Model for the Korean Market?
Yoo credits the rapid growth of Secretary Kim to strong partnerships from its inception.
“LIH’s strong support from day one allowed us to focus on the quality of our service, rather than funding” he noted, “and working on the Kakao’s YellowID platform allowed us to scale more rapidly.”
What became Secretary Kim arose from discussions between Yoo and Gleb Tritus, LIH Director, Venture Development, who contacted Yoo to discuss ways to collaborate after reading a TechCrunch article about a project that Yoo was previously involved in.
Tritus explained, “Koreans are trend-setters of new technologies, and South Korea is one of the key leaders in its IT infrastructure and e-commerce market. We wanted to utilize South Korea as a market testbed to predict upcoming services and products that can be popular in other countries, especially in Asia.”
He added, “Korea is also attractive to us because of its strong pool of talented young entrepreneurs like Yoo and the commitment of the Korean government to support the startup ecosystem.”
Secretary Kim’s Next Steps
For 2016, Secretary Kim plans to continue focusing on expanding the quality and efficiency of its services in Korea, according to Yoo.
“Secretary Kim is looking for ways to offer more services without the needless downloading of an app or doing anything else exceptional. We want to work within the habit of the users. This is why we chose to use text; it may not be most convenient, but it is definitely comfortable.” Said Yoo.
“We continue to develop the business model with a focus on global scalability,” Yoo added. “Like LIH, we believe that Korean market validation of our service is a leading indicator that a similar service can work well in other countries. Once we get to that stage, our partnership with LIH and Lufthansa Group can be of increasing value due to their networks and know-how.”
Lee added, “We are also helping that our example of collaboration with LIH will become a new model for the Korean startup world. Korea’s long-term economic success requires a healthy startup ecosystem of new businesses that can thrive not only in Korea but globally.”