Demoday, a web platform for Korean Startups, recently came up with a list of 100 hot Korean startups in 2013, and we thought this might be a great chance to write an introduction to the Korean startup world. Every week, we will introduce you to 20 startup companies that got into the list in alphabetical order. Here’s the first 10 companies of our list for this week:
Key People: Jun-hee Ahn (Co-founder, CEO)
Handstudio is a company that develops Smart TV platform and contents, and also famous for its extremely generous employee welfare policies. Some of the well-known policies include financial support of $10,000 for employees who are getting married, and year-end parties with employees’ families at a luxury hotel. These supportive and costly programs has made Handstudio one of the most popular places to work in the Korean startup world. Ironically, some people say that they don’t know what Handstudio is actually doing, besides providing its famous employee welfares. Still, Ahn seems focused, emphasizing that “revenue is the most important component for any startups.” Handstudio has made $2 million in revenue a year after its launch and $3 million in 2013, becoming the foremost player in Smart TV business. Some of its top tier partners and clients include Samsung Electronics, Humax, Financial Times, and Naver (you can see the list in their webpage. It’s actually quite impressive).
Key People: Byung-yul Park (Founder, CEO)
HelloNature is an online farmers market place where users can purchase fresh, organic foods directly from the locals. Farmers market and similar online platforms are already quite developed in the Western markets. However, this idea is quite new in Korea where farmers are still dependent on highly inefficient supply system, in which the prices go up by more than 80% and the quality drops substantially. HelloNature brings innovation to this current system by being an intermediary between the consumers and the local farmers. The Korean Ministry for Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries has awarded HelloNature as the “most innovative idea” in the food supply industry. This growing company has great potentials, being chosen for the 4th Fast Track Asia CEO Program, a popular entrepreneur support program that is backed by a couple of VCs and current CEOs.
Key People: Min-joo Yoo (Founder, CEO)
Believe it or not, Baking industry was a hot potato in Korea for a while in 2013. People were criticizing the big conglomerates for oversaturating the markets, which were killing the small businesses. Eventually, the officials passed a law preventing the big corporates from over expanding, but the local bakery stores still face a steep competition against the franchise stores. hey!Bread was created to solve this problem by Yoo, providing a marketing platform for local bakery stores. The concept of delivering breads is quite esoteric but it seems like the investors have bought the idea, receiving angel investments from Sparklabs and others. hey!Bread is currently focusing on delivering high quality breads to individuals and large organizations. In the future, they plan to add more items like fresh juice, salad, and fruits.
*Fun fact: Yoo played an important role in the creation of Ticket Monster, which is now owned by Groupon. You can read the founding story of Ticket Monster in his book ‘Tmon is Going.’
Key People: Min-wu Kim (CEO)
Hotdog Studio is a mobile game developer, most famous for its title ‘Everyone’s Game.’ This popular game app was downloaded over 10 million times, becoming one of the hottest mobile game apps in Asia. In 2011, NC Soft, a mega giant in Korean gaming industry, acquired Hotdog Studio at $3.5 million valuation. Now, they are aiming for global success with plans to jump into the Chinese and Japanese markets.
Key People: Chul-bum Kim (Founder, CEO)
i-ePub is one of the leaders in the Korean eBook industry. Kim, a former athlete and serial entrepreneur, started his venture after realizing that there was a lack of players who were specializing in ebook contents in the market. i-ePub is one of the few companies that gets involved in the early stage of book publishing, planning for contents that are specific for ebooks only. i-ePub also has strong partnerships with other ebook startups like Bookjam, Moglue, Publ Studio and Y Factory. It also works closely with major book companies in Korea and global ebook platforms like Apple’s iBook and Amazon Kindle.
Key People: Jong-il Choi (Founder, CEO)
Iconix is somewhat too big and successful to be considered as a startup now, but it’s still worth a mention. It is one of the leading Animation companies in Korea, most famous for its hit animation ‘Pororo.’ If you didn’t know, Pororo was one of the most popular animations in Korea. It holds a grand title of ‘Potongryung,’ which means ‘Kid’s president Pororo’ (behold and witness the greatness of Pororo. You can scroll down and watch the videos). Its estimated economic value is over $6 billion, which is a staggering amount (however, estimates are often speculative). Now, Iconix is a role model for many aspiring animation companies that wish to follow its footsteps.
Key People: Dong-ho Kim (Founder, CEO)
ID Incu is a company behind the successful mobile survey platform, Open Survey. Open Survey promises accurate results based on over 270,000 panels within 3 hours of research. Unlike Survey Monkey, Open Survey is more of a B2B focused platform, and has its strength in data collection. The company already has some great track record. As of 2013, ID Incu was providing services to over 340 businesses and public institutions, and also tapped into the Japanese market by having strategic partnership with InnoBeta, a Japanese startup company. It’s also a first Korean research company that received ESOMAR membership, and an official partner of IDG DMC, one of the big 3 domestic marketing forums. In 2013, ID Incu received $2 million in series A funding from Stonebridge Capital and Softbank Ventures Korea.
Key People: Jin-bae Park, Jong-jin Kim, Chi-woo Lee (Co-CEOs)
Another successful mobile game developing company with successful titles that include ‘Rainy Day’ and ‘Plants War.’ ‘Rainy Day’ and ‘Plants War’ were downloaded 2 million and 8 million times, respectively. In 2014, Bon Angels Partners, the most well-known Korean angel investor, provided $300,000 angel money. Currently, the company is planning to expand overseas, reaching out to publishers in North America and China.
IM Company Inc.
Key People: In-mo Jung (Founder, CEO)
IM Company is an Ed-tech startup that created a mobile application for schools and tiger moms in Korea. IM School is an app based school notification system that replaces the conventional paper notices. I’m quite sure that the Korean tiger moms were joyful when they found out that they no longer needed to rely on their kids for any information being passed from the school. Also, it makes sense considering how most kids in Korea own smartphones (my niece who was in first grade already had one, since most of her friends owned smartphones). Normally, ed-tech companies face barriers to entry due to red tape, but IM Company already had 850 schools listed as members as of 2012. They plan to reach a goal of having 10,000 member schools in the near future.
Category: Web Services
Key People: Hee-eun Park (Founder, CEO)
The trend is that more people are finding their matches through online dating sites these days. For example, Tinder is huge in the U.S. right now (and I’ve seen so many people who were addicted to it). IUM Socius has also been riding the online dating craze in Korea. Somewhat similar to a product called Coffee Meets Bagel (yes, I admit I’ve tried this app), IUM, their flagship app, connects single men and women everyday at 12:30pm. Of course, if you want more serious dating, I’m8 is a curating service that allows you to browse through a list of candidates, so you can find a perfect match. Currently, IUM Socius has over 1 million users, around 13% of singles in Korea, which is quite impresseive. They were also quite successful in fundraising, receiving $3 million from Mirae Asset and others in 2011. However, there’s also steep competition waiting for them as online dating is becoming more popular.
Demoday is a web platform for Korean Startups that provides a range of support based on data collected through a survey of more than 3,000 Startups. Companies registered at Demoday can recruit talent, advertise their products online, and seek partnerships or investment through the platform. Demoday also publishes Startup DB and Rankings on a regular basis.
Visit Demoday's Korean Website