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 Tuesday and Thursday, we will introduce you to 10 startup companies that got into the list in alphabetical order. Here’s our list for this week:
Key People: Dae-gyu Chang (Co-founder, CEO), Young-uk Jeon (Co-founder, Director)
BCNX is a company created by a merger between two startup companies, BlogCocktail and Expy, in 2012. Withblog, a blog marketing platform, was created as a result of synergy between the two merged companies. Expy brought the know-how of starting a campaign and attracting users, while the BlogCocktail provided necessary tools and platform. In Withblog, bloggers can join a specific campaign to receive a certain product and leave reviews. These reviews make a big influence in buyer’s decision - big enough to create a scandal (some allegedly created fake reviews for cash). Withblog now has 160,000 users and 6,400 campaigns. Coolidge Corner Investment acted as a bridge between the two companies, which were both in its portfolio in the early days. In December 2013, Coolidge Corner Investment provided $500,000 seed investment for newly emerged BCNX.
beSUCCESS (Web service)
Key People: James Jung (Founder, CEO, Chief Editor)
beSUCCESS is a startup media company that was created by Jung in 2011 to help Korean startups penetrate overseas markets. What started as a blog consisting e-mail interviews with founders of Fortune 40 companies, under the age of 40, ended up becoming one of the key startup platforms in the Korean startup ecosystem. beSUCCESS media now includes both English and Korean versions. The company also organizes startup events. beLAUNCH, their annual flagship in Seoul, is now Korea’s top startup conference and beGLOBAL is the U.S. version of the event, held every fall in Silicon Valley.
Bonbonlab Inc. (Commerce)
Key People: Ka-young Kim (Founder, CEO)
Bonbon means ‘Candy’ in French.
Bonbonlab Inc. is the creator of mobile app, Hotelnow. It allows users to pay for and check in at hotel rooms that didn’t get book for the day at very low cost. Hotels can quickly fill up empty rooms by selling them at discount. Kim came up with this idea when she was traveling in Korea and had difficulties looking for empty rooms. After recruiting her college friends as co-founders, the team hired a developer to create a simple and efficient mobile application. The app received stunningly positive reviews with 4.8/5.0 stars, 1,600 votes and 10,000 downloads. The team had to hustle non-stop to breach the high-entry barrier of hotel industry, which is tightly run by insiders. Now the company has major partner hotels, which are also announced in its Facebook page as well.
Key People: Chul-jong Yu (CEO)
Bookcube is a ebook publishing company that uses web and mobile app platforms. What’s unique about Bookcube is that it provides exclusive contents to users, only available through its platform. Users can not only buy or borrow books, but also subscribe for memberships and have unlimited access to its contents. Bookcube also launched its ebook reader at much lower cost than its competitors.
Key People: Han-yul Jo (Founder, CEO)
The company started as an external app developer, creating book applications for publishers (Unlike ebook readers each application only has single title, but their design and layout are more thamatic and contextualized). In the process, Bookjam didn’t adopt the EPUB format, but created its own called BXP to create more sophisticated layout. Now, Bookjam aims to create its own cloud based platform to centralize the distribution of book applications. Currently, Bookjam has partnerships with 30 big name publishers in the industry. Its book applications already became hugely successful with 30~100,000 downloads for popular titles. This unconventional ebook startup raised $300,000 seed investment in 2012 and $1.4 million from Altos Ventures in 2013.
Key People: Hyung-suk Kim (Founder, CEO)
Kim was unsuccessful in his venture in the early days, which he describes it as "imcomplete failure." However, when smartphones emerged, Kim saw great potential in that small device and jumped into the startup world with his former colleague again. With $30,000 he borrowed, Kim desperately worked on an application, ultimately creating Bookpal in just one month. Bookpal is basically a social ebook platform where people can publish their own books and download free contents. The app became an instant success with million downloads in six months. By incorporating advertising and commerce into the business, Kim believes that social publishing is the future for ebook industry.
Key People: Andrew Kim (Co-founder, CEO)
4 young alumni from from the Korea Game Science High School and a CEO with business background joined together to start a company called Brixon. With a strong passion for games, they have already shown some promising sign, being part of the 3rd Spark Square Accelerator program in 2013. Indian Story will be their first product, which hasn’t launched yet. Nonetheless, this talented team is quite ambitious with its aim to tap into the North American and Japanese markets as well.
Calcutta Communication (Mobile)
Key People: Meryl Ko (Founder, CEO)
Calcutta focuses on mobile business ecosystem, mobile UX, app consulting and other mobile related services. Calcutta Rank is a platform that provides rankings, product featuring and trend reports solely for the mobile applications. With engineering background, Ko created a product that was also patented in Korea and other countries. Ko’s expertise and passion for the industry puts her in a strong position within the mobile solution business.
CC Partners (Web services)
Key People: Min-sung Jo (Founder, CEO)
CC Partners is the company behind BnBHero, which is a Korean version of AirBnB. The idea started with Jo experimenting with the concept of sharing economy by renting out 3 small rooms. Later, the business became extremely popular during the Yeosu Expo in 2012. Jo was able to pitch the idea of sharing empty rooms to tourists to the local residents. This room sharing business quickly became famous among the local residents as a way to raise quick cash. Currently, BnBHero has 4,000 rooms registered and 15,000 users on a yearly basis. CC partners also obtained 4,000 rooms through partnership in Japan. The company has a grand ambition of creating a BnB network that connects Korea, Japan and China.
Key People: Mi-kyun Kim, Bum-jin Kim
Cizion developed LiveRe, a communication platform for leaving replies online. The founders came up with the idea in 2008 after they learned how the online verbal abusement allegedly led a celebrity to commit suicide. To fight against the online verbal abusement, they created a reply message system that automatically syncs the user’s social network profile. By exposing the person’s identity, the tool could prevent the verbal abusement online. By 2012, almost all the major online media companies have adopted the LiveRe platform (by that time, they had 8 million users accumulated, 450 business clients, and average of 2 billion page views per month). Now, Cizion is planning to launch a mobile app, LiveReview, which utilizes the data they collect through LiveRe and provides relevant news feed to the users.
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.
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