Finally, we're back after some pause! It seems like we have some great lineup of startups for our list today. Some of the tech companies mentioned here are really hot in the Korean startup scene at the moment. I was personally impressed by these companies while writing the piece, and I'm sure you want to know them if you're interested in Korean startups as well.
If this is your first time reading our intro series, the top 100 list is brought to you by Demoday, one of the top web platforms for Korean Startups. Every week, we will introduce you to 20 startup companies that got into the list in alphabetical order.
Key People: Se-joong Kim (Founder, CEO)
JellyBus is a company that specializes in camera app development. Qbro, a smartphone camera app, was ranked top in the Apple App Store in 16 different countries when it first launched in 2011. PicsPlay Pro, a photo editor app, was also featured as one of the best applications in 2012 by Apple, Google and Naver (Forbes also featured it as one of the top photo editor apps). The startup community recognized JellyBus’ success when it made into the top 11 in Echelon 2011. JellyBus now has over 30 million users around the world. Being a former B-boy dancer, Kim seems to be quite audacious (unfortunately, I don’t have a translated version, but his opinion piece is quite revealing), as he’s telling us that the company is planning to expand in different areas like video recording, social media, and even mobile gaming.
Category: Web Service
Key People: Jung-in Joo (CEO), Jong-chul Lee (Director)
Last November, Jellycoaster was chosen as one of the top 5 companies by YouNoodle, a San Francisco based company that promotes entrepreneurship competition, and a member company of Posco Venture in 2012. Though, Jellycoaster’s identity may be a little bit vague in terms of the services that it provides. The company first started as a social media company, launching a social diary app called Buddy Up. Later, it ventured into the marketing area by creating Facebook API based applications for business clients. Recently, Jellycoaster developed a Near-Field-Communication (NFC) technology based service called Quick Tap, which can be used in many different places like ticket booths, arts galleries, and even in the local market places.
People Andy Lee (Founder, CEO)
Also known as the Google of Korea, Jennifer Soft is one of the most successful software companies in Korea, specializing in Application Performance Management (APM) solutions. Along with its jaw dropping employee friendly work environment, Jennifer Soft has an impressive list of clients. Its main product, Jennifer, has over 70% of domestic market share, and the company also boasts of over 30 partners and 50 clients around the globe. Jennifer Soft has unusual amenities like swimming pool and restaurants for employees, which make its peers feel jealous.
Key People: Jae-suk Lee, Su-re Park, Jin-wook Baek (Co-Founders)
JJS Media was founded by three ex-Nexon members. JJS’ first product was Mironi, a social music player, which was originally a project initiated in Revlix, a data analysis solutions provider. When Revlix was acquired by Enswers, Lee took the project with him and founded JJS (Revlix CEO, Jong-il Yoon, was a flexible man, and he let Lee to take care of the project). However, despite the fact that Mironi is a well developed product, it has few weaknesses to overcome: first of all, this kind of product has been existing in the market already. Second, it’s difficult for a small startup company to purchase a license and create a large music database. It seems like these challenges have made JJS to jump into the music concert business, where there seems to be more opportunities. My Music Taste is a crowdsourcing platform where users can initiate a campaign and promote concerts for a certain artist. JJS is growing fast, receiving $800,000 investment from Partners Venture Capital in 2012. In 2013, JJS had a taste of global expansion in Silicon Valley by participating in the Startup Nomad Accelerator program. It also participated in SXSW 2014 quite recently, showing its ambition for the global markets.
Category: IT Service
Key People: Min-chul Kim (Founder, CEO), Sang-hee Jo (Founder, CTO)
First, watch this awesome video for a quick intro to Kuekey. There are more than dozens of keyboard apps out there that use sophisticated algorithms to fix typos, but Kuekey seems to be the most intuitive and convenient to use. The company was first angel invested by Joong-hee Ryu, managing director at Intel (the company he founded, Ola Works, was acquired by Intel at $35 million), and was later backed by Primer, a Korean startup incubator, as well. Now, Kuekey is a star in the Korean startup scene. Unfortunately, the app isn’t available at the moment, but Kim says that we can expect it to launch around summer this year.
Category: Mobile, Education
Key People: Jun-yong Kim, Jang-uk Choi =(Co-CEOs)
Kids Note was founded by former Ahn Lab, a cybersecurity firm, members in 2012. Kim initially came up with the idea when his daughter brought paper memos from her pre-school, and thought that this could easily be transformed into a digital format. After developing the product, he pitched the idea to Choi, who was already famous for his execution skills in Ahn Lab. Indeed, his skills complimented the business side, as Kids Note now has around 9,000 pre-schools registered as its members. Korean Edu-Care Associations, Korean Kindergarten Association, and some of the district offices in Seoul and Pusan have also adopted the service. In 2012, Kids Note was chosen as one of the top 20 companies at beLAUNCH, and later received $300,000 angel investment from K-Cube Ventures. Kim says that it was a great experience to have beLAUNCH as Kids Note’s official debut stage (so if you’re a startup, you should definitely go register for our next event now!).
Key People: Yong-jae Kim, David Joo (Co-founders, Co-CEOs)
Interestingly, this Korean edTech startup gained its popularity in the U.S. first. KnowRe’s adaptive learning platform that specializes in personalized mathematics curriculum became a hot topic among teachers during the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics Conference back in 2012. Also, in 2013, KnowRe claimed 1st place prize in the NYC Gap App Challenge, which was initiated by the NYC Department of Education and Bloomberg administration. KnowRe graduated as one of the the first batches of Korean-American startup accelerator, SparksLabs, and later received $1.4 million seed investment from SoftBank Ventures Korea last December. KnowRe was featured in TechCruch, VentureBeat, and The Next Web, showing that the company has great potentials in the U.S. market. Now, along with its headquarter in Seoul, KnowRe has offices both in New York and LA, growing tech startup hubs in America.
Category: Web Service
Key People: San-ku Jo (Founder, CEO)
Kozaza is another Korean style AirBnB that was started in early 2012. As you may know, startup is all about execution, and Jo has proven track record dating back from his early days in KT and LG U+. One of the unique thing about Kozaza is that it promotes Korean traditional houses, also known as the Hanok stay.
Key People: Kwang-min Lee (Founder, CEO)
While traveling in Europe, I’ve encountered quite a number of restaurants and hostels that had over 16 digit wifi passwords (and not to mention all these public WiFis asking for my phone number). Maybe you might have had the same annoying experience connecting to public WiFis. Lee& Company is trying to solve this by implementing an advertisement model. Through Waffle, users can gain WiFi access for free just by using their Facebook account or taking a quick survey. Companies can use this as an advertising platform to get a boost in their Facebook Page ‘Likes’ or gather customer data. Last year, Lee& Company’s estimated revenue was around $1 million. This year, it closed another deal with a big franchise company, expanding to over 4,000 store places throughout Korea. That’s quite impressive for a team of 5 people.
Key People: Hee-sung Han (Founder, CEO, a.k.a. Lezhin), Jung-hyuk Kwon (CTO)
In case you didn’t know, Lezhin was a famous blogger in Korea known for his humorous posts, mostly about guys’ talk (if you know what I mean). And Korea is quite intolerant to people who talk about sex or related stuffs in public space (I don’t think we have things like Tublr or Reddit). For such reason, his blogs got shut down by the officials. Later, Lezhin vowed to create a legitimate website where he can stay independent, and he did come back with a vengeance. Lezhin Comics is now one of the best web-comic, also known as webtoon, platforms in Korea (and in case you didn’t know again, webtoons are huge in Korea). Naver, a Korean web portal giant, also provides webtoons for free, but it seems like Lezhin is winning the competition at the moment. Many famous webtoon authors have moved to Lezhin, and readers are worried that even more will move in the future. Last February, Lezhin agreed to a strategic partnership with CJ E&M, a corporate giant in Korean entertainment industry, which reflects its growing popularity.
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