Writepath Inc. has recently secured $500k from B-Dash Ventures and Pinehurst Advisors. The team intends to use the funds to further expand into Asian markets outside their base of Taiwan, with a focus on the huge opportunity in Korea.
Founded in 2009 WritePath provides multi-lingual editing services and online translation solutions. Currently the company serves 22 countries and has three services in the market. One such, Top Admit, is now being touted in the Korean market. I caught up with Jongeun Lee, Writepath’s first Korean employee to understand more about how and why the company sees Korea as the next big opportunity.
About the Services
Top Admit, one of WritePath’s core services provides editing services for college applicants and students. Until recently the main markets for online education consulting are China, Taiwan and the US with a strong recent growth path in Thailand and Vietnam. BizEditor is a crowd-sourced translation platform which assists with daily Chinese translation and English writing / editing needs. A range of clients currently use the service, including EMC, DHL, the Taipei City Government, National Cheng Kung University, Academica Sinica and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). TopSCledit caters to professors and research assistants, who have requirements for editing of research papers. TopSCIedit also helps their clients get published in renowned research magazines. This vertical now targets a market of one million research papers per year across Asia.
Write Path now sees the Korean market as a top priority for growth. By student population in the US, Koreans are now the third largest group, which is astounding given the country’s population of a mere 50 million people. It represents a level of economic maturity as well as a fierce desire from Koreans that they acquire the best levels of education available.
To meet this market there are already thousands of study-abroad agencies in Korea. However, there aren’t many professional essay editing agencies, and this is the large market Write Path is going after. In a nation that is used to paying for educational services, and using tech platforms, Korea represents a huge potential market.
I asked Jongeun why there were not better facilities for essay editing in Korea and she explained that “most of study-abroad agencies in Korea have in-house editing systems. These are difficult to manage as most editors are part time college graduates themselves and are not used to professional levels of work, or regular working hours.” In contrast to this, TopAdmit employs a large pool of professional editors who understand the admission process, which increases reliability and quality. Pricing is also reliably set according to word count. There is even a sub-service, EssayCritique, where general impressions on content are provided for a mere $19.99.
Jongeun explained that WritePath was aware that the Korean market was a great opportunity for their services due to the large number of Korean students in overseas universities. The company was also aware that marketing of their service would need to take careful account of local marketing channels, such as the local search engine Naver. Active engagement in study-abroad online communities was also a key part of their Korean entry strategy, which primarily focuses on online channels.
Jongeun feels that Write Path’s previous experience in expanding elsewhere in Asia was a major benefit when they kicked off their Korean market entry. She also explained that close communication with the team in Taipei was essential for ensuring smooth roll-out of marketing initiatives and overcoming issues as they arose.
One difficulty she came across was payments, as Koreans are not used to using PayPal. This was eventually resolved as a new credit card payment system was introduced by Write Path.
As with all new markets, brand awareness has been one of the key concerns for Jongeun and the team in HQ. “Raising awareness is a key issue for us now. Our customers are generally happy with our service, but not enough people know about us yet. This is a difficult issue to solve, as a foreign startup, even though I am Korean,” Jongeun explained. Having recently been through the study abroad experience herself, Jongeun believes that she is able to offer Write Path a uniquely Korean angle on their Korean entry. “I had existing connections with online communities and other Korean students studying in the U.S. and can offer insights on how students utilize agencies while planning for study abroad. I could glean valuable insights from our target market, by building relationships in Naver forums, asking and answering relevant questions.
Jongeun has found that while some of the more well known social platforms from the west are not as widely used in Korea, they are still useful for building connection with their target audience. “Through my experience with two startups entering the Korean market I’ve realized that utilizing online social platforms is key to building an audience and gathering user data. Koreans are really tech-savvy, so online communities are an effective, just as in the West,’ she explained.
Jongeun also explained that peer influence is a major factor in Korea. Perhaps much more so than in other countries. She believes that once this is realized and leveraged, Korea becomes a very interesting market for any products or services that appeal to particular age groups. Fail to grasp this fully and there is a strong likelihood you will not be able to connect at all. Maintaining a strong and positive online reputation is a key factor in this. Being sensitive to new trends is also vital, as Koreans will tend to move from one hot trend to the next very quickly.
Despite slightly slower than expected Korea growth, Jongeun is confident that with the increased recent funding Write Path will be able to consolidate its position in Korea. She also believes that current students who often spend considerable sums of money engaging could move over to a more DIY study plan model. As Write Path grows in Korea she hopes that students will benefit from the more affordable services they offer.