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 10 startup companies that got into the list in alphabetical order. Here’s our list for this week:
4:33 Creative Lab (Gaming)
Key People: Jun-Mo Kwon (CEO), Tae-hwan So (co-CEO)
4:33 was created in 2009 by former members of Entelligent Inc, a game developer that was acquired by Nexon Mobile in 2005. Jun-Mo Kwon, one of the co-founders of 4:33 and Entelligent, served as a Chief Executive at Nexon Mobile after Entelligent was acquired (link to Kwon’s profile). Not surprisingly, some of the unofficial sources state that 4:33 has retained its corporate culture from the past. What was surprising is that unlike everyone’s prediction that 4:33 will come up with a game app, its first ever launched product was a productivity app called, ‘Master of Discounts,’ which centralizes the membership discount and coupon management. After a great success with its first product, 4:33 returned to its roots and developed mobile-based games. Some of the big hits include, ‘The Secret of Moreau’s,’ ‘Arrow,’ and ‘EpicHearts.’ Although some of its games were controversial for their lack of originality, 4:33 was successful in raising capital, most recently raising $9 million investments from VCs in 2013.
Formerly known as Ablar Company. 5Rocks in Korean is ‘Oh-Rak,’ which means ‘Game.’
5Rocks specializes in developing business intelligence solutions for mobile game developers. The first product was originally a restaurant booking app called, ‘Poing,’ which was later sold to Trustus Co.,Ltd. 5Rocks experimented with the back-end structure of ‘Poing,’ and later developed a full product after receiving positive feedback. According to the website, the product supports the following features: flexible cohort analysis, detailed user segmentation, targeted in-app promotion, comparative campaign testing, advanced monetization analysis and an auto-alert system. In August 2013, 5Rocks received $2.3 million investment from Global Brain, a Japanese VC. 5Rocks is currently available in beta mode, but a large number of game developers have already adopted its product.
*Fun fact: Chester Roh (5Rocks founding member) achieved legendary status for hacking Pohang University of Science and Technology’s network in 1996. What started as a school rivalry ended up costing him a term in jail. View his profile here.
Key People: Sungjun Park (Founder, CEO)
9Flava is the company behind WEPASS, a mobile app for membership points and coupons. The main differentiator from its competitors is that you can share your membership card by inviting friends to collect the points together. Also, WEPASS has a separate POS system that can analyze customer data in real time (In February 2014, 9Flava made a partnership with big data analysis company, Old Best). As of November 2013, WEPASS had 110,000 users and 1,200 member stores. 9Flava was quite successful in pitching its product’s potential to investors. It was the first ever company to receive an investment through Korean Venture Investment Corp.’s Angel Investment Matching Fund. Most recently, it made a strategic partnership with Daum Communications and received $1 million as an investment.
Key People: Hae-na Jeon (Founder, CEO)
Add2Paper is a free printing platform created by and for college students. As the name suggests, Add2Paper provides free service to students by incorporating advertisement into the margin of printed documents. It currently has 235,481 users and 72 universities that have adopted the system. What started as a simple school project in 2009 ended up being one of the hottest startups, receiving $300,000 investment in 2011 and $900,000 in 2013. Add2Paper team is already hinting at second project after its successful first venture.
Key People: Dano Uichong Lee (Co-founder, CEO), Sunku Kang (Co-founder, CTO)
AD fresca transforms mobile apps into live services by providing tools for personalized engagement in real-time which improve customer loyalty and life-time value. They have a proven enterprise-level SaaS solution based on real-time big data processing technology which has handled over 6B+ API calls. AD fresca has attracted notable clients (Nexon and Neowiz) and was founded by Dano Lee, the former Head of Sales at EA Interactive for Korea. This promising company received $30,000 seed investment from PAG&Partners, LLC. in 2012. The founders plan to expand their business into the global markets in the near future.
Ahiku (Web service)
Key People: Naru Kim (Founder, CEO)
Ahikus was established in 2009 with a goal of developing live broadcasting platform that can help people to communicate more efficiently. Recood, a video recording and sharing platform, is its flagship product. The product is unfortunately characterized as ‘Instagram for Videos,’ as Instagram already provides a similar service. Ahiku’s website is saying that it’s preparing for new services and products.
AndbuT (IT services)
Key People: Hyunjong Jung (Co-founder, CEO), Hansol Lee (Co-founder, CTO)
Jung quit his job at Samsung Electronics in 2012 to start his own company. After some failure with his initial ideas, he began to search for some clues by listening to other people. The epiphany came when a developer exhibited his frustration with the lack of customer feedback during a startup seminar, saying that he would “pay for users’ feedback.” After few pivots, AndbuT is now expecting to launch Userhabit, a mobile app UX analysis tool that can provide visualized reports by utilizing the data collected from real-time users, in June 2014. AndbuT was selected as the 25th company for Primer’s incubating program in December 2013. It also won 2nd place in Samsung SDS Sgen Global (now its new office space is in Sgen Center).
Appdisco (Mobile Marketing)
Key People: Soo-Hwan Jeong (Founder, CEO)
Appdisco is one of the fastest growing and most controversial Korean startups. Its flagship app is AdLatte, which allows users to collect rewards by viewing Ads. The company boasts 10 million accumulated downloads and has buisness operations in 13 countries. In 2012, the company successfully raised series A funding of $3.5 million from Innopolis Partners. However, a lot of people speculated that Appdisco was having financial issues due to excessive growth and internal conflict (in 2013, there was a rumor that Jeong might sell his company). In June 2013, Appdisco received $2 million funding from Korea Telecom, despite the fact that the company’s valuation had dropped by $7 million. At this time Appdisco also owed $500,000 to Korea Telecom’s subsidiary and had difficulty in paying back. The Prosecutor’s Office later obtained a search and seizure warrant for Korea Telecom and Appdisco, suspecting political ties behind the investment. Although the future of Appdisco looks uncertain at the moment, Jeong seems to remain ambitious with his plan to enter overseas market.
Key People: Ron Yang (Founder, CEO)
Auctionory provides an online marketplace where users can directly connect with professionals from different industries for language translation. Yang started this company after he identified huge inefficiencies in the market while working on a translation project in a multinational company. This relatively new startup participated in the 5th Enternship program by Primer in 2013 and showed promising signs. With the grand goal of creating a fully transparent platform for professional translators, Auctionory aims to go global with its plan to provide service in English, Spanish and Chinese.
Key People: Minhee Lee (Founder, CEO)
i&Combine is an educational tech startup launched in 2011 with $10,000 initial capital and 2 co-founders. Lee, CEO and co-founder of the company, left Samsung to pursue her passion in entrepreneurship and education. Her lightbulb moment came when she was tutoring her younger sibling through an online messenger app. Having difficulties explaining math problems that required visualization, Lee began to record her problem solving sessions and post them online. This seemingly simple idea led to the creation of Bapul, a Q&A platform where students can solve problems together. With easy to use apps in the Web, android, and iOS, Bapul quickly became one of the most popular products in the edTech industry. i&Combine is quite successful in raising funds, receiving $600,000 in series A from Capstone Partners, Asan Nanum Foundation, SK Planet and Banks Foundation for Young Entrepreneurs. Lee says that her dream is to become one of the top 50 most influential female CEOs in the world, which doesn’t sound far fetched at all.
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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