After geeking out in Shanghai and Beijing for a week, the GeeksOnAPlane (GOAP) caravan moved on to South Korea’s tech hot spot Seoul. The group spent the weekend in the city; an extremely short window of time, but enough to get at least a rough overview of what’s going in the country’s tech scene. And perhaps more importantly, we had the chance to interact and exchange ideas with a number of web and mobile entrepreneurs from Korea around the Startup Weekend Seoul event (the country’s first ever).
Overview of Korea’s tech scene
During the stay, our “host” in Korea, Chang Kim (one of the biggest star web entrepreneurs in the country), delivered a great primer on how the web industry evolved over the years.
There’s a number of interesting peculiarities in Korea, Asia’s fourth biggest online nation (37.5 million of the 48 million Koreans are online). For example, there’s the ubiquity of the Internet explorer (90%+ market share), the world’s highest broadband rate (which stands at a staggering 95%), or how certain social patterns in the real world are reflected on the web (distinct group behavior of Koreans in the real world facilitating viral marketing).
Here’s the presentation that Kim, now a product manager for Blogger.com at Google (the company that bought his startup two years ago), delivered:
The presentation follows up on Kim’s Tedx talk Kim gave last year and which I embedded below (it’s in English and contains a wealth of valuable information on Korea’s tech scene):
Demos from 12 Korean startups
Kim also organized a startup demo pad (separate from the Startup Weekend Seoul event, just like his primer), which was put together just for the GOAP group. Some of the Korean web entrepreneurs we met deplored the relatively small size of the industry, but the 12 local startups that showed their wares are building awesome stuff.
Here are thumbnail sketches on all of them. For more information, visit GOAP Seoul, the excellent mini blog Chang Kim thankfully put together just for the demo event (in English).
Startup 1: SundayToz
SundayToz is a four year old company that creates social games for Facebook, the iPhone, and NATE (the app platform of Cyworld, Korea’s leading social network that has 24 million users). The startup says it’s the country’s leading social game provider, currently seeing 500,000 daily visits daily. It now plans to expand to Asia, especially eying Mixi (Japan’s Facebook) as the first potential partner.
Startup 2: Flyfan (more info on the GOAP Seoul blog)
Korea’s e-commerce market is worth $17 billion, making it the world’s sixth largest. Founded in 2009, Flyfan launched Korea’s first “Etsy” (1forME) before officially launching their second product at the GOAP Seoul event. It combines a user-moderated group buying concept with heavy social elements. The idea is to let selected end users, for example “trusted” power mom bloggers, connect buyers (through giving product recommendations) with sellers (through finding customers for them) in a B2C2C model. Flyfan plans to launch the service in Korea this summer, with the US to follow later this year.
Here’s the complete presentation:
Startup 3: Fanatic.fm (more info here)
Fanatic.fm describes itself as a music branding platform, AdWords for music, and a “beyond-CD” music publishing tool for musicians. The service wants to answer the question how musicians get paid fairly online, especially when users listen to streaming music. Fanatic.fm enables fans and brands alike to financially support artists through ads that come “bundled” with the music whenever a song from those artists are being played. The startup is incorporated in California and has offices in Seoul.
Startup 4: Showstreet (more info here)
Provided by Seoul-based Rain.D, Showstreet combines self-developed, Google Street View-like technology with business databases and mapping information. The idea is to let users “pre-visit” destinations virtually before actually going there in the real world. House buyers, for example, can use Showstreet to “walk” along the street the house is located in and zoom in and “look” around inside the rooms. Through a joint venture with New Zealand-based WebConcept, Showstreet is mainly used by tourism agencies, real estate agents and small businesses in Australia and New Zealand.
Startup 5: TicketMonster
TicketMonster is a Korean Groupon clone that tries to capitalize on the country’s penchant for online shopping: whereas Koreans spend $24 billion to buy products on the web, real-world retailers see only $24 billion in sales per year. Another potential plus for TicketMonster is that because of the strong social element (group behavior) in Korea’s web, viral and word-of-mouth marketing works better than in other countries. As a result, TicketMonster says it spends just an average $0.47 to acquire a customer.
Startup 6: Kloseup (more info here)
Kloseup lets casual animators produce 3D animations, which can then be edited by other users from the community. Especially teenagers (the main customer base) are creating 3D movies centered around family and friends, parodies of popular TV programs, music videos, and even clips for school presentations. A mobile service called StoryMessage (built on top of Kloseup) makes it possible to send the movies to cell phones (as MMS) and customize the clips with text. Itonic, the startup behind the service, currently looks for new business partners in the US, Japan and other markets.
Startup 7: Twitcooler
Twitcooler is a Twitter-based social network for TV viewers. Users can tweet about a TV program while watching it on “three screens”, meaning on the cell phone (through a special iPhone app), on a PC site and their TVs (through an IPTV app). In the case of the IPTV app, relevant tweets will appear in a Twitter bar on the bottom of the screen. Twitcooler users can befriend each other and become fans of TV shows. The service is still in stealth mode.
Startup 8: Zimly (more info here)
Zimly is an Android app that was pitched as the “social media player” of the future. The app is already available (free download) and sees a pretty good number of downloads already. But the Zimly team is currently working on creating the “iTunes for Android”, just more open and with more social features. The idea is to make it easier to find new music by getting recommendations from people in your social graph.
Startup 9: Userstory Lab (more info here)
Userstory Lab is a quite international 10-man team based in Seoul whose mission is to “bring social search, recommendation engines and social layer to syndication channels in South Korea so it’s easier to discover, share, recommend web content, and purchase products and services online.” The company builds social services around “objects”, which at some point in the future will be merged into one big network that users can access via a single account. At the moment, Userstory Lab is focusing on two objects, books and links, with Userstory Book (a social network for book lovers) and tweetmix (a Twitter-based last.fm for links).
Startup 10: Paprika Lab
Paprika Lab is a social game provider that distributes titles on Facebook, iTunes and other platforms. At the demo event, the company pitched a social RPG with what appeared to be rather high production values and “Final Fantasy-like” game mechanics. Dubbed Pirate Legacy, the title wants to offer something the vast majority of the social games out there don’t: actual playability and deepness. Pirate Legacy is currently in beta and attracted 10,000 players so far.
Startup 11: Wetoku (more info here)
Wetoku is a completely browser-based service that lets users livestream video chats over the web. After the broadcast, recorded videos can be stored on the site or embedded in blogs and other places. The service is designed to be extra-easy to use, and it’s ideal for conducting video interviews, for example. Here‘s a recent one between Wetoku co-founder David Lee and Robert Scoble about Korea’s web scene.
Startup 12: Pixelberry
Pixelberry is an in-browser 3D game engine whose Chrome demo at the event looked amazing, with the sample 3D avatar shown almost reaching photo-realistic quality. (The presenter asked not to take pictures or provide deeper information as it’s still work in progress).
More pictures from the event can be found here.
Startup Weekend Seoul
The Startup Weekend Seoul, which was attended by a whopping 103 people, showed one clear trend in Korea: this country loves Apple. The majority of ideas the ten teams presented (thankfully mostly in English) at the final day (Sunday) centered on either the iPhone or the iPad – which currently isn’t even available in Korea.
In the end, three services won the top (cash) prizes of the event. Quicket, which is short for “Quick Market”, is a mobile app that will allow users to easily list up stuff for sale by just taking pictures of the items and pricing them. MiCasa is an LBS for the iPhone with which users will be able to customize maps to play games (i.e. scavenger hunt) in the real world, combined with an RPG-like ranking system. Troasis is another iPhone app that will help drivers in traffic jams to communicate in real-time with each other to share traffic information.
The GOAP group also had the pleasure of meeting Korean wunderkind Todd Oh at the event. Todd not only helped putting the Startup Weekend Seoul together, but he’s also fully bilingual, writes for The Next Web South Korea, and founded a US-Korean startup called spotengine – at age 16. Follow his English tweets here.
Many thanks to Chang Kim – who covers Korea’s Internet landscape on his personal English-language blog Web 2.0 Asia – and the Startup Weekend Seoul organizers for hosting the GOAP in South Korea.
The group is currently in Singapore, attending the echelon 2010 tech conference (more on that in a future post). For information in real-time, follow the adventures of the GOAP via the #goap hash tag (the official Twitter account is here). GOAP pictures are being uploaded regularly over on Flickr.
Picture credit: Paul Papadimitriou