KStartup, a Seoul-based non-profit accelerator started by David Lee and KJ Byeon and operated by both of them along with Yoonjin Chang, is designed to not just assist startups, but to build a wider ecosystem. “It’s a harder job here versus a lot of the Valley accelerators,” says Lee, who currently serves as partner on the team. “There is a lot that is taken for granted in the Valley, because everyone there is in the same industry.”
The team is focused on Korean entrepreneurs, but they have had several international founders, including one who previously graduated from YC.
The differences noticed by international investors in Korea can range from small nitpicks to fundamentally divergent approaches to business. Korean entrepreneurs often use localized English vocabulary, such as SNS instead of social network or IR instead of fundraising, that can result in confusion for global investors. More substantively, Korean startups are often pushed by advisers to emphasize their intellectual property and early revenue possibilities, approaches that are antithetical to the typical investment philosophy of Silicon Valley’s Sand Hill Road.
To ready founders for the world of entrepreneurship, the accelerator organizes a series of bootcamps led by leaders from Silicon Valley and New York to teach skills like fundraising, user interface design and customer acquisition – areas that are lacking in the nascent local market. These mentors stay in residence for a focused three days of activities, and since the inception of the program, some 33 mentors have stopped by KStartup to teach their skills.
For KStartup’s third demo day, held yesterday at the D.Camp co-working building, the team focused on the fundamentals of great startup pitches, something Lee learned through his involvement with Y Combinator. The team offered advice on what slides to include and how much text to include (always less!) and also offered English advice for their founders, some of whom had never presented before in the language. The resulting demo day was attended by some 200 people, about double from last year’s total.
Following the program, the team continues to push their startups to focus on product, and help them fundraise as well. Of the 20 startups that have completed the first two batches, 9 have raised follow-on funding from local and international investors. One example is Korbit, which raised $400,000 from Silicon Valley investors as the first bitcoin exchange in the Korean market.
Lee emphasizes that patience is a key element of working in an early ecosystem. “It’s more like iron mining versus panning for gold, it’s about unlocking the big stones than just finding the flecks.”
Below is a short description of the 10 companies who presented at KStartup’s demo day.
Chinchin is a social club startup app that is designed to create a better way to meet new people than Facebook’s current product offerings. Social networks allow you to keep up with your current friends, and thus, it is hard to meet new people via existing social networks. Online dating services offer options for building romantic relationships, but Chinchin is designed to allow you to build new relationships through your mutual friends without the risk of rejection. They currently have 2,600+ beta users across their iPhone and Android, and the company highlights that their 90 day retention is around 30%.
REH – Reality Expands Here
REH is a game studio building games around the concept of “always on” and “always connected” mobile devices. Their game tracks your location and detects collisions between your “force field” and those of other users of the game. When the collisions take place, a battlefield engine takes over where you compete to expand your borders to cover the physical location. Thus, the game takes place both in the physical world and in an online fantasy world. The company hopes to use in-game ads as a business model.
Kakao Story is a popular app among Korean users, but it lacks certain key features desired by teenagers who prefer writing long stories as small comments, as well as blogging around webtoons. Jumping Nuts is an app designed to provide a new social experience for teens around these sorts of social modes, and the app also provides granular controls over followers to ensure that users can decide who sees their content. Since their launch seven weeks ago, they have had about 22,000 unique visitors.
ModacTV is a new app that allows you to see your friends’ reactions while they watch videos. As users watch videos, they can write comments that appear as thought bubbles, which are then shared with their friends. The goal is to create a communicative video service that can be more engaging than current offerings from YouTube and Vine. Like many social services in Asia, the company hopes to monetize through the selling of emotive stickers, which can be placed over the video to express a wider range of reactions than mere text.
MyDrives bills itself as a storage consolidation service, which makes it easier to find files across different cloud providers like Dropbox and Google Drive, as well as local storage. After installing the software, MyDrives indexes all sources of files and creates a master directory. When it comes to sharing the files, MyDrives can create an easy set of links no matter how the file is saved to quickly get your file to other users. It hopes to develop a premium service such as smart backups and unlimited sharing links. The app is currently in beta testing and is expected to be released soon.
Linky is a business messenger so that you can easily listen to feedback from customers and build relationships. Linky needs to be downloaded by the owner of a store, but customers only need to navigate to a special URL to provide feedback, lowering the friction for customers to be social with business owners. Owners can chat with their customers, offer discounts and free goods, and accept requests. Locally, the app competes with Kakao Plus accounts, which are priced out of range for most small businesses at $20,000. Linky is $25 per month for business owners.
eTALK – Everybody Talk to Me
eTALK allows you to talk with celebrities by interacting with pre-recorded videos of them online, making it feel like you are actually talking to the celebrity (obviously, it requires a bit of suspension of disbelief). Celebrity videos are taken from soap operas, movies, and other sources of content, which the company has licensed from several providers. Long-term, the founders hope to expand the software beyond merely entertainment, to also include language learning and general social videos.
NetStory is a game studio that focuses on a mobile shooting RPG series called Demon & Demon. They have developed a new battle system that can be best best described as a continuous shooting game designed for mobile devices, while also focusing on classic RPG elements like a main storyline, characters, and inventory of items. They are freemium with an in-app purchase model for unique items, and “attractive characters.” Their second game is called Tower of Doom, which is an action-based MMORPG. The founders have extensive experience at several of Korea’s top game studios, such as Nexon.
KBeat is designed for K-Pop fans to share their excitement of the popular music genre by uploading their own content. Unlike competitors like Allkpop and Soompi, two leading K-Pop sites that have a professional staff of writers and content producers, KBeat is designed to focus exclusively on fans expressing their own feelings about music. They are developing a subscription box targeting K-Pop fans that provide gifts and other paraphernalia.
Easiaid – Media Mining
The goal of this video advertising platform is to move from pre-playing video ads to in-video advertising that allows viewers to purchase products they see. Their software “mines” videos for products and locations, and connects users to online stores. One example is a user watching a music video, and being connected to the artist’s product page or concert schedule where the user can buy tickets. The company takes a small scrape of the transaction of any purchases made.