The word ‘agile’ is often associated with startups. The survival strategy of many startups is to come up with ideas that larger companies – which own most of the ‘pie’ in the market – have overlooked to pierce into the needs of consumers. The small scale and flexible operating method of startups is a strength that enables them to quickly adapt to various market situations that change ever-rapidly, while also allowing them to be more resourceful. The fact that large conglomerates admit the limitations of their strict organizational features and race to partner up with ‘unicorns’ in various industries proves that the independent strengths and values that are difficult for them to pursue can be found in startups.
Startups also move the fastest and work the hardest at the contact point between ICT and contents. Everyone expected that the various ICT technologies would diversify and expand the world of contents at unprecedented speeds, but it is startups that actually race to come up with new ideas and dive into the market. Based on radical challenges like these, Uber and Airbnb opened new horizons in the transportation and lodging industry, and there is a high possibility that startups will be the companies that open up a never-before-imagined world of new contents.
To lay the groundwork for a unicorn in the contents sector to appear, the Korea Creative Content Agency once again held STARTUP:CON this year. A glimpse into a new world of contents that will open, spearheaded by startups, could be seen at STARTUP:CON that was held at the Dongdaemun DDP CREA Hall from November 19 to 20. The goal of this STARTUP:CON was to share successful cases achieved through the ‘connection’ of different fields, and to help domestic startups find new success models. There were three key speakers for the conference. Dan Goods, Fabien Riggall and Robbie Baxter inspire the entire world through their unparalleled ideas and innovative attempts in their fields of visual design, cinema, and business. These three speakers shared their unique experiences with the audience at STARTUP:CON.
-Importance of sharing clear ideas
Dan Goods, the first speaker, is an industrial design artist and a self-made success story who was employed by NASA. His official position was ‘visual strategist’ – a position that did not even exist at NASA before Mr. Goods was recruited. At the NASA think tank JPL (Jet Propulsion Lab), Dan Goods worked with colleagues from different backgrounds and majors including advertising and anthropology to help the space scientists and engineers at NASA to organize their thoughts and draw a picture of their future mission. The team used a number of creative methods to share that picture with colleagues and outside figures more clearly.
The reason why this process is so important is because it is only when it is possible to fully convey the importance of a project to outsiders that you can start the exploration on the right foot. Even if a group consists of scientists at NASA, they have different fields and majors, so it is difficult for them to understand what each other is saying. Conveying ideas becomes even more important when you are talking to a major decision-maker at NASA. Goods said, “NASA is like a city filled with scientists and engineers. They want their ideas to be chosen for the next project – it’s as if they were businessmen.”
As well, Goods has worked on various projects to share the achievements of NASA with the outside world using various visual and audio artwork. Goods said that it is very important to make people outside of their fields to understand the projects and receive feedback. He advised: “If you are starting up a business, you should have a person next to you who has different expertise and views from you.”
-Creativity that elevates cinema into experiences
The second speaker, Fabien Riggall, is an entrepreneur who succeeded by starting a unique cinema screening business called ‘Secret Cinema’ in the UK 12 years ago. What makes Secret Cinema special is that it reinterprets movies from a completely different perspective to create new value.
During his speech, Mr. Riggall explained his business model using the example of Star Wars, which attracted the biggest audience (over 100,000) among the films screened by Secret Cinema. First, when a customer buys a ticket for around KRW 70,000, an email with a new virtual identity and secret code is sent to the customer. The email contains information on where and when the movie will be screened, and it also explains in detail what kind of clothes to wear to the screening. Customers who receive this email now begin a sort of a role-play.
The screening location is decorated just like the world in the movie. For example, during Star Wars, the venue was based on the motif of Planet Tatooine. Secret Cinema does a lot of work to create this type of space. They even hired the London Olympics stage production team to install a life-sized X-Wing (the fighter plane in Star Wars) model. This is deeply related to the fundamental goal of Secret Cinema. Riggall explained that when he watched movies at movie theaters as a child, he was so immersed in the movie that he could barely distinguish between the world on the silver screen and the real world. He said that his long-time wish of ‘wanting to exist inside movies’ led him to start up Secret Cinema.
The audience that arrives at the designated place dresses up like the characters in the movie to have a completely new experience. The entire time of the experience, including the actual film, can take up to seven hours. The contents of the experience change completely depending on the story of the movie. Riggall said that he wanted to add a social meaning to this experience. “I was influenced by the French idea that public art can change society. For this reason, we wanted to implant thoughts about the world in the audience. For example, when we screened One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, we gave our audience the experience of a mental ward. During The Battle of Algiers, we made the audience continuously feel the problems with terrorism, which is constantly talked about by the press. For The Shawshank Redemption, we offered an experience in prison to ask the audience whether the judicial system and prisons meet their social goals.
Riggall advised that it is necessary to take a new approach when thinking about the future of entertainment and marketing. He said, “When movies first started, it was a type of experience and event of screening a film. Beautifully decorated movie theaters became symbols, as the ‘church of culture’.
People dressed up and gathered at theaters and they enjoyed not only the movies, but also social experiences. My goal is to recreate this in our present times. The future of entertainment in my opinion is ‘freedom,’ where the walls between buildings and walls between media crumble. Based on this, we attempted a new way of marketing to penetrate into the daily lives of audiences. Today’s consumers do not react to normal marketing strategies.” He recommended actively thinking outside of the box when approaching consumers.
-Sharing and Subscription to Membership
Robbie Baxter’s book The Membership Economy, a global hit, was also quite popular in Korea. In The Membership Economy, Baxter claims that there was a limitation to the sharing and subscription economy, which was a global issue for startups, and proposed the ‘membership economy’ as a solution.
According to Baxter, the membership economy has some similarities with the sharing economy and the subscription economy, but it is completely different in several essential ways. First, the key to the subscription economy depends on the construction of a pricing model. The ultimate goal of the subscription economy is to make customers continuously pay a fee for access to their desired service or experience. Next, the sharing economy is a model that allows customers to share their assets or resources with others. One well-known example of the subscription economy in Korea is the lodging app, Airbnb. Instead of offering its own lodging sites, it offered its customers to trade their residential areas with others for lodging. Customers trade each other’s assets and not the assets of Airbnb, but they believe that they used the services of Airbnb. Baxter summarized, “The feature of the sharing economy is to make assets that are owned by customers appear to be assets owned by the company.”
On the other hand, the membership economy can be more like a shared economy or more like a subscription economy depending on the type of industry. The key is strategies to use resources or how ‘relationships with customers’ are configured, rather than price policies. Baxter explained, “The membership economy basically focuses on creating a long-term relationship with customers. In membership economies, regardless of what type of business decision is made, companies must take into consideration how the customers will understand and perceive that decision. By focusing on the genuineness of long-term relationships, customers will voluntarily become ‘members’ of the company and maintain relationships with you permanently instead of looking for alternatives.”
If you wish to configure a membership economy model as a startup, you should select customers to target, start the business in a narrow spectrum, identify the most valuable customer base and come up with services that they will need for a lifetime. It is also necessary to come up with a strategy to keep those customers permanently. Ms. Baxter also stated, “Ultimately, the key to the membership economy is how customers of the business are treated.”
Baxter gave especially good advice for startups in the contents industry when applying the membership economy. She said, “All content businesses must create services that customers will ‘happily pay for,” and added, “You are more likely to succeed by selecting a specific group of consumers and picking an item that they will be highly interested in. Using the media as an example, you can find that the subscription rate of media that specializes in a specific type of news is much higher than other types of media. Consumers are more likely to have the will to purchase when the focus is both narrower and deeper.”
Article by Reporter Bang Seung-eon (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The disabled experience many physical limitations in movement compared to the able-bodied. One of them is in the area of travel. Amuse Travel believes that the disabled and the able-bodied alike should be able to travel without discrimination, which is why they are developing specialized travel packages for the disabled.
A travel agency for the disabled, Amuse Travel was created in October 2016, and has just passed its second anniversary since its foundation. More than 1,000 disabled people have traveled domestically and internationally using Amuse Travel over the past two years. Amuse Travel is also working on a business to attract foreign disabled tourists to Korea. Over 100 foreigners now have visited Korea through Amuse Travel. Initially, Amuse Travel earned about KRW 10 million, but now its revenue amount has grown to about KRW 400 million won. Amuse Travel CEO Oh Seo-yeon said that there are growing number of customers seeking out Amuse Travel, and satisfaction is also rising.
Oh Seo-yeon said that she became interested in the human rights of the disabled while working as a volunteer overseas in 2008. One disabled person that she met back then said, “I think it would be so relaxing to travel,” and so Ms. Oh came up with the idea of creating a travel agency targeting the disabled. Ms. Oh said, “I knew I couldn’t create a better infrastructure for the disabled – I can’t just go everywhere and install elevators, for example – but I believed that I could help people travel.” After participating in the Idea Fusion Factory, a program for preliminary startup entrepreneurs that is sponsored by the Korea Creative Content Agency (KOCCA), Ms. Oh became confident about her idea for a travel agency for the disabled. She moved into the venture complex made by KOCCA in October 2016 and jumped into the world of startups.
Even though CEO Oh said that she couldn’t build social infrastructures, after Amuse Travel was created, restrooms for the disabled were built in a building that previously did not have such restrooms. Ms. Oh said, “There was no restroom for the disabled before Amuse Travel moved into this building, but now there is.” With more people visiting Amuse Travel in wheelchairs, a ramp was also made at the building entrance for easier access by wheelchair. Oh said, “This is exactly the role that I hoped Amuse Travel would play.”
The same applies for tourism destinations. Amuse Travel claims that there are no differences in the tour activities pursued by the disabled and the able-bodied. Disabled tourists want to go to the same places as the able-bodied, and some intentionally choose places that many able-bodied people visit. In Seoul, many look to go to Namsan (Mt.) or take a cruise on the Han River. There also travel packages to Japan and Europe offered by Amuse Travel. Oh believes improvements in infrastructure can only be made after we become more familiar with the existence of the disabled. “I have no intention to make a course only for the disabled.” Here, Amuse Travel’s position is solid.
One of Amuse Travel’s strengths is in planning tours based on the location of restrooms for the disabled and reserving restaurants that are easily accessible by wheelchair. While it is possible to ride a cable car up a mountain, customers who cannot get to the peak in a wheelchair are offered a view of the summit through videos. There are also travel packages based on ‘senses’ so that visually impaired customers can enjoy traveling using their other senses, such as hearing and smell.
We asked CEO Oh what she considered to be the hardest thing in doing this business. After a long while, she said that the most difficult thing was the wall between the disabled and the able-bodied. “It seems like they don’t know each other (yet).” She went on to add, “It would be great if we could just concentrate on business, but there are many times where interests conflict.” This made me think about society’s perceptions of the disabled.
Amuse Travel, which is now in its third year, is dreaming another dream. It wans to shift from tourism market focusing on travel packages to allowing the disabled to travel independently. Though it is still in its early development stage, is working on navigation services for wheelchairs by collecting road-view data. Its goal is to summarize paths that can be taken by wheelchairs and restaurants that are accessible so that the disabled can also travel independently. There will be a continuous increase in demand among the disabled to travel independently, so Ms. Oh believes that it would be foolish to only offer travel packages. While a transportation solution for the disabled that is being built using machine-learning still has an accuracy level of only 30%, Amuse Travel is working on increasing accuracy to further advance the service. Oh said, “Amuse Travel is not yet perfect. We are still in our development stage.” She added, “It hurts the most when people say that I’m making money off the disabled when the services are not even completely constructed.” She emphasized, “At this stage, it is impossible to create services that will allow the disabled to travel all across the country.” Asked if she had any closing comments, CEO Oh said, “We spend a lot more money on development than what we make.” She added, “Amuse Travel is actively growing, so I hope that many people will support us.” Will Amuse Travel be able to overcome the ‘Death Valley’ of startups that tends to begin after the third year of business and continue its growth? I hope that this small startup, whose each and every step is meaningful, survives.
Article by OhmyNews Reporter Yoo Ji-young (email@example.com)
One essential element when making video contents such as movies and games is music. If you are a content creator, you will need to spend a long time choosing music that fits your content. Is there any way other than asking other creators if they know any good composers? The startup Rhoonart came up with a business that connects contents creators with composers. Rhoonart provides services that allow any creator, regardless of country or language, to hire their desired composer to make music through its music platform. Rhoonart got its name by combining the English words “croon” (sing) and “artist”. Rhoonart CEO Kwon Jae-ui was humming an original melody while walking in Han River Park in August of last year, and thought that it would be nice if his song could be published as a digital track. After his walk, he came home and surfed the Internet to see if it was possible to turn a simple melody into a sound track. That was the basic idea of Rhoonart. Kwon thought about the advantages of linking a person like himself who was unable to compose a song to a composer to make new music. His idea gradually took form while surveying the market for about three months. He came up with the idea of creating a platform that could connect content creators who needed commercial music with composers. As the entire process up to the final track could be performed online, it is free from all time and spatial constraints.
Opportunity came by chance. Rhoonart, a small startup that was not yet even incorporated, hosted the official cheer song contest for the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Paralympics, as well as the medal plaza BGM song contest. Kwon said, “The Olympics had an official cheer song, but the Paralympics did not, so it seemed like it was being ignored.” He added, “We had the idea of solving this issue so we called the Korean Paralympic Committee. But there was no response.”
As the Korean Paralympic Committee did not respond, Mr. Kwon decided to visit their office. He explained, “I just went to their office and told them that I would like to propose a contest for an official cheer song, and asked if there was anybody I could talk to about this.”
“Just as I did with the Korea Paralympic Committee, I also hunted down the Olympic Organizing Committee and gave them my business proposal. I explained why an official cheer song was needed for the PyeongChang Winter Paralympics and why the Olympic Organizing Committee should do this. They told me that they actually had been looking for music.”
Rhoonart was established as a corporation in December 2017. Rhoonart was incorporated after their proposal to start a contest was approved. It won the contract for the contest before the company was even registered, only doing so after receiving its first investments. Some initially questioned why Rhoonart, ostensibly a ‘music platform,’ would host the contest. But Kwon saw the contest as an opportunity to gather information on composers and the style of music they made. Through two contests for the Paralympics, Rhoonart was able to gather information on more than 300 composers. Composers of both genders, all ages, and with all composition periods, costs and genres flocked to Rhoonart. Kwon made a database for the composer pool, and hosted other meaningful contests through Rhoonart to create opportunities for more composers and creators to do business together. He also proposed releasing tracks, saying, “Some of the tracks that were not picked for the contest were good tracks, but just didn’t fit the contest.” These tracks can currently be listened to through music distribution websites. Kwon Jae-ui said that when a VR content production company was having difficulty finding a composer, helping them through Rhoonart “was the most fulfilling and exciting feeling ever.” Rhoonart identified the type of music that the VR content producer needed immediately and found a suitable composer, solving the issue in just a day or two. Mr. Kwon said, “This is the ultimate role and reason for existence of Rhoonart and what we do best.” He added, “Music is an essential element for audiences to experience more in-depth VR.”
One of the biggest goals of Rhoonart is to open the doors to an era of one music for one person. Just as the age of one PC for one person came quickly, Rhoonart believes that the age of one music for one person will also come soon. Rhoonart’s goal is to build a stable foundation in the commercial music market, and procure the personal music market. Just as 100 people have 100 different identifies, Rhoonart believes that 100 people should have 100 different pieces of music. Kwon believes that when an individual makes a track by working with a composer through Rhoonart, the earnings from streaming that track can also go to the individual. What would it be like for your own melody to become music, and be released as a digital track? The future that Rhoonart dreams of is full of countless songs that will one day be made.
Article by OhmyNews Reporter Yoo Ji-young (firstname.lastname@example.org)
There is a domestic startup that has emerged as a dark horse in the Indian mobile fintech market. It is ‘Balance Hero’, a fintech startup that was founded in 2014. Balance Hero launched a mobile balance checking, filling and data management app called ‘True Balance’ in India. True Balance recorded 60 million downloads this year and also received a total investment of KRW 45 billion, showing how it has been recognized for its marketability. It was also selected in the Google Play Store App Starter Kit (group of top apps used in a country).
Balance Hero is focused on the Indian mobile wallet market, which is growing rapidly. Lee Cheol-won, the founder of Balance Hero, came up with this business idea after learning that 90% of all mobile phone users in India prepay their communication bills. He created the True Balance app, which shows payment information such as data usage. True Balance shows the remaining data and free call time for prepaid plan users. Young Indians were the first to respond positively to this convenient app, as it could solve the inconveniences of smartphone users in India who have to continuously charge and check their balance. True Balance, which was launched in 2014, currently has more than 60 million downloads and over 10 million actual users. Various venture capital companies have recognized the growth potential of Balance Hero in the Indian market and made huge investments. Last year, six companies including Softbank Ventures, IMM Investment, and Mega Investment invested KRW 15 billion. The total investment accrued so far is approximately KRW 45 billion. As well, True Balance became the first Korean company to earn a PPI (prepaid payment instruments) license from the Central Bank of India. Through this, Balance Hero, which launched wallet services, now offers financial services such as one-click charging and payment of electricity, water, DTH (satellite broadcast), and utilities, equivalent to that of banks.
When Balance Hero was founded in 2014, the Indian smartphone market was in its initial growth stage. The smartphone distribution rate skyrocketed. When the True Balance app was officially launched, there were about 15 million new smartphone users every month. It is estimated that there are currently more than 1 billion mobile phone subscribers in India, and over 200 million of them are smartphone users. Mobile services that spread quickly among smartphone users not only are contributing to the currently weak financial infrastructure, but are also driving economic growth in India.
True Balance is especially popular among youths between the ages of 17 and 24 living in small and medium-sized cities in India. The secret to its popularity is that it has pursued development and network marketing customized to local users in India. Data checking apps made by local communications companies require the use of data and do not show the balance. Meanwhile, True Balance was made to show balance information, etc. in real-time, without using data. It also shows a balance message through an infographic. Special care was taken to enhance the convenience of the UI design so that the user can easily check data usage at a glance. The ‘Friend Recommendation Reward System’ that started last year also was popular. When a friend is recommended to install the app and join the service, 10 rupees (app. KRW 170) is given to both the recommender and the new subscriber. This is equivalent to about a 30 minute voice call. This strategy became popular among youths, who are particularly sensitive to communications costs. Downloads grew explosively as users introduced this to each other. Balance Hero stays close to the characteristics of its user base, and its marketing strategies focus on this. Right from the start, it targeted users who did not have online banking. Similarly, True Balance advanced its network marketing to fit the user characteristics that they targeted based on data analysis, and was able to gather many users together with the rapid growth of the market. As a result, True Balance holds an unparalleled lead within India in its segment of the market. CEO Lee explained, “Balance Hero will act as a gateway that offers mobile financial services to most of the 1 billion Indian users who are non-bank users; in other words, those who do not have digital financial transactions available to them.”
With its base of over 10 million active users, Balance Hero recently began expanding its field of business to fintech. Starting with the electronic payment business approval from the Indian government in July of 2017, it added mobile wallet functions to the True Balance app. Electronic wallet services is a field that is growing quickly in the Indian mobile market. In the past year, over 40 different electronic wallet services were pumped out. Users who added the mobile app can use True Balance like a bank account. Using the True Balance app, which is similar to KakaoPay, users can wire money, withdraw or deposit money, or charge up communication fees. It is also working with a local loan business in India with plans to add small loan functions.
Balance Hero aims to increase the number of True Balance subscribers to about 100 million people and to achieve early dominance in the Indian fintech market using a range of easy mobile payment services. The corporate vision for Balance Hero is to provide solutions that will enable it to efficiently manage wireless communication fees not only in India, but also in other countries with low-specification communication infrastructure in Southeast Asia, etc. to create a world in which people can communicate at a reasonable cost. CEO Lee Cheol-won said, “Just as Alipay dominated the mobile payment market in China, we aim at achieving early dominance in the mobile fintech market in new markets in India and Southeast Asia.”
Seo Mi-hee│Guest Reporter│email@example.com
Startups embark on a rough path that it takes quite a bit of courage to walk on. It is necessary to take a look at the path taken by startup companies that have gone beyond being unicorns and are becoming decacorns. How did the large startups that passed the ‘Death Valley’ for startups and are spreading out to the future succeed?
Woowa Brothers Corp., which services the food delivery app ‘Baemin’, was a project that was started half-jokingly by CEO Kim Bong-jin and his friends. Woowa Brothers Team Leader Sung Ho-gyeong said, “Woowa Brothers was started when the iPhone was just introduced to Korea and there was a boom in the app store,” and added, “The founders – including CEO Kim Bong-jin – did not expect the business to grow so much when they first started Baemin. They made this app thinking that an app like this would be useful when smartphones became more common, rather than thinking about starting a business.”
“Baemin addressed two issues that needed to be solved in the delivery market at the time. First, many people would make orders by looking at flyers, but they were unable to view any feedback or evaluations. The second issue was the inefficiency of the flyers. For example, business owners would spend hundreds of thousands of won to print thousands of flyers, but it was impossible for them to measure exactly how many of those led to orders. So, in the beginning, Baemin aimed at solving these problems with the vision of developing the delivery industry using information technology.”
It was a similar start for Korea’s top fintech company, Viva Republica, which is behind the app ‘Toss’. Toss offers various financial services such as viewing account and credit card payments, focusing on easy wire transfers. It was ranked 35th, the highest for a Korean company at the time, in the world’s top 100 fintech companies selected by the global consulting company KPMG and fintech investor H2 Ventures in 2017. It also received a USD 40 million investment from the global investment firm, Government of Singapore Investment Corporation (GIC) and Sequoia China in June, recording a total investment of 130 billion won. It recently passed the 20 million download milestone.
Toss also started when someone had the idea that it would be nice to have this kind of service. Viva Republica CEO Lee Seung-geon said, “We are working from various angles to offer the best user experience based on a philosophy of working to resolve customer problems.” He added, “Our goal is to make all financial transactions simple and easy, just with the Toss app.” Starting at a time when the term fintech was still unheard of, Toss is a model success story of a startup that saw an opportunity based only on the idea that it was something that would be nice to have.
The powerhouse of the real estate O2O market, ‘Dabang,’ which was made by Station3, is another startup that became successful like this. Station3 Business Director Park Sung-min said, “The core value that we pursue is connecting people with homes to create better lifestyles.” He added, “We are trying many things to make Dabang go beyond simply giving real estate information, but also to contribute to the advancement of real estate transactions such as credit card payment systems for rent, AI real estate right analysis services, and rent and lease price reports. Our goal is to construct an integrated housing platform that organically links all parties to the real estate transaction, such as ‘Dabang’ for tenants, ‘Dabang Pro’ for real estate agents, and ‘Bangjuin’ for owners.” He also added, “Our success started with our will to create a transparent real estate market.”
If you have found a tool to solve a problem in the market with the mobile revolution, and have the confidence to bring this into the larger ecosystem, then what is your next plan? A quantum leap is needed, and as a tool, you should look at collaborating with an existing business. The talking point that was common for all successful startups was the ‘combination of offline and online’. This is because nothing is possible through online platforms alone.
The leisure platform business has a strategy on a similar context. Yanolja Team Leader Song Min-gyu said, “Yanolja presented the current leisure platform blueprint in March,” adding, “At a press conference for entering the global market, it announced its exclusive partnership with Rakuten of Japan and presented its global R.E.S.T. platform vision with the concept encompassing all leisure and rest cultures including lodging, travel and activities.” Here, the strategy to reinforce its offline environment stands out as well. Team Leader Song said, “To firm up the global R.E.S.T. platform, Yanolja opened the hotel brand ‘heyy’ targeting the global market, while also pursuing the leisure activity business in earnest. At heyy Chuncheon, which was the first hotel, it is not only possible to search for travel plans and leisure programs near the hotel through an unmanned system such as a kiosk, but there is also a community that is open to both travelers and locals to promote social gatherings such as one-day classes.” Continuously expanding services, constructing an integrated leisure platform, and even engaging in offline hotel franchises were connected with its global strategy. Song also said, “We wanted to take on the challenge of spreading a proprietary O2O business model possessed by a domestic startup not only to other parts of Asia, but also to the worldwide market.” He added, “Yanolja also plans to integrate Korea’s business model and knowhow for success in the lodging and leisure market in Southeast Asia.”
Article by Economic Review reporter Choi Jin-hong (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The most important thing when learning a foreign language is repetitive studying. Even if you have one-on-one classes with an excellent teacher, you will not improve without repeating what you learned. But with a chatbot, you can study foreign languages without any time or spatial constraints. One company has been succeeding with a language learning application that uses chatbot technologies. The company is Eggbun Education.
‘Eggbun’ is a product specializing in review and practicing. It is a language education chatbot that helps students ‘internalize’ what they have learned. Eggbun has an unparalleled position among language learning applications that use chatbot technologies. In just one year after its launch, it had 2,500 paying subscribers, which amounts to KRW 250 million per year in revenues. It currently offers Asian languages such as Korean, Japanese and Chinese language learning software to North America and Southeast Asia. In November of this year, an English learning program was launched for Koreans. For a price of just KRW 6,900 per month, users can practice and review what they have learned as much as they want. The basic English education market in Korea is reported to be worth around KRW 15 trillion, so it is something that the chatbot industry cannot miss out on. There are high expectations for Eggbun in the English education market in Korea, as it utilizes a unique tool called chatbot language learning.
Eggbun Education CEO Moon Gwan-gyun had been interested in learning foreign languages ever since he was a child. Thinking about his experience learning from a tutor, he developed a tutorbot that analyzes the answers of students to questions given by the bot to give appropriate feedback and to allow continued repetitive practices. This company, which was founded with two co-CEOs in April 2016, has grown into a company with nine employees now. According to the company, there are 1 million people who downloaded the Eggbun application around the world, while 100,000 are active users. This is quite a significant number for a startup that was only founded two years ago. Eggbun Education received investments totaling KRW 900 million in March of 2017 from Swedish and English Angel investors such as Strong Ventures and Primer. It was agreed to supply Eggbun to 100 companies including Cheil Worldwide and Samsung Heavy Industries, and in July 2018, celebrities such as Sam Hwang and Eric Nam also made investments.
There was more good news that followed. Samsung Electronics also saw Eggbun as having high growth potential. In October of this year, Eggbun Education was selected for innovative startup support by Samsung Electronics. It made the list of 15 businesses that were finally selected from the 331 that applied. Eggbun Education will use the incubator space at the Samsung Electronics Seoul R&D Campus located in Umyeon-dong, Seoul from December 2018 for one year free of charge, and employees can use the conference room and cafeteria on the campus as well. It will also receive up to KRW 100 million in development funding, mentoring from in-company and outside experts for actual startups including works related to design, technology, patents and taxes, and also have opportunities to participate in overseas IT exhibits such as CES and MWC.
The strengths of a chatbot can be summarized as follows. A chatbot reacts immediately, and communicates whenever the user wants. As well, a personalized dialogue is possible, and it is easy to use as it employs a simple and easy method of conversation. Among the chatbot businesses, education is a field that has particularly high growth potential. This is because a chatbot has several advantages over people in the field of education. First, a chatbot does not judge people. It does not belittle the person when the user gives a wrong answer. It also gives the same consistent answer, no matter how many times it is asked. Repetition is essential for learning a foreign language, and from this perspective, a chatbot certainly has an edge over humans. Language education requires repeated checks and continuous solving of simple problems, and as such, there is high potential for chatbots to dominate in language education.
So, what is the difference between other foreign language education apps and the chatbot language education app provided by Eggbun Education? Eggbun analyzes the user level and responses of users for questions made by the chatbot to offer an optimized environment for practicing and review. The chatbot looks at the sentence given by the user to check three areas and give feedback. It checks the pattern to determine whether the learned pattern was used, checks the spelling, and checks the grammar to see whether it was entered according to the registered rule. It is basically a one-on-one foreign language tutor. Many people learning a foreign language complain that the biggest difficulty is that no matter how many lectures they listen to, it is hard to connect what they learned with their everyday life due to the difficulty of practice and review. Eggbun can be used to practice and review what was learned in order to internalize it, thus maximizing learning efficiency. As well, the nature of a chatbot means it can be applied anywhere flexibly. As Eggbun CEO Moon put it, “The ultimate goal of Eggbun is to become a foreign language education platform. Another advantage is that it can coexist rather than compete with other foreign language education companies, publishers, and video production businesses.” Eggbun Education is currently collaborating with Samsung C Lab, Multicampus, Haebeop Chunjae Education and Start English Now, among others.
Seo Mi-hee│Guest reporter│email@example.com
“What is the cultural trend for the younger generation today, you ask? The cultural trends of youths in their teens and 20s cannot be defined very easily. I think the problem is trying to give it a definition. You can’t really define what you like. I think it is a bad idea for the older generation to approach this issue from a perspective of trying to understand what the younger generation likes.”
Someone wanting to know what the ‘hot’ cultural trends for the younger generation are might be disappointed with this answer from Mykoon CEO Choi Hyuk-jae. I met with him at his office near Gangnam Station in Seoul in mid-November. He said, “I am always asked about the cultural trends of the younger generation.” He added with emphasis, “The younger generation thinks less about how they act, but instead, quickly react and change based on different content.”
Mr. Choi captivated young users by opening the personal social audio platform, Spoon Radio, in 2016. There were many people who voiced concerns about him putting out audio in a market where video platforms like YouTube were just gaining momentum. Many people believed that the younger generation, who barely watched TV, would never want to listen to a radio. “It is true that the younger generation does not listen to the radio, but I had questions about whether radio would truly disappear. Watching and listening to something is a tool that makes it easy for people to access. I thought that the reason why the younger generation was not listening to the radio was because it was not in the format that they desired.”
Spoon Radio offer contents under the concept of ‘our own radio’ targeting teenagers and those in their 20s. When a BJ opens a radio channel, users connect to listen to the broadcast and can communicate through real-time chatting services. Unlike conventional radio, where a celebrity DJ provides the content, Spoon Radio offers two-directional content focusing on the user. “The contents of Spoon Radio are very diverse. For example, if a DJ holds a quiz show one day, they will look for different content the next day. They offer content with different themes every day. They communicate with users and look for content that they can all enjoy.” Mr. Choi said, “In Spoon Radio, audio is a tool and the essence is communication,” adding, “The strength of Spoon Radio is that people can share their deepest thoughts with each other and react and sympathize with each other through real-time chat.”
When asked about the perception that Spoon Radio was a ‘return to analog,’ Choi drew a line. “It’s half right and half wrong.” While it has some similarities with existing radio media in that the user listens to what others say, there is also a clear difference. Choi explained, “Simply put, if radio has a warm and cozy feeling, Spoon Radio is different, in that most of the content is made up of people jovially talking and interacting with each other.”
Currently, Spoon Radio services five countries, including Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia. Mr. Choi said, “The audio market is only a fifth the size of the video market,” adding, “We intend to overcome the limitations related to the size of the market by expanding our presence in foreign markets.” Spoon Radio has been growing rapidly recently. It recorded over 5 million total downloads and sales are also rising.
Among the foreign markets that Spoon Radio has entered, Japan stands out the most. It has been seven months since the service was launched in Japan, but its growth rate is faster than Korea when comparing the same period. Spoon Radio in Japan is gaining popularity with content such as debates about specific animations, or staying up all night talking about favorite music and singers. “While Korean users have the tendency to use aspects of themselves to appeal to fans, by exposing their photos, etc., Japanese users tend to hide their identity. It is rare in Japan for users to show their photo in their profile. Most do not show their identity and broadcast as an imaginary character.” The decision-making structure of Spoon Radio focuses less on the opinions of employees, but more on listening carefully to user feedback. Initially, Spoon Radio DJs would record their content first and then upload the files. But then, user demand for live content began to grow. Mr. Choi closely examined the demand for live content from actual users through data and attempted to make changes. After making improvements to the services based on the actual data, reactions from users grew. Choi explained, “The profit model of Spoon Radio, ‘spoons’, was also the result of reflecting the opinions of users,” and added, “We received feedback that they wanted to pay back the DJ since they were able to laugh and feel encouraged by them. Popular DJs earn upwards of KRW 10 million right now.”
Lastly, I asked what Spoon Radio’s dream was. Mr. Choi said, “Just as YouTube is overtaking TV, I want Spoon Radio to replace today’s radio.” He also expressed his aspirations by saying, “We will work hard so that our young users today will continue to use our services, even as they grow older.”
Article by guest report Ma Song-eun (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Tourist attractions known for their amazing scenery often become famous solely by word of mouth. For many professional photographers or video producers, visiting these ‘attractions’ goes far beyond having fun and is a matter of making a living. However, it is no easy task doing the legwork required to find these places time and time again. The ‘Location Mapping-based Smart Image Contents Generation and Service Technology Development’ study, sponsored by the Korea Creative Content Agency and managed by the Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute (ETRI), is a project that may provide a solution to this problem. We visited the Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute to meet with the project’s lead researcher, Doctor Jang Yoon-sep, and discuss the details of the project, which was completed in March.
Doctor Jang began the interview by saying, “The purpose of our study was to resolve many of the problems frequently experienced in movie or drama production. The technology we have developed is able to resolve three major problems that occur on the site of a shoot, the first of which is finding the right shooting location. This is usually something that is done by professionals called ‘location hunters’, but it involves a substantial amount of time and money, and these location hunters can’t really share information with one another.”
The resolve this problem, the team sought to create a system that searches images based on photo/video location and orientation. According to Dr. Jang, all smartphones already save photo/video location and orientation data, but this type of data is not being utilized properly. It occurred to the research team that analyzing and categorizing photos uploaded by the general public on social media based on location and orientation could greatly reduce the amount of location work done by professional image and video producers.
In order to begin collecting and analyzing data, the research team came up with a natural language-based semantic search method for images. Using the system, certain keywords or everyday sentences could be used to find a corresponding location. When a whole sentence is entered, the system extracts words and phrases associated with location and returns appropriate results. Entering search conditions turns up a list of images that satisfies the conditions. Once the user selects an image of interest, the system shows where the image was taken, in what orientation, and from which angle.
What sets this search function apart from similar conventional services? Dr. JANG explained, “There are other photo search services available for location hunting. However, these services just show a list of photos associated with the type of location you’re looking for, making it difficult to find out exactly where a photo was taken or what the surrounding area looks like. At the end of the day, this means that you need to go to the location yourself to find out more information. Our technology, in conjunction with 3D map services like Daum’s Roadview, overcomes some of these limitations. We have a Roadview screen in the background, and have certain photos floating in front of the background in the location and orientation they were taken in. This allows users to check the actual location of the site and see what the surrounding area looks like.”
Another topic the research team focused on was utilizing drama and movie filmmaking as a significant tourism resource. The filming sites for Korean dramas are main tourism attractions for Hallyu fans. However, in most cases, nothing related to the filming remains on site. What if we were to create digital contents that preserve the vibrancy of the film-making process? Dr. Jang said that this is something that could be done quite easily. Tourists visiting a filming location could be handed smart devices such as tablet PCs, so that they could enjoy AR contents. They could then walk around the area looking through the camera on their smart device, and the AR interface could guide them toward any nearby film-making contents. Once at the site of a shoot, they could point their camera in a certain direction, and an overlay of images and videos from the production site could be shown on top of what the site looks like now.
The last piece of technology that Dr. Jang explained to us was slightly different from the previous two, but was similar in that it had been developed to address an important problem faced by video producers. The technology is an AI solution that analyzes copyright data for the artistic works included in an image, preventing the possibility of copyright infringement. It is nearly impossible for video producers to accurately obtain the copyright information for all of the drawings and sculptures they capture through their lenses. A scene from the American movie, The Zero Theorem, by director Terry Gilliam, had to be cut out because the original artists of a mural shown in the background of one of the movie scenes filed a lawsuit. This example illustrates the importance of having a system that intelligently recognizes artwork captured on film and analyzes copyright information associated with the artwork. Dr. Jang explained, “The technology analyzes artwork that appears in a video in real time. Even if the work is partially obstructed by an actor or actress and only part of it is showing, we are still able to identify it.”
BANG, Seung-eon│Correspondent | email@example.com
The term gugak (Korean national music) brings to mind a special and highly standardized image. The common perception is that the most highly skilled and refined gugak is something that can only be created by masters who have been trained according to traditional methods. Today we feature an individual who is fighting to overcome this stereotype and breathe new life into gugak. We met with composer and Seoul National University College of Music Professor Lee Don-eung, who has worked long and hard to establish a place for gugak instruments in the world of electronic music. We discussed the new directions gugak needs to take in order to survive in the modern world.
The ‘Digital Gugak Instrument Source and APP Development Project,’ conducted at the Center for Arts & Technologies at Seoul National University from 2012 to 2015 and led by Professor Lee, has recently enjoyed a fair bit of fame. The project, funded by the Korea Creative Content Agency, was thrown into the spotlight when the popular K-pop group BTS announced that they had used the digital gugak library, created through the project, for their single ‘IDOL’ released in August. We met with Professor Lee in his office at the College of Music at Seoul National University and asked him how he felt about all the attention gugak received after BTS’s album release, to which he shook his head and said, “The Center for Arts & Technologies website crashed because there was so much user traffic.”
The library used in ‘IDOL’ was a library of virtual gugak instruments (Vsti) developed for musical professionals through the project. The library features 8 gugak wind instruments, 7 string instruments, and 3 percussion instruments. For the daegeum, ajaeng, and gayageum, different sounds were digitized to represent the jeongak and sanjo playing styles, and the timbre was varied to represent the different tools used to play the instruments (e.g. the forsythia and horsetail bows used to play the ajaeng), resulting in a total of 23 virtual instrument voices. These virtual gugak instruments are fully compatible with the music production programs Kontakt, EX24, Garageband, and Live, etc. In the digitizing process, the scale and techniques for each instrument were extracted from the playing of professional musicians specializing in each respective instrument. The extracted sound was then refined to create the final product.
Professor Lee commented, “While this is no doubt a milestone, we still have a long way to go. If we are to establish a domain for gugak music in the digital music production environment, we cannot remain dependent on the limited faculties of individual developers. We need sustained management and support from state and national institutions.” Naturally, digitizing gugak and gugak instruments is more about technological development. There is also a need to achieve greater diversity and to fundamentally change the mindsets of the Korean people regarding the place of gugak in modern culture. Diversity is exactly what the virtual gugak instrument project is hoping to achieve. “For example, the sounds and techniques of the gayageum vary completely depending on the player. If we want to ensure the preservation of digitized gugak instrument sounds, we need to go beyond the representative samples of sounds we currently have from each instrument, and record sounds from more musicians.” Another project task is updating sounds in keeping with the endless changes in the digital production environment and ensuring compatibility with improved digital environments or programs. However, what’s even more important is achieving a fundamental transformation of Koreans’ cultural mindset regarding gugak. This is something that requires attention on a macroscopic scale, and is something that cannot be achieved through transient interest or one-off support efforts. Professor Lee explained how establishing strict boundaries in the gugak field limits its possibilities. “Even at the College of Music, the name ‘Department of Gugak’ establishes a boundary between Western music and gugak. However, these institutions and concepts, which have been clearly defined to allow for specialized education, unintentionally steer us toward maintaining the status quo in each genre, discouraging cross-genre exchanges and progress. Even if we try to arrange crossover concerts, too often we are constrained by the rules and frameworks we have always known.”
Professor Lee then emphasized that preserving the uniqueness of Korean culture is just as important. Professor Lee first became inspired to complete the project when he was studying overseas; at the time, he strongly felt that “Korean cultural heritage must be preserved.” Once, while he was studying in Germany, Professor Lee composed a piece for pansori (traditional Korean storytelling music), alto saxophone, and orchestra. His advisor at the time reportedly had no interest in the saxophone part, but was extremely curious about how the pansori part had been written. This led Lee to view the long-standing traditions of folk music in various countries in a new light, and caused him to recognize the need to preserve the sounds and syntax that are the identity of gugak. With the ongoing digitization of the music production environment, he realized that the digitization of gugak and gugak instruments was a must.
Professor Lee's team has a number of other notable achievements as well. They have developed a gugak symbol font for writing ‘standard gugak sheet music’ on the computer—a job that had previously been done by hand. The team also developed a gugak instrument application (app) featuring 21 gugak instruments, intended for use not only by gugak professionals but also for musical education and the general public. The application package, which implements the basic principles of gugak instrument sound production in a manner appropriate for smart devices, is significant in that it provides students and the general public with the opportunity to experience the sounds of gugak instruments, which are often prohibitively expensive. Holding their smartphone as they would the actual instrument, users can use the microphone on their phone as the mouthpiece of their virtual instrument. Gugak techniques such as ‘plucking’ are also represented, as well as gugak’s diatonic and chromatic scales. Instead of just showing the instruments on a square screen and playing their sound , the app has been engineered based on a proper understanding of each respective instrument. This means that simply playing around with the application helps users develop a fair understanding of actual gugak instruments.
※ The virtual gugak instrument sound library and gugak symbol font created by the project are available for free at the Center for Arts & Technologies at Seoul National University website (http://www.catsnu.com). The ‘Gugak’ app series for various gugak instruments is free to download and use on the Android and iOS platforms.
The ‘Project for the Development of Human Physical Data and Contents Recommendation Technology to Develop User Human Data-based VR Contents Recommendation Platform’ helped us adapt FOVE for advanced VR contents. We use FOVE to track a user’s heart rate and eye movements. We save this data on our servers, and generate statistics. We analyze this accumulated statistical data, and, collect biodata from a random group of people; even doing this for a short period of time is enough to give us a normal distribution. We can find out through eye movements how excited a user is while gaming, and which ads they react to the most. KOCCA’s support helps accelerate the development of platform technologies that recommend appropriate contents based on user emotions. KOCCA’s support has also been critical in enabling use to advance our technology and sign an MOU with OGN.
Our experience zone partners are playing the role of providing more and more people with the opportunity to experience VR. However, there is an inherent limitation to experience zones. A lot of us buy season passes for amusement parks, but few of us go more than 10 times a year. At the end of the day, things have to be accessible in order for us to use them frequently. This means that people need to have enough access to VR in order to be able to fully appreciate it. The platform Steam currently offers the most VR contents. They had 3,000 different VR contents as of the end of last year, and as of the middle of this year, they have 8,000. Steam uses search AI to show keywords for recommended contents, and one of these keywords—added recently—has caught people's attention. The word is “seated”. This is the direction the trend in VR contents will inevitably take. For the market to grow, we need to get from B to C. Businesses like us can bridge the gap.
People invest more than a million won into their smartphones. What we need to do is provide value that's worth the investment. Hardware vendors need to work hard, and the contents themselves need to appeal to customers. If we are able to satisfy general consumers' needs by providing VR contents they can enjoy conveniently and for a long time in a comfortable seated position, we will overcome the VR chasm (although it still might take some time). When Son Jeong-ui of SoftBank was investing millions into laying broadband Internet lines in the 1990s, many were worried. When everybody else is hesitant, taking it upon yourself to blaze a new trail is bound to be lonely work.
Although it's happening slowly, the Internet cafe business is transiting from online games to VR. Without Korean Internet cafes, there would be no Technoblood. It was thanks to the online games at these Internet cafes that we were able to expand our business. VR is more PC-based than it is mobile. This is why we are supplying the VR HMD ‘FOVE’ free of charge to Internet cafes. The Internet cafe industry has long been stagnated. It's our turn to give back to the users and the owners of the Internet cafes that made our success possible. VR isn’t a field where you can succeed singlehandedly without help. It’s got to be a symbiotic project with Internet cafes.
I’d like to see our equipment have better performance. We'd also like to play a key role in bringing about a boom in the creation of new contents. The synergistic effects of adopting ‘eye-tracking technology’ in the VR market will inevitably go beyond VR and spill over into AR and MR. I also look forward to incorporating artificial intelligence. There are countless areas where the technology of tracking a user’s eyes to figure out their intentions can be used, in addition to VR e-sports casting. VR shopping malls, 5G, and the automotive industry are just some examples. At the time being, we aim to provide our VR users in Korea and Japan with unrivaled quality in e-sports casting. From there, we will expand to secure and provide users with various other contents.
SEO, Mi-hee│Guest Reporter│firstname.lastname@example.org | Photos by MOON, Gyeong-rok