Hitting the road with tteokbokki 🥘

Our last newsletter

Seoul Startups has reported on the tech hype in Korea with a bite-sized weekly newsletter straight to your inbox. We’ve had a lot of fun writing this newsletter over the past few months but alas, the time has come for us to bid adieu (goodbye). As vaccines roll out and life changes towards a new sense of normal, we’re preparing to embrace new opportunities. Hence, this is our last edition of the Seoul Startups Substack newsletter. If you’re interested in staying in touch, join the Seoul Startups Slack group. Thank you for following us!

— Sincerely, Marta & Zahin


Naver also wants a piece of eBay Korea 

Naver is in talks with Shinsegae to pursue a joint bid for eBay Korea. 

Backstory: U.S. based eBay decided to put their Korean subsidiary up for sale earlier this year. Estimated to be worth $4.4 billion, eBay Korea (known for platforms Gmarket, Auction, and G9) is the country’s third largest e-commerce company by market share behind Naver and Coupang. 

Shinsegae is one of the four shortlisted candidates to purchase eBay Korea alongside Lotte, SK Telecom and MBK Partners. If Naver does join the bid with Shinsegae, they would take a 20% stake (with Shinsegae keeping the majority) and assume co-management of the firm.

Flashback: Naver and Shinsegae swapped $220 million worth of stocks to boost their e-commerce business lines back in March. The symbolic partnership came in response to Coupang’s IPO on the New York Stock Exchange. 

Big picture: Combining eBay Korea with Naver’s e-commerce business and Shinsegae’s online presence through SSG.com will far outweigh Coupang’s transaction volume. However, antitrust challenges may keep the deal from fruition given Naver’s dominant position in the market. 

Notably, antitrust has worked in Shinsegae’s favour in the past. The company is also bidding for Yoyigo, up or sale by Germany-based Delivery Hero who was required to sell their Korean subsidiary to scoop up Korea’s largest food delivery service platform Baedal Minjok. 

It looks like it’s all hands on deck to secure last-mile logistics for the future of e-commerce. 


Manga vs webtoons

Kakao’s Japan-based subsidiary attracts $500 million from global investors for their webcomics app Piccoma

Backstory: Kakao Japan, a subsidiary of Kakao Corp, launched services in Japan in 2016. Through Piccoma, the company successfully localized Korean webtoons by harmonizing drawing techniques and storytelling methods customized for mobile viewing with traditional consumption habits around Japanese manga. While Korean webtoons account for only 1% of Picomma’s IP portfolio, it is responsible for generating 50% of the platform’s revenue. Last summer, Piccoma overtook Naver’s LINE Webtoon as the most popular web comic app in Japan. 

The scoop: Private equity firm Anchor Equity is investing $530 million in Kakao Japan while taking a 15% stake, bringing Kakao Japan up to a valuation over $7 billion. Analysts speculate that the funding is a strategic move to boost valuation ahead of an initial public offering scheduled for next year.

The private equity firm has steadily been increasing their investments in Kakao affiliates. Last year, Anchor Equity invested $180 million in Kakao M and $220 million in Kakao Bank.


The end of an era 

Esports broadcasting pioneer OGN is up for sale by parent company CJ ENM

Backstory: Founded in 2000, OGN is the world’s first esports and gaming-dedicated broadcasting network. The company was built on broadcasting the widely popular StarCraft leagues, Ongamenet Starleague (OSL), League of Legends (LOL) Champions Korea and Proleague. They were previously a subsidiary of On-Media, but after a corporate merger in 2009, became a part of CJ ENM.

Over the past several years, OGN saw revenue decline as game publishers ventured into in-house broadcasting to better leverage their IP. The straw that broke the camel’s back was simply COVID19. As in-person events came to a halt, OGN didn’t have much to broadcast. The company lingered for a few months before finally deciding to close its doors in November last year. 

The scoop: CJ ENM has decided to put up several unprofitable affiliates up for sale as part of their corporate restructuring in the wake of the pandemic. Once the gold standard of esports broadcasting, OGN is on sale for a mere $9 million. Talks are underway with potential buyers including multiple media companies. 

Watch: The Rise And Fall Of An Esports Giant - What Happened To OGN?


On the radar  

Companies raising over $1 million last week. 

  • Deep X is raising $19 million in a Series B deal from Magna Investment, Capstone Partners, PathfinderH, Korea Development Bank, SJ Investment Partners, Timefolio, Shinhan Capital and DS Capital for their AI semiconductors. 

  • Panalos Bio Science is raising $18 million in a Series A deal from OCI, Cloudib Investment, UTC Investment, Klavis Investment and JL Partners for their novel biotherapeutics drug development. 

  • Sparkplus is raising $18 million in a Series C deal from SK Telecom and Mirae Asset Management for their coworking spaces. 

  • Logispot is raising $13 million in a Series C deal from Korea Development Bank and Douzone for their logistics management platform. 

  • Nomeos (Wonderwall) is raising $9 million in a Series B deal from KTB Network, Korea Investment Partners, Megastudy, Dunamu and Tigers for their online education platform catering to artists. 

  • Akuo Digital is raising $9 million in a Series B deal from unknown investors for their electronic documentation service. 

  • Quarterback Group is raising $5.7 million in a Series A deal from unknown investors for their digital investment services platform. 

  • IR Kudos is raising $2.6 million in a Series A deal from Korea Investment Partners, RYUKYUNG PSG, DB Capital Group and Hwacheon for their cross-border deal advisory services. 


 More Seoul Hits

  • The story behind Altos Ventures. Early investors in U.S. based Roblox and Korea-based Coupang share their fundraising journey, investment philosophy and experience as Asian American entrepreneurs and investors. 

  • Toss the dough. Fintech platform Toss is seeking to raise $180 million to set up online bank Toss Bank. The fresh funds would bring the company to a $7 billion valuation, nearly triple what it was valued last summer. 


For our last meal…

The quintessential Korean street food: tteokbokki. What better way to hit the road?