Tried black pork in Jeju? 🐗

We are back! One got hitched, the rest are cursing in Jeju

Seoul Startups reports on the tech hype in Korea with a bite-sized weekly newsletter straight to your inbox. If you’ve been forwarded this email, give it a read and subscribe.


#Hitched

We missed you last week! Our writer, Zahin, signed the papers with her hubby in Toronto, Canada. Wishing them all the best on their journey ahead.


“Naver, search nasi goreng” 🎙️ 

Naver's investing $150 million in Indonesia's largest technology, telecom and media conglomerate, Emtek, to boost its presence in Southeast Asia. Angled more towards a strategic partnership than an M&A, Naver will take just under 2% of a stake in Emtek.

Backstory: Emtek is Indonesia's 9th largest conglomerate with a market capitalization over $10 billion. The company owns the country's top broadcasting channels, its most popular over-the-top (OTT) service Vidio, and also offers e-commerce, payments, and cloud services. 

Naver is making big moves. Since launching this newsletter in February, Naver has taken center stage. From doubling down on the domestic e-commerce market with Shinsegae to their global acquisitions such as Wattpad and Wallapop, we're betting on a Naverific future.

In a recent letter to shareholders, Naver's CEO outlined the company's plans to strengthen its e-commerce ecosystem domestically, and apply its proven success formula beyond its borders. 

Emtek comes after a slew of investments across Southeast Asia. Last year, Naver invested in e-commerce players in nearly every major market - Bukalapak in Indonesia, iPrice in Malaysia and Carousell in Singapore. But Naver's growth strategy isn't limited to e-commerce. From search to content to cloud, Naver intends to create synergies between each business line to boost their overall digital transactions. 

Zoom out: The digital economy of Southeast Asia is expected to grow from $100 billion to $300 billion by 2025, far outpacing advanced countries in North America and Europe. Naver is going all in. With over 80 million users from the region on their LINE Messenger app, and nearly as many users on their webtoon services, we can expect Naver to harmonize their content and commerce ecosystems. 

Bottom line: We’re putting our money on Naver. 


Kakao’s new friends

In spite of withdrawing their bid for eBay Korea, Kakao is still looking to pump some cash. The company is acquiring mobile shopping app Zigzag and web novel platform Radish.

Backstory: Zigzag, launched in 2012, started off by listing fashion items purchased in Seoul's Dongdaemun shopping district. It has grown to host over 4000 sellers and provides an integrated payment system. The service caters to 3 million monthly shoppers, mostly women in their teenage years through to their 30s. Last year, Zigzag saw $670 million worth of transactions on their platform. 

Radish, founded in 2016 by Lee Seung-yoon, is known as the "Netflix for serialized fiction." Lee launched the company leveraging his experience curating content at Oxford Union, the student's union at Oxford University. Last year, the company raised $63 million from Kakao and SoftBank ventures. Now, Kakao is acquiring the company for $355 million.

Zoom out: Against the backdrop of Naver's acquisition of web novel platform Wattpad, their partnership with retail giant Shinsegae, and strategic investments in priority markets across Asia, Kakao started to feel the heat in content and commerce. While the company is diversifying its subsidiaries (we’re excited about Kakao Mobility’s collaboration with Google), we’re curious to see where Kakao will choose to consolidate its competitive advantage. 


Sendbird raises $100M 

Sendbird, the API-driven chat, video and interaction enabling platform servicing the likes of Reddit, PayTM and Hinge, is raising $100 million in a round valueing the company at over a billion dollars. #UnicornStatus

Backstory: From a community for Korean moms to one of the world’s largest chat API service providers, Sendbird has quite the story. The company was founded in 2013 by friends Brandon Jeon, Forest Lee, Harry Kim, and John S. Kim to help Korean moms find others in the area with kids of similar age. But sensing the messaging revolution with the rise of Whatsapp, Reddit and the like, the company pivoted and took their fresh messaging-focused idea to Y Combinator in 2015. They attracted investments from the likes of SoftBank and Meritech, allowing them to set up up shop in San Mateo and expand to London, Bangalore and Singapore. The rest, as they say, is history.

Zoom out: The API economy is driven in part by the shift from large on-site software to the cloud and microservices-based applications. With a plethora of software used to deliver different aspects of the business, APIs are integral to joining them all together.

This, alongside the surge in digital transactions, has enabled Sendbird to triple its customers since 2019. They've been successful with traditional enterprise clients such as banks so far, but they're gearing up for new verticals such as healthcare as they adapt to emerging trends in digital communications.  


On the radar  

Companies raising over $1 million last week. 

  • Team Fresh is raising nearly $27 million in a Series C deal from NH Capital, DTN Investment, STIC Ventures, Shinhan Capital, KT Investment, Kakao Investment, Harang Invest and NAUIB Capital for their cold supply chain management system.

  • Olive Union is raising $18 million in a Series B deal from Beyond Next Ventures and Bonds Investment Group for their smart earphones.

  • NeogenTC is raising $13 million in a Series A deal from DSC Investment, QUAD Ventures, TS Investment, Seoul Investment Partners, Log Investment, Tigris Investment, Cosine Investment and Tcha Partners for their immune cell therapy-based technology.

  • Second (Housestep) is raising $10 million in a Series B deal from Stonebridge Ventures, LB Investment and SV investment for their interior design solutions. 

  • Ringe is raising $9 million in a Series A deal from MUST Investment for their English tutoring service.

  • Local Stitch is raising $5.6 million in a Series A deal from D3Jubilee, UTC Investment, Capstone Partners and Timefolio Asset Management for their co-living and co-working development projects.

  • The PlantEat is raising $3.5 million in a Series B deal from Stonebridge Ventures, Lotte Accelerator and Shinhan Capital for their plant-based food products.

  • Monday Off is raising $2 million in a Series A deal from Korea Investment Partners, Play Ventures and DevSisters Ventures for their video game publishing studio.

  • Homelift is raising $1.8 million in a Series A deal from ID Ventures, Korea Credit Guarantee Fund and Softbank Ventures for their home fitness training platform.


More Seoul Hits

  • Google links Kakao. Google is investing $50 million in Kakao Mobility, following up as part of a larger strategic deal with the Carlyle Group. Keep your eyes open for news on Google’s Waymo and Kakao’s own brand of autonomous vehicles.   

  • Meet Z Venture Capital. Back in February, we outlined Z Holdings, the new subsidiary of SoftBank’s Yahoo! and Naver’s Line. Now, the $271 million Z Venture Capital fund is the answer to how the companies plan to, “Launch and manage business lines across verticals including advertising, gaming, fintech, and e-commerce.” 

  • Aha! A deepfake. A research team at Korea’s leading science and technology institute, KAIST, has launched the country’s first deepfake detecting mobile application. They call it KaiCatch


Tried black pork (흑돼지) in Jeju? 🐗

Members of the Seoul Startups team are currently enjoying the spring bloom in Jeju (find out more). We think we’ve found the spot for the best Jeju black pork. Check out ‘Bbolsaljib’. It’s in the middle of nowhere, but totally worth the drive, according to our very subjective opinion.