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How South Korean Companies are Spicing Up Crowdfunding
Kickstarter Kimchi
How South Korean Companies are Spicing Up Crowdfunding
  • By matthew
  • August 3, 2015, 01:30
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The Zikto Walk bracelet, known as Arki during its Kickstarter campaign.
The Zikto Walk bracelet, known as Arki during its Kickstarter campaign.

 

The Moky keyboard Kickstarter campaign included many illustrative images such as this one.
The Moky keyboard Kickstarter campaign included many illustrative images such as this one.

 

Tangram's Smart Rope includes LEDs all throughout the handle and length of the rope for a new exercise experience.
Tangram's Smart Rope includes LEDs all throughout the handle and length of the rope for a new exercise experience.

 

Users can connect to their intelligent Planty plant pot via a smartphone app.
Users can connect to their intelligent Planty plant pot via a smartphone app.

 

Put the Way Wearable sensor on your skin to get detailed information about it.
Put the Way Wearable sensor on your skin to get detailed information about it.

 

Yolk's Solar Paper is thin enough to serve as a bookmark, but will also charge your devices.
Yolk's Solar Paper is thin enough to serve as a bookmark, but will also charge your devices.

 

The hottest gadgets on crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo aren’t coming from Silicon Valley, MIT or even New York. They’re coming from someplace far more surprising – South Korea.

That’s not to say that Korea doesn’t have the talent or tech knowhow to produce cool kit. Korea is home to Samsung, LG, Hyundai, and other big companies that thrive on a steady diet of innovation and highly trained engineers.

But for global crowdfunding, the odds are stacked against Korea, for three reasons. First, Korea ranks low in English proficiency, compared to its economic stature. Second, there isn’t a long history of individual entrepreneurship in Korea. And third, until a couple of weeks ago, local crowdfunding was actually illegal.

With no established mechanism to crowdfund locally, Korean startups have turned these seeming disadvantages around, while also systematically analyzing and recreating the elements that makes certain Kickstarter and Inidigogo campaigns highly successful.

They have produced highly professional explanatory videos, earned coverage from top-tier English-language media, and constructed compelling narratives that grow into compelling company introductions.

With every iteration, the results have improved, as startups learn from one another. In 2014, Zikto broke records when they raised about US$165,000 on Kickstarter – the most raised by any Korean company to that point. Then came Smart Rope with a cool US$193,000 last April. And most recently, Solar Paper’s campaign has raised nearly US$700,000 with more than two weeks remaining.

The stories of the most successful Korean crowdfunding companies are quite compelling, and include the indicators to success that others could find valuable. Six of them are detailed in this article.

Zikto's Walk

[[{"fid":"12259","view_mode":"body_image_right","fields":{"format":"body_image_right","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":"The ZIKTO Walk bracelet, known as Arki during its Kickstarter campaign.","field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":""},"type":"media","link_text":null,"attributes":{"alt":"The ZIKTO Walk bracelet, known as Arki during its Kickstarter campaign.","height":413,"width":550,"class":"media-element file-body-image-right"}}]]Zikto originated their Korean crowdfunding wave with the Zikto Walk (then called Arki), a stylish wristwatch cum walking coach, posture minder, and advanced activity tracker. It raised US$164,262 from 822 backers on Kickstarter.

Recipe for Success

The founders of Zikto were able to clearly convey the benefits of their product on the product page and through media. While their copy and content wasn’t as polished as many campaigns that came after them, their passion was clearly evident. Zikto’s real advantage was that they embraced PR and earned coverage in major publications such as the Wall Street Journal and VentureBeat, which drove lots of contributors to their campaign. The Wall Street Journal feature was a video review and interview with the founders, which had a major impact on building credibility in their campaign at an early stage.

Since the conclusion of their campaign last Nov., Zikto has parlayed its crowdfunding success into business development. They recently wrapped up shipping to their Kickstarter backers and are now on-pace to open online and offline retail channels through Korean shopping malls such as Hyundai Department Store.

Innopresso's Moky

[[{"fid":"12260","view_mode":"body_image_right","fields":{"format":"body_image_right","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":"The Moky keyboard Kickstarter campaign included many illustrative images such as this one.","field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":""},"type":"media","link_text":null,"attributes":{"alt":"The Moky keyboard Kickstarter campaign included many illustrative images such as this one.","height":366,"width":550,"class":"media-element file-body-image-right"}}]]Moky is a combination keyboard and trackpad for smartphones and tablets, integrating the trackpad right into the surface of the keys. Moky raised US$128,584, which is 410 percent of their original goal, on Indiegogo.

Recipe for Success

The Indiegogo page for Moky shows clear instructions about how Moky works through visuals. The animations are especially good. This means the message comes across, even if the English isn’t perfect. Moky also earned coverage on TechCrunch, VentureBeat, and Gizmag, among others.

Tangram's Smart Rope

[[{"fid":"12261","view_mode":"body_image_right","fields":{"format":"body_image_right","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":"Tangram's Smart Rope includes LEDs all throughout the handle and length of the rope for a new exercise experience.","field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":""},"type":"media","link_text":null,"attributes":{"alt":"Tangram's Smart Rope includes LEDs all throughout the handle and length of the rope for a new exercise experience.","height":367,"width":550,"class":"media-element file-body-image-right"}}]]Smart Rope is "the jump rope of the 21st century." The device integrates LED lights onto the rope to show real-time updates. It also connects to your smartphone and offers tailored training programs to improve your next rope session. This innovative exercise tool raised US$193,376 on Kickstarter from 2,180 backers.

Recipe for Success

Video was key to showing off a product that’s constantly in motion, and the Smart Rope video clearly demonstrates the benefits of each feature and function. It also creates a personal connection with viewers by explaining the design process in perfect English. Remember: Storytelling works!

Smart Rope is set to ship this Sept.

nthing's Planty

[[{"fid":"12262","view_mode":"body_image_right","fields":{"format":"body_image_right","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":"Users can connect to their intelligent Planty plant pot via a smartphone app.","field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":""},"type":"media","link_text":null,"attributes":{"alt":"Users can connect to their intelligent Planty plant pot via a smartphone app.","height":483,"width":550,"class":"media-element file-body-image-right"}}]]Planty is a smart plant pot that gives you a real shot at keeping your houseplants alive, by giving you real-time updates on your smartphone whenever the plant needs special attention. Planty raised US$103,127 from 500 backers on Kickstarter.

Recipe for Success

The Planty team’s success was based on excellent execution and quite a bit of creativity. The English text on their campaign page is fun, engaging, and flawless, and the images they use make it clear that they’re professionals who really know what they’re doing. What pushed their fund raising over the top was an Earth Day promotion, where they promised to plant a tree for every contribution made to the campaign.

Planty’s campaign is closed, but they’re still accepting pre-orders on their website.

Team Way's Way Wearable

[[{"fid":"12263","view_mode":"body_image_right","fields":{"format":"body_image_right","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":"Put the Way Wearable sensor on your skin to get detailed information about it.","field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":""},"type":"media","link_text":null,"attributes":{"alt":"Put the Way Wearable sensor on your skin to get detailed information about it.","height":367,"width":550,"class":"media-element file-body-image-right"}}]]Way Wearable is the latest – and most technologically advanced – product to come out of Korea’s skincare industry. The beautifully-designed device is about the size of a makeup compact and uses sensors to look below the surface of your skin to measure moisture and estimate oil levels, while also checking the UV levels and humidity in your immediate surroundings. Then, it provides tailored skincare advice on your smartphone. In just one month, Way raised US$121,577 from 652 backers on Indiegogo.

Recipe for Success

Way was another startup that fully embraced PR to attract contributors, by getting articles in some of the top global and Korean tech publications. Way actively communicated with contributors and potential contributors to keep them engaged. The team reached out through social media, tapping personal networks, and posted an amazing 21 updates throughout the course of their campaign.

Yolk's Solar Paper

[[{"fid":"12264","view_mode":"body_image_right","fields":{"format":"body_image_right","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":"Yolk's Solar Paper is thin enough to serve as a bookmark, but will also charge your devices.","field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":""},"type":"media","link_text":null,"attributes":{"alt":"Yolk's Solar Paper is thin enough to serve as a bookmark, but will also charge your devices.","height":413,"width":550,"class":"media-element file-body-image-right"}}]]This product by the company Yolk is the first solar charger that’s thin and light enough that you can fold it up, slip it inside of a notebook, and take it with you anywhere. The company’s founder, Sen Chung, says that it’s her mission to bring solar technology into people’s everyday lives. Solar Paper has beat out all of the previous crowdfunding campaigns from Korea, raising more than US$700,000 on Kickstarter, with more than two weeks left to go.

Recipe for Success

Press coverage of Solar Paper has been spectacular, ranging from NBC to the Daily Mail. The company’s reputation has been built over two prior campaigns. The success of Solar Paper clearly demonstrates that a good product, trust from former backers, and improved crowdfunding aptitude can clearly bulldoze through cultural and language barriers. One thing that stands out is how personal this campaign is to its creator, who writes her updates in the first person, and whose passion is clearly evident in the product video.

Why Go Korean When You Can Go Global?

Each of these Korean companies brought unique products to a global audience, perhaps more by necessity than choice. The lack of crowd funding options in Korea forced them out of their comfort zones. They quickly learned from their predecessors, building up a body of knowledge on how to raise money effectively.

In the final analysis, one can find several points that these incredibly successful global crowdfunding campaigns had in common:

  • Excellently written English: Many of these companies sought help from professional writers, to give them an extra edge.
  • Professional quality images and videos: Production skills are very high in Korea and costs are still relatively low. These companies took full advantage of this and invested in their future success.
  • Embracing global PR: Relevant articles in widely-read media sent thousands of potential contributors to a campaign. These companies started their PR efforts early and actively sought out opportunities.
  • Limitless passion: These campaigns may have looked polished, but they weren’t sterile creations of faceless corporations. The passion of the creators showed through in every case.

Nathan Millard is the CEO of G3 Partners, a startup-focused PR company that has previously advised ZIKTO and YOLK, and is currently working with Way Wearable.