Top 10 Innovative Korean eCommerce Startups to Watch – Best of 2020

Amazon and Alibaba have done a great job of changing how consumers think about shopping online.  eCommerce is a very difficult industry to break into. The companies that keep building on trust are the ones that succeed. Coupang and G-Market are two of the most trusted eCommerce companies in Korea and dominate the space. However, since eCommerce is an innovative and extremely competitive industry, there is always room for new and innovative Korean eCommerce startups that can disrupt the digital retail marketplace.

Who will become the next Coupang?

Coupang is called the Amazon of South Korea. It is now worth over $9 million dollars and has become an eCommerce startup Unicorn in Korea. It didn’t start out as a third party online market place. Rather Coupang started out as a daily deals (coupon) business. The transition was a success and in 3 years (2013) Coupang crossed $1 billion in sales. Coupang is an end to end eCommerce platform that is designed to serve the full eCommerce journey from desktop to doorstep. Online sales in South Korea easily surpassed $100 billion in 2019. That makes South Korea 5th in regards to eCommerce sales. By 2023, it is expected to move to 3rd place behind China and the United States. This is mainly due to high internet speed and high smartphone adoption in Korea.

Why eCommerce is so successful in Korea

There are 3 key factors that make eCommerce so successful in Korea. First is that the single person household continues to grow and currently takes up 30% of the market. These single-person households do not have the time to do offline shopping. The second factor is Korea’s well established digital infrastructure and open innovation. This includes many easy to pay mobile payment systems in Korea like Kakao pay and Toss. Lastly, South Korea has one of the best-structured logistics systems in the world. Cities in South Korea such as Seoul is very dense, this makes it easier to set up logistics compares to other cities around the world. Therefore, Korea’s eCommerce spending per capita has ranked 3rd for over a year.

Korea is so well connected and delivery times can be cut down to a day, more and more eCommerce startups are looking to break into the market. We will cover Fashion eCommerce startups in another article. So what are the top 10 innovative Korean eCommerce startups to watch in 2020?

The rankings were comprised by the Seoulz staff and are based on 4 factors:

  • Funding
  • Market Opportunity
  • The innovation of service or product
  • Growth Potential/Scalability

Here is our list of the top eCommerce startups in Korea

1. Market Kurly

Korean eCommerce Startup Market KurlyKorean grocery eCommerce startup Market Kurly allows grocery shoppers to have fresh food delivered straight to their homes. Through the Market Kurly app, customers can order their food at night (before 11 pm) and it will arrive the next morning (before 7 am). They have branded themselves well in Korea. Their service is more like the “Wholefoods” of Korean food delivery services.

The app has really taken off with middle to high-income families that don’t have the time to shop offline. More and more Korean families are focusing more on quality rather than price. This is where Market Kurly is looking to capitalize on.

“Players such as Shinsegae, which runs giant supermarket chain E-Mart, are quickly trying to move into this online space. But having started and stayed offline for so long, all of their infrastructure and know-how are focused on the offline shopping experience,” said Sophie Kim, founder of Market Kurly.

They also recently closed their series D round that reached a total of $113 million. This will help them expand outside of Gangnam and into other cities in Korea. So far the app gets around 300,000 people each month.  Their revenue in 2019 reached over $130 million. Kurly doesn’t just sell fresh produce, they also sell fresh fish like salmon and meats like beef, chicken, and pork.

The company has had so much success that bigger eCommerce companies like Coupang and E-Mart have started to offer overnight delivery for fresh foods in certain locations.

Paper over Plastic for Market Kurley

Market Kurly has made changes to their delivery packaging by replacing disposable packaging with reusable eco boxes. It is estimated that the change will reduce 750 tons of plastic waste and over 2,100 tons of styrofoam waste per year. Therefore if the consumer sends back empty paper boxes, Market Kurly will give them to a recycling company for reuse.

2.  Lezhin Comics

Lezhin_comicsKorean webtoon eCommerce platform Lezhin Comics gives webtoon artists a platform to publish their works online. The webtoon marketplace is in high demand and many Koreans love webcomics. Lezhin Comics has topped the Google Play app store’s best-grossing application chart, beating out Marvel Comics and DC Comics, Lezhin Entertainment said Monday. Lezhin Comics began its service in the U.S. in January 2016 with only had 12 Korean comics in English at that time. Now it features over 250 comics for English readers. The company entered the digital comic industry since it began service in Korea in 2013. It generated over $50 million in sales in 2019.

Lezhin Comics has more than 7,000 comics in Korea. It also features about 300 Japanese online comics, 100 Chinese online comics and other comics created by cartoonists from France, Thailand, Indonesia, and the U.S.

They were able to partner with Samsung for “Lezhin Comics for Samsung.”

“I’m excited to see Lezhin Comics for Samsung launch and cement our position in the global market. This partnership gives Lezhin Comics a firm position overseas with the potential to go even further while we continue to work towards publishing more exciting and engrossing webtoons,” said Sung Eob Lee, CEO of Lezhin Entertainment.

Lezhin AutoPlay

Lezhin AutoPlay is the newest and cheapest way to purchase coins on Lezhin Comics. It is a monthly payment service that is friendly for both light and heavy users. Check out Lezhin Comics on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook to keep up with the latest webtoon and manga launches.

3.  Hello Nature

Hello NatureKorean grocery eCommerce Startup Hello Nature was founded in 2012 and its focus is to offer compact packaged-groceries delivered to your home. In 2016, Hello Nature was bought by SK planet for $28 million (50.1% controlling stake). Hello Nature looks to work with over 13,000 CU convenient stores across Korea. The startup focuses a lot on having an eco-friendly delivery service by having all their delivery boxes made out of recyclable woven polyethylene and ice packs made of 100% organic materials.

Once customers get their delivery they can simply leave their boxes in front of their door and Hello Nature will come and pick it up. Once they pick up the boxes, they will send the boxes to a professional cleaner to reuse them for their next delivery. Their focus on eco-friendly material is what they feel will separate them from their competitors as more and more consumers start to care about the environment.

“I want to grow the company into a global food brand like Sunkist or Zespri. By keeping with the principle of delivering best groceries to more households, Hello Nature aims to become the Asian version of Sunkist,” said Park Byung-yul, CEO of Hello Nature.

4.  RIDIBOOKS

Korean eCommmerce Startup ridibooksKorean e-book platform RIDIBOOKS has found a lot of success in Korea because of Korea’s passion for e-books. RIDIBOOKS is Korea’s top e-book provider and has raised over $40 million in funding to date. For 2019 they will focus on improving the user experience and expand their webcomics content. Their top-selling romance novel called “Under the Oak Tree” hit one million views in 2017.

RIBIBOOKS has over 3 million users and has gotten over 250 million e-book downloads. Their site holds over 1 million titles from over 3,000 publishers.

RIDI Select

RIDI Select is a monthly subscription plan for RIDI Books. It lets users read the bestselling books at RIDI Books for a flat monthly fee. RIDI Select does not put a limit on books the readers can choose from. Therefore, if the user does not like the book they got, they can return it and it will not count on their account.

“RIDI Select service is designed to reduce the reader’s time and cost significantly. I expect such characteristics can contribute to increasing the number of readers and spurring growth in the book market.” said Kisik Bae, the CEO of the RIDI Corporation.

5.  MyMusicTaste

Korean Startup MyMusicTaste
MyMusicTaste is a very interesting startup in that they are a fan initiated live event making service. This means that they bring fans, artists, and promoters from all over the world together in one place to create a valuable and meaningful concert experience. The power is mostly in the fans’ hands. Fans can request their favorite artist’s concert in their city. Then based on the demand they are able to generate on the MyMusicTaste platform, artists and promoters can organize an in-demand concert for that city.

Artists and promoters will have access to data to make their own determination on whether to put on a concert.

Putting on a concert can be very risky or artists, organizers, and promoters. Ticket sales are the key. Therefore MyMusicTaste allows fans to pre-request tickets so they artists will have a baseline for ticket sales before they make their decision. Most of their users are outside of Korea (90%). This is due to the popularity of K Pop around the world. Therefore, users can bring K Pop groups to their city through the platform.

“Most artists are looking to generate large profits and interact with their fans from all corners of the world through international tours. It is based on this need that we get a sense of the market and plan the tour,” said Lee Jaeseok, CEO of MyMusicTaste.

MyMusicTaste BM

MyMusicTaste makes revenue by selling tickets and taking a commission and promoting concerts organized through its platform. Think of MyMusicTaste ad the “Live Nation” of Korea but with a larger focus on up and coming artists.

A few years back MyMusicTaste was able to get an $11 million Series C funding led by KTB Network. This brings their total to date to over $25 million. Its Series C will be used to expand into more genres. MyMusicTaste also plans to open regional offices in Los Angeles, Europe, and Southeast Asia and strengthen its data science and engineering team.

6.  Kmong 

kmong Korean ecommerce StartupKorean freelancer eCommerce startup Kmong is cashing in on the fact that more and more Koreans are looking to become freelancers. Kmong is an online talent marketplace that helps freelancers sell their services. There are many categories on the Kmong platform from designers, marketers, and artists, just to name a few. In addition, the platform attracts corporations and enterprises looking to find fresh new talent.

Kmong is considered to be the top freelancer marketplace in Korea with over 250,000 freelancers and clients.

For 2019 Kmong will look to incorporate Blockchain technology into their platform. They already partnered up with Talao, a decentralized protocol for the freelancing economy.

“We’re different from headhunters or outsourcing agencies in that we don’t propose hires – instead we cater to immediate needs for short-term projects or specific tasks, like translating an investor-relations report,” said Tony Park the CEO at Kmong.

7.  Soomgo

Korean Startup SoomgoKorean eCommerce startup Soomgo is an open marketplace for professional services. People can go on the Soomgo platform and search for professionals in a variety of services such as interior, cleaning, relocation/moving, tutoring, and even weddings. Their aim is both to make unknown freelancers more accessible to consumers as well as offer consumers an open marketplace to find the right professional.

“In South Korea, there is a dire need for tools and for platforms that really help freelancers and small businesses to fill the gap in what is traditionally a conglomerate-driven culture,” said Robin Kim, CEO at Soomgo.

Most of the users are students looking to get help on their school work. However, Soomgo is working hard to stop any ghostwriting or dissertation writing for college students in Korea.

Soomgo was a part of Y Combinator’s 2017 Winter batch. In 2018 they were able to get $3.4 million for their Series A investment round. Therefore, this puts the total amount of investment fund Soomgo successfully raised at $ 4.7 million dollars (approximately 5 billion Korean Won).

8. MARPPLE

MARRPLEMARPPLE is a leading global e-commerce platform for print-on-demand (POD) for clothing and accessories. They offer a complete solution for mass-customization from eCommerce to manufacturing. The site is a platform for custom clothing and personalized goods. Users can create their own t-shirts or other personalized clothing products. They can customize the text, design, and image for custom products like clothes, bags and even phone cases. MARPPLE has become a platform for influencers, organizations, and individuals that are looking to showcase their designs to the world.

The startup started out as a brick-and-mortar shop in Hongdae over a decade ago. However, in 2015, they shifted their business online. They now offer a diverse range of products from gifts for the family to customized photo accessories for friends. Their pop selling items are related to K-pop and other Korean pop culture elements.

“Our local customers have very high standards when it comes to print quality. We can’t push off on enhancing our technology as mediocre quality immediately leads to customer complaints. When we compare our products against overseas POD samples, they are rarely better than ours,” said Park Hye-yoon the Founder of MARPPLE.

Their focus for 2020 will be to offer a platform that will continue to help designers create and sell merchandise without the need for initial capital. Therefore anyone will be able to start an online business and get rewarded for their designs.

9.  BBuzzart

bbuzzart Korean StartupKorean eCommerce startup BBuzzart is a global art community for up and coming passionate artists. Their platform and mobile app allow artists to exhibit their work and communicate with their potential customers. BBuzzArt also runs its own Instagram where they showcase some of the works of rising artists.

There are over 40,000 artworks that are displayed on BBuzzart from artists all around the world. Artists simply need to log into BBuzzart and create their own profile. Then they will be able to upload their artwork.

Every week BBuzzart recommends new artworks to its users by the “BBuzz pick” service. Therefore, users of BBuzzart will get a constant stream of new and interesting pieces of artwork every day. If users like the art they can buy in through BBuzzart. These pieces of art include paintings, drawings, photographs, sculptures, and so much more. Prices range from up to $500 to more than $10,000 so there will always be something for everyone. In addition, BBuzzArt recently launched an Art Streaming Service called BBuzzCanvas and just opened the showroom/gallery at Seoul Forest on the Bundang Line (Yellow Line).

BBuzzCanvas is very beneficial to both artists and art lovers. It allows emerging artists to better showcase their creative outputs and to receive the art content usage fee. Art lovers have a chance to appreciate their favorite artworks in one frame.

“We’re planning to provide an eCommerce platform where artists can sell their work directly,” said CEO of BBuzzArt, Clara Shin.

10.  Rhoonart

Korean Startup RhoonartKorean startup Rhoonart is a commission-free platform that allows artists to compose music. It is being considered the next generation music marketplace. They currently have a database of hundreds of songwriters. Therefore customers can get music for commercial purposes and it will be delivered online. Rhoonart is a marketplace for clients, songwriters, composers, and enterprises looking to find commercial music.

Rhoonart only takes money through the transaction between clients and artists. A client can request a type of music and then the artists will send their estimates. Once the client finds the artist they want, the artist will write or compose the music exclusively for the client. Payment is held until the client is satisfied with the artist’s work. Furthermore, the copyright stays with the artist unless the client pays for it.

HONORABLE MENTION

Instant Tattoo

Instant Tattoo Korean StartupKorean startup Instant Tatoo is an online shop that sells realistic instant tattoos. They recently presented at Sparklabs Demoday 12 and were a big hit at the booths where they offered free samples of their product. Their online store is a great place for those that always wanted to get a tattoo but were not sure if they want to make the life long commitment. In addition, the Instant Tattoo collection is very fashionable and cute and the designs are constantly updated.

The Instant Tattoo lasts for up to five days. Just apply the tattoo on your skin (make sure you wash and dry first). Take off the protective film and just place it on your skin. Press down for 30 seconds and then peel off the plastic layer. To remove the Instant Tatto0 just lightly rinse the tattoo off with warm water and lightly scrub the tattoo with a soapy sponge. The average price for the tattoos is $12.