Top 5 Startups Capitalizing on the Hallyu Wave

Top 5 Startups Capitalizing on the Hallyu Wave

These companies are eager to fulfill the growing demand for all things Korean.

Look around you, and I’m sure you’ll find at least one person who is either into Korean pop music (K-pop) or Korean dramas (K-dramas). The popularity of Korean cultural products, be it music, TV shows, fashion or skincare, is called the Hallyu (Chinese term for the word Korean) wave

Hallyu wave’s acclaim has had a positive impact on the South Korean economy, with boy band BTS contributing US$3.6 billion to the country’s economy all by themselves. Naturally, everyone wants to make money off the Hallyu wave, and thus, many startups and small businesses selling some or the other Korean cultural products have popped up across different countries. If you love all things Korean, here is a guide to businesses that sell your favorite Korean products: 

KPOP Foods

KPOP Foods is a startup based in Los Angeles, the U.S. that aims to bring rich Korean flavors to the American market. While there are already a plethora of Korean restaurants in America, KPOP Foods provides top-of-the-line snacks and sauces to those who want to eat like their idols at home. The startup was founded in 2017 by co-founders Mark Kim and Theo Lee. The duo raised US$40,000 for the startup through a Kickstarter campaign and eventually grew the business enough to sell their products to 3,000 retailers across the country. As of January this year, the company has been acquired by Wooltari USA, a retail and online grocer of Korean products. 

KStarLive

Much like other sectors, non-fungible tokens (NFTs) have found their way into K-pop music as well. One of the startups at the forefront of K-pop NFTs is KStarLive. KStarLive is a Korean celebrity-centric news and video curation service. The startup began its operations in 2016 and has since amassed a following of over 8.8 million subscribers on Facebook. 

In 2021, KStarLive launched “The Show FanBox NFT Collection” which featured short videos of K-pop stars appearing on Korean TV channel SBS’s The Show. The NFTs were up for sale on Featured, an NFT platform on the Binance Smart Chain. When the collection was initially launched, it wasn’t received too well by K-pop fans, with KStarLive’s tweet about it receiving replies, such as “oh no:(”, “please don’t” and “we don’t want it!”. However, KStarLive tweeted out on December 8, 2021 that a total of 5,518 NFTs from the collection had been sold. 

Watcha

Watcha is a tech startup based in Seoul, South Korea that was founded in 2012. The company runs a recommendation service (by the same name, WATCHA) that allows users to rank films, and, based on these rankings, it recommends other films they might enjoy. The users can then watch these films on the company’s subscription-based video-on-demand (VOD) service WATCHA PLAY. 

In 2021, the company expanded its product offerings to include webtoons (digital comics) and music. Watcha recommends music to its users based on the films they enjoy. This includes movie soundtracks or even songs which have a similar genre as the film does. The company pairs its music recommendations with webtoons so that the two can be consumed together. 

Makestar

Makestar is a way for fans to be more involved in making their favorite idol’s dreams come true. Founded in 2015, Makestar is a crowdfunding platform that allows fans from 230 different countries to produce idol projects. The company has worked with a lot of popular idols, such as Crayon Pop and Astro, from across 250 K-pop agencies. It is a particularly great way for idols with diverse backgrounds to get their art to the general public. In 2022, K-pop idol Jiae used Makestar to raise funds for her solo album when she failed to get support from traditional K-pop companies because of her sexuality. 

Makestar hosts a wide variety of events across the world to help create a direct line of communication between fans and idols. These include one-on-one video calls with the idols and having a chance to receive signed photographs of the idols. 

Musicow

This entry is for those looking to invest in K-pop and for fans who want to own a piece of their favorite K-pop song. Musicow is a South Korean music copyright trading platform founded in 2016. This startup is the first company in South Korea that allows investors to buy fractional copyright ownership of a song. Upon buying fractional rights, investors would receive a share of the royalties of a song; they are also allowed to trade the copyright with other investors. 

As of 2021, Musicow has over 700,000 users and 920 songs up for trading. Experts suggest that since this is a relatively smaller investment, it is a great way to bring in younger investors who may not have the finances to purchase an entire song. 

Well, there you have it. These are some of the companies that are making money through the rising popularity of Korean culture. According to estimates by the Korea Foundation, there are over 100 million Hallyu fans across the world. These fans are more than willing to spend big bucks on Korean cultural products—forking over around US$1,422 on albums, merch and concert tickets. It is this tremendous spending power of Hallyu fans that keeps these businesses going. With the popularity of Korean shows and films, like Squid Game and Parasite, we can say that the Hallyu wave is far from ending any time soon. 

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