S1E10: Questions With GagiGesa’s Vidit Agrawal

Questions With GagiGesa’s Vidit Agrawal: A Journey To Reach The Underbanked.

Quest Ventures Podcast Season 1 hosted by Vanessa Ho.

S1E9: Questions With Intelllex’s Chang Zi Qian

Questions With Intelllex’s Chang Zi Qian: From Law To Legal Tech – History-Inspired Insights On Startups.

Quest Ventures Podcast Season 1 hosted by Vanessa Ho.

S1E8: Questions With Quest Ventures’ Jaslyn Hooi

Questions With Quest Ventures’ Jaslyn Hooi: Balancing Commitments.

Quest Ventures Podcast Season 1 hosted by Vanessa Ho.

S1E7: Questions With Gluu’s Lim Shu Fen

Questions With Gluu’s Lim Shu Fen: Crowdsourcing For Connectivity.

Quest Ventures Podcast Season 1 hosted by Vanessa Ho.

Note: Since this podcast was recorded, Gluu has been acquired and pivoted to B2B. Lim Shu Fen has moved on from her previous role as co-founder, and is now Gluu’s non-executive director.

Industry crossroads: Digital meets creative

Connected fitness, wearables, and sustainable spaces demonstrate the advancements of South Korea’s creative economy.

The digital and creative industries are at a crossroads, with the global COVID-19 pandemic providing an unavoidable backdrop in its trajectory. The creative industry in Southeast Asia thrived even before the pandemic. Singapore is the world’s tenth largest exporter of creative goods—products from areas like film, art, music, and crafts—generating USD 743 billion in profits and 12.7 million jobs. Thailand and the Philippines are also committed to growing their creative economy, establishing the Thailand Creative Economy Agency (CEA) and filing the Philippines Creative Industries Act.

South Korea may be perceived as an undisputed digital and creative powerhouse, with resounding success in their creative industry and exports. The success is supercharged by the developments of creative content exports, as well as Centers for Creative Economy and Innovation (CCEIs) by various ministries and government agencies, such as the Korea Creative Content Agency (KOCCA) and Ministry of Science, ICT, and Future Planning.

Many South Korean creatives are looking at Southeast Asia with great interest to target underserved markets. These include the teams of DevUnlimit, R.O.C.K and AppMedia. The top three opportunities they see for their businesses are connected fitness, tech wearables, and sustainable creative spaces.

Connected fitness

Globally, fitness tech startups raised a record-setting USD 2.3 billion in 2020, an increase of over 30% year-over-year. Digital fitness and wellness companies saw a surge in demand from businesses and individuals alike during the pandemic. Peloton, an exercise equipment and media company, saw its Q4 2020 sales nearly triple, while Mirror, which developed an interactive home gym setup, generated USD 170 million in revenue for 2020 and was acquired by Lululemon for USD 500 million.

Fitness is increasingly digitized and gamified, especially during the pandemic, and it motivates individuals trapped in their homes to work out using stimulating presentations and instantaneous engagement. DevUnlimit developed the Sparky platform in South Korea, empowering users to start their workout with a web camera and any screen. Within the comfort of the user’s own home, Sparky creates a stress-free workout environment with a variety of unique sessions and trainers to choose from. These include yoga, Zumba, and even full dance tutorials with real-time instructions and interactions with your favorite trainers.

The AI behind Sparky captures the body movements of users to issue scores. This allows users to gain instant feedback when they work out and provides motivation to reach or maintain a high score. DevUnlimit marketing manager Emilie Saunier highlights “the developments by Sparky in 3D avatars that follow users’ movements in real time is also a huge opportunity for AI in fitness and gaming,” and investors are interested in this metaverse space in the creative economy.

Sparky is erasing physical and geographical boundaries, and fitness creatives can now leverage this platform to reach, manage, and engage with their students or clients at greater scale. The Southeast Asia market is largely underserved in the digital and connected fitness space, and DevUnlimit identified this region as a key component of their global expansion plans. By providing more English-language workout videos, and working with strategic investors that have strong experience in gamification and fitness influencer networks, DevUnlimit expects to reach more consumers in new markets.

Tech wearables

The first computer mouse was created by Douglas Engelbart in 1964, made from a wooden shell and two metal balls attached below. Since then, the handheld hardware input device has come a long way in terms of product innovation. Now, many tech companies like Logitech, Razer, and Microsoft have produced their own mice with advanced features like wireless connection, multi-device syncing and eight-button setups with customizable commands. However, these are only incremental developments, not radical innovations.

Korean tech startup R.O.C.K has reimagined a uniquely shaped mouse that can be worn and controlled on the user’s finger. The ring-shaped wearable mouse has a tactile and gyro sensor that allows users to control their screen without the mouse needing to be on any surface. This unlocks another level of productivity and creativity, according to the CEO of R.O.C.K, David Kim.

Kim is confident about the future of the ring-shaped wearable mouse, explaining that “wearable ring devices will be one of the game-changers after smartphones.” Kim also emphasized the wearable laser pointer market will be worth more than USD 5 billion next year, doubling the market size of computer mice, with a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of 10%, according to a report by the Korea Trade Promotion Corporation, or KOTRA.

The applications of a wearable mouse are multifold and fit different sectors, including gaming, healthcare, and consumer hardware and accessories. R.O.C.K spotted an opportunity in Southeast Asia, a region that is leapfrogging some developed economies in terms of technological developments and adoption. Kim believes that Asia’s gaming market will be R.O.C.K’s strategic focus. With six out of ten Asian gaming markets being in Southeast Asia, this region is currently a priority for the startup. R.O.C.K has also begun overtures into the healthcare industry, and has been in discussions with pharmaceutical and health devices companies to develop a healthcare ring to retrieve real-time patient data, such as blood pressure.

The hardware device that boosted productivity and creativity is now ready for a radical innovation and broad application across sectors.

Sustainable creative spaces

Sustainability in creative industries is a key driver of innovation. Before the pandemic, the creative economy was predicted to account for up to 10% of global GDP by 2030. The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly affected creative industries worldwide, shaving off 20%–40% from revenue across different economies, possibly resulting in 10 million job cuts for creative workers globally.

The ability to tap into new revenue streams through digital platforms and outlets allows creatives to build resilience, especially against the pandemic. Digital platforms and outlets reconnect communities even at times when COVID-19 restrictions are imposed. At the same time, by unlocking a globally connected digital market, creatives are now able to share and commercialize their creative assets worldwide in a more sustainable manner.

Accelerated digitization and digitalization of publications, education, and the meetings, incentives, conferences, and exhibitions (MICE) industries has enabled stronger resilience and even boosted the reach and scale of creatives and content creators. AppMedia’s CEO, Julius Park, has his eyes set on this tremendous opportunity to empower creatives and content creators through the Appbook, a tool that gives organizations and individuals the means to develop and deliver multimedia digital content and experiences to their audience.

“AppMedia’s motto is to create a fair education environment. AppBook can be downloaded on mobile devices and is free, and content is continuously created for AppBook. For example, AppMedia’s main appbook, Learn Korean For Thai, is very useful for beginners learning Korean. This appbook will be developed for Vietnam and India,” Park said. Currently, AppMedia is working with Korea’s Ministry of Education, Supreme Court, Board of Audit and Inspection, selected institutes of higher education, and the Korea International Art Fair (KIAF).

Aligned with the promotion of digital education and advancement of United Nation Sustainable Development Goal 4, which states, “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all,” companies such as AppMedia assume a crucial role in empowering creatives and content creators, enabling widespread access to educational, informational, and recreational materials.

More companies such as South Korea’s DevUnlimit, R.O.C.K, and AppMedia will come to shape the ways creative industries operate at a global level.

Connected fitness serves our interests to stay fit and well physically and mentally. Tech wearables will change the way we interact with the digital world, including the metaverse. Sustainable creative spaces will ensure inclusion and resilience in the creative economy. With a globally connected digital economy, the possibilities are endless.

Quest Ventures is a Singapore-based venture capital firm that boasts a portfolio of more than 90 companies based across Asia and have strong relationships with many community partners across Asia’s ecosystem.

This post first appeared on KrASIA.

S1E6: Questions With Evolve AR’s Azhar Malik

Questions With Evolve AR’s Azhar Malik: How AR Is Changing The Marketing Landscape.

Quest Ventures Podcast Season 1 hosted by Vanessa Ho.

The Korean wave: Outsized influence on global pop culture

Entertainment producers from Korea see Southeast Asia as the next stepping stone.

The dystopian South Korean series “Squid Game” has become a global phenomenon and pop culture sensation, attracting 111 million viewers on Netflix in less than a month after its debut in September 2021. In February, the world’s most popular streaming platform announced plans to spend USD 500 million this year alone on series and films produced in South Korea, demonstrating the draw of the nation’s entertainment creations.

With its gripping story, twisted children games, and a terrifying doll that chants, “Mugunghwa kkoci pieot seumnida” (“the hibiscus flower has bloomed”), audiences worldwide were hooked and could not stop talking about the Squid Game. This is no overnight success for the Korean Media and Content industry. In fact, it took two decades of hard work to create this crest in the Korean wave and make it one of the most prominent exports of South Korea.

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated content consumption through streaming platforms. Revenue in South Korea’s Digital Media market is projected to grow by 21% and reach USD 9 billion in 2021, according to Statista. South Korea is among the top five digital media markets globally, after the United States, China, Japan, and the United Kingdom.

South Korea is able to run at the forefront in the creation of digital content because of strong support from the government. It even has a dedicated Ministry of Culture and Korea Creative Content Agency (KOCCA) to match a vibrant production and creator space. And, in late 2020, the Ministry of Science and ICT of Korea announced that the government intends to provide USD 20 million in funding with the help of private investors to support local startups and small firms that produce digital content.

With wide-ranging support, Korean companies such as Newplus Original, Video Concert, DaL LaLa Network, and Ideaconcert are able to venture out and generate outsized influence on the global media and content market.

Uniting the world with Korean content

Bloomberg reported that Netflix has been investing in foreign language programming since 2015, and has spent more than USD 1 billion on Korean programs alone. The global media and content sector was once dominated by Hollywood films from the United States, but more Korean content, such as Train to Busan, Snowpiercer, and Along with the Gods: The Two Worlds have carved out a niche with global viewers. The movie Parasite directed by Bong Joon-Ho is the first non-English film to win the Best Picture award at the Oscars. It also won three other Academy Awards.

Newplus Original CEO Lee Jung-Sub had his sights set on providing a platform for Koreans in the media and content industry to link up with their global counterparts, so that creators could learn from each other, make new content, and form new connections. Innovating beyond OTT-specialized content, Lee incorporates tech like AI and robots in media production, while maintaining human values in his films, drama series, and documentaries.

The company has made inroads into Thailand, the Philippines, India, Singapore, and Portugal, connecting emerging content markets with Korea. Lee has partnered with the members of the team behind “Squid Game.” He also discovered Parasite lead actor Lee Seon-Kyun and Korean wave star Lee Dong-Wook. With those credentials, he recognizes an opportunity in Southeast Asia, where there is a rising creator economy and no shortage of talent.

Lee’s vision for Newplus Original is to decentralize production and distribution of media and content, and form meaningful insights based on the vast amounts of data that is collected from consumer activity. This can lead to the creation of new AI technology that integrates with other fields, such as new commerce.

There is a profound shift happening in the global media and content industry, fueled by large Western media companies taking a page from Netflix’s playbook to invest in content created beyond the US and Europe. Korean media and content platforms similar to Newplus Original are positioned to create and capture more value for actors and producers all over the world, including Southeast Asia.

Dedicated to millennials and Gen Z

Streaming is here to stay for content consumers, with revenues projected to reach USD 390 billion by 2024, multiplying more than 3.5x in five years. With millennials and Gen Z being the most voracious digital content consumers, many look to dive into their psyche to figure out ways to capture their attention. The UK’s Internet Advertising Bureau highlighted in an article that Gen Z typically has an attention span of just eight seconds. That’s a few seconds shorter than millennials, who come in at approximately 12 seconds. The surge in traction of TikTok and Stories on various social media platforms, like Instagram and Facebook, is a testament to these findings.

VideoMonster global team lead Taylor Yaejung Joo shared in an interview that the company looks to empower individuals and businesses to design and make short-form videos. The video editing platform from Korea provides many ready-to-use templates and cloud rendering engines for users to create professional videos more quickly and at a lower cost. VideoMonster supports five different languages—Korean, English, Japanese, Vietnamese, and Thai—VideoMonster targets Southeast Asian SMEs and creators.

Empowering creators and artists

The creator economy has captured some investors’ attention, attracting USD 1.3 billion in funding in 2021 alone, nearly triple last year’s USD 464 million, according to CB Insights. For example, Patreon raised a USD 155 million Series F round at a USD 4 billion valuation, and personalized video shout-out apps, such as Cameo and Sendjoy, have also raised VC investments led by and Quest Ventures, respectively.

Apart from content creation, there are two main categories in the creator economy. First, off-platform monetization tools manage subscriptions, fan interactions, merchandise, and courses. Secondly, administrative tools manage analytics and operations, community management, and ad platforms. Providing a platform for aspiring content creators to develop their work, and ensuring that they are equipped with the right tools, would encourage more content creators to perfect their craft and capture more value from the content they create.

The creator economy in Korea is dynamic, with companies such as DaL LaLa Network seeking to revolutionize the entertainment media industry by creating a user-centric and data-driven open platform for creators and artists. DaL LaLa Network CEO Chaewon Kim highlighted his company’s social commerce app Twinkple in an interview, saying that the platform “allows fans to have more direct participation in the funding and advertising of aspiring Korean entertainers that they wish to see succeed, developing more trust and loyalty for the fan user base.”

Authentic engagement with fans alongside institutional independence for creators and artists are part of DaL LaLa Network’s plans to disrupt the media and entertainment industry in Korea and globally. Kim mentioned that DaL LaLa Network serves “60% of aspiring entertainers who want to be a star without an agency.” For the next stage of growth, Kim sees Southeast Asia as the natural next step, riding on the K-pop fandom in the region and tapping into the cost-effective marketing in the region.

Creators come in different forms and K-webtoons (mobile and digital comics) attract around 55 million global monthly visitors and 15 million global readers each day. Webtoons allow creators to be autonomous and work on comics that they own, and the industry is animated and high-powered. South Korean webtoon production company Ideaconcert breathes life into the webtoon industry by converting still images from webtoons into video form.

Ideaconcert global sales manager Maulana Rizki underscores the importance of the webtoon market as a significant part of the USD 25 billion broadcasting market, and Ideaconcert can “realize the one source multi-use [property] of content right away.” This empowers webtoon creators to produce more content and create additional income streams while remaining independent.

After riding the K-wave to make inroads into new markets, the Korea creator economy market is expected to transform into a global network. Many have chosen Southeast Asia’s emerging market as one to testbed before they scale.

With so much international attention on Korea’s media and content, there is no doubt that the Korean wave has catapulted the nation onto the global stage. As one of the biggest cultural phenomena across Asia, the Korean wave contributed USD 12.4 billion to the country’s economy in 2019, a far cry from the USD 1.87 billion generated in 2004.

Indeed, the hibiscus—the national flower of Korea—has bloomed.

Quest Ventures is a Singapore-based venture capital firm that boasts a portfolio of more than 90 companies based across Asia and have strong relationships with many community partners across Asia’s ecosystem.

This post first appeared on KrASIA.

Preparing for Fund Raising from Regional Investors

By Jeffrey Seah, Partner, and Gwen Sim, Senior Analyst at Quest Ventures

Whilst the investment world anticipated private market funding to slow down at the onset of COVID-19 and its constrictive repercussions to the global economy, tech startups worldwide are instead flushed with an expansive volume of VC funding hitting record highs.

Southeast Asia (SEA) is no exception and has successfully drawn a disproportionate allocation of venture capital. High profile exit plans (IPOs, SPACs), opportunistic mergers behind accelerated & desperate digital transformation of legacy industries, and accelerating births of unicorns in the region have collectively generated international attention.

We zoom in on the region’s blue ocean – The Philippines. The country is home to more than 100 million people spread over 7,000-8,000 islands (depending on tidal flows), and has more than 10 million diasporas working across 100 countries – “Remittances” – is Top 10 in the country’s FDI.

Southeast Asia-focused VCs have long recognized its potential but few have actually understood their Bayanihan culture, made inroads into their business ecosystems, or made an actual investment in the Philippine archipelago. As investments in Indonesia and Singapore saturate with copycats and premium valuations, the urgency of focus in investors looking for new venture frontier land has shifted to under-appreciated tech ecosystems like The Philippines.

The time is ripe now for Filipino startups to orientate towards professional regional VC investments – besides their traditional PH family business “venture studio” support base – with a regional thematic focus to fully realize the potential of the Philippines to the SE Asia tech ecosystem.

Startups need to understand that VCs are looking for the next billion-dollar company and hence are actively looking for founders who believe that their startup can achieve much more besides dominating the PH domestic market, and its high-value international Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW) diaspora.

For founders, constructing the market size exercise is critical beyond fundraising pitching. It allows the management team to understand the growth gradient & scale of resourcing the startup needs to budget for, e.g., metrics such as GMV, revenue, number of users. Such strategic planning discipline forms the starting blocks to BHAG billion-dollar valuation. And in pitch-proofing this process, founders may come to an earlier realization that the domestic Filipino market may not be big enough to build a unicorn and adopt a regional expansion mindset from day one.

As Filipino startups prepare themselves for a belated onslaught of regional foreign investors, founders should also not forget to garner support from local angels and corporates as well, especially with strategic investors from the local conglomerates who are embracing the digital transformation with relish. In the words of the late Mon Jimenz, past Tourism Secretary and an-exit founder of a Creative Content House (sold to Publicis Groupe) – “It’s More Fun in the Philippines” for venture investments!

This post first appeared on StartUp City.

Tech enables a complete makeover of the fashion and beauty industries

South Korean startups are disrupting the market with innovative technologies to widen their reach.

The fashion and beauty industries are poised for a transformation supported by tech. Virtual reality “digital mirrors,” or AI algorithms that predict style trends, along with other tech innovations, are expected to reshape a global fashion industry estimated to be worth USD 3 trillion by 2030, according to CB Insights.

South Korea is at the forefront of innovation in the fashion and beauty sectors. The country has developed an industry that has remained resilient throughout the COVID-19 pandemic by using tech to redefine the online and in-store experience.

The steadfast support from the Korean government and global venture capital firms has contributed to the worldwide expansion of Korean fashion and beauty tech companies. E-commerce fashion platform Musinsa, for instance, joined South Korean cosmetics brands GP Club and L&P Cosmetics on the country’s list of unicorns in late 2019. Other South Korean fashion tech and beauty companies such as Fashionade, Fash\on, Imemine, and The Blessed Moon have also experienced fast growth as they now look to expand to Southeast Asia, a region with over 670 million potential customers.

Tech redefines the online and in-store experience

Augmented reality and virtual reality applications have been applied to the retail sector to create digital experiences in stores. These technologies are also being utilized to recreate the in-store experience for online customers. Usually, consumers face challenges when purchasing clothes online as brands have different sizing for their clothes. This has caused a high rate of returns and reshipping of products, resulting in billions of dollars of lost revenue for companies in the sector.

South Korean startups Imemine and Fashionade are two companies using AI, AR, and VR to respond to these challenges. Their software helps consumers find the correct fit while boosting conversion rates and reducing product returns.

Imemine’s solution, AI sizing app SizeMine, allows users to check different sizing information from various brands and get recommended sizes based on approximated full-body measurements generated by analyzing users’ photos. The company said its process has a 97% accuracy rate. Positioned as a big data and tech enabler of the fashion industry, Imemine draws parallels to multinational apparel brands, including Japan’s leading fast fashion retailer Uniqlo, which also leverages big data to produce clothes.

“In general, fast fashion companies’ production volumes are forecasted based on historical data, and they achieve average sales of 50%” of their manufactured output, Imemine CEO Park Iksoo said. “Uniqlo, however, predicts sales and determines production by utilizing hyper-personalized data, thus reaching sales rates of over 90%.”

Park says that SizeMine can reduce the return rate of products by more than 30%. The company plans to provide its SizeMine platform to more brands and online retailers, targeting to enter the US and Southeast Asia by mid-2022.

On the other hand, Fashionade developed an AI-powered style recommendation software named StyleAI. The platform analyzes customers’ behavioral data and fashion experts’ reviews to offer various style recommendations to online users. Fashionade CEO Jake Baek said that StyleAI has proven “to increase the average consumer’s order amount by 23%” while helping retailers manage their store inventories better and save costs on model photoshoots.

Fashionade is currently partnering with brands such as Umbro and Converse, and is also looking to expand to Southeast Asia and work with small and medium businesses through its partnership with Shopify. Baek said the opportunity in Southeast Asia is “tremendous,” revealing its plan to “partner with an enterprise fashion company to do a proof of concept project” as part of the company’s expansion into the region.

Digital stylists: Up close and personal

AI styling is gaining a foothold in the global fashion industry. For instance, when Prada launched its official online store in China in 2018, it also introduced personalized concierge services powered by virtual assistant chatbots to help customers shop. Amazon is also leveraging AI tech with its StyleSnap feature, which allows customers to upload a photo of an outfit, which will then find listings for each item. In Southeast Asia, e-commerce site Zalora operates Virtual Dressing Room. This tool allows users to compare garments they want to buy with clothes they already own by virtually overlaying the silhouettes of the two.

Fash\on is another South Korean company providing tech innovation for brands, retailers, and consumers via its Digital Closet platform. The tool is touted to be a “smart fashion mirror” for customers that want to regularly update their wardrobe with the latest styles. Users can upload their most recent 20 outfits—including hats, tops, bottoms, and shoes—to the platform, which will then recommend new outfit matches and new products based on the personal closet’s contents.

The company’s CEO, Ko Jong Hyun, said that Digital Closet creates an online-to-offline (O2O) experience by “creating engagement for offline stores from online engagement and vice versa.” He added that the software allows brands and retailers to leverage user data to promote personalized fashion pieces for each individual. Jong also revealed his intention to create a personal styling subscription service. Jong’s vision for Fash\on is to “connect brands to users, and users to users,” while consolidating data for the O2O retail space.

Sustainable fashion and beauty

Sustainability across the fashion and beauty industries has gained momentum in recent years among consumers, investors, and brands. According to a report by First Insight, 73% of Generation Z consumers are willing to pay more for sustainable items. Brands targeting this demographic in the fashion and beauty space are changing their business strategy and product offerings to align with these consumer sensitivities.

Consumers, in particular millennials and Gen Z, are moving away from single-use plastics, according to a McKinsey report that says up to 70% of buyers are willing to pay more for sustainable packaging.

Moon Eun-bin, CEO of South Korean cosmetic firm The Blessed Moon, saw the opportunity to capture a relatively nascent sustainable cosmetic market in 2018. The company develops cosmetics made from natural ingredients that are sustainably sourced. The company also utilizes a sustainable packaging system that allows consumers to refill containers to reduce single-use plastics.

By layering a sustainable model on top of an O2O and direct-to-consumer (D2C) model, The Blessed Moon has scaled rapidly beyond its home market. Starting in South Korea, Moon established a presence in nine countries in Asia, Europe, and the Americas within three years. The brand works with major offline and online retail channels such as Lotte department stores, Shopee, and Lazada.

As the fashion and beauty sectors undergo an extreme makeover powered by tech, key stakeholders such as VCs and governments are also supporting these changes to promote sustainability in the supply chain. Capital and capacity building for startups need to develop in tandem with the ever-evolving fashion and beauty industries.

Quest Ventures is a Singapore-based venture capital firm that boasts a portfolio of more than 90 companies based across Asia and have strong relationships with many community partners across Asia’s ecosystem.

This post first appeared on KrASIA.