What I learned about the Seoul ecosystem

I just got back from Korea two days ago and super excited I had a chance to meet the ecosystem as part of my goal #3 this year.

A special treat was having dinner with the co-founder of Daum communications, one of the early stage web portal companies in Korea competing with the likes of Yahoo and AOL. Hearing stories of founder relationships, how he made decisions, and his vision of the future was simply fun.

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From an macro level, Seoul has a lot going:

  • Domestic population of 50 million, but with 50% of the population living in Seoul, making it the second densest wealthy city in the world
  • Infrastructure is superior, especially mobile, for example 5G is currently being tested
  • Mobile penetration is one of the highest in the world, with smartphone penetration at over 70%
  • Spending on apps is big. Korea spends the second most on the Google play store

    On a micro perspective, the ecosystem is equally interesting. From an early stage resource perspective, there are plenty of private co-working spaces, from Tribeluga, Maru 180, DCamp, and the newly opened Google Campus and government spaces like Born2global and KISED.

    From the funding side, government money is plentiful - in creating incentives for early stage and late-stage investing. There are angel networks like Mashup angels and Bon angels, which provide funding and mentoring. Accelerators like Spark Labs, Primer, and DCamp add to the angel networks. And venture firms like the Ventures, capstone, 500 startups, Formation 8 add to late stage capital.

    And success stories? Exits like Daum, Naver, and Kakao. Late stage companies Coupang are the next startups to keep a close eye. Not only is this great for PR to inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs, the exits have put money back into the ecosystem.

    Seoul is really one of the most advanced startup scenes in Asia Pacific. I'm glad to have gotten to know it better.

    Thanks Sherry Kim for arranging my visit, John Kim from Jiverand Jenna Lee for intros, and Eugene Kim from SparkLabs for allowing me to meet such great founders.