The South Korean startup scene is emerging, led by innovations in social mobile services, games and social media. Examples of these successes include KakaoTalk, which has received 500 million downloads on iOS and Android as reported by e27. Other startup like couple networking application Between has also achieved considerable success, being funded by 500 startups and Global Brain for an undisclosed sum.
Google has noticed this trend and has taken an active role in nurturing South Korean companies, introducing promising startups to the US market through Korean startup accelerator, SparkLabs. More recently, JFDI has announced a partnership with Korea’s The Banks Foundation in order to accelerate startups in both Singapore and South Korea.
One of the new startup companies that has recently come out of South Korea and started to expand into Singapore is Swizzle, a mobile application that allows you to create playlists of YouTube videos and share them with your friends. The company is geared more towards music, with potential partnerships with companies like SoundCloud in mind as they progress further. Unlike competitors like Spotify or 8tunes, its claim to fame is that the app is able to play video content. This is especially relevant for individuals who love K-pop and music videos.
Legal issues with YouTube license
In his childhood, Ian Lee, the sole founder of Swizzle, liked to give mix-tapes to his friends so that they can have a listen. However, after music was digitalised, music sharing became illegal in South Korea. Hence, he decided to make free and legal platform for exchanging music with friends like he did before with physical mix-tapes.
In 2011, Lee developed a previous iteration of Swizzle, which was called Bonosound in South Korea, a YouTube based music sharing service for the Korean market. They managed to get 20,000 users in Korea so the company could get investment. However, because of licensing problems, Bonosound could not continue its operations there.
Licensing organisations from the government would not allow the company to continue its operations for the same reason why companies like iTunes and Spotify can’t penetrate the Korean market. The music industry in South Korea is constricting and does not have the right law for a platform that runs on YouTube. Hence, the company was somewhat thrust into the global market after having some experience based on their limited success in South Korea.
Talking about the evolution from Bonosound to Swizzle, Lee said, “Basically the two services are similar with the same goal of sharing music with friends. However, Bonosound was focussed on building private playlists, but Swizzle encourages people to build collaborative playlists together. Also, Bonosound’s interfaces and languages were only for the Korean market but Swizzle is re-designed for the global market including SEA and Western markets with better UX and simplified graphics.”
What’s different about Swizzle
The reason the service is named Swizzle is because it means “Sweet”, “Cocktail”, “Party” or “Mix” — which syncs with the image that the company wants to project. Swizzle’s Business Development Manager in SEA, Max Jang, told e27 in an interview that the next step for the Swizzle is to localise their presence by connecting to deejays in clubs and introducing its platform as a means to play club or electronic dance music. The startup company is also in discussion with a K-pop company in Malaysia.
According to Lee, Swizzle is a social network service that enables music sharing with friends by creating collaborative playlists. It can be collective intelligence for making playlist’s quality better. However, other services are only providing private lists which are not curated by other users. If you have to prepare a playlist for a house party, need a playlist for a drive around town, Swizzle might be the right service at every moment that users need music.
In my own personal experience of using the application, what sets Swizzle apart is actually very simple, and is a feature that YouTube users have been demanding for on their mobile platform. If you use Swizzle to compile your YouTube playlist, the music or video will not stop playing once you switch off the home screen for your phone, allowing you to listen to YouTube content on the go.
Regarding their revenue model, Swizzle is currently not focussing on generating revenue, but rather on acquiring users. Jang said that with a certain amount of users, they can begin to make business model with Spotify and iTunes in terms of commission fees. They may also introduce a freemium function to the application at a later stage.
To date, the company has secured US$300,000 worth of pre-seed funding. Its team consists of six members spread evenly between Singapore and South Korea. According to Jang, after a month since their launch, Swizzle has 2300 users mostly from the Philippines and Thailand.