Two weeks ago on February 4, global startup competition Seedstars World (SSW) held its finale event in Switzerland. Following a year of travelling to 20 different cities to find the best global startups, the SSW team invited its regional winners to compete in a final round for an equity investment of up to US$500k. The grand winner of the evening was Flitto from South Korea, an innovative crowdsourcing translation platform that gives customers access to all kinds of content in their native language.
Here, e27 brings you an exclusive interview with Flitto’s Founder Simon Lee, where he shares the story of how Flitto overcame its many challenges to get to SSW. If you’re a founder looking for lessons to apply to your startup, why not learn from the winners?
Can you share with us a brief history of Flitto? What challenges have you faced since the launch?
I founded Flitto on September 1, 2012 along with my other two Co-founders Dan Kang and Jingu Kim. A few days later, we left Korea for the incubation programme at Springboard London (now TechStars London). During the 13-week programme, we got to think about, work on, and build Flitto. We got to pitch our product during the demo days to investors in London, New York and San Francisco. After finishing the incubation programme, the three of us came back to Seoul in January 2013 and officially started building the Flitto platform.
As a crowdsourcing translation platform, the first problem that we faced was the chicken and the egg problem: what did we need to have first? Content that attracted people or translators ready to translate content? This was the first dilemma that we faced, and this is why we decided to start translating social media tweets for celebrities, particularly Kpop stars, due to their global fan base.
Initially, I was the only translator in Flitto and would spend the whole day translating tweets and pushing them to celebrities and fans on Twitter. After some weeks, the news about Flitto spread fast, and within few months we had gathered over one million users through word-of-mouth and had celebrities such as Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho and Psy of Gangnam Style fame recommending our platform through their personal Twitter accounts.
Another challenge that we faced when we started was the lack of competitors to benchmark. Till this day, there is no company that does what we do at Flitto. My team and I have to always be on the lookout for new features, new opportunities, and new ways to keep Flitto disruptive.
How was your experience preparing for SSW? How does it feel after winning SSW 2013?
Our team and I were very excited and honoured when we first got the news that we were selected as the representative for Seedstars World for Seoul. However, we were particularly excited about this opportunity due to the location where SSW was taking place: Geneva. This was a great opportunity for us to show the world what it would be like if there was no such thing as language barrier, and how with Flitto, we could get a step closer towards this goal.
In order to prepare for SSW, I did extensive research on the people in Europe, the types of services that people were interested in, and how I could make Flitto appealing to the people attending the event. I figured that because Europe is such a culturally diverse continent, the right approach for SSW would be to show how they could be part of this revolutionary work to break the language barriers.
My team and I were thrilled when we got the news that we were chosen as the winning team at SSW 2013. We felt as if everything we have been working and building to this day, our vision and goal for Flitto, was acknowledged by a global audience. It gave us the assurance that we were going the right way.
What are your plans for the current year?
Last year, we participated in various conferences such as SXSW, Start Tel Aviv and TC Disrupt, and various startup competitions because we wanted to get exposure in the global market, showing Flitto’s potential to users and investors alike. However, in 2014, we want to fully focus on improving our product, focusing on new features, marketing, and B2B sales.
Based on your experience, do you have any advice or words of wisdom for startups, Asian or otherwise, that seek to succeed in this competitive world?
Something I always advise people around me to do is to talk to as many people as you can about the idea or service that you’re working on. I’ve seen a lot of people who try to keep their ideas a secret because they’re afraid that someone will steal them; however, I think of it differently. If someone hears my idea, copies it and succeeds, then good for them!
I believe that if you have an idea and you want to succeed with it, then you have to be confident enough to share it with anyone and be able to answer the questions that you’re asked. And all of this is only possible by talking to as many people as you can. Each person will give you their feedback and after meeting hundreds of people, you’ll realise that nine out of 10 people will think similarly, and if you’re lucky, you’ll find that one person who will share a new idea for you to ponder about, develop, and apply to your company.