[THE INVESTOR] Fernando Moon, founder of Korean language education startup Eggbun Edu, is a language aficionado who can speak Korean, English, French and Spanish. But he admits that the whole process of learning foreign languages was “painful” and the arduous efforts led him to start his own business two years ago.
“I wanted it to be less painful for other language learners so that they don’t give up,” Moon, 33, a graduate from Paris School of Business, told The Investor in a recent interview. “People give up learning because they don’t have a good teacher. So I wanted to provide them a really good teacher.”
He and co-founder Mimi Kim, a former UX designer at Samsung Electronics, developed Lanny, a chatbot that teaches basic grammar and vocabulary through chatting with users.
Eggbun has seen a stunning growth in revenue in recent years but Moon stressed the next several months will be more crucial as the team is seeking a focused market to pour their resources in.
The following are excerpts from an interview with the Eggbun CEO at his Seoul office.
Q: What was your first product?
A: Our first product was a Korean-learning app targeting the Southeast Asian market, especially Indonesia, where many K-pop fans are eager to learn the language. We grew fast in three months of its launch.
But the problem was updating the contents. Back then, I was the only content creator. It was also difficult to continue the sales momentum because the app payment system was still underdeveloped there.
Q: How did you deal with the initial issues?
A: I needed experts who could create good content. It wasn’t easy for a small startup like us to find a seasoned expert. Then, I met Choi Miri, then a Washington-based linguist who was running a Korean teaching blog and now works as chief content creator for Eggbun.
Q: Who are the key team members?
A: We are a team of 16 people, including co-founder and art director Mimi Kim; head of content Choi Miri; Jung Kyung-ho, head programmer; Park Songyee, iOS developer and growth leader; and Serena Peruzzo, data scientist.
Our team is very international. Each team member speaks fluent English so they are really good at obtaining information and communication.
They also have at least one year of experience at a startup. I think this background -- experience at a startup -- makes a very proactive group of people. They know what to do and how to do it.
I know a good team is one of the most important things for a startup, so once I see someone who is a good fit for our company I do not give up until that person joins our team.
Q: What are the sales and profit figures?
A: Our in-app subscription is priced at 7,500 won (US$6.63) per month. Our annual sales have exceeded 400 million won. What’s encouraging is a high retention rate. More than 30 percent of subscribers continue to use the app.
Q: What’s the total equity funding from investors?
A: A total of 1.12 billion won (US$1 million) in three rounds of seed investments. I think investors saw our potential grow in the global market based on our growth in Indonesia. We plan to attract more talent into the team and develop new products.
Q: Do you have more funding plans?
A: Yes, early next year we hope to raise 2-3 billion won in Series A.
Q. Who are your competitors?
A: Companies like DuoLingo, Memrise and Busuu are leading players who are four to five years old now and their sales exceed 10 billion won.
Q: What’s your strategy to outpace rivals?
A: It is not enough just to teach a language. Teaching cultural aspects along with the language is very important. We are trying to offer cultural aspects on the current version. We plan to upgrade with more interactive features.
We hope to pick our target markets by October and then pour resources into them for expansion. Korea, among others, is a key market with great potential. We can make a better app tailored to the study patterns of Koreans that also can be applied for other markets.
Q: What’s your exit plan?
A: Ideally, the company’s listing is my ultimate goal. I really want to make a great product and a great company the public loves. In order to do so, the next several months will be critical for us. We will focus on business expansion in the target markets.
By Park Ga-young (email@example.com)