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THE INVESTOR
May 27, 2019
Big Reunion

Startups & Investors

Pay to join, mingle with purpose: community-based startups

  • PUBLISHED :March 15, 2019 - 11:24
  • UPDATED :March 15, 2019 - 11:57
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Are there people willing to spend more than 300,000 won ($265) to join a workout group that meets once a week for six weeks? How about joining a book club that costs 190,000 won for four months, or a women-only career-boosting community for 150,000 won a month?

The membership numbers speak for themselves. Trevari, a book club community founded in 2015, attracted 4,500 people who paid somewhere between 190,000 won and 290,000 won to sign up for 279 book discussions for the January-April period. Butfit Seoul, which offers workout programs, gets some 650 members per season and the 9-month-old women-only community HeyJoyce had 250 members as of the end of January. 

 

People participate in a book club organized by Trevri.
(Trevari)



Pay to join

The growing number of people signing up for these kinds of services and the number of latecomers adopting a membership business model proves the popularity of community-based businesses. This phenomenon also reveals an unmet desire for a sense of belonging among people who might be described as “affluent but lonely.”

In South Korea, one-person households comprise almost 30 percent of the total, with 5,620,000 people living alone in 2017. And that number is growing fast. At the same time, though Korean society has long been notorious for turning out large numbers of workaholics, it is undergoing a transformation and coming to see the value of a healthy work-life balance.

But communities as they are traditionally understood -- that is, the kind people form on the basis of where they live, where they work or what schools they attended -- may not be enough to relieve loneliness or satisfy people’s desire to grow.

“The traditional concept of communities is crashing,” said Lee Yook-hyun, Trevari’s communications manager. “Now people want to join communities where they can share their actual interests and focus on them.”

While people want to get out of the box -- whether that box consists of work colleagues or school alumni -- and connect with people of diverse backgrounds, it is not always easy. These businesses do it for you.

“When you are stuck at the same place with the same people, you also get stuck (in life),” said Lee Jae-yoon, the founder of the Harvard Business Review Forum, which was created to foster a debating culture in Korea. Lee added that “people are willing to pay to meet people with various backgrounds.” 


Butfit Seoul's workout session
Butfit Seoul




Mingling, a growing market

“Some people are still skeptical about forming communities in Korea, compared to Western cultures where people easily mingle at parties,” coworking space Fast Campus CEO Kim Dae-il said. “That’s why in Korea, it’s important to provide a goal -- a goal you can share with others -- to create a community.”

Some investors are tapping the growing market. Trevari has attracted 5 billion won in investment from SoftBank Ventures and Fast Investment, while HeyJoyce received an undisclosed amount from Yellowdog and Fast Investment last year.

Announcing the investment decision, Choi Ji-hyun of SoftBank Ventures said Trevari satisfies the desires of modern people to grow intellectually with people of various backgrounds and gain a sense of belonging.

“People are fundamentally lonely, but at the same time they are more affluent than before and have a lot of time thanks to shorter work times. I think this kind of business will thrive for all ages,” said a venture capitalist who spoke on condition of anonymity. “I’m very interested in these businesses, especially ones that create communities for elderly people. I think it would make a good business model.”


By Park Ga-young (gypark@heraldcorp.com)

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