Korean Startup Original Innovation Group’s founder Julie Choi wants to be part of the growing K-Pop popularity wave among Gen Z. So her startup has developed Pickit, a unique platform for K-Pop collectibles. Since her younger days, Julie understood how good content on culture, music, and art could connect people globally. As an adult, she decided to develop effective content that can cater to a worldwide audience.
She started her journey as an entrepreneur creating rich content for various companies. Eventually, her will to innovate pushed her to launch Pickit, which is now the world’s first-ever K-Pop digital collectibles marketplace platform. The most fun digital collecting space for K-pop fans is growing in popularity, especially in these times of digital advancement. Julie hopes to create a niche in the digital collectible marketplace among global users.
She shares tales about her interesting journey as an entrepreneur, her team members, the startup’s goals, and things that inspire and motivate her with koreatechdesk.com.
1. Please tell me about your background and what motivated you to get started with your company?
I moved to California when I was 11 years old, and in the beginning, it was difficult to make friends because of the language barrier. Then, as I watched and listened to media contents like Japanese animation, J-pop, K-pop, Disney, and Harry Potter series, I began to click with many classmates with similar interests and became friends. This experience made me realize the power and the value of media contents as they are one of the few fields where everyone with the same interests can connect despite race, age, gender, and background. Powerful contents leave long lasting memories in people, and it can become energy that can help you define who you are.
What motivated me to start my own company were the memories and experiences that I earned through thousands of media contents that I encountered throughout my life. Although I may not be a creator, I wanted to become the best content deliverer to worldwide audiences and help them connect with anybody else around the other side of the world with similar interests. I envision building the best platform that can connect the best content and worldwide audience. I hope to leave a lasting impact and positive experience for every user who partakes in our company’s journey.
2. What is your current main product, and can you share any previous product pivot story to the current product?
Our current main product is Pickit, the world’s first-ever K-pop digital collectibles marketplace platform. It is the most fun digital collecting space for K-pop fans, and it will expand to other content fields with strong fandom to become the best digital collecting space for all collectors out there in the world. We are currently servicing the application on both iOS and Android to a global audience.
My co-founder and I had always dreamed of becoming the next Disney or Nintendo in Korea, and this also relates to our vision of creating content that can leave positive memories in people.
Consequently, we previously worked on creating a 3D news animation series ‘Daily Bake’. I participated in all the processes from scriptwriting to voice acting, and it was fun yet very challenging. Animation is a hit business, and it wasn’t easy to create profit through our content so, in order to sustain, we started to work for other companies’ 3D graphic and animations. Yes, we did make money working as an animation studio creating contents for other companies but this was not the reason why we started our startup.
We wanted to solve unique problems that we can pursue as a startup and experience growth differently. Thus, we decided to pivot to our current product Pickit. We never left the content business but we have decided to do something that we are better at than creating our own content, which was becoming a global bridge and a media outlet. K-Pop is one of almost only content fields that successfully penetrated throughout the world and at the right timing, we found the appropriate opportunity and potential.
3. What is the market opportunity for your product?
The collectibles market is $ 350 billion in size and of those, the physical trading card market holds $ 13 billion market size. This physical trading card market has rapidly been moving towards the digital collectibles market as it is $ 2 billion in size with a 20% annual growth rate. More importantly, unlike previous generations who are more used to collecting physical items, Generation-Z, growing Digital Natives, start collecting online experience. This means, the market potential and opportunity is getting significantly bigger than the current data research.
4. What’s your business model, and how have you grown your revenue? What strategy worked best?
Our business model is clear: selling K-pop idol digital collectibles. There are various directions in analyzing our revenue growth but the simplest concept is our revenue will always grow with having more artists join Pickit app. Our purchase conversion rate is very healthy and the repurchase rate is also over 50%. We are maintaining the healthy growth curve while more users are gradually coming into our app. The best strategy for us was having the idols and entertainment announce their official partnership with Pickit through their official channels. In the K-Pop scene, working officially becomes very important to the fans.
5. Please tell me more about your founding team.
Our CEO/co-founder, Steve is my older brother. We are best friends and since we were young, we did almost everything together. We played sports together, studied together, and were in similar school clubs and went out to competition together. We had similar friend groups so even though we have an age gap, we grew up like friends. Steve is one of the smartest people I have ever met, which is why he can be my most trusted partner and a reliable adviser. He is especially great with numbers and technology, and he always surpassed me in these fields. We founded our previous startup together as well.
Jacob is one of my first friends that I met in America. Since 11 years old and together with Steve, we were always there during my entire academic years. We were doing the same studies, activities, sports, and we would all go out to do team competitions together. Jacob is the most creative engineer that I know. He is a talented writer and a drawer when he is also a smart engineer. I believe he is the most suitable engineer to do anything related to media business. I never find it strange to have Steve and Jacob next to me as a team because we haven’t changed since middle school and high school, only the size of the competition has changed.
My other teammates are very unique in that way as they lived with Steve for about two years in the army. Henry is a very subtle and clear guy, who is best at tracking numbers, communicating, leaving marks, and histories. Jaewon is a character of his own but at the same time, very detailed, having a unique style that is a necessary trait for a creative designer.
6. How much money have you raised in total so far? When was the recent funding round?
We have raised in total about $630,000, and our most recent funding was on July 2020.
7. What are the biggest challenges and obstacles that you have faced in the process of fund-raising? If you had to start over, what would you do differently?
Our team believes that for any startup, during the early stage, healthy growth and carefully testing hypotheses was more important than speeding up to display “popular-looking” products with many followers. And our initial attention was on finding the appropriate strategy to maintain healthy retention, purchase rate, and repurchase rate. As a result, our user base was initially not as high as another status, so it was challenging to convince many local investors.
But we didn’t worry too much because since our last investment, we have been ‘constantly’ growing, and our revenue has become 6 times more, which means Pickit’s value is becoming higher each day, and we will just have to prove our changing value with appropriate numbers constantly.
Even if I had to start over, I would do the same. Although I may encounter the same challenges, every process has been necessary as it helped us in building a strong backbone structure that only made us better as we are growing bigger.
8. What are your milestones for the next round? And what are your goals for the future?
Our next round milestone is to consistently maintain the current data and healthy growth each month. We are also preparing more idol line-ups to join us within this, and the following months, and constantly talking with more entertainments to start our partnership. Our goal for the future is very clear: we want to reach out to as many users as possible and provide the most fun digital collecting environment for them to engage with their favorite, meaningful contents. We envision having all digital collectibles become the assets in our era.
9. How have you attracted users, and with what strategy have you grown your company from the start to now?
Right now, we are growing organically. Our target audience is vivid: K-Pop idol fans and those who like the idols working with Pickit. Until now, our strategy was to do a distribution through idol and entertainments’ official channels.
10. What do most startups get wrong about marketing in general?
Wasting money on marketing to increase the user number just for the presentation to investors. I believe in healthy growth. You need first to see the smile curve or at least a linear curve for your retention data, check if users are happily spending money and using the app, and build a revenue structure. After all these are when you should start thinking about how to bring in more users through thoughtful marketing/distribution plans that work for your company.
11. How do you plan to expand globally?
Over 80% of our users are foreign fans. K-Pop is becoming a global phenomenon, and for Pickit, we don’t have to expand globally because we are already, and K-Pop is naturally global. We need to try to reach out to as many overseas fans as possible through appropriate distribution strategies.
12. How do you handle this COVID-19 outbreak situation for your company’s survival in the future?
COVID-19 became a great opportunity for us. The outbreak is inevitably changing the way people feel, think, and consume, and the thoughts about the digital world are changing. Even before the COVID-19, it was difficult for overseas fans to consume K-Pop idol contents, but now it is becoming even harder. And for the local fans, physical limitations are making everything restrictive and reserved. It has become the best timing for us to introduce digital collectible service as the new consumption and network outlet for all the K-pop fans.
13. What’s the best advice you’ve ever received? And What advice do you have for someone who is interested in doing similar things like yours or in a similar direction?
The best advice that I have ever received was FOCUS, finding the core problem, and focusing on the matter alone. Our team is constantly repeating the process of creating the hypothesis, testing, and proving. The persistent and constant focus on these repetitive processes while holding a clear goal gradually leads to understanding our audience’s minds. By learning about our users, we develop better hypotheses to test and grow step-by-step in becoming a most loved product.
I would give the same advice to anyone interested in pursuing a similar direction as I am. Testing everything that seems fun and relaxed usually leads to focus less direction on whatever looks working. It is very important to find the core of your business and focusing.
14. What are the top-three books or movies (TV series) that changed your life and why?
I would choose: the movie ‘About Time’, the Japanese animation series ‘One Piece’, and the Japanese animation series Pokemon. Of course, many other well-known books and contents influenced me in different ways but considering my current career; I would point out these three.
Everybody is equally given in life is time, and though it was a romantic movie, About Time reflected the value of time and ‘this’ moment. Whether it’s work or my personal life, time is very important to me, and I try to live every moment of my life doing things and being with people that I won’t regret.
I still watch ‘One Piece’ whenever I am stressed out or want to recall the good energy that I had during my teen ages. It is a fantasy adventure animation, and it helps me stay imaginative and creative in life. Also, there are some life lessons that you could learn through these fictional characters. Pokemon is how I entered the world of collectors. I would love to collect everything about Pokemon and it gives me great inspiration for my current work as well. They present Pokemon collectibles to the fans and continuously make it enjoyable to spend money on them; this nature is something that Pickit needs to learn from.
15. How do you keep yourself motivated every day?
Home training and walking my dogs. Home training is the only time in a day when I can purely have my own space and time. And walking my dogs every day to Namsan Park is very relaxing as my dogs’ happy energy penetrates me. Of course, feeling nature does give you a different kind of energy plus motivation.
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