(Yonhap Interview) S. Korean startup makes border-crossing faster in China
By Kang Yoon-seung
SEOUL, Sept. 28 (Yonhap) -- For South Korean startups seeking to go global, it has been customary to take advantage of the local market as the testbed before setting their sights on bigger overseas markets.
With borders becoming increasingly meaningless, however, some companies are directly tapping into foreign markets. And South Korea-based mobile application developer Easi6 is one of them.
The South Korean startup got the idea to launch a van-booking application based on the fact that about 600,000 travelers passed through the border between Hong Kong and China's southern industrial city of Shenzhen every day in 2014.
Easi6, which operates a mobile app, Easiway, which kicked off in July, lets users book vans that have privileges to cross the border without having to wait in long lines, allowing visitors to get immigration checks inside the vans.
"It takes about two hours to pass through the Hong Kong-Shenzhen border. But with pre-authorized vehicles, we can reduce the time by an hour," Kay Woo, who heads Easi6 Korea, said in an interview with Yonhap News Agency. "Our company is the first to release a booking application for such services."
Kay Woo, who heads Easi6 Korea, sits in his office in Seoul on Sept. 21, 2015. (Yonhap)
The application is currently provided in four languages -- Chinese, Japanese, English and Korean. It accepts various payment tools, including Alipay, UnionPay and Apple Pay.
The company clinched deals with seven van operators in China that manage 44 vans, but it plans to eventually expand the number of vans to about 300 by the end of this year.
With the service being just launched, Easi6 said it has not posted a significant amount of revenue yet, but added that it expects to turn a profit once the number of vans reaches the target.
"Of the 600,000 people crossing the border everyday, our plan is to grab 1 percent of them by the end of this year," Woo said. "The daily number of visitors of our app stands at around 300. Next year, our goal will rise to 2 to 3 percent."
"The number of actual users is still not significant as we have not begun a full-fledged promotion. But it will increase following an influx of Chinese users."
Woo said the Chinese market, despite the slowing economy, still remains as an attractive destination for local firms due to its sheer size and the number of potential business partners.
"If we take an airplane, we can actually travel back and forth from Seoul and Hong Kong in a day," Woo said, emphasizing the geographical benefit of the Chinese market.
The young CEO said the key to success in the Chinese market is finding reliable partners.
"Whenever we talk of the Chinese market, people always mention guanxi," Woo said. Guanxi means "relationship" in Chinese, but also refers to the personal network that plays a crucial role in establishing businesses, which sometimes is more important than rules.
"But that is not always a negative thing as it puts emphasis on trust. Guanxi allows one to establish a reliable business relationship," Woo added.
He said the company has taken a leaf out of South Korea's taxi-hiring app, KakaoTaxi, and Uber, the world-famous car rental app.
"When KakaoTaxi prepared its launch in South Korea, Kakao Corp. met with every taxi union in the country. Uber did not make strong efforts to understand the local market. Easi6 will continue trying to understand the Chinese market," Woo said.
While South Korean authorities slammed Uber for operating illegal taxi services, KakaoTaxi has emerged as a big hit in the local market as it has avoided legal issues by forging ties with existing cab service providers.
Easiway, meanwhile, is also seeking to expand its scope of business further in the near future to cover Macau and the southern Chinese city of Zhuhai. A bridge connecting the two regions is anticipated to be completed in 2016.
The company plans to roll out more services in the near future, including Easishare Ride, which will allow users to share a van together to cut costs.
It will also forge ties with hotels so users can book Easiway-supported vans easily.
As the head of a South Korean startup, Woo said the Seoul government still has to do more to lay the groundwork for startups, like China does.
"China provides far better support for startups compared to South Korea," Woo said. "The registration processes for startups are also much simpler."
Woo said that South Korea must learn China's willingness to tap into and foster new opportunities, adding that the government's reluctance to embrace a new form of services has been one of the key hurdles for local startups.
"Of course, South Korea boasts better human resources than China. But the gap is quickly narrowing day after day," he added.
Woo also urged the Seoul government to bring transparency to its funding for startups as firms end up failing to receive the necessary help.
"South Korea's so-called creative economy policies to foster startups are positive signals. But that needs to be maintained, even through future administrations," Woo said.