YongoPal, UW Business Plan Winner, Looks to Cash In on Video Language Lessons—and Some Lessons of Its Own

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scale it outside of my friend’s friends. We were billing with PayPal, and in Korea, people don’t use PayPal. Without an infrastructure that was familiar or comfortable to them, we weren’t able to grow it. Then I took the job at Giant Campus.

I was laid off from Giant Campus last May [2009]. Jon Hickey and I were roommates, and we’d known each other since elementary school; we grew up together in Richland. He decided he wanted me to get back into this, and wanted to do it with me. He had taken a class over the winter in the Master of Communication in Digital Media program at UW. They spec’d out the media space, and he’d learned how to spec out Web applications. So it was sort of him kicking me in the butt to reboot the project.

X: What was the UW business plan competition like? What did you learn during this time?

DB: When we entered, we didn’t think we’d need money. We thought we were completely bootstrappable. Our reasons for entering had little to do with winning and everything to do with getting to the investment round so we could meet people from the community and build a support network. We were very surprised to make the sweet 16. Our expectations were really low in terms of advancing in the competition.

As it turned out, we realized our market is incredibly seasonal, and that we’d need to raise money. We have two and a half months in summer and winter [school breaks, when private education kicks in] that we need to hit every time. So we were actually worried that the competition could distract us. It was Megan Muir [from DLA Piper] who emphasized that we couldn’t treat the competition as a distraction. Being in the sweet 16 and delivering a poor presentation could be a liability for us. So [our motivation] had less to do with winning and more to do with not tarnishing our reputation in front of a lot of important people.

We launched in private beta in April. We had a lot of positive interest from [Korean] students. We talked to a student club organizer and she was really excited. Within 10 or 11 hours, we got 18 signups from her club. But then people weren’t using their accounts. We were really worried for a while; we spent a lot of time getting in touch with these people. They ended up telling us they were way too busy with their schoolwork, and wanted to use it during the summer.

X: What’s your strategy for acquiring customers? How do you find these students, and how do they pay?

DB: We’re targeting specific universities in the Seoul area. There’s a huge concentration of colleges and universities in the Seoul area, about 60 colleges. We’re targeting six schools, [which amounts to] 120,000 students. As a private company, you can’t really work through official university channels. But we found we could distribute through university club organizations. They’re not worried about protecting their brands. Also they have a financial incentive that universities don’t have. So we can pay club organizations a percentage [of the proceeds in exchange for sending us business]. They have the need to raise funds for club activities.

They pay with a credit card. We’ve integrated a merchant service into our service. For the private beta, they’re paying a discounted price in U.S. dollars, $11 per hour.

In the U.S. we’re targeting key universities. We only want current … Next Page »

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Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and Editor of Xconomy Boston. E-mail him at gthuang [at] xconomy.com. Follow @gthuang

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