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Startups

Stipop, taking on the world one sticker at a time

Nov 16, 2020 (Gmt+09:00)

Stipop co-founders Tony Park (left) and Daniel Cho


Emojis and stickers, pictorial icons used to convey emotions in messaging apps, help break down language barriers as users can intuitively recognize the intent through the character's expression or movements.

Stipop, a South Korean startup, provides a platform for artists to create and upload their stickers alongside offering white-label emoji solutions for companies. 

Just four years after its establishment, Stipop has grown into a global platform for 7,000 creators across 35 countries and 2 million users worldwide. The company's global outreach is impressive with stickers in 25 languages and a rise in users from Latin American countries such as Mexico and Venezuela as well as Middle Eastern countries including Saudi Arabia, Iran and Yemen. Usage is increasing even in Africa. 

TARGETING THE EARLY STAGE  MARKET

Stipop was co-founded in 2017 by Daniel Cho and Tony Park who met in high school and bonded over their shared experience of living abroad. While thinking of business ideas, they saw potential in stickers which at the time were not widely used in overseas markets, with a limited variety despite their booming success in South Korea.

The two founders made note of Kakao stickers' success and their strong grasp over the domestic market as an indicator of the possibilities in the global market.


Kakao Friends, a subsidiary of the country's largest messaging operator Kakao Corp., runs operations for the Kakao-branded characters based on the emoticons. Upon Kakao Friends' entry in the market in 2012, Kakao Talk saw its sticker service leap with an average of 400 million stickers sent on a monthly basis. This further rose to 2.3 billion stickers sent on a monthly average in 2019 alongside 20-30% of Kakao Talk users purchasing stickers.

“After seeing successful cases of the sticker business in Korea, we became confident that we’d have a good chance of doing well in the global market,” Cho said.

“Korea is about four to five years ahead of the US in terms of sticker market growth,” Cho explained. For example, iPhone messaging service iMessage launched stickers in 2016, and the mobile messaging app Whatsapp and social media platform Facebook messenger rolled out sticker services in 2018.

For now, overseas users are more familiar with memes or gifs — animated images — as demonstrated in Google and Facebook’s acquisition of GIF platforms Giphy and Tenor. But, Cho and Park believe that the market will soon make its way over to stickers as they are free from copyright issues and offer additional revenue to the creators.

“We believe the global sticker market has the potential to grow over tenfold,” Cho said.

FOLLOWING IN FOOTSTEPS OF K-WEBTOONS

With stickers, Stipop believes that it can achieve the same level of success in the global market as Kakao Talk stickers and K-webtoons. 

However, it wasn't easy from the start given that finding sticker artists was a challenge of its own. Cho and Park had to peruse social media network platforms to find artists who might be interested. But their efforts paid off as gradually they were able to attract artists who began to upload their stickers on the company's platform.

On Stipop, users can get stickers by paying out of pocket or downloading them after watching an advertisement provided in the app. The advertisement option was introduced for overseas users not familiar with the concept of purchasing stickers. 


Stipop also began an application program interface (API) service for companies so that they can offer stickers in their communication tools such as messengers, dating apps, webinars and more.

The company's client portfolio includes Google, Microsoft, PubNub and more. Also, Stipop stickers are used in messaging platforms such as Whatsapp, iMessage, Facebook messenger and Instagram’s direct message.

PIONEERING THE MARKET VIA LOCALIZATION

Stipop’s competitiveness is that it targets the global market which brings in greater revenue for artists. This year, the company has ramped up its market localization efforts such as setting up an office in Delaware, US in April. Also, the company's studio app for creators will also be offered in Spanish, German, Vietnamese and more.


Stipop's industry competitor is US-based Holler, but they are not completely similar as Holler hires in-house artists to create stickers whereas Stipop runs an open ecosystem.

“We believe that an open ecosystem has a competitive edge since freelance artists around the world can create emoticons that best fit their culture,” said Park.

The company aims to connect creators and users through its platform and create a revenue model to expand its network of artists. Profits made from the stickers are split with the artists based on the amount of the stickers' use.

Stipop raised $1.3 million in pre-Series A funding from firms including SEMA Translink Investment, Snap Inc., Lotte Accelerator and Strong Ventures. It plans to raise Series A funding in the first half of next year to speed up its localization activities.

Write to Yun-jung Hong and Ga-yung Chu at yjhong@hankyung.com

Danbee Lee edited this article.

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