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[Exclusive] Startups

Baby Shark creator Pinkfong emerges as S.Korea's 13th unicorn

By Apr 06, 2021 (Gmt+09:00)

Pinkfong's Baby Shark is the most-watched YouTube video with over 8 billion views.
Pinkfong's Baby Shark is the most-watched YouTube video with over 8 billion views.


SmartStudy, a South Korean edtech firm behind global YouTube hits Pinkfong and Baby Shark Dance, has become the country’s 13th unicorn startup after receiving an enterprise value of over 1 trillion won ($890 million) in its latest funding round. 

The company is currently wrapping up around a 30 billion won fundraising from investors including Korea Development Bank and Pureun Partners, according to investment banking sources on Apr. 5. This will make SmartStudy the first content platform to join the ranks of unicorn startups in Korea.

“Baby shark, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo”

The addictive and easy-to-follow hook from the two-minute-long Baby Shark Dance video has swept the world, becoming the most-watched YouTube video in November of 2020. In doing so, it overtook Despacito, a music video by Puerto Rican singer Luis Fonsi, who has held the record since 2017.


It also marked the first time for a kid’s song and dance video to become the most-watched video in YouTube’s history. The video has now passed over 8 billion views, an impressive record achieved in fewer than five years and even surpassing the popularity of K-pop megastars BTS on that platform.

RISING TO THE TOP AS A GLOBAL CONTENT PROVIDER

SmartStudy has solidified its position as a global content provider in the mere 10 years since its inception. The Korean edtech firm was founded in 2010 by former employees of game development company Nexon Co., who believed content had strong growth potential.

But success didn't come easily. In the beginning, co-founding members Chief Executive Kim Min-seok; Vice President Lee Seung-kyu; and Director Son Dong-woo set their sights on creating educational content for kindergarten and elementary school students, only to be disappointed by a lukewarm response.

The company then decided to lower the target age range and create content for toddlers. It was a wise move, as it led to the birth of the popular Pinkfong and Baby Shark and thrust the company into the limelight as the characters gained megastar status among the under-five set.

The characters now stand at the forefront of the K-content hype and are sought after by some of the biggest names in entertainment, such as John Legend, Luis Fonsi and James Corden. In 2019, the US pro-baseball team Washington Nationals even played the Baby Shark song while celebrating their World Series win at a White House ceremony.

INVESTORS EYE SMARTSTUDY'S IP BUSINESS

SmartStudy’s competitiveness lies in the scalability of its robust intellectual property (IP) portfolio, attracting investors at home and abroad.

The domestic startup has been generating added value by expanding its operations to cover animation and theater play content based on its IP portfolio. So far, SmartStudy has inked more than 2,000 licensing agreements, collaborating with global firms such as Kellogg's, Crocs, and Crayola.

In two years, SmartStudy plans to unveil new characters that will follow in the legacy of Pinkfong and Baby Shark.

Baby Shark (left) and Pinkfong are popular K-content characters
Baby Shark (left) and Pinkfong are popular K-content characters


The company's earnings are also on an annual uptrend. In 2019, the company posted 105.5 billion won in revenue and an operating profit of 34.7 billion won. SmartStudy is expected to have reached all-time high earnings last year given that demand for children's content surged amid the global pandemic.

In particular, the company saw a sharp rise in its overseas revenue, which stood at 80.8 billion won in 2019, near 80% of total revenue. 

Industry watchers say it is only a matter of time before SmartStudy makes a trading debut on the Nasdaq. Since last year, there have been rumors over the possibility of the firm going public in the US, which has been further fueled by domestic e-commerce giant Coupang Corp.'s latest listing on the New York Stock Exchange.

Currently, CEO Kim is the company's biggest shareholder with a 19.46% stake, followed by Samsung Publishing Co. with an 18.59% stake.

Write to Chae-yeon Kim at why29@hankyung.com

Danbee Lee edited this article.

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