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Skin care start-up crowdfunds its way to global fans

By Korea Herald

Published : Aug. 20, 2015 - 10:22

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Korean hardware start-up WayWearable is aiming to take K-beauty to the world with a smart skin care device that helps women in their daily life.

And it has found sufficient reason to believe it can: Its debut product, WAY, used crowdfunding on global platform Indiegogo in May and June to raise over $120,000 from fans in 44 countries ― 243 percent of what it asked for, before the product even hit mass production.

“K-beauty is hot nowadays. We would like to create a new movement blending K-beauty and tech, first in Asia, and then the U.S.,” said Jason Moon, founder and CEO of WayWearable, in an interview with The Korea Herald.

Jason Moon, CEO of WayWearable, poses at the company’s office in southern Seoul on Monday. Ahn Hoon/The Korea Herald Jason Moon, CEO of WayWearable, poses at the company’s office in southern Seoul on Monday. Ahn Hoon/The Korea Herald

Retailing for $149, WAY is the combination of a lightweight hardware device that fits in a makeup pouch and a mobile app that determines the skin’s condition based on five skin qualities ― oil, moisture, pigment, wrinkles and pore size. The device measures the skin’s oil content and moisture level, while the app ― offered in Korean and English on Android and iOS ― combines its data with user-submitted information to recommend skin care products to the user.

The start-up hopes people who care about their daily skin care routine will adopt it for daily use.

Recently, Korea has produced major hits in global crowdfunding: Zikto, a posture-tracking wearable, raised over $164,000 on Kickstarter, while Yolk, a solar design company, has attracted nearly $1 million with just a few hours left for its portable solar-powered smartphone charger, Solar Paper, on the same crowdfunding platform.

The WayWearable team itself did not expect its first crowdfunding campaign to be so successful, and were pleasantly surprised that so many people would order six months ahead.

While Moon was running his previous start-up, which shared fitness videos from pro trainers to mostly female viewers through an app, he discovered the vibrancy of online beauty forums. Amid the boom for male-centric fitness wearables like Fitbit, there was little technology being applied in the beauty industry.

Moon realized that the Internet of Things ― the movement of making products “smart” ― could provide solutions to many beauty concerns, and sought to create a device geared toward women. After getting more feedback through government-backed overseas programs in San Francisco and Israel, he founded WayWearable in December with his middle-school friend, dermatologist Gana Oh.

It is his first hardware business, which posed a range of new complications he had never experienced. The biggest challenges for a hardware start-up, he has found, are raising enough funds for mass production and winning over enough early customers to make it worth the expense.

Everything is more expensive when dealing with hardware, from building and testing the device to mass production, distribution and sales. That is why many hardware start-ups go straight to crowdfunding to pitch their product directly to consumers rather than focus their efforts on asking investors for research and development funding.

Despite the Internet connecting the world, the Korean start-up had to overcome geographical and cultural challenges to reach its target markets overseas, especially in the U.S. Meanwhile, it had to doubly market to Korean users who are not traditionally familiar with crowdfunding.

“One of the big challenges was being located in Korea with a fully Korean team, but needing to promote our campaign to people all over the world,” he said. “It was also hard to communicate with global customers from different time zones.”

Initial excitement quieted down a week into the Indiegogo project, so the start-up had to market the campaign on every beauty forum it could find. After being featured in media outlets including tech sites and Mashable, the start-up caught major wind when it was picked up by U.S. beauty media outlet Refinery 29.

After that, traffic to the campaign page jumped tenfold. The start-up said that 30 percent of its crowdfunding backers in the U.S. were brought to the campaign’s page through the Refinery 29 article, demonstrating the importance of coverage where the consumers ― not just tech geeks ― will read it.

The start-up earned “valuable insight” from the campaign, such as learning more about its target customer base ― working women in their 20s to 40s who visit dermatologists for skin care therapy ― to sharpen its marketing strategy ahead of launch.

“Having so many supporters around the world who want our product really encouraged us to keep developing our product and business,” he said. “Their compliments and words of encouragement helped us overcome all the difficulties of the crowdfunding campaign.”

With the newly raised funds, the start-up can carry out more research and development to improve the hardware and software before the official launch. While the funds were not enough to support mass production, the campaign had the added bonus of helping to win over investors’ trust ― the company is still being contacted by distributors and skin care-related companies globally.

As a result, WayWearable is now in the process of closing its next round of fund-raising to carry out mass production and the launch.

On the back of momentum from the campaign ― it is still getting preorders through Indiegogo this month ― WAY is heading toward its official launch in November, targeting Korea, China, Japan and Southeast Asia. After that, the start-up hopes to make a strategic partnership with a U.S. venture capital investor to enter the market.

For the rest of the year, the start-up will be focusing on marketing and sales, with the goal to deliver crowdfunding orders by the end of the year. Then it wants to take the leap into big data next year to develop products that consumers need.

In the long run, it wants to remold its reputation as professionals in the skin care industry by creating more tech-based products that improve women’s lives.

“Currently, many people think of our company as a hardware company,” Moon said. “Of course, the fundamental is based on hardware technology, but we would like be recognized as a data-based skin care company in the long term.”

For more information, visit www.helloway.co. 



Start-up Seoul is a series featuring players in Korea’s tech start-up scene. This is the eighth installment. ― Ed.

By Elaine Ramirez (elaine@heraldcorp.com)