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[Herald Interview] The man behind Sister Carrie

CarrieSoft, company behind kids’ YouTube star, set to go public

Not many people know Theodore Dreiser’s 1900 novel “Sister Carrie” in South Korea. For kids here, “Carrie eonni” or Sister Carrie who introduces toys on YouTube is the “president.”

Since its YouTube launch in 2014, Carrie has become an influential figure with more than two million subscribers. Early on, CarrieSoft, the company behind Carrie and Toys -- with real-person and animation characters -- has attracted investments from NHN Entertainment and DSC Investment.

Now the company is about to go public as early as August.

The firm is slated to become the first to go public under “special listing on promising business model,” which allows emerging companies with potential for scaling up but are not yet profitable to be listed on the country’s tech-heavy Kosdaq market.

“We decided this is the right time for us to go public before we make another leap to become a unicorn,” Park Chang-shin, CEO and co-founder of CarrieSoft, told The Korea Herald in a recent interview. 

CarrieSoft Co-founder and CEO Park Chang-shin poses with CarrieSoft characters The Korea Herald/Park Ga-young
CarrieSoft Co-founder and CEO Park Chang-shin poses with CarrieSoft characters The Korea Herald/Park Ga-young

No accidental success

The company’s rise in five years -- from a YouTube channel to a kid contents provider is no coincidence.

When the iconic kids’ TV show Popopo was scrapped in 2013 after running for 32 years on teresstial broadcaster MBC, Park could not be more certain about his business plan -- kids contents on YouTube. That was when he and his wife Kwon Won-sook decided to launch CarrieSoft, named after their daughter’s English name, in 2014.

Television channels were shutting down kids programs due to profitability while children were getting used to smartphones,” Park said. “At the same time, everyone knew that the market was shifting to YouTube. And we just took action.” 

Park had observed the emergence of YouTube since 2006 when he was an information technology journalist. He has been paying keen attention to YouTube and media changes, having published two books -- “Rise of Personal Media” in 2004 and “Beyond Broadcasting” in 2008.

The company started as a toy review channel but now provides entertainment, educational contents and offers various merchandise. Its age target has also widened to cover preschoolers, kindergartners and lower grade elementary school students.

Its sales reached 10 billion won in 2018, jumping 55.4 percent on-year. Its operating loss stood at 300 million won in 2018 compared with 220 million in 2017.

The company’s decision to broaden its business scope and age target was not only to widen its potential market and profitability but also to become a long-lasting brand that can be embraced by all generations.

“It was a dilemma as a content provider that no one wants to pay,” Park said. “Even if you’re a very powerful content provider, you can only make limited profits from the videos you create, if there is any profit. That’s why we introduced various products -- around 400 now -- using our characters such as shower bubble or toothpaste which also can help children develop good habits.” 

Beyond South Korea

From the get-go, Park and Kwon wanted to develop a global brand and the company was quick to make a foray into overseas markets, entering China three years ago and Vietnam two years ago.

Park noted that Carrie and other characters that resemble neighborhood kids have been well-received in countries where Confuciusian values are shared with Korea.

CarrieSoft’s business in China began to make profits last year and is gaining popularity in Vietnam and other Southeast Asian countries. But after the IPO, the company plans an even more aggressive overseas expansion.

In the latter half of this year, CarrieSoft will launch a US subsidiary to kick off business there in earnest. In the US and other European countries, it will focus on language education contents such as Hello Carrie ABC, English language education video contents. It also plans to launch Korean language learning contents for children.

“I know children will be interested in BTS or Blackpink or Twice, as they grow up,” Park said. “Before they reach that point though, we want to capture their interest and eventually want to become a brand that transcends generations, just like Disney characters.”

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