Eugene Choi, CEO and co-founder of Collab Asia, a digital media company and social media influencer network, wants to pursue growth in the rest of Asia, beyond the South Korean and Japanese markets.
Collab Asia offers digital rights management services and content creator support to its influencer partners, as well as content companies and rights holders. It also works with brands by offering consulting and social media services.
In 2017, Collab Asia was spun off from Collab Inc. when Choi and his co-founder, Allen Lee, along with Collab Inc. co-founders James McFadden, Tyler McFadden, and Soung Kang, recognized a huge opportunity in Asia.
Online video advertising and subscription revenue in the Asia Pacific region is projected to increase from USD 26 billion in 2019 to USD 52 billion in 2024, with demand for content expected to increase drastically.
Meanwhile, findings from Google, Temasek, and Bain & Co. state that users in Southeast Asia spent 20% of their spare time on video apps in 2019, up from 10% in 2016.
When he first started working at the Los Angeles-based Collab Inc. in 2014, Choi said that he used to reach out to game streamers on YouTube and AfreecaTV (a Korean service that is like Twitch) via email and say “Hey, Collab Inc. is a YouTube-partnered multi-channel network based in Los Angeles. We think you have lots of potential to grow big on YouTube and make plenty of money on this platform, and we can help you.”
“We received very few responses at the time,” Choi said. “Later, we found out that many of these game streamers didn’t quite know that they could make money on YouTube and thought Collab Inc. was some email phishing company.”
By the time Collab Asia was spun off in 2017, there were already multiple companies with similar business models in Korea and Japan. “The biggest challenge was all the competition that we were facing,” he recalled.
Choi said Korea’s Dia TV and Sandbox, Japan’s UUUM, and Indonesia’s Famous ID and DR.M, are key competitors to Collab Asia. “Most of these companies have been around for as long as we have, but have either raised a lot more money than us, or are backed by massive conglomerates. But we’ve been able to compete and still continue to grow despite being the underdog,” he said.
“We utilized the know-how and experience gained from Collab Inc.’s experiences in the US market with digital content production, distribution, monetization, and audience-building systems to capture some of the explosive growth opportunities in Asia’s emerging markets,” Choi told KrASIA in a recent interview.
Pursuing growth in Asia
After its Series A round in July 2017, Collab Asia expanded from Korea and Japan to set up offices and operations in Indonesia, the Philippines, Greater China (via Hong Kong), and Singapore. “We are strategically set up in a way where we can focus more on developing new models and revenue streams. This is on top of our core business of monetizing content on digital platforms,” Choi said.
According to Choi, they will also grow their advertising team to further develop their influencer marketing, branded content, and direct ad sales capabilities.
Choi said that Collab Asia is beginning to work with more B2B clients, such as record labels and content companies, in addition to individual YouTubers and content creators. For B2B clients, Collab Asia manages their video content and music assets on YouTube.
The company already manages over 1,800 YouTube channels in key Asian markets. The channels encompass a cross-section of interests, including video games, beauty, music, lifestyle, animation, comedy, and other formats of engaging and viral content for over 155 million subscribers. In all, the channels pull in more than 2.5 billion views every month on YouTube.
Choi said that Collab Asia receives the most views from Indonesia because it is one of the fastest-growing markets when it comes to digital content and social media. “We also found that Indonesia has a huge appetite for Korean and Japanese content like K-pop and anime,” he said.
Content that Collab Asia pushes across their channels in Korea and Japan bring them higher revenue than Southeast Asia and China because cost per mille and ad rates in these markets are higher, comparatively. “But as cost per impressions and ad rates increase in the developing markets in Southeast Asia and China, we feel like that could change,” Choi said.
Leveraging on relationship with Collab Inc. to provide a global network
Choi said that while Collab Asia has a huge presence across Asia, the company can also lean on its strategic relationship with Collab Inc. in the US to provide a truly global network for content creators and brands.
After spinning off from Collab Inc. in 2017, Collab Asia applied the know-how and experience gained from seven-year-old Collab Inc. to capture growth opportunities in Asia’s emerging markets. The company has even expanded its business to China by working with platforms such as Duoyin, Bilibili, Toutiao, iQiyi, Baidu’s Haokan, and Tencent Video, effectively bringing Chinese content and content creators to the rest of the world.
Choi said that Collab Asia has no immediate plans for further fundraising after a USD 7.5 million Series B close in December 2019. “We’ve never raised money for the sake of raising funding and trying to play the startup game. I think we’ve done a great job growing while being lean and capital-efficient,” he added.
Collab Asia will utilize the new funds to build upon its existing businesses and accelerate the growth of its advertising business. “We’re also going to further develop our owned and operated media brands and properties as well,” he added.
Choi said that the best decision that he has made was to never give up. He agrees with what successful entrepreneurs say—persistence is key. “We have always had to compete against companies that had raised more money than us and were backed by large conglomerates, but it helped us work smarter.”
This article is part of KrASIA’s “Startup Stories” series, where the writers of KrASIA speak with founders of tech companies in South and Southeast Asia.