This post is written by Hyunseok Choi, editor at Onsuccess.me, a Korean Tech Blog with insights into Korean startup ecosystem and tech space.
“There are more than enough high quality text data on the Internet. Our goal is to be the world’s number one video content provider,” proudly says David Lee, CEO of Shakr Media, a Korean startup included in the 17 that made it to the final round at the TechCrunch Disrupt Beijing, the first Disrupt ever to be held outside the U.S., at in interview with us.
▲ Video of Shakr’s pitching at the TechCrunch Disrupt
In short, Shakr is a service of combining text with images easily. For example, it imports an article from the New York Times or CBS News site, extracts key words from it and combines them with images or video clips exported from else where. The article is read out by TTS (Text-To-Speech), with 3D images implemented by Web GL technology. Price? None! “It’s not Shakr’s way to put a business model first. For now, we just focus on value creation for users,” says Lee, revealing his product philosophy. He believes that a business model comes naturally when he observes users feeling a moment of, to quote his words, “Magical Aha!”.
In addition to the service of combining news with images, Shakr is now preparing another service: life video. As the name suggests, this service is about recording important moments in one’s life. Lee expects that the service will be popular especially in Korea. “Many Koreans have a DSLR and they celebrate a lot of events: a first birthday party, wedding ceremony and even pepero day, to name a few. The other day, I wanted to make an album of photos taken at my kid’s first birthday party, but found that it would cost a lot and take quite some time before the album actually comes into my hands because all the work would be done manually at the studio. Shakr’s life video uses Web GL technology to instantly create a video only with user provided photos for free or at a very low price,” says Lee. This service is slated for the first quarter of 2012.
Shakr was included in the 17 finalists out of over 400 participants at TechCrunch Disrupt Beijing. More surprisingly, it was at the event that the demo was ever revealed publicly. “We just tried to focus on our internal competency rather than heeding others’ words. It is not that they are not important. We had our own team and just wanted focus on what we were doing. We had hoped that some day an opportunity would come for us to participate in TechCrunch because it is one of the most influential media for startups. Luckily, the event was held in China, our neighboring country, and we went for it. It was our first public showcase and, fortunately, brought us a lot of good feedback both at the site and from online,” says Lee. Many partnership offers have been made to Shakr since the Beijing pitching. Lee says that for now they want to focus on improving their service.
Why a startup in Korea
As seen in the TechCrunch Disrupt video, fluent English speaker David Lee was born and spent his younger days in Canada. How come did he end up in starting a business in Korea even after he worked for a U.S. company for several years? “Canada lags (in technology adoption and business activities) and so does the U.S.. Silicone Valley and New York are fast, but I found them rather boring. Most of all, it is very difficult to find the right people. In Korea, everything is fast and fun. It is relatively easy to find good people.” Dos he mean that Korean startups have little difficulty in finding good human resources? Lee adds, “I hear that most Korans prefer large corporations. But there are still many who want to do what they really want. Isn’t that easy to invite them to startups?” Fast growing Shakr has a plan to restart people in 3D and motion graphics in 2 to 3 months.
Shakr announced the start of a private beta service for Sha.kr at Read Write Web Meetup Seoul and added that the life video service would start in March or April next year. (The beta service is available from its website if you are a facebook friend of any Shakr member.) Though devices like smartphones and tablet PCs are already part of our lives, the needs of lean back users have been looked over by most apps. Obviously, the TTS technology used by Shakr still has a lot to be improved, (it is rather funny to hear the New York Times read out by TTS), but isn’t it an intriguing idea that we can see and hear imaged news articles?