Korean Startup Dabang and Their Road to Success

Dabang’s Aberrant Road to Success

If you get out at all in Seoul, you can’t miss the Dabang placards pervasively attached to taxis of KPOP sensation Hyeri; upon viewing, Seoulites and urbanites conjure up agonizing thoughts of the next time moving.  Most Seoulites in their 30s move on average every other year.  They will probably use either Dabang or its rival Zikbang when searching for that next “cool pad”.  Behind Hyeri’s placard, there is an unconventional story for Korean Startup Dabang and their road to success.

Eusoon Han’s Background

Dabang’s Eusoon Han’s atypical background makes him unlikely to have become CEO and one of five founders of Korea’s second-leading startup real estate platform with a $250m valuation.  Eusoon was born in the USA but moved to Korea for elementary school.  He then finished high school and university in Illinois.  Upon graduation, once again returned to Korea to work as a marketer for the gaming company, Gamevil.  Thereafter, he entered an American Meditech company but found it too routine and unable to satisfy his childhood dream of success and wealth; so, for the third and perhaps final time Eusoon returned to Korea to fulfill his ambitions.

Despite warnings about creating a domestic-focused -startup Eusoon believed Korea’s inherent market advantages outweighed anything globally.  Eusoon posited the Korean market’s advantages as the earliest global adopters; Korea’s perpetual social and political instability compels Koreans to change faster than other countries; hyper-connectivity; dense population, which alleviates marketing costs; and homogeneity where most have similar profiles and backgrounds that mitigates problems identifying target markets.

Having Korea’s inherent assets and the OECD’s most transient housing market, Eusoon and four other co-founders with $30,000 of bootstrapped capital found Dabang in 2013.

A year after entering the market, Dabang was already confronted with 350 copycat real estate apps dealing with leases.  Some though were nontransparent where they put fake and inaccurate listings while defrauding customers.

Tapping into a Fertile Busan Market

Nevertheless Dabang distinguished itself from others by first finding a fertile Busan market; Dabang’s competitors were aimlessly focused on the Seoul market and overlooked a niche market like Busan;  second, it made quality control paramount by checking every day for fraudulent listings; third, providing affordable and quality service-Dabang charges about $15 dollars per listing.  As opposed to double the amount charged by its rivals; fourth, helping mom & pop real estate agents market their listings, whereas before Dabang they relied strictly on walk-in clients.  Eusoon says “Dabang has been a major contributor in mom & pops becoming strong competitors with multinational real estate agents like ERA, Century 21 etc.;” lastly, Dabang judiciously never succumbed to temptation when accepting excessive VC funding and has only received funding from one Angel and the Byeorokshijang (Fleamarket Newspaper); as such, Dabang is in an enviable position for most startups with little dilution through funding.

Although Dabang’s strengths enabled it to surpass the weaker competition, its limited funding was also a double-edged sword which, until 2014-15, precluded it from transforming into a bellwether real estate app; that is until Byeorokshijang came on board as investor and partner.  To say Byeorokshijang provided only funding is an understatement; it catalyzed Dabang in marketing to mom & pops.  Byeorokshijang’s has over a thousand marketing personnel who often call on mom & pops informing them how Dabang can exponentially increase their market share by partnering with them.  Hence, the Byeorokshijang brand name and network validated Dabang with the mom & pops and proved a watershed for Dabang.

What’s next?

Eusoon’s ultimate objective is to overtake Zikbang as Korea’s largest real estate platform; in so doing he will possibly expand Dabang’s platform into complementary industries.  For example: implementing a blockchain system supporting smart contracts for leases, creating a rental platform which allows tenants paying rents via an app, moving and transportation, and perhaps even entering more profitable markets like commercial leasing and properties-all of which can create a sophisticated linkage that will eventually take the shape of a Dabang like ecosystem.

Opportunities abound are seemingly in store for Korea’s real estate maverick Eusoon Han; however, looming questions always remain how the government will possibly confront a disruptor like Dabang viz. regulations-Luxi and Poolus, need I say more?  Korea’s severe bubble real estate market also poses a threat.  So much so that a bubble burst could be so catastrophic that today’s real estate industry could be unrecognizable in its aftermath.  One which could perhaps morph into membership residences instead of leasing and buying.

Whatever may transpire, Dabang ‘s aberrant crystallization will serve it in resiliently overcoming any obstacles which may arise.  Dabang as a real estate titan is one that will resonate for years to come.

Steve Cervantes
Steve Cervantes

Steve Cervantes is the Assistant Professor at Konkuk University and the professor of International Trade and specializes in startups and entrepreneurship. He has been writing about the global startup ecosystem for over 6 years.

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