Start-ups tapping data to design custom products

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Start-ups tapping data to design custom products

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Park Soo-young taught herself how to code while working days as an accountant. Eventually, she quit her job at the accounting firm to fulfill her dream to open a business of her own. Her start-up Soul Booster manufactures customized brassieres. One might ask: What does coding have to do with underwear?

Soul Booster’s bras are made to perfectly fit each consumer’s body shape and size. CEO Park and her developers use a set of algorithms to precisely analyze the clients’ form, taste and database of Koreans’ preferences in general for every set of their brassieres. Customers submit which parts of ready-made bras were uncomfortable for them. For women who wear suits, the company will suggest sharper cups to emphasize curves.

“The idea came from my personal experience of feeling stuffy in ready-made underwear even of my size,” said Park. “For now, the service is open on beta, but the website is due to open next month and that’s when we’ll actively start marketing.” Each bra will be priced at 30,000 ($26.30) to 40,000 won.

Customization is a relatively new but rising business trend on the Korean start-up scene. Like tailored suits handmade to fit each customer’s preferences and body, these companies devise services or products that cater to individual consumers.

What differentiates recent IT start-ups from the old is that their main tools are big data and artificial intelligence. For start-ups that begin with a small work force and capital, the advantage of customization is that the focus can be on high quality and customer satisfaction rather than mass production and distribution. The development of big data technology was an evident driving force: Now companies can analyze each consumer’s tastes based on algorithms instead of making big investments in manufacturing facilities or in employing large groups of researchers.

The tech start-up Mycelebs provides a customized search engine. The website presents information on movies, art, wine and celebrities according to the user’s tastes. For example, in the movie category, users can check boxes among keywords. Typing “sweet wine to drink alone” in the search box will bring up 188 different bottles.

Education is another realm for tailoring. Chunjae Education, one of Korea’s biggest publishers of textbooks, recently said it will launch with Classcube an online platform for customized math learning. This service will analyze each student’s strength and weaknesses based on an assessment. Based on the results, the platform will present math problems in which the student was weak.

Mobile applications also can support health care. Start-up Dano operates a mobile app that provides one-on-one coaching for weight loss. Named My Dano, this app designs daily missions on eating and exercising according to “The Miniskirt Challenge,” “Abs Challenge” or “Bikini Boot Camp” programs. The monthly 99,000-won program, which launched in 2013, attracted more than 100,000 users in its first two years.

Tailored start-ups are already an established trend in the United States. For example, the Chicago-based start-up Songfinch composes songs for Valentine’s Day or marriage proposals. The process takes one week and is priced at $200. The client’s musical taste is the first consideration.

The most active realm is fashion. Global IT leader Google also said it would launch a service called Data Dress in collaboration with the fashion retail brand H&M on Tuesday. This app will propose outfits based on the user’s weekly routines and behaviors. For example, questions like “Under which weather the user goes out most frequently” and “Which neighborhood does the user visit the most?” will be applied to choice of outfits.

The bag brand Mon Purse produces personalized items based on the customer’s ideas. The website provides a 3D image of the product for the process. Bags designed by the users can be picked up at a brick-and-mortar shop at Bloomingdale’s in New York.

Another online shopping site, Stitch Fix, sends five fashion items hand-selected by the company based on the user’s budget, taste and lifestyle. After receiving and trying them on, the user can return items or pay for the ones kept.


BY HA SUN-YOUNG [song.kyoungson@joongang.co.kr]

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