[INTERVIEW] Grip mixes live commerce and community
She is one of one of 20,000 sellers who use the Grip live-commerce app to sell their products — including clothing, children’s toys, all manner of fresh produce, pet clothes, hobbyist items, handcrafted items and makeup.
"I got the idea for the app watching a television show where a reporter visited the countryside and met with an elderly couple in their 70s," said Hanna Kim, the CEO and founder of Grip during an interview with the Korea JoongAng Daily at her office in Pangyo, Gyeonngi on Aug. 11.
"They were fruit farmers who grew apples, and on the show, they started bickering with each other. It made me feel a connection to them and somehow made the fruit more appealing. It's hard to explain, but it gave me a feeling that if someone is selling their own product and I can feel connected to them, then I can believe in the product more."
Grip was founded in 2019, and its philosophy is based on connections. Users can download the app from Apple's App Store or Google Play. After authenticating their accounts through a process that verifies their cellphone number, they are free to click into live streams hosted by sellers, also known as Grippers, who also have to go through an authentication process before they can begin selling on the app.
If they find a seller they like, they can follow them, and based on this data, as well as purchase histories, Grip will recommend similar Grippers. Users can ask questions and interact with the seller and talk to other people who are logged in. Payments are settled through NICE pay, which accepts credit cards and a wide range of other methods.
Grip makes a commission on each transaction.
Prior to founding Grip, Kim worked in marketing at Naver for seven years. During her time at the company, she worked as a team leader on the SNOW beauty and makeup camera app and the Gem quiz live-streaming app. It was while at Naver that she saw firsthand the fast growth of video services.
"I knew that video and commerce were going to combine," she said. "Commerce is such a big part of our lives. People are spending at nearly every moment — whether it's for water, food, clothes — commerce is our lives. But I wasn't looking to create a commerce platform. My aim was to find something that people spend a lot of their time doing."
Kim made a rough sketch of what she imagined the app would look like and took it to her team of designers. She then began sending out hundreds of emails, trying to recruit sellers for the app. When Grip was started, it had 49 sellers and one live show a day.
Kim recalled the first product ever sold through the app — vegan bread made from tofu.
"We sold 140 pieces on that first day, but it was mostly friends and family making purchases to be supportive," she laughed.
The Covid pandemic played a large role in Grip's success.
"When we started in 2019, Covid hadn't hit yet. For almost 10 months, our index number was very low because awareness was so low. We were growing, but it was very slow. It all started when everything shut down in Daegu," she recalled. "There is a very famous fashion street in the city, and one or two of the stores registered to use Grip. One of the store owners went on a livestream, and she was crying, 'No one is coming to my store, I cannot sell my product. I cannot pay the rent. Please buy something.' After two months, that lady was doing really well on Grip, and the rest of the stores on that street followed her lead."
Grip started with 15 employees in 2019. That number has grown to 130. The company forecasts the app will have been downloaded 5.3 million times by the end of the year and gross merchandise value for 2022 will be $70 million.
Late last year, Kakao invested $153 million in Grip for a 48 percent stake in the company.
"Actually a couple of big-name IT companies were interested in the app and wanted to merge in the early stages, but we were very small, and also they weren't offering much, so I told them 'no'," Kim said.
"Brian, the founder of Kakao, was interested in our vision, so I explained that Grip is a community-based commerce platform, not just a commerce platform," she said, using the English-language name of Kim Beom-soo. "Brian thought it sounded like a fun concept and said he wanted to offer Kakao's customers something fun."
Grip's next move is a U.S. website in September. The concept will remain the same, but the Grippers livestreaming from Seoul will be hosting their shows in English. Kim said she wants a challenge.
"People have said 'Why don't you start with the South-east Asian market first, it will be easier,' and maybe it would be easier to attract customers initially, but I believe in the long term, it's more difficult to earn money there," Kim said.
"Also, content-wise, America is so diverse. I want to connect a man in Texas selling his cowboy boots to a person in California."
While Grip is Korea's first live streaming commerce app, other big names in the tech world have taken a shot at live online shopping.
TikTok had been testing out live shopping in Britain since late last year, but the Financial Times reported last month that the company was scaling back its live commerce plans in Europe and the U.S. after early efforts achieved little success.
"I don't know why it didn't work out for them. I know it will take time for Grip to create awareness. It also took time in Korea too because we need to educate people about why it is valuable. I believe that I can offer valuable content — the content is the products as well as the experience. I want to offer the U.S. audience a new experience.
"I don't know how long it will take, but eventually I want to be able to connect the world so that a young man in Africa can sell his traditional, handmade crafts to that same man selling his cowboy boots in Texas."
BY ALANNAH HILL [firstname.lastname@example.org]