The Rise of 'K-everything': How Culture Fuels Business Growth

Cyan Zhong
Cyan Zhong


Similarweb just released a list of the fastest growing digital companies in 2024, based on year-over-year traffic growth. Two companies jumped out at me right off the bat:

💧Elorea: A high-end fragrance company with roots in South Korea that aims to challenge the Eurocentric perfume industry.

👜 Musinsa: An online marketplace that caters to Korean fashion lovers, with curated selections of 1k+ brands and its own private label.

Their rankings are from different categories, beauty and apparel. Source: Similarweb

Notably, Musinsa raised $190m last year, at a time when VC money is cooling on Asian startups.

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Their substantial growth is in line with South Korea’s outsized influence on direct-to-consumer fashion and beauty. But the country's cultural impact goes beyond looking good or smelling nice.

Anything for that beautiful glass skin. Source: Google Trends, six-months rolling average.

From the breakout success of Squid Games, the mainstream-ification of K-pop, to the widespread popularity of Korean food, K-culture has taken the world by storm

Here are two more areas we’ll see Korean influence trend up in 2024 and beyond: 

1. Tourism

While its neighbor Japan remains top of the bucket list for many travelers, South Korea is enjoying its own tourism buzz as well.

In 2023 the country saw 6.5m+ foreign visitors – the government aims to triple that number and attract $24.5B in tourism revenue this year.

Hefty goal? Maybe. But it’s on the right track: The number of visitors of Jeju Island, a popular beach destination in South Korea, grew nine times year over year.

Beach chillin’ in Jeju, anyone? Source: Hills, Views and Valleys

But natural wonders aren’t the only drivers for Korean tourism in 2024:

🎫 For culture fans: Cheer your idols on at K-pop concerts, visit your favorite Korean drama locations, or attend packaged K-culture tours that do it all;

🛍️ For shoppers: A major event, Korea Grand Sale, offers promotions galore from mid-January to the end of February;

💼 For remote workers: South Korea announced its digital nomad visa, inviting those making $65k+ per year to stay there for up to two years (they can even bring a spouse or dependents).

2. Tech Startups

Korea’s impressive record of lifestyle and cultural export doesn’t outshine its budding startup scene.

At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (the world’s biggest consumer electronics expo), 116 Korean ventures took home the CES Innovation Awards, setting a record.

Stars are aligned for Korean business builders all over the world:

  • The government is pouring in $10.7B by 2027 to nurture more Korean-founded global unicorns, not just local ventures;

  • Over 66% of South Korea VCs plan to invest more this year, focusing on areas like robotics, AI chips, and health tech;

  • The tech sector in Korea is attracting more foreign money, with $18.8B of funds injected in 2023.

Source: Bloomberg

💬 Final note: There’s no denying that South Korea is becoming a global powerhouse full of business opportunities. Entrepreneurs in the e-commerce, hospitality and startup space should especially keep their fingers on the pulse.

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