The demand for digital stationery content related to learning and writing is increasing. Korean startup Noutecompany has launched a web-based C2C digital stationery platform called WeBudding, which offers a range of templates for digital diaries, notepads, letters, planners, and stickers. The platform enables the trading of digital tablet stationery contents, helping students cope with the non-face-to-face academic environment during the pandemic.
CEO Donghwan Shin of Noutecompany shares the startup’s journey from being a physical paper note brand to Asia’s largest digital stationary company attracting millions of Gen MZ users. Donghwan talks about aspirations, obstacles and the future of the entrepreneurship journey to AsiaTechDesk.com.
Please tell us about your background and how you came up with the idea for WeBudding, a product developed by Noutecompany.
Since high school, I have always wanted to run my own business. I pursued mechanical engineering at Seoul National University. However, I didn’t let go of my interest in entrepreneurship and decided to double major in venture management.
During my university years, I stumbled upon unique, organic chemical notes on Amazon, which were unavailable in Korea. This idea sparked my interest, and I created a paper note brand called “Noute,” which provided specialized notes for each major. This venture led to the creation of the NouteCompany. As the business progressed, I received customer feedback asking for a tablet version of the notes. This feedback led me to become interested in tablet content, which eventually resulted in the creation of the WeBudding service we offer today.
What motivated you to start developing WeBudding, and what is the mission of Noutecompany?
WeBudding started as a business that sold major-specific notes at universities, but it has now evolved into Asia’s largest digital stationery company, offering a diverse range of digital stationery content. As we closely observed our WeBudding users, we realized they faced more significant challenges than finding the right planner and planning their goals. Instead, they needed a platform to connect with like-minded individuals, communicate, and achieve their growth objectives. When people with similar aspirations collaborate and work towards a common goal, they can create a powerful force that leads to significant progress. Therefore, our team is working to transform WeBudding into a platform for the growth of millions of people, with a vision to become “a place where users’ great journey begins.” Ultimately, our goal is to identify and overcome the barriers that people face in their journey toward personal and professional growth.
Could you tell us more about your founding team and how you met each other?
NouteCompany began as a physical paper note brand with three individuals: Donggyun Ko, Chaeyoung Lee, and me.
Donggyun, who grew up in my hometown, is an old friend. Meanwhile, we found Chaeyoung by searching Instagram profiles for a designer to work with Donggyun. Four years after their initial meeting, Donggyun has taken on the role of primarily managing financial and other support within the team. On the other hand, Chaeyoung is the COO while also leading the design team.
What problem is WeBudding solving, and how big is this problem regarding the market opportunity?
Statista reports that there are currently around 1 billion tablet users globally, and due to the COVID-19 pandemic, an increasing number of students are opting to use tablets instead of traditional paper notes. As a result, there has been a rise in the number of tablet apps geared toward students. WeBudding has been providing digital stationery content to tablet users for some time now and is now transitioning towards a platform that aims to address the various issues faced by the paperless generation in terms of growth.
How much funding has Noutecompany raised for WeBudding, and when was the most recent funding round? Do you have any plans for future funding rounds?
Since receiving the first angel investment in September 2020, WeBudding has managed to attract a cumulative investment of 3 million US dollars thus far. In May 2022, WeBudding successfully secured a Pre-Series A round of investment, raising approximately 2 million US dollars from Strong Ventures, Capstone Partners, and Schmidt. This year, WeBudding is planning to experiment with various business models, including B2B Collaboration and Community features. The team plans to closely monitor the results of each experiment and determine when to open the next investment round. The Series A round is expected to take place sometime next year, or as early as the 4th quarter of this year.
What was the inspiration behind launching WeBudding, and how does it work?
Initially, the team at WeBudding focused on designing and selling paper notebooks that were specialized for each university major. However, in early 2020, a user inquired about purchasing the paper notebooks’ original design file (PDF). The team initially considered the problem of digital file replication but soon received similar inquiries from other users. In speaking with these users, many expressed a desire for a note-taking solution that could be used on a tablet rather than traditional paper notebooks. Furthermore, several creators in Korea had already started making and selling note templates specifically for tablets. However, these creators were selling their products on their blogs, making it difficult for students to find templates that fit their specific lifestyles. It was then that the idea for WeBudding, a platform that would serve as a “Stationery” connecting students and creators of digital stationery, was born.
Can you describe the problem that WeBudding solves and how it differs from other products in the market?
WeBudding has established itself as a digital stationery platform for users who prefer using tablets instead of paper. The platform offers a wide variety of digital stationery products, including notepads, diaries, planners, sticker images, and brush files for use in tablet writing and drawing apps.
One of the biggest discoveries made while running WeBudding was the wide range of consumer preferences in this market, which was not as prevalent in the traditional paper-based stationery market. This was particularly evident in the popularity of diary content on the platform, as each user’s lifestyle corresponds to a unique “recorded space.” To provide diverse content, WeBudding recruited creators with various backgrounds, including designers who originally created digital stationery content, designers with portfolios on Instagram, and character designers. As a result, WeBudding has grown to become Asia’s largest digital stationery platform, offering over 15,000 different types of content. The need for “diversity” in the content offered is now the biggest reason why users come to WeBudding, contributing to the platform’s high Net Promoter Score (NPS) of 66.
How has WeBudding evolved since its initial launch, and what new features have been added?
WeBudding initially started as a marketplace connecting creators and customers, but over time, we have added various features to enhance the user experience and improve the e-commerce perspective. The platform has over 10,000 digital stationery content, and users can easily find products that suit their preferences by using the hashtag feature or AI-based personalized content recommendations. On the other hand, WeBudding provides a separate administrative service for creators, allowing them to set hashtags for each product and receive revenue for product sales through an automated process. Additionally, WeBudding offers “Budding Class,” a VOD service that enables new creators to learn from popular WeBudding creators about the know-how and process of product production. Furthermore, WeBudding plans to launch community features in the first quarter of 2023, addressing the needs of its users.
What is the primary target market for WeBudding, and what industries or sectors do you see the most potential in?
WeBudding’s current target customer base includes people of various ages who use tablets for note-taking purposes. However, the company is planning to launch new features this year aimed at Gen Zs, who use tablets instead of paper notes and are looking for digital study partners. By observing how users react to these features, WeBudding hopes to expand its target customer group beyond its current demographic.
Can you share metrics or data on how WeBudding has performed in the market, such as user engagement or revenue growth?
WeBudding has successfully built a creator ecosystem with over 2,000 global creators and more than 15,000 content, resulting in Asia’s largest digital stationery store. This has translated into significant sales for the platform, with over 10,000 digital stationery products sold monthly. Moving forward, WeBudding is looking to further monetize its platform by adding revenue models in the B2C and B2B areas, respectively, during the second quarter of this year. The company also aims to exceed its monthly break-even point by the end of this year, indicating a strong potential for growth and profitability.
What motivated Noutecompany to expand WeBudding globally, and what challenges have you faced?
WeBudding’s focus on the digital stationery market has been wider than Korea’s. The company aims to cater to global customers who use tablets instead of paper for studying and drawing activities. While platforms like Etsy have been selling digital templates for a while, WeBudding realized there was an opportunity to specialize in this area. However, the challenge in expanding globally is the diversity of preferences and design choices in different cultures and countries. The current 15,000 digital stationery content on WeBudding may meet the diverse demands of the Korean market, but it still needs to be higher on a global scale. To meet the diverse needs of customers worldwide, WeBudding plans to increase the diversity of creators and designs available on the platform.
What are your plans for further expansion into international markets?
WeBudding has a two-pronged strategy for reaching overseas users. First, they plan to collaborate with other services in a B2B capacity, using their content assets to make it easier for customers to access WeBudding’s content. This collaboration with global services is expected to help WeBudding’s long-term Global Go-To-Market strategy.
Secondly, WeBudding plans to launch a feature called StudyBuddy, which matches study partners based on commonalities and personal preferences such as interests, learning goals, and age. This feature was tested last year and observed high retention from users in 75 countries worldwide. With the success of StudyBuddy, WeBudding is confident in its ability to bring its vision to global users.
With the growing digital economy and increasing reliance on digital solutions for daily tasks, WeBudding has the potential to become a major player in the digital stationery market. To keep abreast of WeBudding’s latest developments and news follow the company on Twitter (@webudding_eng) and Instagram (@webudding_official). Additionally you can visit the WeBudding website https://www.webudding.com/ for more information about the company and its products.