Seungjae Lee, a former chemical and electrical engineer, turned his passion for interior design into content-sharing platform oHouse. Now, the startup is one of the largest lifestyle apps in South Korea, with a valuation of about $1.6 billion.
TonoHouse founder and CEO Seungjae Lee’s “Day of Fate” inspired the inspiration behind Korea’s largest lifestyle and decor platform, and he fell in love with interior design while visiting a friend’s house.
“I’ve seen a lot of architectural photos on Pinterest and thought that only the western world has beautiful houses,” Lee said in an interview at the oHouse office in Seoul Forbes. “When I visit [my friend’s] Houses, I realize this is possible in Korea…I think these places can make people’s lives better. ”
Li, 34 years old, oHouse was launched in 2014 after graduating from Seoul National University with a degree in chemical and electrical engineering. It started out as a community for sharing interior design ideas, evoking the wonder he felt while exploring the rooms carefully designed by his friends. The app is now one of the most popular apps on the South Korean internet, with more than 20 million downloads — nearly half of South Korea’s total population — according to oHouse’s parent company, Bucketplace. The number of active users is 10 million.
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In early May, oHouse closed a $182 million Series D funding round, bringing the company’s total raised to $261.2 million.With the new capital, the startup confirms its valuation at around $1.6 billion Forbes – It is the latest South Korean company to achieve unicorn status, following a $99.4 million funding round by web comic platform RIDI in March.
oHouse’s latest round of investors includes the Korea Development Bank, billionaire Park Hyun-joo’s Mirae Asset Capital, SoftBank Ventures Asia, the venture capital arm of Japanese billionaire Masayoshi Son’s SoftBank Group, and Singapore state-owned investor Temasek Holdings’ Vertex Growth.
“oHouse is not only transforming the home furnishing industry, it is also reshaping the e-commerce customer experience,” said JP Lee, CEO of SoftBank Ventures Asia, in a statement on the latest funding.
Through the app, oHouse users can browse photos designed by other users for inspiration and purchase items similar to those in the photos.This startup claims to buy a piece of furniture through their platform every seven seconds, Push total annualized merchandise sales to a record $1.7 billion by 2021.
In South Korea, where half of the population lives in the capital, Seoul, interior design requires creative ideas for small and often expensive apartments. In Seoul, studios typically measure less than 215 square feet (20 square meters), according to local media reports in 2021.
Also, with the pandemic requiring many employees to work from home — South Korea’s quarantine and virus prevention measures are among the strictest in the world, and the country only opened to foreign tourists last month — living spaces have been rethought and often redesigned .
“We believe that some of the behaviors we’ve learned during the pandemic, such as spending more time indoors, working from home and making personal spaces more comfortable…will carry over,” oHouse Treasurer, Wharton School of Business Young Jee said the MBA graduate and former principal of South Korean billionaire Bom Kim’s e-commerce giant Coupang.
Since customers may not always want to upgrade their furniture, oHouse emphasizes its design philosophy of “content-based community” and a lifestyle segment that covers the sale of small items ranging from curtains to light bulbs. The platform also offers services such as home remodeling, moving, installation and repairs. oHouse said it will improve its logistics infrastructure to provide delivery services.
“If we want to expand into a whole new area, like food that we’re already experimenting with…we don’t just show you bread, we show you a table,” Jee said. “We’re not going to expand into different categories and services just based on how big the market is, that’s what our users are asking for.”
The self-proclaimed “lifestyle super app” is eyeing global expansion, starting in Southeast Asia, the US and Western Europe — the company’s English-language website says it will be available in the US this summer. In November, oHouse acquired Singapore-based online furniture platform Hipvan, marking the South Korean company’s first step in Southeast Asia.
In addition to tapping into new markets, oHouse also plans to incorporate machine learning and augmented reality (AR) capabilities into its platform, which will allow users to “imagine” how furniture will look in their apartment before purchasing a new item. Growing AR capabilities are already seeing new applications in furniture retailing and interior design, as well as real estate. InSpace, an AR company led by Forbes 30 Under 30 winner Justin Liang, has developed a platform for real estate professionals to host 3D digital replicas of their buildings online.
No matter how big oHouse gets, with a moving company, and even a food delivery service, Lee still believes its values on Destiny’s Day are intact.
“We do it for the same reason…to make people’s lives better,” Lee said.