South Korea's homegrown web giant Naver plans global growth push

Aims to reach a billion users with expanded cloud, and lots of cartoon content

Korean web portal Naver – which enjoys 18 per cent share of the search market in its home nation – has unveiled plans to expand its business product portfolio and secure a billion global users.

Naver debuted in 1999 as South Korea's first local service combining a portal and search engine – a combo made popular by the likes of Yahoo!. It gained substantial market share at home and remains a force even as Big Tech has expanded around the world. While valued for its distinct local identity, Naver has also been unafraid to borrow ideas from others – for example it operates a public cloud business which generated a modest $234 million of revenue in 2020.

Now the company wants more. Recently appointed CEO Choi Soo-yeon yesterday used a company event to outline plans for a new stage of global growth. Choi said Naver will expand both through mergers and acquisitions and by creating new businesses, and named Japan, North America and Europe as targets for a five-year drive to achieve ₩15 trillion ($12 billion) revenue. The company posted ₩6.8 trillion ($5.6 billion) of revenue last year. The CEO also wants to grow the company's customer base, already at 700 million, up over the billion mark.

CFO Kim Nam-sun added that Naver's global expansion ambition will see it pursue more users for search, e-commerce, entertainment, fintech, cloud and robotics.

For starters, Naver will bring its entire B2B portfolio to Japan this year. Naver Cloud, cloud-based chat tool LINE WORKS, and intelligent personal assistant Clova will be to the fore.

To recruit consumers, the company will use memes and cartoons. Choi said the company would invest one trillion won on content-producing companies every year.

Naver currently has its own online publisher for compact digital comics, called Webtoon – which it refers to as "the strongest creator compensation model in the world" – and a social platform for reading and writing online stories, called Wattpad.

In Europe, which houses Naver's AI research and development lab, the company plans to build SME ecosystems and content IP value chains for its e-commerce and content business verticals.

Western tech companies have often done very well as they head East – the likes of YouTube and Facebook have massive audiences in Asia. Likewise, South Korean popular culture has had a very good decade in the West, with its films, television, and pop music winning unprecedented levels of attention beyond its borders.

Asian tech products have also shown they can succeed elsewhere. ByteDance's TikTok is probably the flag-bearer, having become the world's most popular web site during 2021 and forced Facebook to play catch-up.

Chinese tech titan Tencent’s games are wildly popular outside China, and its WeChat tool also has a big offshore following.

Alibaba has had some success with AliExpress in Europe and Trendyol in Turkey, and in 2021 counted 140 million active overseas consumers. The company has split itself into two division – one focused on China, the other on overseas.

Naver will have to fight to find its next 300 million users and to get a foothold in a crowded marketplace for cloud and collaboration products. But if the likes of BTS, Squid Game, and Best Picture winner Parasite can make it, why can't Naver succeed too? ®

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