#Asia SoftBank Korea’s ‘most impressive investment’ last year was not in Korea but in India


true balance hero team

At the center of the True Balance gang is Charlie (Cheol-won) Lee. Photo credit: True Balance.

“The most impressive investment” made by SoftBank Ventures Korea last year was not a Korean or Japanese startup – it was Balance Hero in India.

Founded in 2014 by Korean expat in India Cheol-won Lee, Balance Hero runs a utility app called True Balance. The app lets users track the credit and data balance of their prepaid phone account, do top-ups, and purchase a new account – even when there’s zero data available. Last year, SoftBank Ventures Korea led the startup’s series A funding round.

“What attracted us to True Balance is that it is purpose-built for centralizing and analyzing your balance log data, enabling it to be the most valuable as a potential mobile wallet for the future,” the fund’s director, JP Lee had told us then.

And today, SoftBank followed that up with a series B round of US$15 million.

“Within the first year of investment, there was 3,000 percent growth in app downloads, and this denotes the company’s growth. Due to rapid expansion of the Indian market, the company’s potential seems to be even greater,” Gyu Hak Moon of SoftBank said.

Besides SoftBank, new investors, including IMM Investment, Mega Investment, Korea Development Bank, and Capston Partners, participated in the latest round of funding for True Balance.

Affordable smartphones have made India the world’s fastest growing mobile market. Last year, the country saw 23 percent growth in internet users, taking the total number to 462 million – nearly 80 percent of them accessing the internet over mobile devices.

As many as 100 million people came online last year and even then, 800 million people are still off the internet. So this growth is not likely to taper off any time soon.

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What characterizes the bulk of the new internet users is their frugality, not just in the smartphones they buy but also in their data plans. Over 90 percent of mobile subscribers in India have pre-paid plans, in order to keep a strict limit on their expense.

It is in such an environment that a mobile utility app like True Balance thrives. It crossed 10 million downloads last year in July, and True Balance says that number has now tripled. Active user numbers are not disclosed.

“The additional funding will help us spur our business growth even further,” Cheol-won Lee, CEO of Balance Hero, said in a statement released today. The app is targeting 100 million downloads by the end of 2017.

Seong-bae Ji, CEO of IMM Investment, said: “We hope to see more Korean startups succeed in mega markets like China and India, and we will actively support Balance Hero so they can become a model case.”

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India’s mobile internet boom has attracted utility apps like Alibaba’s UCWeb and Cheetah in China. European apps Truecaller and Aptoide have also tasted success. Korea is the latest to join the mobile rush.

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