Hancom is one of top thirty Korean software companies that have been selected worthy of global recognition in 2012 through a joint evaluation by KOSEA (Korea Software Enterprise Association), the Korea IT Times, and Computer World.
SEOUL — The paint is still wet at Hancom’s brand new office building at Pangyo Techno Valley, the designated future Silicon Valley of Korea. It is here that Korea IT Times had a chance to catch up with Hancom’s staff charged with developing the company’s next-generation applications that will take the company’s vision of information independence to the globe.
Hancom (KOSDAQ: HAANSOFT) is a well-known and well-established office suite developer within Korea with a colorful history. Established in 1990, the company created the native word processor for the Korean language called Hangul, inspired by a vision to make Korea information independent. Virtually every working Korean knows of Hangul and its accompanying programs for spreadsheets presentations, and of its creator Lee Chan-jin, who is considered as a national hero by many. The Korean government is a key client, which has made Hancom Office Suite its official office software.
The company was also the subject of a 2003 book entitled “The Kimchi Matters”. In it the authors discuss Microsoft’s blunders when it tried to wipe out Hangul in 1998, a miscalculation which backfired and instead saved its ailing competitor from bankruptcy.
Hancom has since then grown into a global company that offers a veritable alternative to Microsoft Office. It currently employees 320 people, with 220 engineers dedicated to research and development. The company has been profitable for nine consecutive years, with an estimated sales of KRW 54.5 billion (USD 48.6 million) for last year.
Hancom’s Office Suite remains the company’s main product. The suite is available in English and Korean, and has been gaining popularity in emerging markets. Hancom is however positioning ThinkFree as its next-generation virtual office suite. At the moment, ThinkFree has been localized into 21 languages, and is distributed to more than 16 countries.
Hancom is also located strategically in Korea, home to two leading manufacturers of smart devices — Samsung Electronics and LG.
The kimchi factor: burned by piracy, saved by patriotism
2011 was especially a good year for Hancom, which broke its sales records quarter after quarter, due to strong sales of its Office 2010 SE and ThinkFree line of products and services.
Yet this has not always been the case. In many ways, the story of Hancom mirrors the fortunes of Korea’s reborn software industry through support from the government. In 1998, the company nearly went bust although it had been considered a national treasure: bad management, the Asian financial crisis and software piracy had brought the company to its knees. Microsoft, which had about 15% market penetration in office apps at the time in Korea, offered USD 20 million to Hancom to stop producing Hangul and instead resell its localized Word program. For a small investment, Microsoft would have wiped out its main competitor completely in Korea, one of the few countries in the world that had still resisted wide adaptation of its office suite.
When the news of the deal broke, Koreans united in national fervor and raised over USD 10 million through a national campaign to save the company. In addition, Hancom’s near-bankruptcy brought the issue of software piracy under the national spotlight. As a result, Koreans began to pay for their software.
Fast-forward to 2012, where the Korean Samsung Electronics has become the world’s number one mobile phone maker, cloud computing has matured, smart devices have proliferated, and a multiple of competing platforms and players have emerged in the marketplace — PCs and Microsoft Office still dominate the US market but emerging markets and countries bitter (i.e. Europe) about Microsoft’s aggressive strategies have given companies such as Hancom ample opportunities to prove their value. It seems that everything has fallen into place for Hancom, and the stock market seems to agree too — Hancom stocks have soared 130% since this time last year.
The company has also made some key strategic partnerships, most notably with Samsung Electronics, which propelled Hancom to global software stardom. In June 2010, the company signed a deal to have ThinkFree Mobile pre-installed on Samsung’s Galaxy S. ThinkFree Mobile allows users to create, edit, share, and manage various documents saved on ThinkFree’s Online service or on Google Docs. Most notably, ThinkFree Mobile and ThinkFree Online allow users to create documents from any device, upload and modify them from mobiles or pads, then convert and share them in other document formats.
Currently, ThinkFree Mobile is pre-installed in more than 55 million of Samsung’s Android-based mobile devices. Hancom has also partnered with other giants in the mobile space, including LG, Pantech, Qualcomm, ARM and Toshiba.
ThinkFree Mobile is fast collecting rave reviews as well. Hancom was recently awarded top honors in the country’s Mobile Technology Awards, and the American magazine Computer World reviewed in November that “Thinkfree Mobile had superb performance and function compared to other products.” ThinkFree Mobile is available from the Android Market and the Apple App Store.
With the advent of cloud computing and smart phones, it seems that technology has finally caught up with Hancom to take its vision of information independence on a global scale. Way back in 2004, the company acquired ThinkFree, a java-based office applications developer based in California. Hancom has since launched a series of office applications that are completely platform-independent, compatible with Microsoft Office, and which works across all smart devices as well as on the web -- a winning combination -- and precocious, you may add.
Hancom is betting on ThinkFree to evolve the company into producing the next generation of collaborative office productivity solutions: virtual offices that are able to interface and sync with all types of devices, connected to customizable cloud-based servers to suit a business' particular enterprise needs. Hancom offers cloud-based office solutions to both consumers and businesses.
The company is also focused on aggressive research and development, employing over 220 engineers just to keep ahead of the market. “It is part of going global,” says Eddie Noh, head of Hancom’s overseas business unit. “The global software market is extremely competitive, and we’re integrating creativity and innovation into the development process that will allow us to compete with the established giants in the office space.”
Hancom will be focused on expanding its ThinkFree line of products and services this year: office virtualization, mobile, cloud and e-books will be the keywords for Hancom in 2012. “We will accelerate our growth to become a global leader in the software marketplace, through passion and perseverance,” says CEO of Hancom, Mr. Lee Hong-goo.
Hancom remains an active player combatting software piracy in Korea and works along with the Korea Software Property-Right Council to promote a wide range of educational and support programs.
The Korea IT Times will report a separate article on Hancom’s upcoming business strategies for 2012.