Korea’s Daum Kakao re-names itself, Kakao

Daum Kakao will be just 'Kakao' in late September.
Daum Kakao will be just ‘Kakao’ in late September.

When Daum Kakao shareholders meetup on Sep. 23, the company will change its name by dropping the “Daum,” and call itself simply, Kakao, the company said.

[This story was written originally for ZDNet Korea on Sep. 1, 2015.]

The details for the name change have yet to be worked out, but when the company streamlines its dual-CEO structure with leadership in one person, 34-year-old Ji-hoon “Jimmy” Rim, it will also simplify its name.

Daum Kakao, valued at $7 billion, was created last year when chat app giant Kakao merged with the country’s second largest search giant Daum.

The name change means Daum, the once mighty rival to Naver, the country’s largest search giant, will become history. Before the merger, Daum was suffering revenue losses from failing to adapt to mobile and losing out to Naver.

The announcement, along with its more youthful leadership, might not indicate a wholly new corporate direction, but it is hoped the changes will bolster its strategy as a mobile platform services provider.

Daum Kakao reported on Aug.13 revenues of 226.5 billion won for the second quarter with mobile-related businesses making up 52 percent, or 117.78 billion won. Its third quarter results are scheduled to come out sometime in November, the company said.

“We have always been a mobile-focused company. We felt it would be best for our identity to match that with a new name. It re-enforces our strategy as a mobile services provider,” said corporate spokesperson Buster Seo. “Kakao Talk is our signature service, and we will focus on services linked to Kakao Talk and online-to-offline services like Kakao Taxi and Kakao Pay.”

Even before there was Samsung Pay, shoppers had a dizzying array of mobile payment services to choose from, such as SK Planet’s Syrup Pay, Shinsegae’s SSG Pay, NHN’s Payco, and even portsal site Naver has Naver Pay.

Kakao also has a mobile payment service: Kakao Pay. The company said it passed the 5 million-users mark in August. “For Samsung Pay a user is required to have a newer Samsung device in order to use the service. But with Kakao Pay, all that is required is to download KakaoTalk app regardless of the device or the phone’s OS,” Seo said.

By any other name

The company’s name change may help it focus on its mission as a mobile services platform, but the name’s origin is somewhat of a mystery. The name “Kakao” is straight forward enough. It is the Korean language pronunciation of the word “cacao,” the source of chocolate.

“It just means chocolate because, you know, everyone likes chocolate. It tastes good,” Seo said, on what Kakao means. “But no one really knows who came up with it or how they came up with the name.”

When Kakao was formed in 2010, few records were formally maintained. It was a small IT venture company with a very small staff, Seo explained. There are many origin myths, he said, but no one knows what really happened.

Names go to the root of Kakao’s corporate culture. Kakao is reputed for eschewing formal and hierarchical titles typical at Korean companies. It goes back to Confucianism. In Korea, employees typically use a superior’s official corporate title to refer to him or her instead of their birth name.

Each person of Kakao’s staff of 3,200 pick an English language nickname and use it to refer to one another. It appears that at Kakao names matter. So, why did the company wait so long to adopt its new name?

“At the time our focus was completing the merger successfully and transferring Daum’s content onto the mobile platforms that Kakao had. So, I think it made sense at the time, but it will be one year on Oct. 1 since the merger. Now we are making adjustments accordingly,” Seo said.

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