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Yonsei Student Startup Team ANIV FRIENDS Spreads Positivity with Characters
Yonsei Student Startup Team ANIV FRIENDS Spreads Positivity with Characters

2019 Hackathon Competition first runner-up team builds self-esteem with university mascot-based characters

As the rising startup scene opens new opportunities and innovation for young people, Yonsei Enterprise Support Foundation (YESF) accelerates student-led startup ventures by helping them turn creative ideas into sustainable businesses via a strong support system, from idea examination to business development. 

One of YESF’s latest initiatives is Yonsei Startup School, a “Hack Your Brain” support platform launched in 2018, where 860 Yonsei students were assessed by Brain Orientation & Suitability Index (BOSI) - a meta-cognitive personal aptitude analytic tool - to help design their startup careers. Consequently, 62 startup teams were formed via the program and 29 excelling teams competed at the school’s Hackathon Competition earlier this year. 

Team ANIV FRIENDS [Team head Kwak Do-young (entering class of '18, Sociology), content graphic designer Kwak Hye-soo, and mobile app developer Baek Il-da (entering class of '17.5, Sociology)] won second place in the Hackathon Competition for their cute and comforting characters that promote self-esteem for students. In an interview, Team head Kwak Do-young shares his story and the journey of ANIV FRIENDS. 

Please introduce your team, ANIV FRIENDS.

In a nutshell, ANIV FRIENDS is a startup project that promotes self-esteem with cute characters. As a character licensing business, our team created our characters loosely based on animal mascots of seven universities located in Seoul, Korea, including Yonsei University. 

The biggest advantage of the character licensing business is its versatility – we can collaborate with a variety of industry sectors. ANIV FRIENDS focuses on the positive power that characters and culture can provide. We aim to engage with people through our characters, providing them an outlet to internalize confidence and receive comfort via our app, emojis, and merchandise.

The name “ANIV” was created by combining “‘ani” from “animal” and “univ” from “university.” The uniqueness of our characters is that they shine the most when all seven animal friends are together. Although the characters originate from the animal mascots that symbolize seven universities, they do not represent specific universities so that anyone can be motivated by the characters. Above all, ANIV FRIENDS' core values of diversity and harmony differentiates itself from other characters brands.

The seven characters of ANIV FRIENDS 

What motivated you to create this team?

I entered Yonsei University a year late after spending a short gap year, and I was constantly losing confidence and getting anxious during that time. So, I had wanted to create someday a character that could positively motivate people. Out of curiosity, I participated in the “Hack Your Brain” brain function analysis-based career consultation held at Yonsei-Samsung Library during winter break last year and thought it was a great opportunity because the program provided mentoring services and held contests for startups.

But the problem was that I couldn’t draw (laughs) so I needed a team. I first proposed my business concept to my sister Hye-soo who majors in game graphic design and then approached Baek Il-da, who had experience in the production and sales of face tattoo stickers at last year’s Yonsei University-Korea University Rivalry Games (Yon-Ko Jeon), to join our team. We all have different personalities and we all perform way beyond their given duties.

(from left) Kwak Hye-soo, Baek Il-da, Kwak Do-young

While designing the characters, our team thought that they should have a story that promotes self-esteem according to our business goal of “healthy motivation.” We thought that collaboration-based business would be the most effective way to build a story component into our brand, and so character licensing became the core business of ANIV FRIENDS.

What ideas are you preparing for the startup?

Our idea is to create characters that represent seven universities to promote self-confidence and then gain licensing royalties with various products and collaborative projects. We will promote the positive image of the characters and raise awareness with online content, and then create and sell merchandise such as stationery and plush toys to associate positive emotions with the characters. These associations will accumulate, and users will soon feel easily comforted by the characters. 

To this end, we are currently in the first stage - to raise awareness. Every three days, we upload content that promotes self-esteem with our characters on social media platforms such as Instagram and Facebook. In addition, we are producing a variety of stationery products such as memo pads, calendars, and hand mirrors. We also plan to release emojis soon.

ANIV FRIENDS stationery product designs

Our social media platform followers have more than quadrupled in the initial two months of launching. The number of visitors is estimated to have increased from about 1,000 to 1,200 per week. We can literally see the great responses online, so we are looking forward to developing our school supply business. 

ANIV FRIENDS Instagram posts (www.instagram.com/anivfriends_official)

What services does ANIV FRIENDS provide? 

We have a business model consisting of three components: the app, emojis, and products. First, our diary app allows you to express your feelings about your day by writing entries (by typing or with voice recognition) or simply using an emoji or hashtag. One of the app’s core features is that you can find words that express yourself by analyzing keywords of your diary entries. You can also collect coins when you write a diary entry which you can use to buy emoji stickers. We are hoping that users become more engaged with our characters by using emojis, which would, in turn, increase the demand for merchandise designed with our cute characters and words of encouragement. 


We think the self-esteem issues that ANIV FRIENDS addresses can relate to all generations. However, our team believes that teenagers have the strongest initiative to transform and lead society because they experience the socialization process the most. As a university student-based startup team, we recalled all the angst and struggle we had faced years ago when preparing for college entrance exams and aimed to create an outlet where teenagers could pour out their hearts. As a result, we came up with the diary app.

As you may know, the Korean drama series “SKY Castle” was hugely popular earlier this year. In the drama, the role of a university entrance exam consultant was crucial, bestowing direction and guidance to students. Our team thought that if students first identified their real interests and what dreams they have before diving into private education, they could have a strong presence in admissions essays and interviews and highlight their best features. 

People tend to talk the most often about their personal interests or preferences. Our team aims to find students’ real passion and ambitions unmentioned in academic records by using basic big data-based algorithms to analyze their words used in the diary app in a diagram form. We hope to present a new direction for students with competitive data that admissions consultants cannot provide. If we succeed, wouldn’t the data we collect become a valuable database of information that reflects the real needs of students for the future education industry? 

Any memorable moments while participating in the Yonsei Startup School and Hackathon Competition?

My most memorable episodes were the start of the program when I took the brain recognition aptitude test and the end when our team was awarded by the Senior Presidential Secretary for Job Creation of the Republic of Korea. It was eye-opening when I first learned about team-building through the brain function analysis program. During our team’s one-month program at Yonsei Startup School, we had stayed up all night preparing for presentations, which strongly motivated us since it felt like our ideas were becoming a reality. I was also excited that our idea received public recognition, as ANIV FRIENDS won second place for excellence at Yonsei Startup School's Hackathon Competition. The beginning and the end remain the most impressive moments for me since our team received such rewarding results.

Team ANIV FRIENDS take second place at Hackathon Competition 

Tell us more about how you are currently running the business.

Currently, ANIV FRIENDS has entered the online smartstore platform, currently worth 10 million won (8,500 USD) in combined capital stock and subsidies. After receiving an initial 1-million-won subsidy from Yonsei’s Institute for Higher Education Innovation last 2018 fall semester, we were able to receive an extra 2.5 million won for joining the Higher Education Innovation Workstation program. Our team also won various awards, including 3.5 million won as prize money. We are also planning to apply as a student entrepreneurship club of the Yonsei Enterprise Support Foundation. ANIV FRIENDS is preparing various content, emojis, and product samples based on subsidies. Since content is the most important factor for our character business, we are investing most of our time and money in content creation.

What is your ultimate goal?

Our goal is to become the next Kakao Friends, the most beloved character brand of Korea’s leading mobile messenger Kakao Talk, to remind people all over the globe that they are special and worthy of love. We aim to fully utilize the attractions of the character licensing business and ultimately become a household name for everyone.

Since the ANIV FRIENDS brand itself features characters that convey comfort and positivity, we are exploring ways to generate social impact through profit management and by collaborating with like-minded brands. From a long-term perspective, we have been discussing early on how to support ambitious middle and high school students in need by using a portion of our profits to establish a scholarship foundation. 

One of the reasons why our business has taken off is the issue of uniformity in education, especially in Korea. Above all, we believe that students who are at the center of education and learning should not be regarded as pawns in standardized education, so we hope to help each student realize their full potential. We also plan to select and collaborate with wholesome brands that focus on students – we will license companies that promote social innovation and share similar long-term values. So, one of our long-term goals is to ensure that the initial values and spirit of our characters are not compromised.

ANIV FRIENDS character BEY in front of Underwood Hall, Yonsei University

Any words of advice to university students who dream of starting a business? 

You will inevitably face many legal and financial challenges when first starting a business. They will be the most daunting and anxious aspects of the entire startup process, so it is always helpful to get help from various startup support organizations. At Yonsei University, students can receive financial support or legal advice from the Institute for Higher Education Innovation, Yonsei Enterprise Support Foundation, and Yonsei Startup School. Yonsei is a nurturing place to start a business, so I advise students with budding business ideas to consult with these institutions to explore your opportunities. 

Of course, making money is a perfectly good reason to start a business. However, I believe that the most important motive stems from what you want to do for society - successful ideas are born when you address and solve problems. I also believe it is crucial to stand by your principles throughout the process. A great startup idea initially brings a team together, but I think the sharing of common values generates real enthusiasm and synergy. It will be most important for your team members to have the same vision and outlook when starting a business.

ANIV FRIENDS website: https://anivfriends.com/

ANIV FRIENDS Instagram: http://www.instagram.com/anivfriends_official

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