In anticipation of the final round of the 2017 Pitch Dingman Competition, the Dingman Center is interviewing each of the five startup finalists about their progress and upcoming challenges as they prepare to compete for a total of $30,000 in startup funding on March 7.
Richard Kong, Founder & CEO
Gravity LLC produces Gravity Tales, an online platform that publishes English translations of Chinese and Korean fantasy novels. Since Gravity Tales first launched in January 2015 with just one novel, the website has grown to become one the top 1,600 most visited websites in the United States, and in the top 3,000 in the world. The reasons for its popularity lie in its niche appeal among its adolescent user base. While Japanese “light novels” and comics have gained relative success in the U.S. publishing industry, Chinese and Korean works have a limited to non-existent presence on retail bookshelves. In addition to providing a forum for a growing segment of young readers looking to explore interests in Chinese culture and history, Gravity Tales offers its users free, unlimited content. The site’s rapidly increasing daily page views attracted advertisers, allowing Gravity Tales to collect revenue to pay its contracted translators and editors without charging users. At first launch, Gravity LLC founder Richard Kong was a junior in high school. Now a computer engineering freshman at University of Maryland, Richard is the youngest finalist in this year’s Pitch Dingman Competition.
DC: Have there been some key decisions or milestones along the way that have led you from an idea to now pitching for $15K?
Richard: The biggest step was taking this from a hobby to an actual business. Another large step was introducing ads to the site. Basically at the start the ad rates were $100 per day, so that’s $.33 CPM. Now we’re at $.85 CPM, so we’ve tripled since then. Ads and expansion were the two key decisions that made Gravity Tales what it is today.
DC: What have you learned from the semifinals that will help you better prepare for Finals?
Richard: I’ve learned that I should prepare for hard questions. The hardest one was “Why do you need the money since you guys have profit right now?” The response I said was to buy copyrights or licenses to translate, and that blew into a whole new conversation and it wasn’t the most detailed answer I could give. In other aspects I felt like did the best I could. I’m a pretty shy person so pitching in front of that many people was pretty exhilarating.
DC: What has Gravity LLC been working on since Pitch Dingman Competition Semifinals?
Richard: In the middle of January we partnered with DramaFever, which is the leading [television] drama site for Korean and Chinese dramas. During Chinese New Year we gave our readers a promo code for a premium version of DramaFever at a reduced cost, which brought readers to them. They promoted us by first mentioning us on dramas based on novels we are also translating. They’ve also mentioned us on social media, and their social media following is huge, with 3 million plus likes. So that brings us a lot of readers.
DC: What are some goals you are looking to reach before Finals?
Richard: I want to confirm future plans for social media cross promotion with DramaFever. I’ve been doing a lot of internal restructuring. I put editors on different novels, made a new pay scale for editors and translators—a lot of invisible stuff, but definitely progress.
DC: If you win Pitch Dingman Competition, what will you do with the $15,000?
Richard: Definitely advertising for the site is something I will be needing soon. As soon as we get licenses we’ll be able to sustain growth at a much quicker pace. Word of mouth organic growth has been about 10% per month, but once we start doing some advertising to new customers we’ll see bigger growth.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.