Simon and Martina Stawski, creators of the fun and enormously popular Eat Your Kimchi web site, two days ago told their audience they had a dream of registering themselves as a South Korean business, hiring staff and expanding the whole operation. To do it, they estimated they’d need $40,000.
Seven hours later, their fans had given it to them.
“We’re totally flabbergasted by this whole thing,” Simon said on Friday afternoon. “We spent most of yesterday crying rather than functioning.”
The couple, who moved to South Korea from Canada in 2008 to take jobs as English teachers, have been working on the site full-time for more than a year. They post several videos a week centered around the things about Korean culture they find most interesting and entertaining.
The K-pop music scene provides an anchor for the site, but they routinely explore unique Korean things like bunny-ear cases for smartphones and tightly rolled napkins that pop open when water is added. And they explain Korean food in segments called “Food Adventure Program For Awesome People,” or FAPFAP.
In recent weeks, they began thinking about whether to go home or continue plugging away at the site. Since leaving their teaching jobs they have lived off the advertising revenue generated by the growing traffic on the site.
They decided to gamble on crowd-funding, asking their fans to pitch in out of the goodness of their hearts, and set up a 45-day campaign on Indiegogo.
“We thought, if we’re lucky, we’ll probably raise five or 10 grand,” Mr. Stawski said. As of Friday afternoon, they’d raised about $72,000 from more than 2,500 contributors. They may need to add an investor relations chief to their staff.
In a way, the couple’s success is a reflection of South Korea’s moment in the global cultural zeitgeist.
K-pop has been on the rise for years, of course. But the Korean music industry has never had an experience like the global success over the past six weeks of hip-hop artist Psy with his video “Gangnam Style.” The Stawskis had reviewed – and parodied – the video even before T-Pain’s tweet sent it into the stratosphere.
“I definitely do think the interest in the Korean Wave has helped us,” Mr. Stawski said. “We’re one of the only web sites that actually offers opinions about what’s going on. Everything else is gossip and entertainment news, but we talk about what we think.”
A lot of the most successful videos on Eat Your Kimchi, however, are not about the K-pop scene but are simply about the couple’s life in South Korea. A recent video about how they dieted by avoiding rice, shocking their Korean friends, was a big hit, Mr. Stawski said.
“People are tuning into us because of us,” Mr. Stawski said. “But I think of us as the most boring people in the world.”
One of the couple’s running jokes about K-pop videos is to use the phrase “Ooo, you so nasty” when they come across an awkward portrayal of sexuality. That phrase got echoed back to them so often by Web viewers that they started calling their fans “The Nasties.”
The name stuck and showed up repeatedly in the comments about their fundraising plea. “We’re exceptionally thankful to all of them,” Mr. Stawski said.