Category: Interview

The $5 billion South Korean Start-up That’s an Amazon Killer

The $5 billion South Korean start-up that’s an Amazon killer

  • Coupang is the largest online retailer in South Korea, with more than $3 billion in annual sales.
  • The 8-year-old start-up is one of a handful of Korean unicorns and is viewed in the country as a strong candidate for an IPO in 2019 or 2020.
  • The company says half of South Korea’s 51 million people have downloaded its mobile app.
  • Amazon, already struggling to crack markets in Asia, has yet to set foot in the South Korean market.
Coupang founder and CEO Bom Kim
Source: Coupang
Coupang founder and CEO Bom Kim

Did those ballet slippers you ordered online turn out to be too small? No problem. Just make a few clicks on your app, place the shoes outside your door — no box, no invoice, no label to print. The slippers will be picked up within hours and you will immediately get a refund.

This scenario is not a glimpse at the future of online retailing but reality now in South Korea, where Coupang has become the largest online retailer in the country. Analysts estimated Coupang’s sales reached $3 billion in 2017. The 8-year-old start-up company is one of a handful of Korean unicorns (companies valued at $1 billion or more) and is viewed in Korea as a strong candidate for an IPO in 2019 or 2020, although the company won’t discuss plans to go public.

With a valuation of more than $5 billion and $1.4 billion in venture capital investment, Coupang is the fastest-growing and best financed e-commerce site of all time in South Korea. It dominates a highly competitive e-commerce market, where no one is making a profit. The company says half of South Korea’s 51 million people have downloaded its mobile app. That may be why Amazon, already struggling to crack markets in Asia, has yet to set foot in the South Korean market.
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Meet the Most Disruptive Fintech Startup in South Korea


Viva Republica is the most disruptive fintech startup in South Korea. Since the 2015 launch of its simple peer-to-peer payments app Toss, banks are finally revamping their user experiences and customers have easier access to financial products. South Korea’s mobile payments have more than quadrupled in that time to $4.6 billion, according to Bank of Korea data.

The startup, funded at $76 million, hasn’t stopped there. After PayPal joined a $48 million investment in Toss in March, Toss has grown from a simple money-transfer app to a diverse consumer-finance platform generating Viva Republica’s $20 million in expected revenue in 2017. Toss thus joins Asia’s ranks of fast-growing mobile P2P payment services, reaching a $12 billion transaction volume in 2017.

Paypal’s Venmo, which says it now processes over $3 billion in monthly transactions, took four years to reach the $1 billion mark in the US. Toss, with 12 million users, got there in about half the time. It has set its sights on breaking even in the near future—a global first in the P2P money-transfer space, says founder and CEO Lee Seung-Gun. 

Although Toss started as a transfer service similar to Venmo, Square Cash and Google Wallet, it has bigger aims, with a business model closer to that of huge and highly profitable Ant Financial and Tencent—that is, offering a broad financial platform rather than just a one-service app.
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Bidvine: Sohrab Jahanbani, Daniel Stuart and Russ Morgan

Bidvine: Sohrab Jahanbani, Daniel Stuart and Russ Morgan

Entrepreneur Sohrab Jahanbani tells us why his start-up appealed to investors from across Silicon Valley and Singapore – raising over $1.7m in funding

Tell us what your business does:

Bidvine is an online platform that connects customers looking for jobs to be completed with professionals who have the skills, qualifications and availability to complete them.

From the professional’s perspective, Bidvine’s online process is more efficient and costeffective than traditional ways of finding and quoting for work. From the consumer’s perspective, we’re an easy way to find and hire the best person for the job.

Where did the idea for your business come from?

Whilst we were looking to getting professionals for jobs like finding a language tutor for our children or looking for someone to renovate our bathroom, we were spending too much time on the searching rather then focusing on the important things in life. This is why Bidvine came to life. It removes all the legwork of finding a provider that is interested, qualified and available to carry out consumers’ projects.

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