Despite just pulling off the year’s biggest IPO, Coupang CEO Bom Kim says he’s staying focused on its core South Korean market

Bom Kim

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Despite a splashy $4.6 billion IPO that saw shares of e-commerce retailer Coupang jump as high as 84%% in its NYSE debut on Thursday, the company’s immediate plans are to stay focused on the home market where it made its name.

Shares of Coupang, South Korea’s version of Amazon, were recently up 54% following the largest IPO in the US so far this year.

“This is one of the largest, if not this is certainly the largest capital raised by a tech company out of Korea,” Coupang CEO Bom Kim told Insider shortly before shares began trading on Thursday. “And what it means is now we have the ability to continue to make really, really big investments.”

The last Korean company with an IPO of this size was Samsung Insurance’s $4.3 billion IPO in 2010, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

But Kim said those big investments to come don’t include any plans to expand into the US in the near future. “We’ve got so much opportunity here and we have so many plans to continue to invest in new services and continue to improve existing ones that I don’t think we will be diverting our focus to other markets anytime soon,” said Kim. 

The investments he does plan to make include creating more jobs in Korea to “continue the pace of innovation” in the country.  “We were the No. 1 job creator last year in Korea. But now, with this investment, we can create 50,000 more jobs in Korea and invest billions of dollars in technology and infrastructure that I think will also indirectly create more opportunity,” he added. 

Backed by Japanese conglomerate SoftBank, the South Korean e-commerce giant was founded in 2010 by Kim, who was born and raised in Seoul, but educated in the US. He attended boarding school in Massachusetts before attending Harvard University as an undergrad. Kim was later accepted into Harvard Business School but dropped out only after six months and moved back to South Korea shortly after because he saw a massive opportunity for a new kind of e-commerce model.

“Korean is a top 10 economy with a $530 billion commerce market with incredibly tech-savvy customers,” said Kim. “It’s also the largest e-commerce opportunity not won by Alibaba or Amazon.”

A decade later, Coupang has quickly become the dominant e-commerce player in South Korea — with a lot of help from SoftBank, Coupang’s largest shareholder. SoftBank first invested $1 billion in Coupang back in 2015 when the firm was just a startup valued at about $5 billion. Then, in November 2018, SoftBank’s Vision Fund invested another $2 billion in the company in a deal that valued Coupang at $9 billion.

Today, Softbank owns about 35% of Coupang, which was last valued privately at around $60 billion. Following its IPO on Thursday, the company’s market cap was north of $100 billlion.

“We’ve enjoyed the support of many, many, many great investors, including SoftBank, who’ve been long-term oriented and customer-focused, and we’re so grateful that we’ve received support and advice for many great investors,” said Kim.

And while much of the business model was inspired by Amazon’s early success in the US, Kim is now quick to brush aside any comparisons. “When we spoke with investors, we didn’t focus that much on analogies, because I think we’re quite unique in the investment we’ve made,” he said. To prove his point, he describes Coupang’s end-to-end integrated online shopping and delivery system, meaning that from order processing to delivery, the company is in complete control of how customers experience the company.

Other uniquely Coupang features include dawn-to-dusk delivery, frictionless returns, and zero-waste packaging, meaning your items arrive in their factory packages, not in a brown Coupang labeled box. In 2019, Coupang added food delivery services, making it the DoorDash of South Korea. And last April, the company also added same-day grocery deliveries, making it the Instacart of South Korea as well.

“Our mission is to create a world where customers wonder, ‘How did I ever live without Coupang?'” said Kim. 

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