Coupang: Harvard dropout rockets into mega-billionaire's club

  • Published
E-commerce giant Coupang listed its shares on the New York Stock Exchange.Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Bom Kim pictured with American actress Jessica Alba

South Korean e-commerce giant Coupang listed its shares on the New York Stock Exchange on Thursday making a multi-billionaire out of its founder Bom Kim.

Shares in the company surged when they began trading, valuing the Harvard business school dropout's stake at more than $8.6bn (£6.1bn).

Coupang's US listing is the biggest by an Asian company since Alibaba in 2014.

While it's still loss-making, revenue almost doubled last year as the pandemic boosted online shopping.

Coupang's share price rose 41% in its trading debut, which was the biggest US initial public offering (IPO) since Uber in 2019. Coupang is often referred to as the Amazon of South Korea.

The online retailer, whose biggest backer is Japanese multinational SoftBank, said it would grant its warehouse staff and 15,000 full-time delivery workers as much as $90m worth of its shares.

"We were fortunate to have demand from a lot of great investors and we didn't have room for all of the great investors out there," Mr Kim said, who is both Coupang's founder and chief executive.

Media caption,

Coronavirus: How South Korea 'crushed' the curve

Born in Seoul, Mr Kim moved to America when he was in middle school and obtained US nationality.

After dropping out from his Harvard MBA, he returned to South Korea and set up Coupang in 2010, inspired by Groupon's business model.

The company has aggressively expanded its delivery operations, putting 70% of South Korea's population within a seven-mile radius of its distribution centres.

Coupang, whose one-day service is called Rocket Delivery, has also invested in new business lines like food delivery and streaming services.

Despite the company's popularity, it has faced scrutiny after reports of several deaths among delivery and logistics employees who were allegedly overworked.