A month in the past, Coupang arrived on Wall Street with a bang. The South Korean e-commerce big — buoyed by $12 billion in 2020 income — raised $4.55 billion in its IPO and hit a valuation as excessive as $109 billion. It is the biggest U.S. IPO of the 12 months up to now, and the largest from an Asian firm since Alibaba’s.
But lengthy earlier than founder Bom Kim rang the bell, I knew him as a fellow founder on the hunt for a good suggestion. We stayed in contact as he fashioned his imaginative and prescient for what would develop into Coupang, and I constructed it alongside him as an investor and board member.
As a board member, I’ve noticed a quick quiet interval following the IPO. But now I need to share how precisely our paths intersected, largely as a result of Bom exemplifies what founders ought to aspire to and may search: large dangers, dogged willpower and obsessive responsiveness to the market.
Bom fearlessly turned down an acquisition provide from then-market-leader Groupon, ferociously discovered what he didn’t know, made a daring pivot even after turning into a billion-dollar firm, and iteratively constructed a imaginative and prescient for end-to-end market dominance.
Why I like speaking to founders early
In 2008, I met Bom whereas enjoying a weekend game of pickup basketball at Stuyvesant High School. We realized we had a mutual acquaintance via my lately bought startup, Community Connect Inc. He advised me concerning the journal he had bought and his seek for a subsequent transfer. So we agreed to meet up for lunch and go over a few of his concepts.
To be sincere, I don’t keep in mind any of these early concepts, in all probability as a result of they weren’t excellent. But I actually preferred Bom. Even as I used to be crapping on his concepts, I may inform he was sharp from how he processed my suggestions. It was apparent he was tremendous sensible and undoubtedly value conserving in contact with, which we continued to do even after he relocated to go to HBS.
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I quickly started investing in and incubating companies, beginning largely with my very own capital. When I received a name from an govt recruiter working for a corporation in Chicago referred to as Groupon — who advised me they have been at a $50 million run price in just a few months — I turned fascinated with their mannequin and began speaking to among the buyers, former workers and retailers.
Inspired, and as a brand new mother or father, I made a decision to launch an analogous daily-deal business for households: Instead of skydiving and go-kart racing, we provided offers on youngsters’ music courses and celebration venues. While I used to be engaged on this concept, John Ason, an angel investor in Diapers.com, mentioned I ought to meet with the founder and CEO Marc Lore. By the top of the assembly, Marc and I etched a partnership to launch DoodleDeals.com co-branded with Diapers.com. The first deal did over $70,000 — nice begin.
I’ve noticed a quick quiet interval following the IPO. But now I need to share how precisely our paths intersected, largely as a result of Bom exemplifies what founders ought to aspire to and may search: large dangers, dogged willpower, and obsessive responsiveness to the market.
All that point, I saved in contact with Bom. In February 2010, we have been catching up over lunch on the Union Square Ippudo, and he requested if I had heard of Buywithme, a Boston-based Groupon clone. He hadn’t but heard about Groupon, so I defined the business mannequin and shared the numbers. He thought one thing comparable may switch nicely to South Korea, the place he was born and the place his mother and father nonetheless lived.
This sort of dialog is precisely why I like working with founders early, even earlier than the concept types: You study so much about them as they discover, wrestle with uncertainty and finally construct conviction on a business they plan to spend the following decade-plus constructing. Ultimately, success comes down to founders’ perception in themselves; while you develop the identical perception in them as an investor, it’s fairly magical. I used to be beginning to actually consider in Bom.
The concept will get actual — and strikes quick
I advised Bom he ought to drop out of business college and do that. He mentioned, “You don’t think I can wait until I graduate?” I responded, “No way! It will be over by then!”
First-mover benefit is actual in a business like this, and it didn’t take Bom lengthy to see that. He raised a small $1.three million seed spherical. I invested, joined the board. Because of my data of the offers market and my entrepreneurial expertise, Bom requested me to get hands-on in Korea — by no means typical for an investor or perhaps a board member, however I consider myself as a builder and never only a backer, and that is how I needed to function as an investor.
Once he realized time was of the essence, Bom was heads down. For context, he was engaged to his longtime girlfriend, Nancy, who additionally went to Harvard undergrad and was a profitable lawyer. Imagine telling your fiancée, “Honey, I am dropping out of business school, moving to Korea to start a company. I will be back for the wedding. Not sure if I will ever be coming back to the U.S.”
I emailed Bom, saying: “Bom — honestly as a friend. Enjoy your wedding. It is a real blessing that your fiancée is being so supportive of you doing this. Launching a site a few weeks before the wedding is going to be way too distracting and she won’t feel like your heart is in it. Launching a few weeks later is not going to make or break this business. Trust me.”
Bom didn’t pay attention. He launched Coupang in August 2010, two weeks earlier than the marriage. He flew again to Boston, received married and — working on mainly no sleep — sneaked out for a 20-minute nap in the midst of his reception. Right after the marriage, he flew again to Seoul. Nancy has to be one of the crucial supportive and understanding companions I’ve ever seen. They are nonetheless married and now have two youngsters.