Bom Kim, founder and chief executive officer

By Ralph Jennings

Coupang is preparing for a U.S. listing that could value the South Korean e-commerce giant at more than $50 billion. It’s another milestone for Coupang’s 42-year-old billionaire founder Bom Kim, who has been leading the company since 2010.

Dubbed the Amazon of South Korea, Coupang’s IPO would be the largest U.S. listing by a foreign company since Alibaba’s blockbuster debut in 2014.

Coupang has grown by cutting prices and speeding up deliveries. It offers same-day and next-day delivery of groceries and general merchandise. It delivers prepared foods through the name Coupang Eats and offers video streaming under the label Coupang Play.

In late 2018, Coupang raised $2 billion from Japanese billionaire Masayoshi Son’s SoftBank Vision Fund. The investment valued the company at $9 billion valuation, making it Korea’s most valuable startup. “We don’t want to grow just 5% or 10%, we want to grow exponentially,” Kim told Forbes in 2018. Coupang’s other investors include BlackRock, Sequoia Capital and billionaire investor William Ackman.

Kim started Coupang after dropping out of Harvard Business School. “I knew I wanted to start something in commerce [in Korea],” he told Forbes in a 2016 interview. Previously, Kim, who earned a bachelor’s degree from Harvard, raised $4 million for a Harvard alumni magazine named 02138 in 2006, but it folded two years later under the 2008 financial crisis.

Coupang excelled in South Korea’s e-commerce market by drilling deep there while its would-be rivals, like Amazon and Alibaba, focused on other countries, says Sandy Shen, a digital commerce research director in Shanghai at Gartner.

South Korea’s e-commerce market was the world’s sixth largest in 2019 with revenue of $61 billion, analytics website eCommerceDB says.

Whether the IPO helps Coupang grow outside South Korea depends on its strategy, Shen says. “It would depend on whether the next market has a strong existing player,” she says. “If they went to the United States, they’d find Amazon across the whole market.”

Coupang has offices today in Beijing, Shanghai, Los Angeles, Seattle and Singapore in addition to its Seoul headquarters.