A month in the past, Coupang arrived on Wall Street with a bang. The South Korean e-commerce large — 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 most important U.S. IPO of the 12 months to this point, and the biggest 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 grow to be Coupang, and I constructed it alongside him as an investor and board member.
As a board member, I’ve noticed a short 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 will search: large dangers, dogged dedication, and obsessive responsiveness to the market.
Bom fearlessly turned down an acquisition provide from then-market-leader Groupon, ferociously realized 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 taking part in a weekend recreation of pickup basketball at Stuyvesant High School. We realized we had a mutual acquaintance by means of my recently-sold startup, Community Connect Inc. He advised me in regards to the journal he had offered and his seek for a subsequent transfer. So we agreed to satisfy up for lunch and go over a few of his concepts.
To be trustworthy, I don’t bear in mind any of these early concepts, most likely as a result of they weren’t superb. But I actually preferred Bom. Even as I used to be crapping on his concepts, I might inform he was sharp from how he processed my suggestions. It was apparent he was tremendous sensible and undoubtedly price maintaining in contact with, which we continued to do even after he relocated to go to HBS.
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 had been at a $50 million run fee in only some months — I grew to become fascinated with their mannequin and began speaking to a few of the buyers, former staff, and retailers.
Inspired, and as a brand new father or mother, I made a decision to launch an analogous daily-deal enterprise for households: Instead of skydiving and go-kart racing, we supplied offers on children’ music lessons 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 short 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 will search: large dangers, dogged dedication, and obsessive responsiveness to the market.
All that point, I saved in contact with Bom. In February 2010, we had 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 enterprise mannequin and shared the numbers. He thought one thing related would possibly switch nicely to South Korea, the place he was born and his dad and mom nonetheless lived.
This sort of dialog is strictly why I like working with founders early, even earlier than the thought kinds: You study so much about them as they discover, wrestle with uncertainty, and finally construct conviction on a enterprise they plan to spend the subsequent decade-plus constructing. Ultimately, success comes all the way down to founders’ perception in themselves; once 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 enterprise college and do that. He mentioned, “You don’t assume I can wait till I graduate?” I responded, “No method! It will probably be over by then!”
First-mover benefit is actual in a enterprise 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 information of the offers market and my entrepreneurial expertise, Bom requested me to get hands-on in Korea — under no circumstances 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’m dropping out of enterprise college, transferring to Korea to begin an organization. I will probably be again for the marriage. Not certain if I’ll ever be coming again to the U.S.”
I emailed Bom, saying: “Bom — truthfully as a pal. Enjoy your wedding ceremony. It is an actual blessing that your fiancée is being so supportive of you doing this. Launching a web site just a few weeks earlier than the marriage goes to be method too distracting and he or she gained’t really feel like your coronary heart is in it. Launching just a few weeks later just isn’t going to make or break this enterprise. 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 — operating on principally 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 must be probably the most supportive and understanding companions I’ve ever seen. They at the moment are married and have two children.