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Coupang CEO: S.Korean e-commerce market 'isn't small,' offers robust growth potential

By Mar 12, 2021 (Gmt+09:00)

Coupang Chief Executive Kim Bom-suk in front of the New York Stock Exchange Building on Mar. 11.
Coupang Chief Executive Kim Bom-suk in front of the New York Stock Exchange Building on Mar. 11.

South Korea's e-commerce giant Coupang Corp. had a successful trading debut in New York on Thursday as its shares soared by 41% in their first session. The company's market capitalization stood at around $88.7 billion on the first day of its listing, raising nearly $4.6 billion via the initial public offering.

It marks the largest IPO on the New York Stock Exchange by an Asian company since Alibaba's $25 billion listing in 2014. Following the listing, Coupang's Chief Executive Kim Bom-suk held a virtual media roundtable and Q&A session with Korean correspondents based in New York.

The following is an edited transcript of the Q&A with Coupang founder Kim Bom-suk:

▶ Coupang has made a successful debut on the NYSE. It must have been an emotional ride for you.

"Since launching the company 10 years ago, we've kept our sights fixed on our customers. We've invested large sums of money to set up a supply chain and at times we took on bold challenges to resolve our customer inconvenience.

"All of this instilled in us a DNA where we face head-on the challenges that others try to avoid. The New York listing was an opportunity for us to show the potential of Korean unicorns."

▶ Do you plan on re-mapping Coupang's future following the IPO -- such as overseas expansion?

"We plan to further cement our position at home. Korea's e-commerce market is not small at all -- it amounts to at the very least 530 trillion won ($467.6 billion). It is the only country among the top 10 e-commerce markets that Amazon and Alibaba have not been able to dominate.

"We will try our best here, in Korea, as the e-commerce market here offers strong growth potential and is an enormous market included in the top 10 economies."

▶ Coupang has raised $4.6 billion via the IPO. How will the proceeds be used?

"We will use the proceeds to foster innovative technologies, secure global competitiveness, and enhance customer experience innovation.

"We also plan to boost the regional economy by creating sound jobs in Korea. In particular, we will invest in logistics centers to expand our shipping network nationwide."

▶ It seems like Coupang has benchmarked the world’s No. 1 e-commerce player Amazon.

"We’re similar to Amazon in the sense that we focus on customers and innovation, but our services have their own unique and unrivaled footing even in global markets.

"Early-morning delivery and simple return services are Coupang's unique strengths that even Amazon lacks. If users place orders by 12 midnight they will receive the products by 7 a.m. -- it's the world's first-ever such service. We also offer a strong product selection for same-day delivery service, including fresh produce and goods.

"If users are not satisfied with their orders, they can return them without having to repackage the products. They can leave the products on their doorsteps, then a Coupang delivery worker will come, scan the products, and the refund will be done instantly.

"It’s one of our features envied by global peers, including Amazon. Our vast investments in logistics alongside technical innovations made it possible for us to offer such services.

"Samsung Electronics was inspired by Sony but went on to outperform the company via its innovative DNA -- as we call it. It made them learn quickly and create greater products."

The New York Stock Exchange Building
The New York Stock Exchange Building

▶ Why the New York Stock Exchange instead of the Nasdaq, which has more tech firms?

"The New York Stock Exchange has a rich tradition and an extensive network of global firms. We believed it was only natural and the right move for us to tap into the world’s largest capital market."

(Kang Han-seung, Director of Business Management at Coupang): "It was the first time for the Korean flag to hang on the NYSE Building. My heart swelled with pride when I saw it and I was glad that we chose to make our trading debut here."

▶ Do you have a long-term roadmap?

"Of course we have a long-term roadmap. I've been exploring the idea of exporting Coupang's 'K-commerce' model, but that's something to consider down the road. For the time being, we will concentrate on our Korean customers."

▶ There has been a rise in industrial accidents among Coupang’s delivery workers. What are your thoughts on this matter?

Kang: "Coupang employs around 50,000 people in Korea, and we are the third-largest company in Korea in terms of employment size. All of our workers’ safety and working conditions are important for us.

"We were the industry’s first to adopt a five-day and 52-hour workweek. We provide insurance for our delivery workers and believe we have pioneered a new standard within the delivery industry.

"We will continue to strive in our efforts to improve the logistics industry."

▶ Any plans to acquire other delivery app tech firms, such as Yogiyo?

"Not yet. It's important to put a lot of thought into the corporate culture when considering an M&A. It can't be dealt with from just a business standpoint, especially considering our customer-oriented philosophy.

"We have devoted ourselves to creating a DNA that does not avoid challenges but rather deals with them hands-on. That's what we want to continue focusing on."

▶ Coupang is still a loss-making company. When do you think it’ll swing to profit?

"We don’t consider it as loss-making, but rather investment-making. Coupang was able to become what it is today thanks to our colleagues, investors and customers who believed and supported our long-term goals. We hope the focus is not on when we will swing to profit, but on our continued investments."

▶ There’s been some criticism that Coupang chose to list in the US instead of Korea because of the dual-class share structure in the US.

"There were many reasons, but raising capital was the biggest one. Our goal was to be listed in the market where we could raise the most amount of money. We also wanted to compete with global firms in a large market. The dual-class share structure was one of many factors that nudged us to go public abroad."

▶ How would you assess the reason for receiving a higher-than-expected valuation in the IPO process?

"Renowned investor Benjamin Graham said the stock market is like a popularity voting machine in the short run, but in the long run it's a weighing machine that assesses the substance of a company.

"If we had made decisions based on a short-term strategy then our popular rocket-delivery system would not have come to fruition. We will continue to prioritize our customers foremost and work to make a positive social impact -- just as we did when we were a non-listed company. We will not chase after short-term values."

Write to Jae-kil Cho at

Danbee Lee edited this article.

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