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SoftBank-Backed Korean Unicorn Coupang Prepares for IPO as Soon as 2021

Giles Turner, Gillian Tan and Sohee Kim

(Bloomberg) -- South Korean e-commerce giant Coupang Corp. is preparing for an initial public offering as soon as 2021, according to people with knowledge of the matter.

The Seoul-based company, founded in 2010 by Chief Executive Officer Bom Kim and said to be valued at $9 billion in late 2018, has begun working on tax structuring among other changes as it eyes a public listing next year, said one of the people, who requested anonymity because the matter is private. A company representative declined to comment.

Last month, Coupang -- whose investors include SoftBank Group Corp.’s Vision Fund, BlackRock Inc. and Sequoia Capital -- appointed Alberto Fornaro as chief financial officer to succeed Richard Song. Earlier in 2019, it hired Jay Jorgensen, a former Walmart Inc. executive, as general counsel and chief compliance officer.

SoftBank’s shares were up as much as 3.8% in Tokyo in the wake of the news.

In November 2018, the Vision Fund invested $2 billion in the company in a deal that valued Coupang at $9 billion, people familiar with the matter said at the time. That funding followed $1 billion from SoftBank itself in 2015, valuing the startup at about $5 billion.

Korea’s e-commerce market is the fifth-largest in the world and on track to be the third-largest by 2021, behind only China and the U.S., according to Coupang.

Coupang had more than $10 billion in gross merchandise value on its platform as of Dec. 31, according to a person familiar with the company. Sales increased more than 60% year over year in 2019, the person said.

Kim, a Harvard University dropout, had mulled an IPO a few years ago, he told CNBC in December, but opted instead to expand the business with a nationwide fast delivery network. In spite of intense competition from EBay Inc.’s Gmarket and family-run conglomerates such as Shinsegae Inc. and Lotte, Coupang has successfully expanded its shopping and delivery services with SoftBank’s investment.

Though still unprofitable, Coupang has been pushing a growth narrative when talking to investors and in the summer it launched Coupang Eats as an extension of its delivery services. When South Korea’s biggest food delivery app Woowa Brothers Corp. sold an 87% stake to Delivery Hero SE, it alluded to Coupang Eats as a strong challenger.

“Assuming Coupang lists shares in the U.S., it might get a conservative valuation as a loss-making unicorn, owing to WeWork’s IPO failure,” said SK Securities analyst Yoo Seung-woo.

(Updates with analyst comment and SoftBank share price)

To contact the reporters on this story: Giles Turner in London at gturner35@bloomberg.net;Gillian Tan in New York at gtan129@bloomberg.net;Sohee Kim in Seoul at skim847@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Alan Goldstein at agoldstein5@bloomberg.net, Andrew Pollack, Vlad Savov

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