List of the Top 10 Korean Startup Unicorns – As of 2020

2019 was a big year for the Korean startup ecosystem. CB Insights shows that Korea now has 11 Korean Unicorn Startups. To qualify as a unicorn, a privately owned startup has to have a valuation of over $1 billion. These startup unicorns in Korea shows that Korea is growing as one of the leading tech hubs in the world. Korea is now in 4th place among the countries with the most startup unicorns at 11. China comes in at #1 with 125, the US at 121, and India at 27. 

Korea’s Rise in the Startup Unicorn Ranking

Korea’s rise in the startup unicorn rankings is due to the strong mobile infrastructure, venture boom, and government support in Korea. There are many new Korean VC firms looking to find the next Korean unicorn and the Korean government hopes to push the number of unicorns to 20 by 2022.

The rankings were comprised by the Seoulz staff and are based on 4 factors:

  • Funding
  • Market Valuation
  • The innovation of service or product
  • Growth Potential/Scalability

Here is the complete list of the top 10 Korean Startup Unicorns

1. Coupang

Korean Unicorn Startup CoupangCoupang is the Amazon of Korea. It has been the most successful e-commerce platform in Korea. Korea is poised to be the 3rd biggest e-commerce market after China and the United States. Coupang is 1 of 2 e-commerce startup unicorns in Korea. In 2019, Coupang did $14.75 billion in transactions. It continues to grow at a rate of at least 60% per year. What separates Coupang from many of its competitors is its strong end-to-end fulfillment and logistics infrastructure. In addition, they have a high customer satisfaction rate because of their innovative delivery solutions. Coupang has dawn delivery which is deliveries made before midnight getting to the customer’s door by the next morning. Furthermore, they also have the same service for groceries called Rocket Fresh. It is estimated that 99.5% of all orders are delivered within 24 hours.

“We’re scaling very rapidly, have made aggressive investments and now we’re scaling the investments that we’ve made,” said CEO of Coupang Bom Kim. 

Founded: 2010

Valuation: $9 Billion 

Investors: Sequoia Capital, Founder Collective, Wellington Management, Black Rock, Fidelity

Funding Raised: $3.4 Billion

2. Bluehole (Krafton Game Union)

BlueholeKorean game developer company Bluehole are the creators of the mega-hit computer game PUBG (PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds). It is considered the “Fortnite” of Korea. The game has over 1 million active users. They are the lone gaming startup unicorn in Korea. There is a lot of excitement and buzz around their next big game called AIR. AIR is a multiplayer online role-playing game that is expected to be released sometime in early 2020. Bluehole has their own brand called Krafton to represent a group of game developing units. Therefore, these units not only include PUBG, but Bluehole Pnix, Bluehole Squall, Delusion Studio, and Red Sahara Studios. This alliance works together while at the same time having their independence. Furthermore, Tencent acquired 1.5% of Bluehole back in 2017 and is planning to further acquire 10% ownership for a total of 11.5%.

“The creations of the new alliance shows the goal of the company to become a game developing powerhouse and grow together in the global market,” said CEO of Bluehole, Kim Hyo-sub.

Founded: 2007

Valuation: $5 Billion (Tencent Holdings, Stonebridge Capital, IMM Investment)

Investors: Tencent Holdings, Stonebridge Captial, IMM Investment

Funding Raised: $500 Million

3. Woowa Brothers (Acquired by Delivery Hero)

Woowa BrothersKorean unicorn Woowa Brothers are the operator of Korea’s biggest food delivery app called Baedal Minjok. Baedal Minjok allows restaurants that do not have a delivery option an option to deliver. This is how Baedal Minjok as able to increase its wide selection of food choices. Woowa Brothers were recently bought by Germany’s Delivery Hero for $4 billion. In addition, Korea due to its high population and high smartphone adoption is now the world’s 4th largest market for online food delivery. Delivery Hero will now look to not only break into the Korean market but also the Southeast Asian market. 

“The food delivery market has been flooded with gigantic Japan-backed capital and influential online platforms, leading Woowa to factor in partnership as a survival strategy, “ said Woowa Brothers spokesman.

Founded: 2011

Valuation: $4 Billion

Investors: Goldman Sachs, Singapore Fund GIC, Hillhouse Capital, Sequoia Capital

Funding Raised: $460 Million

4. Yello Mobile

yellomobileKorean IT startup unicorn Yello Mobile started out as a marketing company in Korea. Yello Mobile soon became an integrated data platform company that provided B2C services and B2B solutions. They focused early on by collecting promising startups in the IT space. From the start, Yello Mobile has been aggressive in its mergers and acquisitions. Furthermore, their core business sectors include healthcare, advertising, smart city, and media commerce. The startup soon became a tech giant with over 90 venture firms in early 2016. Soon Yello Mobile became a major shareholder in Dayli Financial Group, which runs companies in Fintech technology, AI, and cryptocurrency (Coinone). In addition, some of the other notable subsidiaries include Carelabs, an O2O healthcare platform company, and Future Stream Networks, an integrated digital marketing company. 

“Based on our solid cooperation with various stakeholders, we will leap forward as a leading company in the era of the 4th Industrial Revolution,” said CEO of Yello Mobile Lee Sang-hyuk. 

Founded: 2012

Valuation:$4 Billion

Investors: Formation 8, Macquarie, SBI Group

Funding Raised: $187 Million

5. WeMakePrice

Korean Unicorn Startup WeMakePriceWeMakePrice is an e-commerce platform that is the rival to Coupang. They are focusing on creating a collaborative environment between the consumer and the online platform. They do this by creating a more social and customized shopping experience for the consumer. Therefore, WeMakePrice has shut down unprofitable units and focused more on selling goods sourced directly from wholesalers. WeMakePrice did $5.36 billion in transactions in 2019.

“No matter what we do in the future, things will be done in a way that saves time and money for our customers. This is our corporate motto, and cannot be challenged,” said WeMakePrice CEO, Park Eun-sang. 

Founded: 2010

Valuation: $2.33 Billion 

Investors: IMM Investment, NXC

Funding Raised: $85 Million

6. Viva Republica (Toss)

Startup Unicorn in Korea TossKorean Fintech Unicorn Viva Republica is the makers of the mobile payment solution app Toss. They launched as a simple Korean P2P money transfer service. However, it has now become a platform that provides a wide range of financial services through its app. Therefore, users can not only transfer money but they can also see their bank and credit card transactions. In addition, it offers various investment services, loan/insurance plans, and the ability to manage their credit score. Furthermore, Toss has over 13 million active users and has already processed over $45 billion worth of transactions. 

“Our mission is to provide the best possible financial service experience to users, and we will continue to do our best for Toss to become the only service needed for user’s safe and easy day-to-day financial lives,” said CEO of Viva Republica, SG Lee. 

Founded: 2011

Valuation: $2.2 Billion 

Investors: Bessemer Venture Partners, Qualcomm Ventures, Kleiner Perkins Caufield, Byers, Altos Ventures, Goodwater Capital, Paypal, GIC, Sequoia China, Ribbit Capital

Funding Raised: $250 Million

7. MUSINSA

MusinsaKorean unicorn online fashion platform Musinsa has become a huge success with the young generation in Korea. Therefore, 45% of their users are aged between 18 and 24. What separates Musinsa from other online fashion platforms is that they do not handle traditional or top name brands as key brands. Instead, famous brands are provided through collaboration or special event promotion. In addition, Musinsa has its own magazine (MUSINSA Magazine) which allows them to create new information and content regarding fashion. Their magazine and their online platform create a perfect synergy. They are able to create and post their latest content very quickly for strong viral marketing campaigns. 

Founded: 2001

Valuation: $1.89 Billion 

Investors: Sequoia Capital, LB Investment, IMM Investment

Funding Raised: $167 Million

8. L&P Cosmetic

l & P CosmeticKorean beauty startup unicorn L&P Cosmetic are the owners of the top-selling sheet mask brand Mediheal. Mediheal became famous after getting BTS as its main model. L&P Cosmetic has done a great job of using celebrities like BTS, Hyun Bin, and other Kpop stars to promote their products. They have been successful in carving out a niche for higher-end masks. In addition, they have had great success in the Chinese market as well. In total, they have sold close to 1 billion masks to date. Furthermore, all their products are produced in Korea. Their focus will be to break into the Southeast Asian, US, and European markets. 

“I think the facial mask is part of progress in Korean cosmetics, from the BB cream several years ago to the air cushion makeup and now the facial mask,” said CEO of L&P Cosmetic, Kwon Oh-sub.

Founded: 1969

Valuation: $1.78 Billion 

Investors: CDIB Capital

Funding Raised: N/A

9. GPClub

gpclubAnother K-beauty startup unicorn is GPClub. It comes in at #9 on our list of Korean startup unicorns. GPClub is the maker of creams, lipsticks, and other beauty products. Their products are a huge hit in China. They have sold over 1 billion skincare masks, mostly in China. It is the top seller in China. This was because of the boycott of Korean products in China back in 2016. Therefore, GPClub was able to promote his medium-sized brand via social media influencers on Weibo and TikTok (Bytedance). This helped GPClub grab a large market share from the big-brand Korean beauty brands. GPClub’s profits rose over 30x during this time. 

Founded: 2003

Valuation: $1.32 Billion

Investors: Goldman Sachs

Funding Raised: N/A

10. Aprogen

Korean Unicorn Startup AprogenAprogen became the first Korean biotech startup unicorn in Korea. They hold proprietary technologies in antibody engineering and recombinant protein engineering. It developed a biosimilar but has also been developing new biologics. In addition, it has technologies to create antibody-based new drug candidates, including those for macular degeneration, erectile dysfunction, and immunotherapies. The company was founded by a professor at KAIST.

Founded: 2000

Valuation: $1.04 Billion

Investors: Linderman Asia Investment, Nichi-lko Pharmaceutical

Funding Raised: $167 Million

HONORABLE MENTION

Yanolja

Korean Unicorn Startup YanoljaKorean travel startup unicorn Yanolja turns seedy hotels in Korea into top-end short term rental options for young people and travelers. It originally started out as an advertising platform for “love” hotels before adding its own app-based booking service. In addition, Yanolja helped love hotels upgrade their image with their Yanolja renovation services. Furthermore, it has over 250 hotels in Korea and has already expanded overseas. They have also developed their own range of software services to help hotels automate their check-in processes and other services. 

“The hotel is one of the items, but we are pursuing to realize a total package for the users. Yanolja is providing restaurant and activity, leisure tickets, transportation, and other,” said CEO of Yanolja, Jong Yoon Kim.

Founded: 2005

Valuation: $1 Billion 

Investors: SBI Investment Korea, Partners Investment, GIC

Funding Raised: $240 Million