Investing in Korean Startups
When I first came out of college, my first job was actually a startup in Korea. A few years later I was back in Silicon Valley and I started my second company there. For me, it has been very natural to be a bridge between Silicon Valley and Asia and Korea specifically. In 2011, our investment firm Maverick Capital really started investing in Korean Startups aggressively. We were the first institutional investors in Kakao, we lead a very early round in Coupang, Viva Republica, Memebox, and the payment app Toss.
Meeting the Global Standard
We’ve been very active in other parts of the world too, China, Southeast Asia, and obviously North America. The way we look at it is, can a startup meet a global bar for excellence. Can they achieve some massive scale? Whether they are here locally like Kakao who have built a 9 billion dollar company in South Korea alone. So look to see if the startup can meet the global standard that we have. When we look at Korean companies, we know that Korea has such a great consumer market. They have one of the highest GDP per capita, great infrastructure, wireless penetration, and fast LTE. All these elements make for a great home market to grow your business. Then when you think about going beyond Korea, you take Memebox for example. It started in Korea and now they are in China, Southeast Asia, they have even done amazingly well in the United States. They’ve made partnerships with Ulta Beauty one of the largest distributors in North America.
Innovation in Korea
For Korea, it is thinking about what can you export, what is the product, whether it is beauty, whether it is gaming (Kakao), whether it is some financial tool. Korea is one of the densest countries in the world. You have the population of 55 million in the size of land equivalent to Indiana. This means that you can innovate whether it is with delivery, or with communication, so Korea itself is like a kind of accelerator for innovation. You take the amazing infrastructure that Korea has and you export that globally. 5 years ago I was not a big believer in this. However, I saw what MemeBox did and what they are able to do in terms of taking this to other markets. I am a big believer now that you can take what you learned here in Korea because it is such an innovative market and bring that excellence to other boarders.